The Advantages of Homeschooling

The following is a speech I gave at the Education Options Expo in San Jose, on Saturday, March 15, 2014.  It provides a good overview of why one should homeschool rather than use an educational institution, particularly a public school.  If you’d rather watch the video of this speech, use this link.
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The Advantages of Homeschooling

THE MYTH OF “ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION”

It seems that public school and schooling in general has always been the way education is done. This is certainly what appears to be the case during our lifetimes. But it isn’t the truth.

I’d like to dispel the myth that homeschooling is “alternative education”. Until the 1860s, homeschooling was just about the only way anyone received a lower education. Today, it’s track record is better than other forms of education. Homeschooler test scores are higher, as a group, than both public and private school test scores. The numbers of people homeschooling is growing exponentially.

But homeschooling always worked as a way to educate. The list of remarkable, accomplished homeschoolers throughout history fills the history books. Some of those who received all or a large part of their education as homeschoolers include;

Writers and poets, composers and artists
Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House series), Agatha Christie, Robert Frost, C.S. Lewis, Mozart, Beethoven, Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, Felix Mendelsson, Frank Lloyd Wright (America’s greatest architect), Andrew Wyeth (US realist painter), Ansel Adams (American photographer), Leonardo Da Vinci, Claude Monet (founder of the Impressionist movement in art), Charles Dickens, Mark Twain

Inventors and scientists
Alexander Graham Bell (telephone, his mother homeschooled him), The Wright Brothers (airplane), Thomas Edison (Electric light, film, recording of music, countless other inventions), Benjamin Franklin (the stove, bifocals, electricity), Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, Florence Nightingale (founder of modern nursing) Albert Einstein

Athletes
Blake Griffin (NBA Clippers), Michelle Kwan, Venus and Serena Williams, Tim Tebow, Joey Logano, youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR race

Stars and singers
Charlie Chaplin, Taylor Swift, Whoopie Goldberg, Kristen Stewart, Lee Ann Rhimes, Elijah Wood, Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Ryan Gosling, Alan Alda, Louis Armstrong

Businessmen
Andrew Carnegie, Joseph Pulitzer, Col. Sanders

Leaders and presidents
Ben Franklin, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Sandra Day O’ Conner (the first female Supreme Court Justice), Alexander Hamilton, Daniel Webster, Susan B. Anthony, Condoleeza Rice

MILITARY:
Douglas MacArthur, George C. Patton, Robert E. Lee, Admiral Matthew Perry

PRESIDENTS:
George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Barack Obama for several years – 18 presidents in all.

Millions of people in the U.S. Homeschool today, anywhere from almost 2 million – 6 million depending on whose numbers you believe. As of 2007, the numbers came to roughly 3% of all children being educated in the U.S., and the numbers of homeschoolers has gone up considerably since then.

Why is this success story kept so quiet? When people talk about homeschoolers, they often have an image in mind of bizarre, silent, strange kids and families practicing peculiar religious rites in lieu of education. And while there doubtless are some pockets of aberrant behavior along these lines, overall homeschooling is THE education success story of our time.

So why doesn’t everyone homeschool?

 

THE PERCEIVED LIABILITIES

Well, homeschool is seen by many people to be a very hard thing to do.

After all, it’s harder to take full responsibility for a child’s education than to just get up early and drop your kids off at a school or bus stop. It requires a far higher level of involvement in your children’s lives. You’re responsible for their entire education as a homeschooler, from when they study, to how they study, to what they study – and to the results achieved. A homeschool parent needs to determine what curriculum to use, and what they want their children exposed to as an educator and a parent.

You’ll have to spend time making sure your student learns, and you’ll probably administer some tests or some sort of evaluation. So, are you a “trained teacher?” And what do you know about teaching, anyway? And don’t you have a life of your own, a job, bills to pay and not a lot of time? You are paying taxes, and some of that $ goes to pay for schools you’re not going to use, so why shouldn’t you use them? Your children cannot receive the proper degree of “socialization” if you homeschool, why, everyone knows that! And you’ll be spending far more time with your kids then many parents want…or that your kids may want to spend with you.

I would argue that all of these issues are reasons you should homeschool. I’d like to take these concerns point by point and demonstrate how they are strengths, not liabilities.

IT’S YOUR KID, NOT THE GOVERNMENT’S KID

Is homeschooling harder than dropping a kid off at a school each day? Or catching a bus? Yes, it’s harder, and you’ll be spending more time with your children.

