Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Homeschooling: Giving Children a “Real” Education

I'm going to do something in this blog that I haven't done before. I want to share the paper a friend of mine wrote about homeschooling. Melissa Klise is a single mom whose children attend school and who is pursuing a teaching degree. You might not expect someone with her career goal to have a positive opinion of homeschooling, but such is not the case. She makes a good case for homeschooling on at least a part-time basis. Read on and you'll see what I mean. :-)

            While attending a parent/teacher conference at my daughter’s middle school, I was informed that she had failed to meet the benchmark for her grade in all subjects.  This came as a shock to me because her report card showed a 4.0 grade point average.   After the conference, I read an essay my daughter had written for her English class.  She was proud of the A she received on the assignment, but I wasn’t happy with the numerous spelling and punctuation errors left uncorrected by her teacher.  The teacher told me that they no longer worry about punctuation and spelling in English classes.  They worry more about a student’s ability to express themselves because today’s technology does not require us to know how to spell or punctuate.  Word processing programs can do that work for us.

            After the wake-up I received from the teachers at my daughter’s school, I questioned several other parents only to find their children were having similar problems – failing or barely passing standardized tests with better than average grades on their report cards.  Something had to be done.  I began to look into homeschooling my children.

            Homeschooling is exactly as its name implies – schooling in the home, usually taught by one of the child's parents.  Through research and anecdotal evidence, I have come to the conclusion that homeschooling, whether full or part time, is the only way to ensure our children get a good education and are prepared for college and life beyond high school. 

Homeschooling has many outspoken opponents.  There is worry among critics about the effects homeschooling has on society as a whole.  Chris Lubienski of Iowa State University believes homeschooling parents have an obligation to society and “the public good” to send their children to public school. He believes homeschooling parents are doing a disservice to public schools by denying the school board their voice.  Since homeschooling parents are actively involved in the education of their children, Lubienski believes sending them to public school will better contribute to “the greater good” of society and improve the standards of education for all children rather than just their own.

            Probably the largest objection to homeschooling is concern regarding socialization of students educated in the home.  Many worry that homeschooled children miss out on socialization and are too isolated in their homes with only their parents and siblings to talk to and play with.  There is a fear these children will be overwhelmed once they reach college and are faced with a wide range of diversity in culture, religion, and sexual orientation.  Children who are isolated may be less mature than their peers and unable to detach themselves from their parents and be successful in life after homeschooling.  These children also miss out on the use of school for basic social values we tend to take for granted: “assimilation, desegregation, tolerance, and cohesion.”  Inside this argument is the fear of undetected abuse.  Most cases of child abuse are detected and reported by public school teachers, so if the teachers are removed from the equation, the abuse may never be detected.

Another common objection to homeschooling is the fear that parents may be unqualified to teach their children, especially once they reach high school and face more challenging subjects such as science and advanced mathematics.  Public school teachers have college degrees and much more experience teaching children.  Unless the parent has a college degree, critics feel they have no business teaching their children at home.

            Without considering the other side, the opposition’s case against homeschooling may seem strong.  However, homeschooling parents are quite passionate about what they do and have many great reasons for choosing to teach their kids at home.   According to Brian Ray, Ph.D. of the National Home Education Research Institute, there are currently 2.35 million home-educated students, and that number is growing at a rate of 8% a year.  If all of the children who are currently homeschooled were enrolled in public school, it is estimated that it would cost taxpayers approximately $10 billion per year in additional teachers’ salaries, extended bus routes, and other resources needed to accommodate the influx of children.  These statistics alone illustrate how helpful homeschooling is to the economy, but money isn’t the only way homeschooling benefits society.

