Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Truth About What School Can Be Like

Many of us have pink-tinted memories of our experiences in school. We have a tendency to think back affectionately on the people we knew and cared about, and to forget the painful situations that often arose.

Dana over at Principled Discovery has had the courage to tell the truth about what school was like for her. She generally says she had a positive school experience - but when she thought back to what she had learned in school, there was a lot of pain stored there. Her post is called, "Homeschool stereotypes vs. public school realities," and it's worth reading all the way through. The lessons she learned in school reflect, to a large extent, what public school "socialization" really involves; and they ought to stimulate each of us to think seriously about what kind of socialization we really want our kids to have. I know one thing - the things she learned are not the things I want my kids to learn. That's why I homeschool.

One of these days maybe I'll get up the nerve to write about my own experience in school as a child. I hope my kids will have much better childhood experiences to write about someday.

Great Homeschooling Links

This morning I discovered a website with an amazing number of top-notch links for homeschoolers. From organization and forms to free online books; from SAT prep to online math games; from foreign language to a clickable mummy - this site has it ALL! And almost every link is free. I must have bookmarked 20 sites from links I followed from this site, and I haven't even gotten to the bottom yet.

The post goes by the unassuming title, "Lots of Links to Help Homeschoolers," and here's the link:


Friday, August 15, 2008

Homeschoolers Transitioning to Public Schools

Not every homeschooler chooses to continue homeschooling throughout their child's school years. As a result, a significant question arises: what does it take for a family to have a successful transition from homeschool to public school? A doctoral student at the University of Missouri did his dissertation on the topic, and recently Milton Gaither reviewed it on his blog, Homeschooling Research Notes, in a post entitled, "Koonce on Transitioning from Home School to Public School."

Koonce's research was admittedly based on a very small sample of 13 Missouri families who agreed to be interviewed. That's too bad, because his conclusions are fascinating, and it would be helpful to have more statistics to confirm what he found. I hope someone will undertake further research on this topic. From Dr. Gaither's post:

What made the transition positive or negative? Positive experiences resulted when the school system was helpful and understanding of the student’s background (4 students in his sample). Negative experiences resulted either when the school was skeptical of the child’s homeschooling background (5 students) or when the homeschooling background had not adequately prepared the child academically (2), socially (1), or procedurally (1).

In short, the single most significant factor in the students' successful transition, found in at least 9 of the 13 cases, was the school's perception of homeschooling. If the school was "understanding of the student's background," the transition was generally positive. If the school was "skeptical of the child's homeschooling background," the transition was generally negative. Given the overwhelming prevalence of negative attitudes toward homeschooling on the part of so many people involved in the public education system, this is unfortunate.

It is also clear from these results that's it's important for parents to make sure children are prepared for the transition. Two of the 13 families had negative experiences because the children were not prepared academically; this is sad given the innate advantages of homeschooling. The single negative experience due to social factors is probably less significant, since it could be argued that at least one of every 13 kids is going to struggle socially regardless of their educational background.

In the end, according to Gaither, Koonce offers some practical suggestions:

Koonce ends his study with some practical suggestions both for homeschooling parents and for public schools to help ease the transition. Homeschoolers should make sure their curriculum is sound, that they keep good records, that their kids take “an anual nationally normed test” and that they have “a positive mindset toward public education.” Public schools should recognize homeschooling as a normal and legitimate educational option, provide a user-friendly enrollment process and mechanism for giving homeschoolers credit for academic work done at home, tap into the energy of the involved homeschooling parent-type, provide a liason to help students with the transition, and encourage part-time enrollment as a first step for those who need it.

While I think homeschooling is a great option, and I believe many kids would benefit from homeschooling all the way through high school, there are many who will eventually end up in the public school system. Parents send kids back to school for many reasons, including the difficulty of the subject matter as they get older. Art, band, sports, and drama all draw families back to the school system. And because kids are going to go back to the schools, it's important that more research be done on the topic of this transition, both for the sake of the schools and for the children's sake. I hope someone undertakes a much more comprehensive study of these issues.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Americans Think About Homeschooling

There's a fascinating article on yesterday's MarketWatch website. It's entitled, "Homeschooling a Constitutional Right, Americans Tell LifeWay Research," and it shows that in fact the majority of Americans do believe that parents have a constitutional right to homeschool.

The California appeals court shocked the nation with its ruling in February," said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. "We decided, as part of a broad survey of more than 1,200 adult Americans, to get their reaction and found that 61 percent strongly agreed that the Constitution guarantees the right of parents to homeschool, and another 25 percent agreed somewhat." Eight percent somewhat disagreed, five percent disagreed strongly, and two percent did not know, according to Stetzer. "Americans appear to believe that parents, not the government, should decide whether or not they should homeschool."

This is surprising, and demonstrates a profound change in perspective about homeschooling among society as a whole over the last 25 years or so. Back in the 80's, homeschooling was little-known, and many people thought it was a strange thing to do. Oh, a few people did it - the University of Nebraska, for example, even allowed kids to earn a high school diploma through independent study (I know, I got mine that way!). But mostly it was reserved to the fringes and to the exceptional situation: farm kids, missionary kids, kids with sicknesses that kept them out of school for long periods, and so on.

It speaks very well of the homeschooling community that since the 1980's homeschooling has become, not only accepted among the general population, but a constitutional right. This can only be the result of many dedicated homeschooling parents working exceptionally hard to show that homeschooling can in fact be as good a way of educating kids as any other schooling.

However, we still have our work cut out for us in demonstrating that homeschooling not only provides a good education, but also excellent social skills.

Many have expressed concern that homeschooling fails to provide adequate socialization and connection to broader society, often leading to weaker social interaction and skills. In the LifeWay Research survey, 54 percent of respondents agreed, somewhat or strongly, that "children who are homeschooled often lack social skills."

Remember, this is a perception, not reality. The general public thinks homeschoolers often lack social skills. It's up to us, as homeschooling parents, to help change this belief on the part of ordinary people, and the best way I can think of is to train our kids, very carefully and deliberately, in social skills. Manners, etiquette, kindness, consideration - these things must be taught on purpose and consistently. We spend large portions of our time with our kids; we have the chance to observe them regularly. It's critical that we observe our kids' behavior and their interactions with others, and that we correct them for inappropriate social interaction. The more we do this, the more likely it is that our kids will grow up to respond correctly in social situations.

It's encouraging to see that our culture is beginning to recognize the value of homeschooling, and the right of parents to educate children as they believe is best for them. And as we consistently raise children who contradict the general opinion about socialization, that misperception will also fall by the wayside, and people will see the truth about how good homeschooling can be for kids.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Ultimate Homeschool Environment

My Google alert today brought up a post from IEducation called, "6 Effective Ways to Create the Ultimate Homeschooling Environment." It's a pretty short post, and it has some decent ideas, but the more I read, the more frustrated I felt with it. So I decided to add a comment, and write my own post on the topic.

The post begins with this:

Many people are now into homeschooling these days for whatever reason. It is important to design a classroom environment so the kids can feel as though they are at a school.

I should have known right away it wasn't going to be very helpful to me. You see, I don't believe homeschooling ought to be duplicating school at home. Homeschooling has many advantages and uniquenesses, and it seems to me we ought to take advantage of those. I've been homeschooling for 8 years now, and I'm pretty happy with our "homeschooling environment."

The author goes on to list the following "tips to create a perfect study environment."

1. Dedicated space.

Keep distractions away from the study area. No TV, no XBox, PS3, or any other gaming device. This is a time to learn and study. Keep it clean so the children will be ready to begin as they enter their home classroom.

