Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Encouragement for Homeschoolers

Still looking for encouragement about the results of homeschooling? (I know I can always use it!) Check out this blog post on ProgressiveU.org entitled, "I Was Homeschooled, So What?" It's written by a rather articulate homeschooled young lady who will be graduating from her homeschool this year. She makes a great case for the benefits of homeschooling.

Take a look at her concluding paragraphs:
Basically, I know that homeschooling can’t work for everyone. Some kids hate their parents too much or vice versa. The truth of the matter is, homeschooling is an amazing option for everyone. It’s not just for kidswho flunk out or social outcasts. There’s a huge network of support andthe ability to reach out to public and private schooled kids. In all my ramblings above, I didn’t even mention my friends at dance, or on the many advisory councils I assist. Nor did I mention my activism on the political front and all the people and things I’ve done there. Homeschooling has allowed me much more freedom in choosing my activities then public schooling would have allowed. I don’t want to seem arrogant, but being homeschooled has been a great opportunity for me and I’ve seen more kids succeed in a homeschooling atmosphere then not.

I was homeschooled. So what? I'm still a normal teenage girl.

"I've seen more kids succeed in a homeschooling atmosphere than not." That's an encouragement to me. And reading the rest of her post, you'll find all kinds of reasons why homeschooling can be extremely positive for many kids. It's definitely a "read the whole thing" post.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Natural Benefit of Homeschooling

A regular reader of this blog, Shawna, has a great entry today on her own blog, The Homeschooling Experiment, entitled, "Oh, How I Remember Now!" Shawna is just beginning her "homeschooling experiment" - she's been teaching her son at home for a whole three weeks, and already she's learned a really important lesson many homeschooling parents never learn.

Shawna was a teacher some years ago, and she remembers the way the school fragments a child's day. She describes it this way:
10 minutes for roll call, collecting homework, going over that nights homework, get out the Scarlett Letter, lets begin reading, alright 10 minutes is up, books away and take out your grammar text and turn to page 236, alright 10 more minutes up let's move on to our spelling work--Latin roots for 10 minutes. . and wow a whole 8 minutes for any questions, problems or disciplinary issues that came up. BELL RINGS off they go!

I wasn't teaching. They weren't learning or enjoying themselves or even having their interest piqued.

Shawna was smart enough to see how this kind of approach was making it difficult for her son to focus or even really to enjoy his Language Arts. Here's what she did:
I pulled all of the spelling sheets and let him work on them until he was done--finished or uninterested. I pulled all of the reading comprehension and did the same thing. I am not going to bounce back and forth between subject within the same subject, not pull him from the subject that he is submerged in, not give him time slots to complete work.

It frustrated me as a teacher: I can only imagine it frustrates children as students.

I find Shawna's observations very perceptive, especially for a brand-new homeschooler. While classroom teaching may require artificial time breakdowns, one of the advantages of homeschooling is precisely the fact that we don't HAVE to break subjects down that way. In fact, that kind of breakdown goes totally against the way kids learn. If you've watched kids play for any significant amount of time, you've seen the way kids learn - totally focused on one topic, sometimes for hours; then switching to something else, often related to that, in a natural flow. How frustrating bells and deadlines are to the natural learning process!

In our homeschool, not only do we pursue a topic for as long as the interest dictates (or maybe a very slightly shorter time period, so the interest is still there the next time the topic is introduced!), but we often co-ordinate many of our "school subjects" so that we study in a more unified form. For example, for the last three weeks we've been studying ancient Egypt, with both my sixth-grade and my second-grade daughter. We've studied ancient Egyptian history, ancient Egyptian art and architecture, ancient Egyptian science(from the book "Science in Ancient Egypt"), ancient Egypt in the Bible (religion), and ancient Egyptian mythology (literature). We've done art and craft projects related to ancient Egypt. Even our writing has been about the ancient Egyptians. The only unrelated topics have been math and grammar (we can even pull spelling and vocabulary from the books we're reading).

By running our homeschool this way, we follow the kids' natural interest cycle. For three weeks, everything revolves around ancient Egypt; now we will move on to another topic, and follow it in similar depth. The more I do this, the more strongly I believe THIS is the way children are meant to learn. It's one of the greatest advantages of homeschooling I know.

