Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On Gaining a Quality Education At Home

So here's a question that is frequently asked of homeschooling parents:

How can you possibly think you can give your children an education to match what the local schools give them, when you're not as educated as the teachers at these schools? After all, every one of the teachers at the local school has a college degree, and every one also took the additional post-graduate education needed to get a teachers' credential. A good number of the teachers have masters' degrees in the subjects they teach, and a few have doctorates. A child in the AP track at the local high school is especially likely to have several such highly-educated teachers. Even if you have a degree--even a Masters'--in one subject area, what makes you think you can teach all the other subject areas as well as the local school teachers?

I happen to think this is a fair question. I also happen to think this question has some good answers, but to get at these answers it's first necessary to unpack some assumptions underlying the question.

First, there's one approach I don't want to take in answering this question. There are undoubtedly homescoolers out there who would directly question the educational attainment claimed of the teachers in the question above. I think this is an unproductive argument to make, for the simple reason that there are plenty of counterexamples--schools filled with dedicated, well-educated, hard-working teachers who really do care about their students. Making the argument that too many of the teachers are lousy--as some homeschoolers are wont to do--will inevitably lead to charges and countercharges of ignorance and bad faith, and undercuts the chance that anyone outside the homeschooling community will actually listen to the homeschooler's arguments. For the sake of this answer I want to assume that the teachers know and understand what they're actually doing in the classrooms, which I actually believe is true in most cases.

And yes, I did have some lousy teachers when I was a kid. But in my experience there were far fewer of those than there were of the good ones.

So, how can a homeschooling parent who didn't have a strong background in math, say, hope to teach a student as well as or better than a high-school teacher who has a Masters' degree, and has been teaching in the local high school for the last ten years, by all accounts effectively?


Here's the first part of the answer.

Consider a thought experiment. Let's say that this math teacher has a 10th-grade student who's struggling. At the beginning of the semester, he was getting Cs on his quizzes and tests. As the semester progressed and the new material built upon the un-mastered earlier material, the student's grades progressively worsened, until halfway through the semester he was getting Ds and Fs.

Now let's say that this student decided (at the urging of his parents and the teacher) to get a tutor. After asking around, the local guidance counselor gets him set up with a 12th grader who's taking AP Calculus. They set up tutoring sessions a couple of times a week. And we'll say that, within a month or so, our student is back to pulling reasonable grades in the math class--say, B or B-.

Is this a true-to-life scenario? I think it is. After all, private tutoring is a commonly advocated remedy when a student is falling behind; and it wouldn't be commonly advocated if it didn't have some record of success. And it's not uncommon for talented high schoolers to become tutors for those in lower grades. I did a little tutoring as a high schooler; so has my wife.

But consider the following. Our teacher has Bachelors' and Masters' degrees in Math; he has likely been studying on his own since he left college, for his own personal and professional enrichment; and he has ten years' experience in the classroom. Our tutor hasn't even finished AP Calculus yet, and doesn't even have a high school degree.

How is it that the tutor was able to achieve success at getting the struggling student to understand the concepts, when the teacher--with far greater qualifications--wasn't?

The answer to this question is not hard to see. The teacher must deal with an entire classroom full of students--in fact, several classrooms full of students--and so has some serious limitations as to how much individual attention he can give to any one struggling student. His responsibility is to his entire class. Even if there are a few students struggling with a concept, at some point the teacher must move on for the benefit of all the other students. And if a student doesn't get a concept during a lecture, the teacher is unlikely to figure this out until the next quiz. Tutors, on the other hand, necessarily pace their instruction to the student's needs. If a student isn't getting something, the tutor knows this immediately, and can start looking for alternate explanations or additional exercises.

Furthermore, the tutoring model of education is much more mentally intensive than the classroom model. After all, if you are the only student, every question the teacher asks goes directly to you. In the classroom setting, some students can be lulled into passive learning by all the mumbling at the front of the classroom, and even tune out entirely and start daydreaming (which happened to me a lot). This is less likely to happen in tutoring environments; after all, if the student starts to drift away, the tutor knows it immediately and can pull the student back to the present.

So while the teacher may well have an educational and experiential advantage over the tutor, the fact is that the one-on-one environment is in fact much closer to what the struggling student actually needs--so much so that a diploma-less, uncredentialled high-schooler can out-teach someone with far, far greater qualifications. This has nothing to do with credentials, or breadth of knowledge; this has to do entirely with the shape of the educational environment.