Dedicated space? Not at our house! We use the whole house, the back yard, the neighborhood. As far as I'm concerned, homeschooling is LIFE! And learning is a part of life. Our favorite place to "do school" is the living room couch, but my kids use their beds, the floor in the family room, the outside swing - anywhere they want as long as they get their work done right. That said, we don't put on the TV during the school day, unless it's at lunchtime (and then it has to be educational videos, readily available from the library if you don't have them at home). My kids have learned to ask at lunchtime (even during the summer!), "Do we have any 'school' videos?"

2. Equipment Purchases.

Large white board. The teaching parent will use this frequently to show examples of
discussed topics.
One small student desk per child, or use a table for multiple students
Computer, an absolute must. A PC or Mac is needed to keep your child(ren) abreast of the latest technologies. Many educational programs are available online. Have your child(ren) involved in the selection of furniture and or equipment. They will take pride in their decisions and respect the condition of the particular items.

The only part of this I use is the computer and educational programs. I do have a couple of small white boards, which the kids mostly use; but if I need to diagram or illustrate something that's not already shown in a book we're using, a piece of paper is usually easier to use than a white board, and it's more readily available (we don't have to go to our "schoolroom" to use it). My kids do each have a desk, but they use their desks only occasionally.

3. Organization.

The parent and child(ren) need to stay organized. Keep record of books distributed, homework assignments, completed work, progress, and grades.

Here I agree absolutely! We don't do homework assignments, and we don't have a lot of grades, so I don't keep track of those. But without organization, your homeschool will fall apart - and your kids won't be able to find those wonderful educational supplies you've spent so much time and money on. Invest in some tools to help you stay organized, because you're going to have a lot more "supplies" than a household that sends their kids to school. A cabinet or drawer unit for holding art supplies is the most significant thing I can think of, along with plenty of bookshelves. You will also have educational games and toys you'll accumulate over time, and you'll need a way to store those. But don't buy them all at once - get what you need for this year, and keep an eye out for sales. As your supply of resources builds, you'll want to invest in more.

Get yourself a good planner, too. Keep track of the records your state requires, either in files or in your binder or planner. And definitely write down books you loan out, and when and to whom they were loaned - you may think you'll remember, but you won't! :) Have a special basket, box, or shelf for library books, too, so they don't get mixed in with the rest of your books - and let your kids know if they don't return books to the basket, they are responsible for any fines!

4. Motivation.

Encourage your child(ren) with their studies and reward them for great

I think the best way to motivate your kids is to show them you are learning right along with them. Use real books, preferably written by one author, rather than textbooks and workbooks, whenever you can. Textbooks are written by committee, and are therefore usually dull. But when you read a real book - whether historical fiction, biography, science, or literature - there is always something new to learn. Field trips, experiments, books on tape - all of these can teach us as homeschooling parents as well. And as the kids watch us being excited about learning, they get excited and motivated as well. At the same time, you can never go wrong with encouragement, or with reward big accomplishments (a tough math page ought to deserve at least a hug or a sticker or something!). :)

5. Syllabus.

Go beyond what is required by your local government or Board of Education. Take trips to your local library and let the
child(ren) select or suggest a few categories from which they have to choose.

The syllabus sounds like a lot of extra work to me, unless your state requires it. I do plan my kids' work, but I think a formal syllabus is a waste of time and prevents spontaneity. Instead, I spend that time and energy trying to find interesting, motivating materials and resources to help my kids learn. As for library books, suggesting categories is not a bad idea; I don't seem to need it, since my kids love to read. I'm also the primary person in my family looking for library books; I borrow dozens to read aloud or recommend to the kids when we are at home. (Usually I try to request them online before we go, so I can just pick mine up at the desk when we get there.)

6. Field trips.

These are always fun adventures for the child(ren). Depending on your location, select venues where you can apply their studies with the community or regional activities.

Absolutely! I try to plan a number of relevant field trips every year. And even a trip to the grocery store can be a field trip, especially with little people (try a new fruit or vegetable each time, or point out different shapes, or have them help you figure out which size container is least expensive; there are a thousand things they can learn there - and it keeps them busy while you're shopping!).

I think if you want to have the "ultimate homeschooling environment," though, you will want to make your whole home a learning center. Obviously it's not financially possible for most of us to invest a large sum in "extras" all at once, but over the years, you will want to accumulate all kinds of things that will make your home a great place to learn. Here are some ideas:

Art supplies - as many different things as you can think of. Don't invest a lot if your kids are little - buy discounted things at the beginning of the school year when you can. Crayons, colored pencils, markers, watercolors, modeling clay (purchased or homemade), construction paper, cardstock, poster board, finger paints, stencils, foam shapes, glue sticks, white glue - these are all good for little guys. As they get older, you may want to invest in oil pastels, better quality colored pencils, charcoal, drawing pencils, watercolor pencils, acrylic paints, Plaster of Paris, and different kinds of paper for the different media.

Tapes or CD's - There are so many of these! Books on tape are fun; so are radio programs such as Adventures in Odyssey and Focus On the Family Radio Theater. And then there are the educational ones - geography songs, multiplication songs, Spanish songs, dramatized versions of American history, and more. These days many of these are on CD. Also be sure to invest in a good tape or CD player; if your kids are like mine, it will get hard use and you'll likely have to replace it fairly often.

Educational games and toys - I prefer the non-computerized educational games. We enjoy the Cranium series of games, but many of the Milton Bradley and Hasbro games also have educational value in the early years. Discovery Toys has some really excellent games, too, even for older kids. Puzzles of all sizes and types are fun and educational; so are building toys such as Legos, Magnetix, and K'Nex. Speed Stacks cups are also fun and increase eye-hand coordination.

Sports equipment - To encourage physical fitness skills, you'll want a basketball (or several), a soccer ball, some cones to mark out a playing field or at least a goal, a football, a playground ball (or several), a bat and baseball, and a bike. You may also want a badminton set, a volleyball set, a croquet set, golf clubs, tennis rackets and balls, and more.

Educational "tools" - My kids think these are toys, because we don't use them often for our formal "school" time. We like pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, geoboards (these use rubber bands on pegs to make shapes), counting bears, 3-D shapes, and attribute blocks.

Books - Books, books, books! Biographies, historical fiction, Usborne books, science experiment books, classic literature, Caldecott and Newbery Award books, picture books - you name it! Surround your kids with books, and read aloud every day so they begin to grasp what's in those books, and you are likely to end up with committed readers and learners for life.

One caution - DON'T try to do all of this at once! I've been homeschooling for 8 years, and an at-home mom for 12, and we have built up our supply gradually. I remember as a new homeschooler reading about this kind of environment and feeling totally inadequate because I just didn't have the budget for it. But the key is to do it slowly, but consistently. Choose a few things that fit your child at his or her age, and get those "for school." Then keep your eyes and ears open. Attend used book sales; watch for books, toys, and games at garage sales; pay attention to sale flyers. Get these kinds of things for birthdays and Christmas (and ask friends and relatives to do the same) rather than battery-operated dolls and the latest fads. Choose quality over quantity whenever you can.

Keep in mind that what your family needs is to some extent going to depend on who your family is. Your learning environment will be different from mine, or most likely from everyone else you know. The key, to my way of thinking, is to begin with the philosophy that you want your kids to grow up believing that learning is a way of life, and that it's fun - and to keep that philosophy in mind whenever you are shopping. If you choose carefully and stay consistent, eventually your home will be "the ultimate learning environment" for your kids.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Feminism and Homeschooling

There's an interesting blog entry this morning over at Kittywampus entitled, "Feminist Homeschooling - Why I Don't." I've heard a lot of arguments against homeschooling, but this one is new to me, and I find her thought process interesting.