So why have children in the first place? Was it really to entrust their futures to others? Or was it to participate in another person’s life, to perhaps help shape it, and to be there when the light in their eyes wakens with interest and understanding? I was personally shocked at how quickly the years went by for my kids, now 22 and 26 years old. My daughter’s getting married next year, my son has been a professional actor for 6 years, now. After educating them throughout their childhood, I wish I’d had more time with them, not less.

Perhaps your child is “difficult?” Well, there’s a blessing. Difficult children have often grown up to be the prickly, difficult adults who change the world. So long as they don’t have the “difficult” graded and tested and evaluated out of them. I’ll bet John Adams and Ben Franklin were very difficult children, unlikely to just agree to anything. And is there any doubt that young Thomas Edison probably disassembled every family artifact and put it back together again? Think how crazy he drove his parents. Did Mozart ever stop humming melodies as a child, even while studying history or language or whatever?

Every child is special and unique, and I maintain that every child is difficult. Raising a child is work and a lot of it, regardless of how you educate him. There is no child who does not present a series of daunting challenges to his parents or educators. That’s one way we know that a child is alive, aware of the world around him, and growing in his influence over the world. Why would we want it any other way?

GETTING UP TO DROP KIDS OFF – HOURS ARE FLEXIBLE

Now, about dropping off your kid at school? I used to hate doing that when my kids went to private schools, before we started homeschooling. That was one reason I taught at those schools – at least if I got up early, there was more of a reason to it than driving my kids to a bus stop.

Getting up early to drop your kids off somewhere ends with the decision to homeschool. In this regard, homeschool families clearly have it easier.

Homeschoolers determine their own schedule, including when school hours begin. Not all students work well in the morning. You can tailor your hours to the student’s strengths. And, if you’re working out of your house, you don’t need to go anywhere. School can start at 10 a.m. It can start at 1 p.m. If you are a working parent as most seem to be, you can manipulate school hours to be present for them, even if that means school starts at 5 p.m.

And what if you’re not around to help your child study? Well, I strongly recommend the forming of homeschool groups of multiple families working together, but I’ll cover that in a few minutes.

What I’ve seen with hundreds of homeschoolers I’ve worked with, and had others tell me about, is that most homeschool children develop self-sufficiency as they get a little older. This is not always the case, but it usually is. Parents often write to tell me that their children get excited about their homeschool studies and start their work before mom and dad get up in the morning, or insist on working on a lesson plan at night, before going to bed. I’ve seen homeschooled kids as young as 10 almost entirely run their own studies, including my own son, for months at a time. This does not absolve a parent or homeschool educator from doing their share in the educating of their children, but it is a comfort to know that your young man or woman will learn to work on their own, and learn to want that education and work for it. It happens all the time with homeschoolers.

It’s what often happens when a person is left free to take responsibility for their own future. There are children who absolutely need more discipline than this at first, but by degree and once experienced, freedom is an addiction that usually grows. And children who homeschool often come to understand rather quickly that the more responsibility they take for their own education, the more they will get out of it. It’s a perk of child-directed education.

Of course, this all works best when the least amount of critique is offered the child. Eliminating grading, testing for punitive or grading reasons, and critique of the student’s creative efforts frees the student to take ever-increasing responsibility for their work. And that means leaving behind almost all the methodology standardly used by schools, today. Homeschoolers can do this, it is a strength found in homeschooling, and the wise homeschool educator makes a crusade of it. A non-critical approach to education is safer for the child, it invites his or her participation without fear of reprisals in the form of grades, evaluations, or “helpful suggestions.” It invites the child to spread his wings and see just how much he can create, without fear or reprisals. Isn’t a purpose of education to allow each child to experience the best in them, their most creative and vital ideas and skills? Wouldn’t it be best for civilization at large if each of us experienced to our depths our best and most creative instincts? Homeschool can do this, and do it well, avoiding the critical approach to education that is currently institutionally mandated.

 

WHAT TO STUDY

Then, there’s the question of what to study. The child must study something. Henry David Thoreau was one of America’s chief unschoolers. He would take his class of Concord children into the local fields to dissect and admire the flora and fauna, and the world became the lesson. That was his curriculum. But we are not all as skilled or educated as Thoreau.