And this fact isn't even very controversial--after all, the very fact that just about everyone recommends tutors for struggling students is testament to the fact that just about everyone acknowledges, at some level, that one-on-one learning has some major advantages over the classroom environment. If it didn't, then tutoring would be widely regarded as a waste of time.


Here's the next part of the answer. Consider this question: what is the limiting factor to how much a student can learn on a topic during, say, an academic year?

Consider another thought experiment. In this one, there are two students. Student X doesn't particularly care for history. He does his homework (most of the time, at any rate), but he sees it as busywork and more of a duty than anything else; he does enough to get a passing grade, but not much more. Student Y loves the subject of history; he reads works of history in his spare time; he discusses it with his parents and with whatever other friends he has who are also history buffs; he fact-checks his textbooks.

Now it's pretty obvious who's likely to get the better grade in a history class. And much more important than mere grades, Student Y is likely to learn more and retain more. But one thing to notice about this, is that this is true regardless of the educational attainment of the teacher.

Let me put it this way. If you have a history teacher much like our math teacher above--Bachelors', Masters', credential, 10 years teaching experience, lots of personal and professional enrichment--there is no way that this teacher can pass on everything he knows to his students given the short time he's with them. It took him years and years of motivated, interested study to get to the point he is now; he has one year to teach the subject to his students. Now if this teacher chooses to learn even more, this may well be a good thing for him personally, but it's unlikely to have an impact on what he can push through a classroom in one academic year.

So as long as the teacher has a certain required minimum level of knowledge in his subject, his own education attainments are not the limiting factor in how much the students learn. The limiting factor--as illustrated by the examples of Student X and Student Y above--is the amount of work each student is willing to do to learn the subject matter. In fact, if you get a true Student Y on your hands, you don't need a particularly talented teacher at all. All the teacher has to do with Student Y is point him in the direction of a carefully-selected pile of well-written history volumes, and he will educate himself.

In fact, the greatest teachers that we remember from our own time in school, we remember not so much because of the knowledge they had (although the truly great ones had that in spades), but because they were inspiring. That is, they were the ones that could actually infect the Students X with a love of the topic of study, that they were motivated to go out and do the work to learn the subject. They were the ones that could transform Students X into Students Y. There were plenty of other teachers around who had the knowledge, but couldn't pass on the passion; therefore their students didn't work as hard, because they weren't as interested, and they didn't learn as much.


And this brings us to the third part of the answer.

This is a point that British educational reformer Charlotte Mason made a central part of her philosophy: since the acquisition of knowledge and understanding is far more strongly affected by the efforts of the student than the efforts of the teacher--since the best that a teacher can do is to inspire a student to do the work to learn, the responsibility of education actually falls on the shoulders of the student. The job of the teacher is to assist the student in his or her own education, by pointing the student in the right direction more than anything else. And because of this, Miss Mason saw personal character as one of the most important prerequisites of a real education. A student must actively choose to learn, and must be self-motivated--by a hunger for knowledge, and not from fear of punishment or desire for good grades or love for a teacher--in order for real education to take place. If a student wants to learn something, and has the work ethic to do the study, then all a teacher has to do is present the student with enough reading material of sufficient quality, and the student's own hunger for knowledge will accomplish the rest.

Here's what it looks like in the real world. My first job out of college was about twenty or thirty miles from my apartment, and I was fortunate enough to be able to take the train. The commute was about 45 minutes each way. I quickly realized that this was a whole lot of time that could be spent reading. I was starting to feel, in those days, that my knowledge of the canon of Western culture was a little lacking, so I started reading. At first, I started reading out of a sense of duty--"Everyone needs to know what happened in Beowulf"--but after a while, everything I read increased my hunger to know a little more... and a little more...

By the time I left that job four years later, I had read through the Bible (four times), Beowulf, the Divine Comedy (Dante), Churchill's History of the English Speaking People, a history of Croatia (since the Balkan wars were in full swing then), a work of sociology on China, the Federalist Papers, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer), Albion's Seed (David Hackett Fischer), a history of the naval action of World War 1 (I wanted to learn about Jutland), Lord of the Rings, a couple of novels by Connie Willis, Jerome K. Jerome's short novel Three Men in a Boat, a history of the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville, Black Holes and Time Warps (Kip Thorne's book on cosmology and physics), and a whole bunch of other stuff that I had never been exposed to in school. I learned all this because I wanted to.