As you know if you read my blog, I'm not exactly an avid feminist; still, I believe true feminism means advocating for a woman's right to make choices that are important to her, without being pressured by the culture around her. In that sense, I AM a feminist - though perhaps many feminists would disown me because I believe that in many cases conservative values are better for women than "progressive" values. I think women ought to be able to make their own choices, based on what is really important - if that means they choose to work, fine; if it means they choose to stay at home, that's fine too.

I'm especially interested in Kittywampus' reasoning for why women should work. She says about stay-at-home, homeschooling mothers,

If she works from home for pay, she rarely earns enough to survive financially if her marriage or partnership were to end.


I see lots of female students hoping to be stay-at-home parents without much awareness of the attendant risk of poverty, and I suspect many mothers decide to stay home with the assumption that divorce or widowhood won't strike them personally.

The question that comes to mind is this: are we feminists simply out of fear? My feminism is rooted in the belief that women should have the freedom to make choices in which we find fulfillment and satisfaction, rather than being locked into something we don't want to do just because men want us to do it. But it sounds to me like she's saying the opposite: women shouldn't have the freedom to do what we find fulfillment in, if it means we might be dependent on the men in our lives, because if those men should fail, we will be in serious trouble. We should follow the current cultural pattern and go to work so we will have a "safety net" in case our husbands should walk out on us.

Do we really want to make our choices based fear that the men in our lives might not follow through on their commitments? That's not the kind of life I choose. Instead, I married someone I was pretty sure I could trust, and we each made a willing commitment to the other. If he chooses not to follow through on his commitment to me, then certainly, there will be consequences in my life - just as there would be in his life if I chose not to follow through on my commitment to him.

All relationships are like that. Even in working relationships, there are costs if people don't follow through (suppose my boss should suddenly decide to stop paying me!). But if we choose to live our lives in fear, rather than in trust, we'll never find real contentment or satisfaction - whether we are working or staying at home.

My own feminism pushes me to make choices I believe are right for me as a woman - choices that bring me fulfillment and satisfaction. In my case, those choices include staying home with my children and homeschooling. I'm well aware there would be serious consequences if my husband chose to flake out (with life insurance, there would be fewer economic consequences if he died - in fact, we would probably be better off financially than we are now). But I'm not going to let my fear force me into getting a job I don't want, so I can live a pressured, harried lifestyle while someone else who cares less about them than I do raises and educates my kids.

That said, I do work part-time, one day a week, in the homeschooling enrichment program my kids are also enrolled in. Over the 12 years I've been home with my kids, I've worked a variety of work-from-home or part-time jobs, just to keep up my skills, and figuring that someday when the kids are gone I will work again to pay college bills and provide for our retirement.

And I'm pretty happy with my life. I have adult interaction in my work, at church, at homeschooling events, online, and in other social situations. I love interacting with my kids and being there to see the sparkle in their eyes when they "get it"! I love the way we've gone from the conflict of the preschool and early elementary years to true enjoyment in being together (and how many parents of a middle-schooler can say that?!). I love the way my kids have had to learn to get along, because they are each other's only playmates. I love sitting on the couch together reading a good story, going to the museum as a family rather than with 30 other kids, and taking a day off to go swimming or do something special "just because." I love sharing my excitement over a given time in history or a science concept or a great book. I love seeing my junior higher begin to adopt the values that are important to me, and to ask questions that show she's thinking about significant issues in her life.

I refuse to allow fear to rob me of that kind of fulfillment. I choose to trust, with full awareness of the possible consequences. And if my husband should choose not to follow through, I will then make the choices I believe are right for me as a woman under those circumstances. My belief in a woman's freedom - my feminism, if you will - demands nothing less.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Public Education

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on the topic of public education, entitled "The Greatest Scandal." In an effort to point out the differences between our candidates for President, the article highlights how school vouchers and privately-run public schools are improving education drastically for those students who are able to take advantage of them.

In Washington, D.C., for example, the Opportunity Scholarship Program provides parents of disadvantaged children with up to $7,500 to attend private schools. This is in fact a huge savings to the government, since the District of Columbia spends $13,446 per student per year. According the WSJ article,

To qualify, a child must live in a family with a household income below 185% of the poverty level. Some 1,900 children participate; 99% are black or Hispanic. Average annual income is just over $22,000 for a family of four.

These people are obviously needy - exactly the kind of kids who fall through the cracks in many public schools today. But as the WSJ article points out,

A recent Department of Education report found nearly 90% of participants in the D.C. program have higher reading scores than peers who didn't receive a scholarship. There are five applicants for every opening.

This is a program that is working! So are our leaders jumping at the chance to duplicate this kind of success rate? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Instead, they are instead refusing the reauthorize the program.

The article also mentions the phenomenal success rate of EdisonLearning in Philadelphia, which in 2002 took over 20 of the city's 45 worst-performing schools.

The number of students performing at grade level or higher in reading at the schools managed by private providers increased by 6.1% overall compared to 3.3% in district-managed schools. In math, the results for Edison and other outside managers was 4.6% and 6.0%, respectively, compared to 3.1% in the district-run schools.

Wow - another program that is working! But again, the powers that be, instead of rushing to duplicate this kind of success, are trying to shut it down. "Last month, Philadelphia's school reform commission voted to seize six schools from outside managers, including four from Edison."

The WSJ article concludes with this:
Mr. Obama told an interviewer recently that he opposes school choice because, "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The Illinois Senator has it exactly backward. Those at the top don't need voucher programs and they already exercise school choice. They can afford exclusive private schools, or they can afford to live in a neighborhood with decent public schools. The point of providing educational options is to extend this freedom to the "kids at the bottom."

A visitor to Mr. Obama's Web site finds plenty of information about his plans to fix public education in this country. Everyone knows this is a long, hard slog, but Mr. Obama and his wife aren't waiting. Their daughters attend the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where annual tuition ranges from $15,528 for kindergarten to $20,445 for high school.

So just exactly why does Mr. Obama think it's fine for him to have school choice - choice that costs him almost as much as our family makes in a year - but not for the rest of us?

School choice promotes competition, which almost always results in a better end product than a monopoly. In Colorado, open enrollment has allowed students some measure of school choice since 1994, and has been pretty effective; however, options are limited to public and charter schools, parents are responsible for transporting students to open-enrollment choices, and the best schools fill up quickly, often from within their own attendance areas.

But when we study the reality of what happens when families get real choices in education, we discover that, just as was true in Washington, D.C., choice means improvement. The Alliance for Choice in Education offers scholarships for children from needy families in Denver to attend private schools - and those students have a 95% graduation rate (in spite of the fact that 78% of their scholarship recipients have a household income of under $30,000/year, and the families are required to contribute half of the private school tuition!). Not only that, but students in these programs in Cleveland and Milwaukee, where school vouchers are widely used, show significant improvements in reading and math (between 7 and 15 points higher in their percentile ranking from their own previous scores).

So what's the conclusion? As might be expected, increased competition means improved schools. I am aware of no studies that show what happens to public school test scores when competition is introduced (via charter schools, open enrollment, school vouchers, or privately-run public schools). Admittedly, this might be difficult to determine, since the competition would undoubtedly "skim" some of the better students from the public schools; still, it would be interesting to see what heppens. It would also be interesting to see the results of school choice on individual students. (We may someday be able to see these results, as the Milwaukee Longitudinal Educational Growth Study has just released its "Baseline Report" - perhaps 10-15 years in the future we'll be able to tell whether students in school voucher programs in fact show greater improvement in their test scores and in their success rates in life.) But given what we know now, state and local governments across the nation ought to be looking to increase competition in order to improve performance for all schools.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Do We Need a New Federal Policy in Education?