Homeschooling High School?

Ahh - the quandary of the homeschooling parent: How long do I homeschool?

When we first started homeschooling, my older daughter was 3 1/2. I knew then she was advanced - the primary reason we decided to homeschool instead of sending her to preschool was that she already knew everything the preschool was teaching their kindergarteners. We took homeschooling one year at a time, figuring it would be clear, year by year, what was best for our daughter. But I didn't realize then what is quickly being brought home to me now: that a child who's ready for first grade at 3 1/2 will likely be ready for middle school work by about 10, and for high school work by 7th grade.

Now that said daughter would be in sixth grade (yikes! high school work next year?!), we're beginning to face the question of what we should do about high school. And it's a tough one. I don't so much struggle with the academics of high school - I figure I'm smart enough to learn any high-school-level subject if I want to put the work in, and if I don't, I can find a self-teaching curriculum and/or someone to tutor her, or she can take a class at the local school. But she's amazingly talented musically; she's been playing the flute for a year (no lessons, just homeschool band), and is easily playing second/third year music. Does she need a "real" high school music program if she's going to be ready for college music? And are there other things about high school that would benefit her? And would they benefit her even if she's on the young side for high school - next year, for example, or the year after?

An article in today's Fort Wayne Journal Gazette online is helping me think about this. It's called "Colleges Embrace Home-School Students," and the first anecdote is about a young lady who was accepted at Indiana University-Purdue University as a piano performance major. There's much more, of course, including some fascinating information about how colleges in Indiana are actively seeking out homeschooled high schoolers. The most helpful paragraph, for most homeschoolers, is this one:
"We love having home-schooled students because we find that they are prepared for college,” says Allison Carnahan, Indiana Tech’s vice president of enrollment management. “They are used to being independent and are very eager for the campus experience. Often, they have done career exploration more than a private- or public-schooled student. They tend to know their majors pretty quickly.”

So - "real school" high school, or homeschool high school for our daughter? That remains to be seen. It's nice to know at least that colleges these days don't think homeschooling is a disadvantage.

Iran: Are We Already At War?

Robert Tracinski has a disturbing article today on RealClearPolitics, entitled, "The Buildup to a U.S.-Iran War."

Here is his first paragraph:
For more than a year now, I have been arguing that war with Iran is inevitable, that our only choice is how long we wait to fight it, and that the only question is what cost we will suffer for putting off the necessary confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

Despite the title, the content of the article makes it clear that the author thinks Iran is already at war with us, whether we choose to believe it and respond to it or not. This sounds frighteningly like what happened to America with al-Qaeda during the 90's; they were at war with us, but we were blissfully unaware of it. The author points out several indications of Iran's war with us:

1) Their threat to bomb Israel if either the U.S. or Israel attacked Iran.

2) The speculation that Israel's recent bombing raid in Syria targeted a facility where Iran and Syria, with the help of North Korea, were building a nuclear weapon.

3) The AP report that a recent explosion in Syria was a factory being used to build chemical weapons, including VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard gas.

4) American arrests of Iranian Republican Guards Corps' Qods Force members in Iraq, where they are, according to General Petraeus' testimony, "training, arming, funding, and in some cases directing" Iraqi insurgents.

I would add to Mr. Tracinski's list a couple of other evidences, including Ahmahdinejad's clearly war-oriented rhetoric, which sounds suspiciously like that of Osama bin Laden, and the display of Iran's military might which took place immediately before Ahmahdinejad's visit to the U.S. to speak at Columbia University. I've seen displays like this before - most often on TV in old World War II films, when Hitler held them to build support for the Axis powers, but also in Iraq throughout the reign of Saddam Hussein, when he was at war with Iran and with the United States, and in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They appear to be a mechanism used by brutal dictatorships when at war with democracies, to intimidate both their own people and those they are fighting against. That Iran's president feels this display appropriate immediately before his visit here suggests he and his government believe they are at war with us.