(Incidentally, this was also about the same time that I was learning to play the harp.)

It never occurred to me, as a high schooler, that I might consider reading the Federalist Papers for fun. As a high schooler, I was a Student X in most subjects. How did I change from a Student X in high school, to a Student Y after I got out of college? Yes, I'm more mature now, seeing as I graduated 18 years ago. But I'm still the same basic person. What changed?

Part of it is that I wasn't under pressure to learn these things. When you're being forced to read stuff on which you will be tested, that tends to suck the joy out of learning it. After six or seven hours a day in a school environment, you'll be unlikely to find too many students left who actually would choose to read the Federalist Papers on their own initiative. But part of it is that teen culture tends not to respect academic pursuits. After all, if a student did actually choose to read the Federalist Papers on his own personal initiative, for his own personal development, without being assigned to do so, how would his peers react? They think it's just weird, even a little intimidating.

A personal example: One of my classmates was a military history buff, and could answer from memory just about any question on military matters you could put to him--down to the unit numbers of the brigades and divisions involved in various given military actions. He was a useful guy to have around in our history classes, where the teachers would occasionally consult him before their own lecture notes. But needless to say, he was widely seen as a total geek; his ability to answer these questions engendered stunned disbelief in his classmates, but it sure didn't enhance his popularity any. Now I was a geek, but I wasn't that big a geek; even I thought it was weird and uncanny. Now that I've grown up and am no longer immersed in the teen culture, I just think it's really cool, and I wish I could do that. He was a true Student Y, at least regarding military history; and he didn't learn all that stuff in any classroom.

So the holy grail of education is to create students with the intellectual curiosity to seek out new information on their own, and the self-discipline to see a self-directed course of study through to the end. And these are matters of character development. If you can instill these character traits in the student, the student is almost guaranteed to gain a good education, regardless of whether he has good teachers--or whether he has a teacher at all. Although it is possible to cram information in students' heads when they haven't developed these character traits--through threats of bad grades, or through inducements like awards and other honors--the student is much less likely to master the material than if they were motivated to learn it through their own desire and initiative; and furthermore, there is a danger they will stop learning the moment they leave the classroom and these inducements go away.


So here's the summarized answer to the original question, about how homeschooling parents of moderate education levels can hope to educate their children as well as or better than the professionals at the local public school.

First, the parents can provide a educational environment much better tuned to the needs of their children--much as a tutor can provide a better educational environment, one-on-one, than even the best of teachers can with a 30-student classroom to manage. Even when the parents don't know a subject particularly well themselves, the much greater amount of time they have available for one-on-one work with their child gives them the opportunity to learn the subject matter themselves--say, from a pre-prepared curriculum or reading list--right alongside their children.

Second, the sheer amount of time the children spend around their parents in a homeschooling household--along with the inherent academic flexibility that homeschooling provides--strongly facilitates the education and training of the children's character. I myself am a firm believer that character must be passed on through deliberate training, as I implied in this post; if it is not deliberately passed on, it doesn't generally happen on its own. But character training is considered an integral, inseparable part of education in much the Homeschooling community, especially among those who have been influenced by the philosophies of Charlotte Mason; and this emphasis on character development leads to an increased chance that homeschooled students will grow up to become disciplined self-educators by the time they reach college age.

After all, consider this news item from the AP that came out a little over a year ago, describing how many colleges are now actively recruiting homeschoolers. Here's the opinion of one admissions director, explaining why they're doing this:

Home-schooled students _ whose numbers in this country range from an estimated 1.1 million to as high as 2 million _ often come to college equipped with the skills necessary to succeed in higher education, said Regina Morin, admissions director of Columbia College.

Such assets include intellectual curiosity, independent study habits and critical thinking skills, she said.

"It's one of the fastest-growing college pools in the nation," she said. "And they tend to be some of the best prepared."

And there was a similar AP article written last March. I particularly liked the attitude of the student in the last couple of paragraphs:

Now a freshman, he is adjusting well to college classes and shrugs when his peers complain about the way a professor teaches.

“You are already used to teaching yourself,” he said about homeschooling. “Forget the teacher, forget the class, I am just going to read the book and figure it out myself.”

Now that is a textbook example of a Student Y.


Tonya Power said...