Many people have written criticizing NCLB - the No Child Left Behind Act. I have my own criticisms of that act, which I will not go into here.

But the Forum for Education Reform has produced a 72-page report entitled "Democracy At Risk: The Need for a New Federal Policy in Education." In that report, they propose to increase federal spending on education by $29 billion per year. Considering that 2008 federal spending on education amounts to something over $67 billion, that's a pretty hefty increase - 43%.

Among their evidence in support of the "need" for this, you'll find this statement:
By the mid-1970s, achievement had improved, college-going rates for African American and Hispanic students were equivalent to those for white students, and teacher shortages had been nearly eliminated. The United States led the world in education.

However, many of these initiatives were ended in the 1980s and the gains lost when the federal share of education spending was sharply cut in half. Although modest progress was made in the 1990s, other countries have surged ahead with strategic investments in systems that promote top-flight teaching for higher-order skills in every school.

You'll forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical of this position on American education in the mid-70's. In this sample chapter from Salem Press' book, The Seventies in America, the education scene during the 1970's does not look nearly as positive as the Forum for Education Reform would suggest. This was the decade of forced busing, "white flight," court-ordered equalization (meaning the court required that there be no more than $100 difference in spending between public school districts) and open classrooms. By 1975, according to this link, "reports showed that scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), used as a college entrance examination, had dropped dramatically since the previous decade." And this in spite of the fact that federal spending on education between 1965 and 1975 had increased by 207%! The final sentence in the chapter from the Salem Press book is: "Concern over apparently dropping test scores and over the quality of American education began to grow." Does this sound to you like the Forum for Education Reform's description of the mid-1970's in American education? (Oh, and by the way - until 1979 there WAS no U.S. Department of Education - so if the United States in fact "led the world in education" during the mid-70's, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether the federalization of American education might have had something to do with the decline in our schools.)

The Democracy At Risk report goes on to say that "the federal share of education spending was cut in half" during the 1980's. However, a more rational look at the situation is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics' report, entitled "Federal Support for Education: Fiscal Years 1980 to 2002." On page 3 of this report, the most significant drop in education spending between 1980 and 1985 is reported in this sentence: "During this same time period, elementary and secondary education funds dropped 21 percent, after adjusting for inflation." And between 1985 and 1990, spending on elementary and secondary inflation actually increased 12 percent.

As for the Democracy At Risk report's "modest progress" during the 1990's, on-budget education spending for elementary and secondary education increased 87% between 1990 and 2002; "off-budget support and nonfederal funds generated by federal legislation" increased 281%. If this is modest, I wonder what it would take for them to consider a funding increase "substantial"! Federal spending on education has continued to increase throughout the 6 years since 2002.

But for the Forum for Education Reform, we are still not spending enough federal money on education. In fact, on page 27 of "Democracy At Risk," they spend an entire page praising the Finnish system, which provides teacher candidates with a 3-year graduate degree in education, paid for entirely (including room and board) by the Finnish government. And while I would agree that it appears the Finnish system has produced excellent results, raising Finland to the very top of the heap in international comparisons, the cost has been extremely high. While in the United States our 2008 Tax Freedom Day was April 23 (meaning the average American has to work until that date just to pay our taxes), in Finland they did not hit theirs until June 5. That means the average Finnish worker pays almost half his/her income in taxes!

There must be a better way to improve America's education system than just throwing more money at it. The U.S. Census Bureau provides the following information on per-pupil spending in different states:
School district spending per pupil was highest in New York ($14,884), followed by New Jersey ($14,630) and the District of Columbia ($13,446). States where school districts spent the lowest amount per pupil were Utah ($5,437), Idaho ($6,440) and Arizona ($6,472). (More info here.)

But the amount spent per-pupil does not appear closely related to the likelihood that a state's young people will graduate from high school. Utah, which spent the least on education, had the second highest rate for high school graduation (88%), while the District of Columbia had only a 78% graduation rate. And the average graduation rate for the top five states in per-pupil spending was 81.8%, only .2% higher than the average graduation rate for the bottom five. The amount of money spent is clearly not the issue.

It seems to me that if this nation wants to improve our education system, we've got to do something besides continue to raise taxes and hand money to public school systems. As the Heritage Foundation article entitled, "Examining 'A Nation At Risk'" points out,
This year, American taxpayers will spend more than $9,200 on the average public-school student. That's a real increase of 69 percent over the per pupil expenditure in 1980. The total bill for a student who remains through high school will be almost $100,000.

And we see our schools continuing to decline. On page 6 of the Heritage Foundation's Backgrounder, April 28, 2008, the graph makes it clear - as funding has increased over the years since 1970, student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress has remained stable. The Heritage report continues,
We also know what doesn't work: Federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind. That law required states to test students, but it ends up giving states an incentive to "dumb down" their tests to maintain federal funding.

A 2006 study by University of California researchers found the gap between state and federal proficiency scores had increased in 10 of 12 states examined since NCLB was enacted. It's better to simply let states provide the funding and hold themselves accountable.

And their solution? It's much better than the "Democracy At Risk" report's suggestions, which are full of "educationalese" - perhaps because it's written by private citizens rather than professionals in the education establishment. "Examining 'A Nation At Risk'" recommends:
We have big problems in our education system. But we'll solve them from the bottom up, not the top down.

It's time to slash the regulation and start creating the educational system our students deserve.

And the Backgrounder article has this recommendation:
At the federal level, Congress should reform federal education policies to protect academic transparency, eliminate inefficient bureaucracy, and encourage innovation at the state and local levels. Policymakers should embrace policies that give more families the freedom to choose their children’s school; allow school leaders to innovate and develop successful school models and improve teacher quality; and allow parents, lawmakers, and the general public to hold public schools and students accountable for results.

This is near and dear to my heart as a professional educator and homeschooler. I hope the leaders in our federal government listen.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

More on the Stridency of Some Homeschool Advocates

If you've been following the comments in my previous post on the stridency of some homeschool advocates, you know there's been a fair amount of interest generated in this topic. And apparently the interest extends beyond just the readers of this blog - my Google alerts on the topic have picked up several similar posts in the last few days.

Here is one that expresses my own concerns: "Homeschooling without being a Separatist? etc.! "

Karry begins her post with this:

I have been reading some things that previously homeschooled folks have said about their experiences, and why they hated homeschooling. The #1 reason I have found is exactly what I think a problem among Christian Homeschoolers is: an attitude of being separate and "better" than everyone else. As if, because we homeschool, our family is better than the family across the street who sends their kids to public school, or the family down the street who sends their kids to private school?

This is precisely my concern, and Karry goes on to discuss why she believes this attitude is wrong. She also brings up a related concern, about the fact that some homeschooling parents keep their kids away from the public-schooled kids in their neighborhood. Now, I don't allow my kids to hang out indiscriminately with the kids in my neighborhood; but I do believe God has put us in this neighborhood for a reason, and He expects us as a family to minister to the other families around us. So I do allow my kids to play with our neighbor kids, closely supervised, of course. In fact, the only families in our neighborhood we've been able to build relationships with are the ones who have children near our own kids' age - those are the ones the Lord has given us to reach out to.