Robert Tracinski concludes:
The coming of the war with Iran has very little to do with our intentions and has everything to do with the enemy's intentions. Our only choice is how we will respond. Will we continue to evade the need to confront this threat--or will we finally begin to fight back?
I think the thing that disturbs me most about this is that, unlike the Iraq war, fighting a war with Iran is likely to be ugly. Iran is much bigger than Iraq, and much more difficult to fight. And we are already a divided people, with far too many of us willing to surrender easily for the sake of our own comfort and convenience. If we are going to fight Iran, we will have to do it together, recognizing that failure to do so may mean we will be overtaken by the Islamic jihad. And with the elections looming, I find it hard to believe that the American people will be willing to set aside our creature comforts and do the difficult work of fighting an enemy who is determined to be at war with us.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quick Update

Hey everybody,

Sorry I haven't had much to say for a couple days. Some unpleasant little virus has decided to make its home at our house and I've been on autopilot. I hope to be back in a day or two.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Homeschooling Comes of Age

That's the title of a great post from Isabel Lyman at the Ludwig van Mises Institute's website today. It's an unlikely place for a highly positive post on homeschooling, a website that claims to be "the research and educational center of classical liberalism, libertarian political theory, and the Austrian School of economics." But highly positive it is, in the vein of John Taylor Gatto's writing, if you're familiar with that.

Here are some of the highlights:
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the modern home education movement was in its infancy. At that time, most Americans viewed home-styled education as a quaint tourist attraction or the lifestyle choice of those willing to endure more hardship than necessary.

What a difference a few decades makes.

Homeschooling has undergone an extreme makeover. From maverick to mainstream, the movement has acquired a glamorous, populist sheen.

Isn't that the truth? Though I must admit, it sort of annoys me to think that I'm involved in anything with "a glamorous, populist sheen"! I started homeschooling because it was best for my children, not because it was mainstream, glamorous, or populist. In fact, when my daughter was 3 and we decided to homeschool, it was barely coming out of the shadows, and only just beginning to be accepted as a legitimate schooling option.

The article goes on to discuss star athletes, winners of national competitions, presidential candidates, and high achievers such as Micah Stanley, who recently passed the California state bar exam at age 19. Fortunately, the author does not pretend all homeschool students achieve these unusual levels of success and notoriety.

Although it's commendable when the young achieve Herculean goals, homeschooling has always been more about freedom and personal responsibility than winning an Ivy League scholarship or playing at Wimbledon. In general, it has attracted working-class families of all ethnicities and faiths, who have been eager to provide a nurturing, stimulating learning experience.

She then points out one of the real problems with public school education:
In a legal sense, homeschools serve as a glaring reminder of a complex issue
that has become the stuff of landmark Supreme Court cases: does the state have
the authority to coerce a youngster to attend school and sit at a desk for 12
years? Whether said child has the aptitude and maturity for such a long-term
contract (or is it involuntary servitude?) remains an uncomfortable topic
because, in the acceptable mantra of the day, "education is a right."

Oooh - involuntary servitude? Ouch! But isn't that the truth? It has become accepted practice in this nation - and in most "civilized" nations around the world - for us to lock our children up most of the day in classrooms, from the time they are five or six until they are adults. By the way, have you ever noticed how many of our schools look and behave more like prisons? Small windows, locked doors, children only allowed in certain places at certain times, herded around like sheep - Ugh! What a way to take the spontaneity out of childhood! And by calling it "education," we also remove all the joy from learning.

Ms. Lyman's concluding paragraph sums it up beautifully:
Above all, the merit of homeschooling is that it allows for experimentation, flexibility, and trial and error. Here is the great contrast with state-provided education. As with all systems hammered out by bureaucracies, public schools get stuck in a rut, perpetuate failures, respond slowly to changing times, and resist all reforms. Errors are not localized and contained, but all consuming and system wide. It's bad enough when such a system is used to govern labor contracts or postal service; it is a tragic loss when it is used to manage kids' minds.

Nicely put! I hope some of the apparently liberal readers of that website read this article and take it to heart. Meantime, it provides a great endorsement of homeschooling, and an encouragement for those of us who may find it challenging at times to deal with our own kids day in and day out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What Happens After Homeschooling?

This morning I was reading a blog post by someone who didn't know a lot about homeschooling, someone who had recently discovered that homeschooling is becoming increasingly popular among the African-American community. This person was beginning to ask some serious questions about homeschooling, questions met by their more liberal readers with scorn and critical comments.