This reminds me of a book I read years ago talking about the behavior of various immigrant culture groups that have historically come to the U.S. Specifically, how families in these culture groups would value things such as education. Some would see education as a very highly regarded thing and strive to give their kids a good education. Some would see education as dubious at best or even be highly hostile to it.

It was no surprise that the families that highly valued education were frequently in the statistics as having students who did well in school. Those who did not value education were listed in the statistics as having the students who did worse in school.

Every time I hear the political talk about improving test scores, I think about this. The best way I know to improve test scores is to get the students' families to care deeply about improving those test scores.

A. Jean said...

I don't know why parents aren't monitoring their children's progress in public schools. If the public school teachers were allowed to teach and the parents monitored and listened to the teacher's complaints on junior's habits in class and his/her progress and failings, it could be the best of both worlds. If all the homeschooling families pull out of public school there goes a lot of the families that reward teachers who necessarily rely on families to voice their opinion on the direction of public schools. It seems to be selfish not to support the public system as there are a lot of families who don't have the wherewithall to teach their own kids, and those who do can monitor and supplement at home. Years ago we went from "homeschooling" to a one room schoolhouse to a large living school system. Most families' kids would have no education if it weren't for the public school system and to selectively pull out of it is elitist and unfair to those who can't. Tutoring can be done by parents who care and then they will know the progress and direction the school is taking. Junior's overall education is the parent's responsibility (especially manners, morality discipline, etc.)
Tim you know I'm not a socialist. I have complete faith in your (plural) abilities to homeschool. It's not fair to bash those who don't or continue to hold up the virtues of homeschooling when it is not for everyone, the public schools need support from the educated parent so the uneducated parent can get an educated kid.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that, Auntie Jean! I was going to write a response, but you just about said everything I was thinking.

One point to add: there are different learning styles that you never event think about, Tim, because you happen to learn best by reading. There are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and many other learning styles. Just because you learn best by reading doesn't mean that everyone does. What about the kid who has a reading disability? He wouldn't get an education if he had to only rely on "teaching himself."

You also assume that homeschooling will automatically instill in someone the desire to learn because they have individual attention. That isn't necessarily so. I don't think that I would enjoy biology any more if I had to only read about it in a book. In fact, I would probably like it even less, if that's possible.

Now I have to go to work--to teach high school students history and hopefully inspire them to enjoy it. While they are living in the "real world."

Jason said...

When I was growing up I was a witness to a lot of things at school that have helped me deal with different situations now that I would have not been able to deal with on such a positive level had I been in a home-schooled environment. At church I had more socialization then I did at school, but as with most kids, my church group was 98% white. This percentage falls dangerously close to home-school numbers also. The only exposure I got to other ethnicities and interaction with them was through school. Could I have done mission work and other such things to see different point of views; yes. But, to prepare me for the “real world”-whatever happens after mandatory school- having daily, normal-circumstance encounters with others not like me prepared me to be a well-rounded individual who could be like one of them to win them over..
Robert Reich writes that home-school can potentially give students a very one-sided view of things, as their parents may, even unwittingly, block or diminish all points of view but their own in teaching. This may make students unable to think for themselves or to adapt to multiple points of view. He also argues that part of being a citizen is having something in common with fellow-citizens, and home-school diminishes that by reducing students' contact with peers. In short, while home-schooling can be good, Reich warns that those practicing it must avoid these dangers.
As I will agree with anyone that this warning is not a guaranteed thing, this I believe does happen more than it would with public schooled students, and to me is more important in the grand scheme of things than a education of books. And with any school environment the outcome of the child is solely in the hands of the parent who helps them understand what their learning, no matter who is teaching them.

The McMullen Family said...

Hmmm...I think you guys are missing Timothy's point, somewhat. As I read it, he's not arguing that homeschooling is for everyone and that we should all pull our kids out of school to teach them at home; he's merely answering the question that homeschoolers get asked a lot: what makes you think you can teach your kids as well as or better than a qualified teacher?

A. Jean, when we send our kids to school we submit them to the prescribed curriculum. Yes, learning X information is important. But is it important that we learn it in the particular order chosen by those who write the curriculum? Would I have been more interested in tapeworms if I hadn't been required to study them right before lunchtime? Or more interested in civics if I hadn't been engrossed at that stage in my life in literature?