As a homeschool mom or dad, you no longer have the supposed “advantage” of the school district and state’s “approved curriculum”, and all of the direction that it provides. You will most likely need to decide what your child will study. Though many homeschoolers do use their school district’s curriculum, and simply do so at home – most homeschoolers do not, and out of choice.

As homeschoolers, so far, we are usually not obligated by any law to adhere to government standards like Common Core. We are not obligated to follow any standards at all, national standards or local, standards imposed by school boards, politicians or teachers who do not know the first thing about our child. As a matter of fact, we are free to determine exactly what and how our children will study.

This is in accord with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a United Nations document agreed upon by almost every nation on Earth, including the U.S. in 1949. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration states:

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

You’ll note, this document that the United States agreed to uphold does not say that the STATE shall have the right to choose the kind of education that shall be given children – parents have that right, that PRIOR right, above the state. Accordingly, anytime the state instructs someone that they do not have the right to decide what their child will and will not study, or even how or where they’ll study, they are in violation of this International agreement to which the United States is a signatory.

As a parent, you can always elect to adhere to state mandates as to your child’s education. But you are entirely within your rights to also ignore those mandates. You are the person empowered to decide how your child will be educated, and what they will study. It is your right, and your responsibility. And this allows you one of homeschooling’s signature advantages – to tailor your child’s education around their interests and strengths.

As homeschoolers, you do not need to place certain subjects at the core of your child’s studies, as the state mandates that schools must. President Bush stated clearly that math and science would be the focus of all future school curriculum. Well, math and science are not the entire world, though they’re important subjects. And for many, many students, math and science is not their future. They certainly were not for me, or my children. These subjects are not where many students want to go, or need to go, they are not where the student is headed in life. And it is the student’s life we’re concerned with, in education – not the school’s life or mandates.

America’s greatest historian, Will Durant, stated that civilization moves forward through the creativity and efforts of inspired individuals perusing their ambitions. Our own founding fathers, our greatest inventors, many of our most important leaders homeschooled, and in so doing, received an education focused on their own interests and ambitions. If this were not so, this nation probably would not exist today.

An education that is largely determined by the student and his or her needs and strengths, interests and dreams, is more likely to give us the result of an adult employed precisely in the area in which they are “called”, in which their interests actually lie. Such people work and create with far more joy than those whose cookie-cutter education limits their options, pushing them away from any personal, unique ambition which they might have cherished while young. Edisons and Lincolns, Washingtons and Mozarts do not happen by accident. They are self-created by being allowed to pursue their own interests – and their education was tailored accordingly.

A classroom is not an environment where education can be individually constructed and tailored. There’s just too many students, even in a classroom as small as fifteen students. In larger classroom situations, often the teacher doesn’t even know the name of their students without a seating chart, so how could that same teacher possibly know the first thing about any of their students individual, unique potential and interests? They cannot, and they do not.

But Mom and Dad know. We see our children in far more personal and intimate terms. So when Jr. takes an interest in something not taught at school, and wants to invest his energies there, we are free as homeschoolers to allow that to happen, to encourage it even at the expense of “standard studies.” In that way, we move away from the cookie-cutter mentality of schooling, and become instrumental in building individuals engaged in activities they love. And such children love their education – because it belongs to them and not to a school or a government mandate.

MOM CAN’T TEACH

So, how about the idea that you can’t teach?

You’ve heard often enough I imagine the complete nonsensical idea that parents, unless they have a degree in education, are not qualified to teach. Even though you see your child with far greater clarity, and have a far greater interest in him than any teacher or school – you are not qualified.

But teachers almost always have their degrees in education, and not in a specialized area of study, particularly at the Elementary School level. They often know nothing about the subjects they are somewhat arbitrarily assigned to teach. When I was teaching in a High School for L.A. Unified, I saw many teachers reading one chapter ahead in the textbook selected for their class in science, history, math, whatever – because they did not know the subject. Such teachers are no more qualified than anyone to teach subjects in which they possess no practical or working knowledge.

What a teaching degree tells us is that “trained teachers” know how to use the standardized tools of institutional education, tools such as testing, grading, student assessments, classroom teaching, the application of national standards like Common Core, etc. We also know that these tools have failed millions upon millions of students. The drop-out rates in large cities often exceed 40%, and in some unfortunate districts, 50%.

A company that built cars of which up to 50% did not work – who then informed you that you were legally obligated to buy their cars – well, they’d be run out of town.