            As any homeschooling parent will tell you, home schooled families aren’t islands.  Most homeschoolers are involved with Homeschooling Associations and engage in field trips, volunteer work, and other group activities that keep their family from becoming isolated and encourage socialization for their children.  According to Ed Collum and the Encyclopedia of the Life Course and Human Development, homeschooled children have fewer socialization problems than those in public school who tend to “experience negative socialization and peer pressure” on an ongoing basis.   Contrary to what many believe, homeschoolers are exposed to varying cultures and lifestyles through clubs and volunteer work.  On average, homeschooled children spend 20 or more hours a month participating in volunteer activities and other forms of “organized community activities.”  Also, they are much more likely to be involved with organizations such as scouting and 4-H.  The flexibility of their schedule allows them to fully experience what the community has to offer.

            From day one, public school pupils are required to conform to the standards of their school and change themselves to fit in to the teaching style of whichever instructor they’re assigned to.  This isn’t the case with homeschooling.  Parent led teaching is essentially student led teaching.  The parent, teaching their child at home, is able to adapt the materials and teaching style to fit their child.  Students are able to learn at their own pace which helps them to absorb knowledge more effectively and gain the confidence needed to succeed in school and in life.  Evidence of academic success can be found in the standardized test scores and college admission of homeschooled students compared to public school students.  The average homeschooled student scores 15% to 30% higher on standardized achievement tests than the average public school student.  Also, home taught students are 5% to 10% more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree.  These results are the same regardless of the amount of education their teacher/parent has completed.          

Ask any homeschooling parent why they choose to home school their children, and you'll get a long list of reasons.  Among those reasons, you'll almost always hear that they want to be the primary influence in their child's life.  Parents have children to raise them according to their morals and values.  Most parents want to influence their children and build the foundation on which they'll live the rest of their lives.  When they attend public school, they spend more time with their peers and teachers than they do with their parents.  Parents become a smaller influence in their lives; the longer they're in school.  The kids come home with new expletives and disrespect that they didn't learn in the home.  With homeschooling, this isn't the case.  The parents are the primary influence in their child's life and can stave off the negative social and moral influences found in the school.  They can teach them how to treat people with respect and adhere to strong values rather than sending their small child out into the world of public school to be taught by someone they don't know.  According to a recent study, adults who were educated in the home as children are less likely to suffer from psychological and social problems such as alcohol and drug abuse or be physically or psychologically abusive to their own children.  They have a lower divorce rate and are also more likely to hold down long term employment.  These studies are a strong indicator that removing the public school influence from a child’s life and strengthening the parental influence builds healthier adults.

After looking at the benefits of homeschooling, it is easy to see why a parent would choose this form of education for their child, but homeschooling isn’t for everyone.  It takes a lot of time and commitment.  It takes patience, creativity, and also the ability to admit when a subject is too much for the parent to teach.  Even with proven curriculum obtained from reputable sources, there are times when certain subjects are too much for a person.  This is when it is important to be involved with home school organizations and other parents who home school their children.  It is not uncommon for parents to trade services with other home educators.  One parent may teach their neighbor’s child biology while another teaches art classes or volunteers to take a group of children on a field trip to the museum.  By admitting one’s limitations, the children are being shown that it is OK to ask for help and will gain different perspectives on various subjects.

        For many, homeschooling isn’t a realistic option.  Some parents are unable to teach their kids at home full time.  Being a single working parent, I fall into this category. After coming to terms with to the fact that our public education system is severely flawed, I feel just as obligated to home school my children as I do to keep them safe and provide healthy food choices.  My home situation may not be conducive to full time homeschooling, but my dedication to my children has brought us to part time homeschooling.  Along with their lessons at public school, I tutor my children with extra lessons at home in the evenings and occasionally on the weekends.  They write essays and work on math problems while learning primary skills no longer taught in the public school setting.  We also visit museums and go on nature hikes, using everyday experiences as learning opportunities.  As a parent, I believe that our homeschooling will better prepare them for college and competition in the job market.  I know that sacrificing my time is worth it when I hear my ninth grade daughter say, “I’m smart, I can do this.”

By the way, Melissa received an A for this paper. I'd say that her children have gained a top-notch part-time homeschooling teacher; wouldn't you agree?

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