Anonymous, I think that as far as ways of learning, the point that students must want to learn is more important than the point that they can learn from books. Would you enjoy biology if you could learn it in some more "organic" way than by reading a book? I'd bet that there is some path out there to biology that would be enjoyable for you.

Jason, I'd argue that reduced contact with age-peers is not a negative. Most homeschoolers (who are not geographically isolated) have more contact with their surrounding community, not less. And most adults (i.e., those of us who've graduated from school and are now living in "the real world") don't just have contact with people our own age; we have contact with our neighbors of all ages, our kids and their friends, our colleagues, the members of our church/volunteer activity/etc.

Timothy Power said...

Andy (anonymous):

I assure you, I am aware of the differing learning styles--kinesthetic, visual, auditory, etc. And along those lines, I have a question for you--which is a genuine question, and not intended to be rhetorical.

Different kids do learn in vastly different ways, but this is usually not a problem for homeschoolers, because their parents inevitably tailor their teaching methods to match the needs of the child. I'm curious, though; how does one handle a classroom filled with children with wildly varying learning styles? If some are auditory, and some are kinesthetic, and some are visual, and some are who-knows-what, how do you tailor the classroom education to match all their needs simultaneously?

Second note: you state, "You also assume that homeschooling will automatically instill in someone the desire to learn because they have individual attention." Highly untrue. I don't believe that anything happens automatically in education. All I believe is that the homeschooling environment is an excellent one for character training. My exact words were "and this emphasis on character development leads to an increased chance that homeschooled students will grow up to become disciplined self-educators by the time they reach college age" (emphasis added).

I will grant you this: I probably was a bit too reductionist when I said "If a student wants to learn something, and has the work ethic to do the study, then all a teacher has to do is present the student with enough reading material of sufficient quality, and the student's own hunger for knowledge will accomplish the rest." It is true that some subjects--the sciences and music, to name a few--require more than just a pile of books to learn. And some people learn better from media other than books. But I stand by my underlying point--which The McMullen Family caught--that the student's interest in the subject matter, and his or her discipline in pursuing it, are the major determining factors of how much a student learns--even for the kinesthetic learners who prefer manipulatives to books.


For the rest of the comments from Auntie Jean, Andy, and Jason, answering all the objections to homeschooling you raise will take far more space than can comfortably fit in a comment thread. Check out my next post...

Anonymous said...

This is actually from Carolyn, not from Andy. I had intended to sign the comment this morning only I was running late for work and forgot. You can also tell my responses from Andy's in that he is as verbose as his older brother. I'm not so much.

To answer your question about how to meet the needs of a number of students with varying learning styles, it's not easy. And I would venture to say that no teacher ever completely does that everyday. I would include in that homeschoolers. I base that not only on my experiences as a teacher, but also my experiences as a mother. Sometimes I have to explain things to Eamon in multiple ways because he doesn't always get it the first way I explain it. It is the same in the classroom. A good teacher uses many different methods to get his or her point across.

You are right in saying that a student's interest and determination in learning are really the keys to his or her success as a student. That is true no matter where that student learns. A student that is determined will learn in a homeschool environment or a corporate environment. He or she may not learn the same things, though. Homeschooled students will learn only what is presented (in whatever format) by their parents. They will never get any point of view not approved of by the parent. That is not to say that parents shouldn't approve of their child's education--they absolutely should. In corporate education, students are exposed to many points of view.

Students taught in public or private schools will also see many different types of people. You have been so intent on insisting that homeschooled kids will have a better chance to experience the real world, but it is only the real world of upper middle class America. They are not likely to see the kid who lives in a foster home or the kid whose parents are so concerned that their child receive the best education possible, so they send him to a "better" school than their neighborhood school. They don't get to minister to their friend who's hurting, but doesn't know Jesus because they never meet that person.

Another issue with homeschooling is the fact that some parents really shouldn't be "teaching" their kids. My mom saw kids register at the high school where she worked as the registrar for many years who had been "homeschooled" for several years. The reality was that their parents simply kept them out of school. They were not anywhere near grade level. They had been living in the real world--not the fake one of high school--but it hadn't gotten them anywhere. They weren't determined to learn because their parents weren't determined to make sure they were educated.

