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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Challenges and Glories of Home Schooling 03-04


The Challenges and Glories of Home Schooling
Home school families are an unusual and determined bunch. They are accordingly, unusually challenged and rewarded. The challenges are many, including issues of finance, governmental restrictions, time, method of study and what to study (curriculum), each of which we'll discuss below.
In the end, the reward home school families receive is revived control over the educational fate of their children. Home schooling restores control over the potential future of the student into the hands of those who care most about him or her.
Financial Concerns And Governmental Restrictions
One of the more obvious sets of challenges is financial. Forced to pay taxes that contribute to schools they do not use, home school families must also bear the expense of home school education. Families sending children to private schools face similar double expense, though home schoolers rarely pay as much as private school education requires. After all, home schoolers don't have an entire school to support, with administrators and janitors and what have you. The home school family has only the students in their house to support. However, the need to employ tutors can offset what may be otherwise inexpensive.
Thinking in long term solutions, one needed political movement would refund our educational tax dollars if we chose not to avail ourselves of traditional schools...a choice being made by thousands of new families every month, as the over 50% national drop out rate in the United States attests to. Confronting members of Congress with a united front might bring some attention to this inequity. And please note that there are millions of home schoolers in America alone! We can be a force and we can insist on our rights. I imagine similar movements may benefit many other nations. Money spent to support schools which home school families have no intention of using could be far better spent on terrific home school experiences under the control of the parent and student. After all, who knows your student and their needs better than you and your student?
Governments have proven almost universally awful at deciding how to best spend your money. However, they are far worse at establishing workable educational "standards" which produce good results with your money. The flood of illiteracy our schools have set loose on the world is hard to ignore or miss, but in the United States, the schools cannot seem to reverse the problem. No one seems to be worse at this business of education than government. Yet they insist they have the right to continue to take your educational dollars. Well, if the military made bombs that blew up in their own faces, would we keep funding them? If Fire Departments started fires, would we fund them or lock them up? Yet, we continue to fund public education as it leads a huge number of our children into educational oblivion. And if you don't think this will blow up in our civilization's face, please think again about the cost of supporting an undereducated generation or two. Numbers don't lie. Home school students almost universally outperform public school students in those dreadful "standardized" tests. And the majority of public school students in America...quit. They are certainly "undereducated", as they are not educated.
The control of educational dollars should have always rested in families who are, in the end, responsible for their children and their education. Surrendering this financial control has placed our children and their future in the hands of government. This is a mistake we should rectify.
Sadly, the problem goes far deeper than money. Government often acts, as the California State Legislature recently did, to limit home school rights, a move our governor is deeply opposed to, bless him.
Where does this bizarre governmental need to restrict home school come from? Is it really born of a concern over the home school child's welfare, when all the government's own tests clearly show that these children are educationally, culturally, and emotionally superior to their public school friends? Hmmm. After all, government does need to protect their considerable investment in public schooling. They can't admit that they have been failing our children after all these decades and all that expense, can they? This is a classic case of "throwing good money after bad", as well as placing the "wolf in charge of the hen house."
Education is a deeply personal and intimate thing. Governmental testing and educational "standards" can only depersonalize and make more inhuman a failed system and its products --our children. This has, in fact, been the result of governmental testing since it began. How can a government's standards or tests ever take into account your child's interests, creativity, strengths and needs? They cannot and they do not. They never will. These tests are another thing that need to go, and soon, if our civilization is to recover from this educational debacle.
Time
Another challenge facing home school families is one of time. It's easy and "time efficient" to turn Junior over to the local school for daytime care and some semblance of education. It's hard to take on those responsibilities yourself if you're a working parent or worse, a working single parent. One answer that has worked for many people is to form small home school "conglomerates", groups of parents who each agree to assist in specific ways and to share in the administration of as many as, say, 10 home school children in a group. I've done this personally, with great success, for over two years at a time.
By the way, as a system this only works well when taking full advantage of home schooling's strengths. These include the fact that each student is allowed to study his own studies at his own pace, and is not forced into a "classroom mold" where every student, quick, average or challenged, must be at the same place in their studies as is done in classrooms around the world. The fact that a student does not need to "keep up", or "get ahead", or be forced into a mold of any kind is one of the great potential strengths of home school.
On the issue of time commitment, it also helps to have the full agreement of your children to home school. Home schooling is a deeply responsible activity. In fact, the home school parent and student are saying that they will take full responsibility for the student's education. The home school parent is also taking responsibility for the child's safety, something too many schools have failed miserably at, and to great sorrow.