Among the poster's questions were these:
How well does homeschooling work? Does the “product” - an educated person -
perform well afterwards, once they’ve rejoined educational settings with the
more traditional social environments (colleges and universities). Does the
reduced level of social interaction during those homeschooling years have an
adverse effect, or is it compensated for by social interaction that presumably
takes place after school? Perhaps there are arguments that the reduction in
social interaction even helps in some ways?

Given the powerful influences of peer pressure, stereotyping and the like which
skew a child’s perception of what sort of careers they can aspire to pursue (I’m
- of course - thinking of black kids and science, girls and science, but also a
broader spectrum as well), might homeschooling reduce some of that? (I say
“reduce” but not eliminate, given the same stereotype problems that exist in the
images in entertainment and the media at large) Do the numbers bear that out?
Are there numbers on that at all?

As might be expected, I had something to say about some of these things! :) Here are my answers to these questions.

The research shows conclusively that most homeschooled students do exceptionally well, both academically and socially, after they leave homeschooling. Take a look at www.nheri.org, especially the link there entitled "NHERI Research." The National Home Education Research Institute has found, for example, that "The home-educated are doing well, typically above average, on measures of social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem. "

Not only that, but research is being done on adults who were homeschooled, and they have found that they: "1) participate in local community service more frequently than does the general population, 2) vote and attend public meetings more frequently than the general population, and 3) go to and succeed at college at an equal or higher rate than the general population."

OK, enough statistics - now for some personal anecdotal evidence. I was homeschooled myself for grades 1, 6, and 9-12. My years homeschooling provided me with some of my best memories and my strongest relationships. I slipped easily into college, which I greatly enjoyed, and graduated magna cum laude from one of the more challenging private colleges in the country. I actually made the transition into college much more successfully than my public-schooled husband, who made few real friends there and was thrilled when he got a C on his first test, because he had never learned to study.

I have homeschooled my daughters for their whole lives. My older daughter is 11, and is doing beautifully both academically and socially. My younger daughter is 7, and is still ironing out some rough edges and learning what friendship is all about (as are most 7-year-olds). I do make it a priority to ensure my girls gets significant social experiences, including some that are consistent enough to make real friends. Both girls are enrolled in a one-day-a-week enrichment program, where they take band, drama, art, Spanish, and other subjects that are hard to teach one-on-one.

I find most homeschooled kids are actually better socialized than most public-schooled kids. I think this is because social skills and cultural values are more effectively taught by adults than by large groups of children. When my daughters encounter difficult social situations, I am usually immediately or quickly available to help them process their feelings and their responses, and to provide a mature perspective on the situation. They don't have to wait all day, stewing on their feelings and maybe making the situation far worse. Not only that, I'm there with them to model mature, adult social behavior (which I hopefully exhibit most of the time!). They see how I deal with difficult social issues, and they learn to respond in a healthy way, rather than watching a bunch of other 7-year-olds (or junior-highers), and modeling their behavior after them.

I think you're right, too, that homeschooling can reduce the effects of peer pressure and stereotyping. My daughters don't learn that "girls can't do math," for example; in fact, my younger daughter is exceptionally good at math, and I would not be at all surprised to find she ends up in some math-oriented career. Because I'm with my daughters most of the time, I see their strengths; because I provide their primary input, I can encourage them in the directions in which their gifts lie. My older daughter is a great leader, and school interactions with peers and teachers don't squash that tendency.

I remember in college interacting with a professor about what I wanted to do with my life. That professor belittled me, saying, "Do you really think, in this day and age, you can actually do that?" I struggled with that question, because it was a person of some authority and someone I respected who had told me that. But my previous experiences, especially being homeschooled, gave me the courage. I decided I WOULD do that, no matter what this professor or anyone else thought; and I have done just that. I believe the foundation I'm giving my girls will help them, too, to accomplish whatever they set their minds to do.

It seems to me that homeschooling, when done thoughtfully and correctly, can provide extremely positive answers to the questions the original post asked. When done carelessly, of course, it can make adjusting to post-graduation life more difficult, socially and academically; it can extend stereotypes and limit a child's options. But the format of homeschooling, and the fact that most homeschooling parents are doing it because they want what's best for their child, mean that the average homeschooler is likely to do better in life after homeschooling than the average public-schooled student.

