It is common knowledge that American public education is a failure. We have known for years that our students do not measure up to students in other countries, even very poor ones. For decades we have seen national test scores sink, and employers are constantly telling us they cannot hire workers with basic skills. But most parents still believe their local school is excellent and their children are getting a good education.
The schools tell us how good, caring, and professional they are. They have mottos that ooze care and concern that every child should reach his/her potential in every way, to prepare for a happy and successful life. Thus they justify astounding outlays of funds per child, much of which is spent on bloated administrations, bussing to enormous schools with thousands of students, and computerized “teacher proof” curricula designed by leftist ideologues. Along with that come the teachers’ unions, which have supplanted the former concept of the “teaching profession” with labor contracts and super-powerful political lobbies, and teachers are often required or coerced into membership.
School administrators and teachers have become convinced that the children belong to them and not to their parents, and many parents have given over their rights to oversee what their children learn. Indeed, many children eat their meals at school and hardly see their parents at all during the work week. Left-leaning folk who campaign vigorously to be elected to local school boards ignore or silence parents who confront them in public meetings. Examples of school administrators, librarians, and school boards defending educational materials which offend the decency of children and parents have appeared in the media recently, especially since Covid opened the eyes of many parents as to what is actually going on in the schools. Poor scores, high taxes, and indoctrination! These are truly reasons for every parent to seriously consider another education model for their children.
I do not intend to imply that every public school is deficient or that every teacher is willing to teach offensive content, for good and dedicated teachers still exist throughout the system, often “putting their heads down” and doing the right thing, possibly even at the risk of their jobs for doing so. In this article I will not discuss the other alternative school models, such as parochial schools, charter schools, independent schools, and co-ops, which can also be viable options worth considering.
So mention homeschooling to a member of the education establishment, and what arguments do you get? The first is “We are trained professional educators with advanced degrees in education. We know what your children should learn better than you do. Stay out of the way, give us your children, and trust us to do our job.” Really? School systems are rife with incompetent teachers who cannot be removed because they have tenure and the backing of their unions. These are poorly educated, even though they somehow got through college and have managed to work the system. Some cannot add or subtract; some cannot write a coherent sentence.
In a course for senior education students that I taught at a large public university, students were to prepare a resume for possible submission to school districts. I was dismayed to find most of these students were very deficient in writing skills, and the worst of all were the students who intended to be high school English teachers! What were these “trained professionals” trained to do? Can you do better? Of course, you can.
A second argument put forth in favor of public schooling is that you cannot afford to provide an alternative education when you already pay exorbitant taxes to support the public schools, and you don’t get a refund if you don’t use what you pay for. That is true in part, and many states are waking up to this injustice, with proposals for voucher programs. It is also an admission that public education in America spends twice as much per pupil as any other developed nation, and yet sees a dismal return on this investment.
So what will homeschooling cost you? Your lifestyle will require some alteration, perhaps major change. A parent may have to work from home, or even give up a job. We found that was actually possible for many during the pandemic, and many parents reported actually liking their children and enjoying the whole experience. Compared to this, homeschool materials cost very little, and later in this article I will point you to sources available to you.
A third argument is that huge public schools (1000 or more students) offer so many fine programs that you cannot possibly duplicate. To that we must ask, what percent of a large student body is actually able to play on the basketball team or football team (or even sit on the bench)? What percent can be in other various activities, versus what percent really don’t participate? But homeschool parents are able to find alternatives to many of these programs, and actively seek out opportunities for their students to actively participate. They also avoid the risks of overwhelming participation in activities which demand every evening for practices and games, or every morning early rehearsals for marching bands etc. which leads to tearing children out of church and family activities.
HERE IS WHAT WE DID
We were dissatisfied with our parochial school, and transferred our son to a local independent school, which advertised advanced learning opportunities. The first year (sixth grade) seemed positive, and he learned Latin as well as several other studies. The next year was dismal, the math instructor was poor and I had to teach him at home. Social studies turned anti-Christian and my son had to defend his faith in front of the whole class, and at the end of the year we were “disinvited.”
I was determined not to send my son to the local junior high, and so we discussed and agreed on trying homeschooling for a semester, but he said, “Why not the whole year?” We ended up homeschooling him for two years, grades 8 and 9. Granted this was a reasonable possibility for us immediately, because I had just retired from a high school teaching position, and my wife was recently retired disabled as a medical doctor. So we began by setting some parameters and expectations.
1. Our school year did not need to conform to the public school year. We began August 1 and continued through June. This also allowed time for foreign and domestic travel to enhance the learning we were doing at home. Example, we took a trip to the American southwest to study geology, flora, fauna, and history after preparatory study at home. A diary was kept during each trip from which he wrote formal essays afterward summarizing his experiences. Trips to foreign countries included additional study of foreign languages, geography, etc.
2. The school day began at 8:00 AM and continued until the work for the day was accomplished. Before that time my son’s bed had to be made, breakfast eaten and cleaned up after, and he also had to be dressed in school attire: slacks and collared shirt, socks and shoes. Time out for a good lunch, then back to work. Usually instructional time ended mid-afternoon.
3. Work was done to acceptable standards or redone. Work must be assigned according to ability and past achievement, without regard to “grade level”. The full curriculum must be achieved, including sports and arts education. We also included religious instruction plus participation in church choir.
Group sports were available via our local home school association. We also obtained private
tutoring in trumpet, Latin, and other sports including fencing and horseback riding. Art education was
provided at home as I have a master’s degree in the area but other students benefit from opportunities
available through home school associations or other art education centers.
4. Attendance at concerts and visits to museums provided additional enrichment.
Our whole house was potentially educational space, but most instructional time was spent in the tiny basement studio, with an 8 foot counter and plenty of light. Avoid the kitchen table for many reasons. One home base for instruction is best, using other spaces as auxiliaries. Certain activities demand appropriate spaces and facilities such as a sink or tub, space for building and craft work etc.
Community resources such as libraries, concerts and plays, museums and galleries, and special tutoring venues all are part of the educational setting for your program.
Travel is especially important, though it must be done carefully with sufficient preparation to integrate it into your total program, and follow-up activities are essential to reap the full benefit. Knowing what you are going to see and experience expands the fullness of that experience. My son at the Pantheon in Rome said, “I can’t believe I’m finally here!”
YOUR BASIC SKILLS AS TEACHER
Many people shrink from teaching because they feel inadequately prepared. “I was never good at ….” Probably you weren’t. Probably you were not taught to master these skills. The decline in public education goes back many years. In the 1950s phonics-based reading was phased out, and in the 60s there were all sorts of ways of teaching math other than drilling the multiplication tables. Ask students today to demonstrate their ability to do basic operations and you will be appalled. Simple algorithm methods of multiplication and division are beyond them, although they have been subjected for years to a spectrum of methods to arrive at some sort of answer.
Anyway, you can be assured of one basic fact: The best way to learn something really well is to have to teach it to somebody else. If you choose your instructional materials carefully with your own skills in mind, you can brush up on your own and do a good job teaching. Yes, you can!
Another skill you need to develop is that of asking questions. Asking students to repeat what they have heard or read is not really good education. You want always to go beyond basic facts to challenge your student to stretch, to imagine, to infer, to go beyond. I knew a little girl in second grade who really didn’t read very well, but when she told the story from her reader it always came out better than the book version, and told it with shining eyes and a big smile. That was real reading!
(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)