Home schooling is an act requiring a high degree of trust. The student trusts you to make certain he'll receive a full and effective education. But the parent must also trust the student to honestly and completely do the work which the parent has so laboriously scouted and vetted.
As a student matures, you have the right to expect him or her to carry a larger percentage of the load of their educational effort. But the student has the right to expect the parent or teacher to continuously support and challenge him, and failing this, the student has the right to express dissatisfaction. After all, we're asking the student to make a considerable investment of time and energy. It is in the student's behalf, true, but that is true only if the student is provided methods and study materials and an environment that improve him! Failing this, home school is just school again.
Keeping in this sort of agreement between the student and you (and a tutor, etc) will eventually turn over the bulk of the work to the student, preventing home school from becoming so time-intensive for the parent or tutor as to be unworkable. I've home schooled my son for over six years, and I have seen this to be so with him, and with other home school families.
Your point of view is important, too. You can consider this work, or drudgery; or quality time with your child. You pick.
Method Of Study And Curriculum
Taking education out of the hands of schools is one thing. Replacing schools with a real educational opportunity is another, and there awaits the rocks that many home school families founder on. After all, the parent thinks, what do I know? Don't the schools specialize in education?
No, actually, schools seem to specialize in being paid. When I worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District, I had a perfectly wonderful 17 year old student who was admirable in every respect, only he could neither read nor write. He signed his name with an "X". I had him in an English Elective course, and insisted he be held back and helped. I was told that in no uncertain terms, he would receive a passing grade (in a course all about reading) because if I failed him, the school would not be paid.
How can you, the parent, do a worse job than this for your child? You can't and you won't.
So, what can you offer a home school student? You can do as many parents do and piece together study materials from various sources. Many publishers offer "curriculum", and in nearly any area you'd care to study. But I believe a home school curricula should accomplish far more than the run-of-the-mill materials generally offered, often in poor imitation of the curricula offered in schools!
First, an agreement must be made with the student to study so many hours a week. This minimum is often established by law. But make the student understand that there will be no home work, as all his work IS homework. So the 3-5 hours or so of school done per day is it, and the student will have far more free and discretionary time than he did in school. This is based on honest, diligent study.
A workable home school curriculum would be contiguous, one course leading organically and logically into the next so that the student always knew his grasp of the subject was expanding. It would not leap arbitrarily back and forth through subjects, but semester by semester would penetrate steadily and deeper into the materials and subject, allowing the student to use what he increasingly knows and understands, and apply his growing awareness to new information.
A good curriculum would ask the student to challenge the information it taught. This would be done constantly, to assure that the student was not accepting info by rote, or because he's "supposed to", or to prepare to spit answers out for a test. We want students who learn to evaluate information on their own, and successfully. We want students who accept information because they've tested it and found it to be true. This is an invaluable life skill.
The information and the materials would be challenging, at a level considered "too difficult" for the age range doing it, but set up in such a way that they could successfully study it. You probably know that education has been severely "dumbed down"? There was a time, decades ago, when 10 year olds learned to read and speak not only English, but also Latin. Considering this sad reality, a good curriculum would provide a learning experience in excess of todays accepted range of experience for each age group.
In a good curriculum, the student would not merely read information, but ways would be found to have the student "experience" information for the sake of clarity and the student's own evaluation of the info. Such a curriculum would place a premium on creativity, both within the curricula and the student. It would also place the student in charge of his own thoughts and understandings.
A good curriculum for home school parents would be laid out so as to be easily used by student and tutor. Tests, answer guides and complete lesson plans would all be "tutor proof", so long as the step-by-step plan was followed. This would allow a tutor who knows little about a subject to continue to assist the student as a facilitator, as the course would be doing the actual teaching. (This works equally well in a classroom or group, by the way, so long as each student studies at their own pace.)
A good home school curriculum would fully replace school and what schools do with studies structured for the student to truly succeed, year after year. It would act like a river of study and learning that the student travels from the start to the finish of his or her educational journey. It would not force the parent or tutor to endlessly cobble together bits and pieces from a hundred sources, but would instead provide a comprehensive and coordinated set of studies, ready for use.
In the end, home school is a lot of work, and can be a frightening road to start down. But your child is the best reason to home school, and perhaps the most important result of home schooling is control over your child's fate restored into your hands, and your child's.
Who should have control over your child's future? The state, which does not and will never know your child's name, or you?


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