Even as a public school teacher, I don't see a general problem with homeschooling. However, I believe in public school. I don't think that because you have made the choice to homeschool your kids you should condemn others for making the decision to send their kids to either public or private schools as you have in the previous blog "Virtue, Peer Pressure and Homeschoolers" when you said that people who put their kids in public schools are "intentionally subject[ing] ourselves or our children to situations where we will be tempted by our peers to do the wrong thing." I don't know anyone who "intentionally subjects" their kids to bad situations. Kids can get into bad situations regardless of where they learn or they can be careful and considerate regardless of where they learn. Homeschooling and kids who chhose right over wrong are not mutually exclusive.


Timothy Power said...


To come to the conclusion that I was condemning the public schools--or the students who attend them--in my post Virtue, Peer Pressure, and Homeschoolers one has to read in a bunch of stuff between the lines that I neither said nor intended. You quoted a line way out of context and pre-pended a subject noun that I didn't put there, and wouldn't consider putting there.

The context was this: the accusation made against homeschooling which the post attempts to answer--in a nutshell, that homeschoolers are unprepared to deal with peer pressure, because they're not exposed to the rough-and-tumble of regular teen society on a regular basis--contains an unspoken assumption. This assumption is that one's resistance to temptation is formed and matured through exposure to temptation. But the key word here is unspoken; I suspect that most people who make the initial accusation haven't fully thought through the ramifications of what they're suggesting. All I did was to point out this unspoken assumption and explore its logical conclusions--in the hopes that people would see where the accusation actually leads, and have a chance to think whether they really want to go there.

Nowhere in any of this did I condemn anybody; I was merely refuting an argument that is frequently used to bash homeschoolers over the head, by showing where it really leads. I did not mean to imply that people make the explicit end argument; indeed, I would think (hope?) most people would recoil from making such an argument. That was the whole point; hopefully, people would see the underlying assumption for what it was, and reject it--and in the process, would reject any logic built on top of it--including the original accusation.

I then went on to consider a different model for combatting peer pressure--one which by no means is limited to homeschoolers, but which homeschoolers are particularly well-poised to pursue. Again, I neither included nor intended a condemnation of anyone.

Anyway, I wanted to answer that particular charge, because it was very strongly stated: "I don't think that... you should condemn others for making the decision to send their kids to either public or private schools as you have...", which was really unfair.

As for the rest of your criticisms, I may address them in future posts; but I would like to point out that they are off topic for this post. The purpose of this post is to answer yet another accusation made against homeschooling, that it inherently delivers substandard education. If you think I made an error in my reasoning, you are welcome to point it out; but I do ask my commenters to stay on topic, and not consider one of my homeschooling-themed posts as an opportunity to unload whatever objections to homeschooling one can think of.

kat said...

As a mom who has a graduate teaching degree I have found over the past 5 years that I am a much better homeschooling teacher than a classroom one. The reasons are numerous, but one is discussed in this post: the instructor's sole focus is on that particular child in a tutoring situation.

When I had 30 6th graders whom I had never seen before I had to spend weeks figuring out each child's competence, learning style, and personality. Some children did not want to be there and I couldn't stand over each of them simultaneously.

With homeschooling 3 children at different levels I know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, how they learn best, and what stimulates them. I can see that they are getting a much better education than they could get elsewhere because I work hard to find the best books available for each subject and give each child individual attention.

Shauna said...

Excellent points! After reading a few of the comments, I'm left wondering whether we even read the same post, though.

Crimson Wife said...

"Students taught in public or private schools will also see many different types of people." - Carolyn

This was not my experience in the public school I attended growing up. I could count on one hand the sum total of diversity in my grade: 2 African-Americans, 1 Jew, and 2 Mormons. All the kids were upper-middle class or affluent.

I look around at the public & private schools where we live now, and it's basically the same story. They are a bit more diverse from a racial & religious standpoint because of the South & East Asian immigrants, but there are still very few African-Americans or Latinos and no socioeconomic diversity.

Mama Squirrel said...

We are longtime homeschoolers who turned a bit turncoat last year and enrolled our oldest in public high school; not because we thought we couldn't "do it" at home, but because the school situation best met her particular needs. For many other hsers, staying home through high school is an equally good choice, and I appreciate your points supporting that choice.

I've linked as well.

Melissa Markham said...

Excellent and well thought out post!

lindafay said...

I appreciated this post. Well said.

Dawn said...

Grat post!

On some of the comments, I've found that sometimes just talking about the positives of homeschooling seems to make people defensive. At times they hear things I didn't say and think that by talking about my choice, I'm putting theirs down. I think it's an emotional reaction, not a rational one. People hold certain things very dear, like public schools, and are hyper-sensitive to those who don't feel the same.