Here's another post on the topic, this time from The Accidental Homeschooler: "Called to Homeschool." Kelly has some great insight here, including a conversation she had with a friend as she was considering the question of whether "every Christian is called to homeschool."

Kelly links also to this post from Spunky Homeschool on the same issue: "Conventional Wisdom." Spunky's post is fascinating. I especially thought this quote was interesting:

Asking the homeschool movement to decide whether it will advance a specifically Biblcial vision or not is like asking a hammer if it will build a house or a table. It can't decide anything nor can it lose a vision for what it is supposed to build. Homeschooling, like a hammer, is completely dependent upon the one who uses it. No one philosophy or worldview controls homeschooling. As long as the freedom to homeschool is open to all parents, it is an exercise in futility to demand that the movement have only one specific vision --secular or biblical.

And the post that started it all: "Homeschooling is NOT the Gospel." This one is full of piercing questions and comments, including this:

Furthermore, the problem is not bad education, it is bad character (sin). The solution is not homeschooling, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ and participating in the growing kingdom of God. The utopian society is not homeschool grads in power, but the consummation of the kingdom of God which will only occur at the second coming of the Lord in glory. I fear that many in the Christian homeschooling movement have a false understanding of the problem, the solution, and the ultimate goal. And smooth-talking, eloquent, yet misguided speakers that give vision and encouragement to homeschooling parents are not helping build the kingdom of God.

One more post on this topic and I'll leave it alone for a bit. This one is from IndianaJane's Journal, and is entitled, "Ruminating on Homeschooling." A sample of her post:

And they wouldn't mind keeping the non-Christians out of homeschooling, too. "In like manner, the homeschool movement must decide whether it will work to advance a specifcally Biblical vision, or take a “big tent” approach that is now comfortable and uncontroversial - and lose the covenantal vision. "

What they don't seem to realize is that they were never the totality of the homeschool movement and with each year they are a smaller part. I have worked
hard for over ten years to help build the big homeschool tent, and in spite of
false witness from some in their camp, we are seeing the big tent get more and
more full.

What I get, from all these posts, is that many homeschoolers believe deeply in what we are doing, but disagree with those who hold that it is the only acceptable position for Christians. It's my feeling that if we're going to successfully minister to the majority of people with whom we come in contact, we are not going to do it by preaching how much better we are than everybody else. When we flaunt our own self-righteousness, we alienate those to whom we could minister. We aren't able to encourage those who are struggling to hang in there, at least for one more year, to see what God might do for them. We aren't able to expose those who hold inaccurate positions on Scripture or young-earth creationism or any other topic to accurate, rational, factual information. And most significantly, we destroy our witness to the unbelievers among us - whether they are unbelieving homeschoolers, workers at the convention site, or curious bystanders who wonder what we're up to. The way to reach these people is with graciousness, gentleness, a loving spirit, and an openness to interact. If we don't demonstrate these qualities, all our self-righteousness is useless.

It's also important to keep in mind that, while the Lord will certainly hold us accountable for how we raised and educated our children, He will also hold us accountable for how we ministered to other believers and how we witnessed to an unbelieving world. He's not going to be impressed if all we can say is, "Well, I homeschooled my 8 children and discipled them so everyone else could see how faithfully we followed You" - He wants us interacting with lost people, and showing our children how to do that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Time Magazine on Teen Girl Purity, Time Magazine's website, has a very interesting article this week entitled, "The Pursuit of Teen Girl Purity." All too often, secular sources tend to look at conservative, Christian events with a skeptical eye; for a change, Nancy Gibbs, the journalist who wrote this article seems interested and curious as she attended a Father/Daughter Purity Ball at the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. What could motivate fathers and daughters, in 2008, to come together in the interest of preserving the young ladies' purity? As Ms. Gibbs comments, even the term purity has a "shadow of stains and stigma."

Apparently much to Ms. Gibbs' surprise, she discovers that the ceremony is beautiful, and that "The goal seems less about making judgments than about making memories." Well, what do you know? :) These Christians who are so insistent that it's good for young people to practice abstinence really DO love their kids - rather than passing judgement on kids for being kids, we really believe it is in their best interest to have strong bonds with their parents (especially their fathers), and to save intimacy for marriage. And so we do what we can to give them a solid foundation, positive memories of what really matters in life, and to build the kind of relationships that will help them to stand in opposition to all the pressures they face (rather than wimping out and saying, "Well, since you're going to anyway, be sure to use birth control.").

She sums up her article this way:

Maybe mixed messages aren't just inevitable; they're valuable. On the one hand, for all the conservative outcry, there is no evidence that giving kids complete and accurate information about sex and contraception encourages promiscuity. On the other, a purity pledge basically says sex is serious. That it's not to be entered into recklessly. To deny kids information, whether about contraception or chastity, is irresponsible; to mock or dismiss as unrealistic the goal of personal responsibility in all its forms may suit the culture, but it gives kids too little power, too little control over their decisions, as though they're incapable of making good ones. The research suggests they may be more capable of high standards than parents are. "It's always tempting as a parent to say, Do as I say, not as I do," says a father who's here for the first time. "But it's more valuable to make the commitment yourself. Children can spot hypocrisy very quickly."

I was relatively pleased at the ending of her article. It shows a remarkable willingness to look honestly and fairly at what she was seeing, in a way that few in our culture are willing to do. And though I don't agree with her about whether telling kids everything encourages promiscuity (after all, what kid isn't insatiably curious on these topics? And what kid doesn't experiment with something if it seems mysterious and important - and inevitable, as so many s-x ed programs teach?), I'm thrilled to see her encouraging parents to help their kids have high standards.

Just before that last paragraph, Ms. Gibbs wrote this one. It speaks clearly to the value of events such as the purity ball she visited, not only for the fathers and daughters involved, but also for the watching media and for the culture who sees these events through their eyes.

If you listen long enough, you wonder whether there is really such a profound disagreement about what parents want for their children. Culture war by its nature pours salt in wounds, finds division where there could be common purpose. Purity is certainly a loaded word--but is there anyone who thinks it's a good idea for 12-year-olds to have sex? Or a bad idea for fathers to be engaged in the lives of their daughters and promise to practice what they preach? Parents won't necessarily say this out loud, but isn't it better to set the bar high and miss than not even try?

I hope more people gain this sort of insight from authors such as Nancy Gibbs. And I hope more parents are encouraged to set the bar high - missing is possible when you do that, but so is winning. :)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Should Children Have Rights?

Back in June I wrote a post entitled, "Another Court Takes Law Into Its Own Hands." The post was a discussion of a Canadian judge who had overruled a father's logical consequence to his 12yo daughter, deeming it "excessive." A regular blog reader and commenter, after reading the original article on which my post was based, responded, in part, with this paragraph:

I notice . . . the reference to Senator Clinton and legislation that sees children as "child citizens" and permitting them some rights against their parents. I do not find this so awful as there are instances when parents are not acting in the best interest of their children... we see it all to often in the media. However, I would think that such legislation (passed or pending) needs to be very clear and not open to simply granting child rights simple for not getting a child's way.

I personally don't like the whole approach of spelling out certain rights of children, primarily because the results depend on our capricious court system. I recently discovered that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, states that one of the child's rights is to have their parents make decisions in their best interest. The problem with that is that parents sometimes have to make decisions that are NOT in the child's best interests, but ARE in the best interests of the family as a whole.