Even graduates today, even from college, are all-too-often unprepared for the real world or the marketplace. The unemployment and underemployment numbers for such graduates are readily available and depressing.

Whatever is happening in most schools is not working, and has not for a very long time. A typical classroom and teacher apparently can’t complete a day’s work in a day – hence your child will receive hours of homework a night. This has an unhappy result of often occupying the parent’s time as well as the student’s. And it prevents a child from having any time to discover his own interests and pursue them. When a child has a special need, the school can do little to bend or change its institutional mandate or structure to accommodate, even with the best of will. But the homeschool experience can and is tailored around the child’s needs.

And then, there’s the old hacksaw that a child can “be behind” in his education. Be behind what? Certainly not behind himself, each of us learns as fast and as well as we learn. So what is the child “behind?” Some mythical “average” he or she was supposed to attain by a certain time, in a certain subject? Who determined the “average?” And no one is “average.” Every child is unique. There is no “average.” So what is the child really behind? They’re behind some government or district or school mandate, created by people who do not know your child’s name, do not have a clue what interests your child, and who have no plan other than the most general, meant to service tens of thousands of students at a time, all in the same manner.

But education happens one at a time. One student at a time – one fact at a time– one realization – one hands-on experience – one set of eyes opening wide with understanding. One at a time. And homeschooling allows that bottom-line truth to serve as its beacon and guide.

So, Mom and Dad, I propose that as a teacher, you could not possibly do a worse job than most schools. Even the best teachers generally give grades and tests to evaluate a student, and you can start by throwing all that away. Given your intimate awareness of your child, you have the chance to do a better job than even the finest teacher.

What’s more, you do not need to work alone. I’m a huge fan of homeschool groups, two-five families sharing resources, energy, and expertise to get their kids through a student-oriented educational experience. With three, four, five adults each bringing their experience and expertise to the table, the students are likely to receive whatever it is they may need in assistance. And those parents also know others with expertise to share, as well. If no parent in the group is great at Algebra, some neighbor or Uncle will be.

Additionally, this approach allows a particular parent to isolate the days and hours when they’re going to need to participate. The duties are shared. If properly coordinated, perhaps a given parent will need to work twice a week with the students, for four hours at a shot. That’s eight hours a week dedicated to educating children. That leaves a lot of time for jobs and other priorities.

CURRICULUM

There is also help in the form of prepared curriculum, if such help is deemed to be needed. There’s tons of homeschool curriculum available out there, more than ever before, to do much of the teaching that will need to occur. A lot of it is designed to be largely student-directed. The course teaches the subject, the student follows and connects the dots. Such studies come in books, downloads, live sites, even live webinars and interactive courses on line.

The homeschool parent will always have some work to do, however. There will be times when a lot is required of a homeschool parent. Parents may be required to issue tests and score them, and make certain that review occurs as needed. But testing should be kept to a minimum, and should never be punitive. It should have nothing to do with grades. It should only focus on discovering what the student did and did not understand from their studies, so a targeted review of not-understood materials can take place, and no time wasted, no stigma assigned. I authored a curriculum for my own kids, and it works this way. This limits the parent’s exposure as a “teacher.” I’ve found other curricula that works that way as well.

The help you need to teach successfully is out there, and you’re free as a homeschooler to make use of it.

SOCIALIZATION

So we come to the final supposed liability in homeschooling. We are told that homeschooled children do not experience a thing called “socialization.” We’re are so informed by teachers and administrators and a few other folks who may mean well, and may not.

“Socialization” was a concept developed by a man named Cooley, who experimented using his own children. In the early 1900s, Cooley, was a teacher of economics and sociology at the University of Michigan. Don’t forget that “economics” part.

Mr. Cooley had many “interesting” ideas.  He believed in a class or caste system.  He believed that corporations, growing at the time, needed a compliant class of workers, and of buyers. He felt that each “class” would contribute something different to society.  This is much like the old and rotten system in India in which each “caste” has its own unique assignment, from the philosophical life of a Brahmin to the manual labor of an “Untouchable”. This is a system which many social reformers (including such people as Gandhi) despised and worked to change.

The acceptance of one’s “place” in the world and one’s inherited work was an important part of Cooley’s view of life.  To quote Mr. Cooley directly: “How is a man to find where he belongs in life? The more original he is, the less likely is he to find his place prepared for him.”