Just my 2 cents' worth, of course! :)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Turning the Tables on the NEA's Homeschooling Statement

On the Home Education Magazine's News and Commentary page today, Valerie Bonham Moon has a great rewrite of the NEA's statement about homeschooling. It's so great, I'm not just linking to it, but I'm also reproducing it here in full.

2007 - 2008 NEA Resolutions
PDF-page 45

B-75. Home Schooling The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are
licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.

The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not
participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.

The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting. (1988, 2006)

And, since the NEA has had their shot at us, I thought I’d try one in return:

B-75. Public Schooling The (fictitious) National Homeschool Parent
Association believes that public schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide children with a nurturing childhood. When public schooling occurs, all small children attending must all have a lap to sit on, and a stuffed animal to hug. Older children should have comfy armchairs. The children must be able to go to the bathroom when they need to, and have cups of cocoa, animal crackers, and a good book
nearby. When public schooling occurs, children must not be subjected to boring textbooks, tests that have confusing answers, or have their square corners sanded off to fit into someone else’s round holes. Instruction should be by persons who care about the children, and know their middle names without peeking at a list to find out. An interesting curriculum should be used.

The Association also believes that publicly schooled children should not have their free time monopolized by extracurricular activities in the public schools that restrict full student-body participation because of grade point averages or talent tryouts. French Club doesn’t have a French test for members, why should the football team?

The Association further believes that parents should have the authority to take their children out of class or gorgeous sunny days to go for walks, on rainy days to splash in puddles, and on snowy days to ride on sleds.

What great points she makes here! And honestly, aren't the things she describes also a significant part of a child's education? When the NEA talks about "a comprehensive education experience," they are missing this very important aspect. I may make a stab at rewriting this myself; don't you want to try one too? :)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

"God's Harvard"?

There's a very interesting review on SFGate this morning about the new book by Hanna Rosin entitled God's Harvard:A Christian College on a Mission to Save America. The book is a report on the year and a half Ms. Rosin spent embedded at Patrick Henry College, the well-known "homeschooler's college." It's an interesting term, "embedded" - it wasn't widely used until the Iraq war, but now it appears to mean anyone who spends significant amounts of time living with and studying, and then reporting on what they see.

Ms. Rosin is Jewish, which gives her a different perspective on Patrick Henry College from either the prevailing secular or the homeschooling point of view. But unlike so many reporters, she actually spent the time really studying PHC and getting to know it from the inside. It sounds like she quite fairly assesses the reality of life at PHC. Look at these paragraphs from the review of her book, for example:
Patrick Henry College, or PHC, which opened its doors in the fall of 2000, was founded on the principle of enlisting "the purest of born-again Christians in a war to 'transform America' by training them to occupy the 'highest offices in the land.' " Not a modest goal. But ever since Patrick Henry's first students unpacked their Bibles and Palm Pilots, class after class has shown an almost single-minded determination to meet it. Over the past five years, at least one of the school's 300 students has won a place in each set of the coveted three-month internships offered by the White House. After graduating, some have gone on to attend elite law schools, including Harvard. One graduate is making connections in Los Angeles with the aim of writing major Christian-themed screenplays.

We might not have suspected the homeschooling movement to cultivate such outgoing personalities. But those are precisely the students Patrick Henry works to attract.
And this one:
At the heart of this book, though, are portraits of PHC students, from the "ultraconservatives" who follow the rigid Student Handbook to the letter, to the overachievers shooting (without irony) for the White House, to members of the "den of sin ... [a] group of boys [who] had worked the roommate selection process to commandeer one wing of a dorm," into which they smuggled cigarettes and beer and where they hung a "Pulp Fiction" poster.

The students she portrays are not the brainwashed automatons usually found in the descriptions of homeschoolers - especially the PHC variety - given by the secular press. I found the review of this book fascinating, and I'm really looking forward to reading this book. I'm not sure where I stand on Patrick Henry College myself - I have some significant concerns about it. And I know I will disagree with some of Ms. Rosin's conclusions. But it seems to me this book will be a worthwhile read for those of us in the homeschooling world who may be considering what our children will be doing for college.