Here's one example: My younger daughter is having difficulty learning to read. I have tried everything I can think of, and have been doing that for about 5 years, and she's still struggling (and is now approximately 2 years behind grade level in reading - fortunately since we homeschool I can read aloud to her and she can continue to progress in other subjects!). So yesterday, after having her evaluated by a friend who is a reading specialist, I came to the conclusion that she needed to attend our local homeschool enrichment program on Mondays, when my friend will be teaching a reading class, rather than on Fridays as we always have. My older daughter was devastated - "All my friends are going to be in the Friday school!" It is not in my older daughter's best interests to move to Mondays; however, my younger daughter's need to learn to read supercedes my older daughter's need to be with her friends. And our family's budget does not allow us to drive the half hour each way on two different days.

But what would a court say if my older daughter chose to hire a lawyer and sue, and our country had agreed to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? How could I then make the best decision for our family? I definitely DO consider my daughters' best interests; but sometimes decisions need to be made that on the surface seem contradictory to a given child's best interests in order to account for the whole picture of the family.

And who is responsible for determining the best interests of my child anyway? I may believe it is also in my older daughter's best interests to make this change, too, because in the long run she will learn that certain needs are more significant than others, and that sometimes we must sacrifice what we want for the sake of someone else. But can I convince the court of that? I don't know. The judge may put more value on my daughter's socialization than on her character development - does that mean the judge has the right to decide?

As a parent yourself, I'm sure you could also give examples when you've had to make this kind of decision. And this is only one example of how spelling out legal rights for kids can have unintended - and maybe disastrous - consequences for families (and even for the kids themselves).

By very definition, children are immature, and thus are not able to make wise decisions, considering all the factors. While I realize some parents are negligent in their responsibilities toward their children, I don't think giving children legal rights is really going to solve that problem. I DO think it may cause serious problems to families who are doing their best to raise their children wisely and well. Ultimately, we have to give parents, not judges, the right to decide what is best for children - within certain limits, which obviously include NOT allowing child abuse. Granting children the right to sue their parents in court does not benefit children or their families.

The Stridency of Many Homeschooling Advocates

Once again life has caught up with me and I've dropped the ball on my blog for several weeks. My apologies to anyone who reads me regularly.

Dana has a great post over at Principled Discovery called, "Homeschooling Is Not the Gospel," which picks up on one of my pet peeves about our state homeschooling organization. Those of you who know me well are aware that I live in Colorado; if you know much about Colorado homeschooling, you know that our state organization is headed by Kevin Swanson. Now don't get me wrong, I like Kevin as a person, and agree with him about many things - but I strongly disagree with the tone he (and our organization as a whole) seems to take toward anyone who doesn't agree with him.

Dana's article is excellent and well worth reading in its entirety. She sums up her point with this statement:

Actually, I fear that some of these overzealous arguments against public schools do more to close people off from the idea of homeschooling than anything.

She's right.

I too get very frustrated at the tendency of many homeschooling advocates to make this a huge battleground. Our state organization is becoming more and more strident in tone - and the funny thing is, that’s in spite of the fact that homeschooling is becoming easier and more popular all the time. The criticism becomes more heated every year, and the range of those criticized becomes greater. This year, the state organization allowed only those curriculum providers who would sign a young-earth creation statement. Now I’m a young-earth creationist myself, but I think that’s just wrong!

Homeschooling does not benefit when homeschooling organizations become exclusionary: you must be a Christian, you can’t be enrolled in any kind of government schooling program, you must be a young-earth creationist - and it wouldn’t surprise me if soon you’ll have to believe birth control is wrong, too.

Unlike a previous commenter, I still like the seminars on Christian worldview, building up the family, and maintaining a vision for homeschooling - many of them are pretty good and help keep me going when things get stressful. But I, too, am beginning to avoid the general sessions - and there are certain speakers I simply won’t go hear, because they are far too contentious.

Why do we ask for war when it’s not necessary? And whatever happened to Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone”? Or Colossians 4:5,6: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders . . . Let your conversation be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone”?

It seems to me it’s time for a little grace, you know?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another Court Takes Law Into Its Own Hands

In Canada, a judge's ruling recently undermined a father who was trying to correct his 12-year-old daughter's disobedience. In a frightening violation of parental authority, the court ruled the father had punished his daughter "excessively" by refusing her permission to go on a school camping trip after she had disobeyed him. Details are here on Albert Mohler's blog.

This ruling is downright dangerous - not only for parents but also for children. If parents do not have the authority to choose logical consequences in order to prevent their children from engaging in dangerous, illegal, or inappropriate behavior - if children can sue and the court will simply step in and overrule the consequences just because the court happens to deem them "excessive" - then the government is going to raise a generation of unruly, undisciplined young people who have no concept of what adult life is really like. You see, if employees choose not to show up for work, or if they choose to have an intense argument with their boss, the consequences may be what the employees would deem excessive - they may be fired, and lose their income, a good reference, and perhaps even their home and possessions. Those are pretty excessive consequences for one little argument, or for "just being a bit late sometimes" - but they are reality.

Missing a school camping trip seems to be a very appropriate consequence for a disobedient 12-year-old. It is sufficient to act as a deterrent to the behavior, without producing excessive long term pain. I know of no parent who would think that is an excessive punishment, especially in light of the fact that by the time a child reaches 12, she is coming to the end of the parent's ability to inflict meaningful consequences. It's critically important that before she leaves home, she comes to understand that the world does not operate according to her whims. Unfortunately, this young lady has just learned that it does - at least if she's willing to go to court to fight for those whims. I fear this is not the last we will hear about this young lady - and I fear the future will show she has not turned out better for this arbitrary court decision.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Why Do People Dislike Homeschoolers?

In today's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Sonny Scott has a surprisingly frank, and fascinating, article entitled "Homeschoolers Threaten Our Cultural Comfort." I don't know much about Mr. Scott, but I found his article enjoyable, if a bit unrealistic about how well-behaved homeschoolers are. Normally I prefer to encourage you to click over and read the article on the original site; however, this is a short article and it's hard to give you just a taste of it. So here it is in its entirety.

You see them at the grocery, or in a discount store.

It's a big family by today’s standards - "just like stair steps," as the old folks say. Freshly scrubbed boys with neatly trimmed hair and girls with braids, in clean but unfashionable clothes follow mom through the store as she fills her no-frills shopping list.

There's no begging for gimcracks, no fretting, and no threats from mom. The older watch the younger, freeing mom to go peacefully about her task.

You are looking at some of the estimated 2 million children being home schooled in the U.S., and the number is growing. Their reputation for academic achievement has caused colleges to begin aggressively recruiting them. Savings to the taxpayers in instructional costs are conservatively estimated at $4 billion, and some place the figure as high as $9 billion. When you consider that these families pay taxes to support public schools, but demand nothing from them, it seems quite a deal for the public.

Home schooling parents are usually better educated than the norm, and are more likely to attend worship services. Their motives are many and varied. Some fear contagion from the anti-clericalism, coarse speech, suggestive behavior and hedonistic values that characterize secular schools. Others are concerned for their children’s safety. Some want their children to be challenged beyond the minimal competencies of the public schools. Concern for a theistic world view largely permeates the movement.

Indications are that home schooling is working well for the kids, and the parents are pleased with their choice, but the practice is coming under increasing suspicion, and even official attack, as in California.

Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?

Methinks American middle-class people are uncomfortable around the home schooled for the same reason the alcoholic is uneasy around the teetotaler.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return.

Just as the jealous Chaldeans schemed to bring the wrath of the king upon the Hebrew eunuchs, we are happy to sic the state’s bureaucrats on these “trouble makers.” Their implicit rejection of America’s most venerated idol, Materialism, (a.k.a. “Individualism”) spurs us to heat the furnace and feed the lions.

Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers. We compensate by getting a boat to take them to the river, a van to carry them to Little League, a 2,800-square-foot house, an ATV, a zero-turn Cub Cadet, and a fund to finance a brand-name college education. And most significantly, we claim “our right” to pursue a career for our own "self-fulfillment."

Deep down, however, we know that our generation has eaten its seed corn. We lack the discipline and the vision to deny ourselves in the hope of something enduring and worthy for our posterity. We are tired from working extra jobs, and the looming depression threatens our 401k’s. Credit cards are nearly maxed, and it costs a $100 to fuel the Suburban. Now the kid is raising hell again, demanding the latest Play Station as his price for doing his school work … and there goes that modest young woman in the home-made dress with her four bright-eyed, well-behaved home-schooled children in tow. Wouldn’t you just love to wipe that serene look right off her smug face?

Is it any wonder we hate her so?

Sonny Scott a community columnist, lives on Sparta Road in Chickasaw County and his e-mail address is

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Finally - A Non-Homeschooling Mom Gets It!

I usually get frustrated reading articles about homeschooling written by people who don't homeschool. All too often those articles are full of stereotypes and false assumptions, and the authors really don't have a realistic view about homeschooling.

But today I came across a refreshing change in this post entitled "Reconsidering Homeschooling," on the blog called Losses and Gains. The author is a mom who has never homeschooled, in spite of being a former elementary school teacher with a Masters in Teaching, because she never felt she and her older son would be able to get along. But she has a little girl, a 3-year-old, and she's thinking about homeschooling her. And rather than listening to all the garbage, she's thought realistically about why many of us do choose to homeschool. Here's what she thinks:

I have realized that a lot of what drives families to homeschool is the desire to choose. To choose what you believe to be best for your child, to choose what works best for you, and to choose what works well for your family. I see the flexibility homeschooling families have in planning vacations and I envy that. I see the ease with which activities are planned because studies can be worked in and around each child's individual schedule. I see the way a child's unique interests and learning style can be explored and enhanced by a thoughtful, individualized curriculum. And I can't help but wonder too if homeschooling mother's like me who abhor messy, three dimensional projects just don't do them? Wouldn't that be great? No more book report mobiles hanging from a wire hanger. No more diaromas or trioramas. No more clay landscapes perforated with sticks and twigs. No more paper mache, glue guns and midnight runs to Office Max. Heaven.

Here is a lady who gets it. One of the strongest motivations for homeschooling, for many of us, is the freedom to choose what is best - for our children and for our families. That's why different homeschoolers function so very differently, and why homeschool conventions are filled with hundreds of different curriculum options - because we value choice! Some families like to work through basic textbooks and be done, leaving them lots of free time or even the possibility of accelerating education and getting through college young. Others really enjoy the messy craft projects (UGH! - And she's right; we don't do them - at least not very often!). :) My family happens to love reading aloud together; we do LOTS of that in our homeschool. We also value breadth and depth in education, so we don't accelerate - instead, we do lots of "extras," and study topics to whatever depth we choose together. If we want to spend weeks on ancient Egypt, fine; we don't have to rush through so we can get through a textbook with someone else's ideas about what's important for kids to do. We also value social interaction, so my kids go to a homeschool enrichment program all day one day a week, and to a co-op another afternoon every other week, not to mention swim team (3X/week) and weekly church, club, and youth group meetings.

One reason so many homeschooling parents fight government intervention is that we have mostly chosen to homeschool because it gives us choices. Requiring us to have school district approval would mean our choices would be limited to what someone else thinks is best for our kids, someone else who barely even KNOWS our kids!

Lori goes on to say that she is sending her kids to a new school next year.

The New School is a K-12 school so if the boys are there, there is no reason we wouldn't enroll her there as well. No reason other than it is kind of far away from our house and it would mean putting a little 5 year old on a school bus for almost 2 hours each day. Which is why I have begun toying with the idea that maybe I would keep her home for a few years. Maybe just one or two.

I don't blame her a bit. Two hours on a school bus every day would be difficult for me as an adult - I can only imagine how tough it would be for a five-year-old! The trip home, after a long day at school, would be exhausting. I had a similar reaction when I realized our school bus took an hour each way, every day, to get the kids to school and home again - and our school is only 15 minutes from our house! Our first graders were leaving the house at 7:45 and getting home at 4:30! When I saw that, I was very glad I homeschooled. (This next year, my older daughter would have to leave at 6:45 and get home at 3:30, while my younger would leave at 7:45 and get home at 4:30. Then they'd have swim team or club meetings after that, plus homework - how would they even have time for dinner, let alone any time to be a kid? No thanks - I'll stick with homeschooling!)

Anyway, I was very impressed with Lori's post. I hope she does decide to homeschool Pumpkin - she may be surprised to find it's more fun (and more work, too) than she ever thought it could be. :)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Homeschoolers' Adjustment to College

Dana over at Principled Discovery has a fascinating post on the article by Dr. Laura about homeschoolers and socialization. In most respects, Dana agrees with Dr. Laura's article, but she takes issue with the claim that homeschoolers can have a hard time adjusting to college.

Here's the original quote from the article:

Obviously, home-schooled students have additional adjustments to make when leaving their homes and entering a university or college environment: social relationship, peer pressure, classroom structure, etc. They are being forced to adapt to a social environment decidedly different from their homes or home school support groups.

And here's just a small taste of Dana's response:

It may seem obvious, but is it true? Is there a qualitative difference between the homeschool and the traditional school which should favor the traditionally schooled student, thus making the homeschooler’s success that much more noteworthy? Are there social relationships, potential peer pressure and classroom structure factors which the homeschooler must overcome given their upbringing? Or are we focusing too narrowly on the external similarities between high school and college, and not enough on the qualitative differences?

I think Dana's point here is excellent, and I believe my own experience backs it up. I was homeschooled for high school (and several earlier years as well), and then went on to college. I did have a rough first week - it was a bit intimidating to be completely on my own in a strange place (it was California, after all!), with my parents over 500 miles away, no car, and very little money. But once I made it through that first week, I LOVED college. In fact, I think it was one of the highlights of my life, and I still have wonderful memories and lifelong friends as a result. I went to class regularly, learned because I wanted to learn, turned in papers on time, gained independence, got excellent grades, worked part time, and graduated with high honors.

I had many friends in college who had attended public school. Most of them had a much harder time adjusting to college life than I did. My dh, who had attended public school all his life, was thrilled when he got a C on his first exam ("I didn't fail!"). (Incidentally, his grades improved significantly after he married me halfway through, and I showed him what I knew about how to learn.) My best friend rebelled, dated young men her parents hated, and eventually dropped out. My first roommate struggled with friendships for several years, though she eventually got things figured out and I believe graduated reasonably happy. But their adjustments were far more difficult than my own.

I must respectfully disagree with Dr. Laura on this point, and agree with Dana. The adjustments homeschoolers have to make are, in many cases (though certainly not all), far more superficial than the deeper adjustments required of students who have learned to "skate through" what public school requires. And in the areas that matter most, homeschoolers often have the advantage.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Insults and Yardsticks (On Those Who Attack)

At Starry Sky Ranch, Kim has a great post about being mean-spirited. She references a "vicious attack on homeschoolers," to which she does not link (she says, "It was that bad"), and then proceeds to discuss the ridiculousness of many of the attacks leveled against homeschoolers. In the attack she highlights, she tells how many of the commenters stooped to attacking "the guest blogger's hair, wardrobe, punctuation, children, and general personhood."