So don’t be “original”, that’s his suggestion.  Instead, find the place prepared for you.  There is no “free will”, or freedom of decision in Cooley’s universe.  Your life is decided not by you, not even by God, but by the circumstances of your birth.  So spake Cooley. Socialization was his answer to individuality. He decided there should not be any.

What is socialization, the way we speak of it today? It is the idea that people must spend time in their youth around many others, and learn how to “get along and go along.”

But many of the people who made our civilization did not “get along” well with others, not at all. If Washington, Jefferson, Adams and those other great homeschoolers “got along”, there would be no United States of America. If men like Edison and Lincoln simply accepted the world as it was and “got along”, this world would be a far darker and grimmer place than it is.

Again, there’s Will Durant, and the idea that it is the inspired individual who is doing something unique, something others can’t do or don’t understand, that makes progress happen. This is true in every human endeavor, even in religion. Martin Luther and a few others didn’t get along, and hence, we have virtually every Christian faith except Catholicism. Buddha didn’t get along, or he’d have remained a Hindu. Moses certainly didn’t get along, when he insisted Pharaoh let his people go. Jesus didn’t get along, either, given the incident in the temple.

I guess those poor souls were not properly socialized.

My wife had recently passed away when I started homeschooling my own kids. My son was 9, my daughter 13, and they’d always gone to private schools where I taught, so I could be near them and participate in their education. I admit, I was afraid, pulling them from school, that they would miss their friends too much, that they would not be “socialized” properly. The fact that they’d each experienced abuse in their schools, a fact all too commonly experienced by school kids, wasn’t foremost in my mind. But I didn’t want them to be lonely. So I showed my curriculum to a few other friends who happened to be teachers. They pulled their kids from school, and we had an instant homeschool group with ten kids and three parents sharing duties. The group expanded over the next few years. My kids were surrounded by their friends every day. So much for being isolated.

My kids and I did a >little exercise a few times. At lunch, we went to the local Carl’s Jr, and just sat and watched the public school kids come in to eat. As a group, and with exceptions of course, they were largely violent and antisocial. Just as I would be today if forced to be in a place for many hours every day and told I had no freedom to determine my own future, my movements, my interests. Just as I would be in a place where I knew there was a fair chance each day that I’d be harassed or abused in some way. As I was in the public schools I attended as a child.

We have another word that describes such places – we call them prisons. How many homes need metal detectors at the front door? Today, most schools need them.

Almost any child studying at home surrounded by friends and family is far safer than a child in a school, a child surrounded by strangers passing judgment and perhaps looking for an opening to abuse him or her. And there’s no question that many schools have a huge abuse problem. Anyone who claims this isn’t so is either willfully ignorant or dishonest.

So, my answer to “socialization?” Forget about it. It’s a lie.

In speaking to several college administrators, I’ve been told that they are now actively recruiting homeschoolers for their schools, for two reasons – 1) They are academically advanced as a group, a fact born out by much testing, and 2) Homeschool kids are BETTER socialized, more able to cope and deal with people as a group than their public school counterparts. Even Universities have figured this one out

SUMMATION

The advantages to homeschooling?

– Studies are tailored around the students needs and interests, rather than cookie-cut

– A student can and will learn at their own pace, there’s no one to be “behind”, no pressure, and no “homework”

– This leaves time for the student to experience life, and to discover his own interests and calling

– The family can participate in creating an educational program, and have input

– The student is in a comparatively safe environment every day

– The student will be educated by people who know and love him, who understand his shortcomings and strengths and who will know how to work with them, or be willing and able to put in the time to figure it out.

– The hours are flexible, and can be organized around the student and the family

– Education can continue unhindered even when traveling or moving, or if a child happens to work, as in the case of young professional actors

– Costs are almost nothing. I knew one family that homeschooled their daughter through her last four years of school and spent not one dime. The public libraries filled every material need.

– Homeschool groups are relatively easy to form, no legal organization needs to be put in place. A homeschool group spreads the burden and provides resources, as well as handling social needs.

– Academically, homeschoolers score higher as a group in testing than other forms of education, so they are actually receiving a better education

– Major colleges and universities throughout the country actively recruit homeschoolers. So if you wish, your homeschooler can most certainly go to college

Will you be spending more time with and on your children if you homeschool? Yes. That is one of the very best perks of homeschooling.

Thanks for your time. Homeschool your children!

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