Anonymous said...

I have just started homeschooling this year. My daughter has met far more people from diverse backgrounds since she started homeschooling because we can do more activities outside our own community. Her public school is fairly homogeneous. And of course now she also schools with people of various ages. Homeschooling has expanded our world.

Rob at Kintropy said...

Thanks for your post. I appreciated your acknowledgment of teachers' work and general capabilities up front, and I think your points are well thought out.

I was not homeschooled, but my parents were involved in my education both as volunteers at school and as parent-teachers at home. This hybrid was the best of both worlds for me. My parents' involvement was key.

And, yes, I tutored in chemistry. And I was the weird current events kid - the one that knew "Burkina Faso" used to be called "Upper Volta" ;-)

Tana said...

I think this is a well-thought out post about one of the issues of homeschooling, and the people who have used it as opportunity to make general criticisms against homeschooling are out of line. It's especially hard when the people who saying such things are close friends or family members.

I've had similar struggles with issues such as this. One day I came across this post where the bottom line is that arguing about homeschooling vs public school [even vs private school] is like arguing about which is better - apples or bananas.

Each approach to education has it's unique strengths and downfalls. There are many issues about public school where one could write a similar well-thought-out post, and by no means would such an essay be automatically considered an attack on homeschooling. It would be nothing more than a discussion of one of the issues facing public schools and what one might do about it.

I think somehow you need to build a "firewall" [perhaps even just in your own mind] based on the above principle which would deflect these types of comments. [Perhaps using different blog software - such as WordPress which has better tools to moderate comments - would help as well. - I would email this suggestion to you directly but I don't seem to be able to find an email address.]

Sometimes it also boils down to this: My philosophy is that everyone has the right to be wrong - including me. And with that, I can just let it go.

Ultimately, I hope you don't let things like these comments get you too sidetracked. I think you have a lot of great things to say, and I look forward to hearing more.


Sunniemom said...


I really appreciate your reasoned approach to the various aspects of homeschooling. You often give voice to ideas that have been rattling around in my head for some time.

I can commiserate with HSers all over, as I have also defended ad nauseum for over 12 years my right and privilege to choose the educational methods that best suit my family. Why some find this offensive or selfish is beyond me. If we took that reasoning to its logical conclusion, then one could not attempt to do anything of quality as long as there are others who don't have the ability or opportunity to do so as well.

It does appear arrogant or insulting on the surface that a parent who does not even possess a college degree can effectively teach their child, but there it is. Studies have shown this, and the evidence is there for all to see. The bottom line is that one of the essentials in education is involved parents, and you just can't get more involved than homeschooling.;) I know of one mother who dropped out of high school in the 8th grade, but was so successful in teaching her boys a love of learning and discovery, and by providing them with quality resources, they were able to teach themselves calculus.

Also, one should not assume that because one does not utilize the public school system for the education of one's own child does not mean that a homeschooler doesn't care or isn't involved in the educational community. I and others stay very involved, vocal, and as helpful as as possible in the system itself and with parents who have kids in PS and want advise about how to handle different situations. I vote for levies that will actually raise my taxes, but provide kids in the community with adequate supplies and safer buildings. If that ain't supporting the system, I don't know what is.

Dawn said...

Since you've turned off comments to your, "A Few More Ground Rules," post can I say here that I'm Dawn, not Dana?


Timothy Power said...

I'm terribly sorry about that, Dawn; I can only plead that it was very late, and that Sometimes I'm Actually Incoherent, Too. I've since found several other typos in the post, too. I'll get in and fix it when I have the chance.

Chris said...


And to think I read the post before it was so famous!

We got some great advice from a homeschooler we "interviewed" before taking the plunge ourselves. She simply said that they made a commitment to homeschooling "one year at a time; one child at a time". That didn't suggest that they weren't committed to the long haul; in fact they took all of their children all the way through high school. Rather, they acknowledged up front that each child was likely to have different needs, and that each year was going to have different struggles.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful posts. I always appreciate the content.

Dawn said...

Oh heck Timothy, I'm the one that said, "Grat post!" in my comment! :)

Dawn said...

Timothy - In light of the recent comments here I thought you might like this -

It's been making the rounds on the homeschool blog circuit.

Anonymous said...

I have a dog named spot. But he doesn't have a spot.