I've seen something similar in many attacks on homeschooling parents and on homeschooled kids. When people have little or nothing to add to a conversation, they choose to insult the person talking. And of course homeschoolers make such fabulous targets, because 25 years ago when homeschooling was illegal, and homeschoolers had to hide under the bed whenever anyone knocked at the door, some of them did come out a bit unusual. Not only that, but at the time, in order to be willing to put up with the challenges of doing something illegal, homeschooling parents almost had to be fanatics. Even so, most homeschooled kids turned out well, and many went on to be successful in almost every area of their lives. So what if their hair or their clothes were a bit unusual?

But to assume that homeschoolers today are just like homeschoolers were then would be a HUGE mistake. Today homeschooling is legal in every state, there are many ways in which homeschooled kids can be involved in interactions with other kids, and we run the gamut from atheist to Wiccan to Muslim to Jewish to Christian (and probably more). Some families resent the structure of school that forces all kids into the same mold; some want to provide more enrichment for their gifted kids; some think one-on-one is the best way to educate. Some parents feel the schools move kids too quickly; others feel they move too slowly. Some want their kids to have more hands-on projects, some want them to read all the "classics," some think they should spend more time outside; some want them to go to college early and be teaching college classes by age 23. Some expose their kids to little or no modern culture, spurning the TV and reading and talking instead; others participate willingly in all the latest fads that come along, buying their kids "Seventeen" magazine and letting them "sag" or go Gothic or whatever.

It only shows how foolish these critics are when instead of raising valid concerns about homeschooling, they resort to ad hominem attacks - totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. And as Kim points out,

One thing we have always tried to drive home to the kids is that if a person is
reduced to discussing bodily form and function they must have nothing more
substantial to contribute to the conversation. Likewise when a person raises his
voice or makes personal attacks he generally has nothing legitimate to add

You'll definitely want to read the whole thing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Where Do We Find Real Hope?

As most of us know, there is one particular presidential candidate whose campaign slogans and literature all claim that if we endorse him, this country will have hope again. Today, Dave Burchett had a well-written blog entry on entitled, "With Apologies to Barrack (sic) Obama . . . Hope and Change Are Available Right Now." The main point of his blog entry can be summed up in this paragraph:

We are deluded into thinking that hope lies in a leader or a political party. We believe that change will come because of kindred politicians or better laws or lawsuits that establish justice as we see it. We think that the right leader will help educate every child no matter their circumstance. We hope that this political savior will provide healthcare for every person at no cost to them and that somehow we can be immune to the cost. This leader will help the poor find jobs and realize their every dream. And I picture God looking at His millions of followers with a heart sad with the knowledge that this earthly dream of hope and change will not satisfy. God has blessed this country with so much in money and resources. So much of what we now demand our government to do could be accomplished if God’s people simply read, trusted and followed His Word.

Read the whole thing. It's a great reminder, at this time when the media is so busy emphasizing political issues, that a political leader can never give us lasting hope, hope that satisfies even in the face of difficulties (like the tornadoes that whipped through an area less than half an hour from us this morning) or suffering (like the Chapman family's loss of their little girl). Hope can come only from Jesus Christ, and that is available all the time, not just in an election year.

A Terrible Tragedy

My heart is breaking today. I just heard this morning that yesterday afternoon one of Steven Curtis Chapman's teenage sons backed over his 5-year-old daughter in the driveway of their home and killed her. If you know Steven at all, you know he and his wife adopted their three younger children from China, and have poured their lives into these little girls. They even founded a ministry called Shaohannah's Hope, which provides financial and other kinds of assistance to families who want to adopt children from foreign countries.

I am sure the family is suffering deeply. Please keep them in your prayers. If you follow the link, there is a place you can post a message letting them know you are praying for them.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The FLDS Tragedy

I've been hesitant to get into this issue, as I'm married to a social worker and have a tendency to believe CPS workers usually get the worst of media publicity. However, after extensive reading, including this article from San Antonio's website, I'm becoming convinced that what is happening in Texas is a travesty, doing far more harm to most of the children than would have been done by leaving them in their homes. The article tells how the mental health workers who were sent in to help the children in their emergency shelters have reported serious abuses by CPS workers, and how when they complained, the entire mental health staff was fired by CPS.

The Headmistress at The Common Room is blogging regularly on this issue, keeping track of much of what is happening - which is quite questionable, even according to CPS records. It's difficult to determine exactly how many children are involved (300? 400? more?). It's hard to know how many mothers are still with their children and how many have been removed. It's almost impossible to determine where the children are, and in many cases the parents have not even been told how to visit their children and have not seen them in the more than a month since they were removed. The families have been told not to return to the compound if they want their children back, and then the legal notifications have been posted in the paper there near the compound. And the majority of these children were not in immediate danger (many of them were still little children, who were apparently at no risk of sexual abuse or underage marriage). In fact, only two of the women were pregnant at the time of the raid, and both of them, CPS has since admitted, were adults.

There is much, much more. Obviously some of it is overwrought, but there's enough evidence here that it's pretty clear CPS has overstepped its bounds. Please join me in prayer for these families, whose rights have been violated, apparently primarily because CPS disagreed with their religious beliefs. If this is allowed to remain unchallenged, all of us are at risk; homeschooling families, after all, are somewhat "eccentric" according to our culture's standards.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Education and Structure

I'm a bit late in coming to this due to having family in town and other end-of-the-school-year pressures, but Dana over at Principled Discovery has a really great article on education as a way of introducing our children to structure.

She quotes from another blogger who points out that homeschooling doesn't provide our children with the same kind of formality, structure, routine, and respect that kids learn in school - and then goes on to tear apart that argument. She even manages to work in a discussion of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, pointing out that if we wait until kindergarten to teach our kids most of what he talks about in his book, we are going to have major problems teaching it then.

Among the best quotes I found in Dana's post:

Home education, in its ideal, also provides a structure for children although it is different in form and function. The point is more about inspiring the child and teaching the child to take responsibility for his or her own learning. It is about seeking real-world connections and developing a habit of scholarship, wonder and, most of all, ownership.

Many of us do finish the school day in less time than the public school because we have the advantage of more individualized instruction and fewer interruptions. I can see where this question comes from: "What job can you work for an hour and then go out and hug trees?" (Grove Street’s Weblog)

But it really does not follow. I can as easily ask what business expects you to sit quietly and wait until everyone else in the room finishes their work before you can move on. What happens after that two to three hours it takes to finish what is in the book does not mean that education has ended. It is in this extra time that home education has the opportunity to assist a child in discovering unique talents and real world experiences.

I won't spoil it for you by quoting any more. You've really got to read it for yourself.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

If You're Thinking of Sending Your Kids to School . . .

Around this time of year it seems like a lot of homeschoolers seriously consider the possibility of sending their kids to school (or back to school). Something about the spring and the weeks of being cooped up with our kids in the house tempts us to just hang it all up, call it quits, give the responsibility away to someone else.

It's important to point out that it's not necessarily wrong to send our kids to school; there are times, for some families, when that's the best choice. If you believe in prayer, you may need to pray about the decision, asking for God's will, and follow what you feel is His leading. Whether you believe in prayer or not, you may need to seriously consider the options. But it's also important to consider the situation with eyes wide open.

Susan is a friend of mine on an email list I'm on who some months ago had to make the difficult decision to send her kids to school. Certain health issues made the decision necessary, and she is confident for her it was the right decision. She recently posted this to our email list, and I thought it was really helpful in understanding what is really involved in choosing to send our kids to school.

. . . (M)y four children have been in school since January. It is a very small, private Catholic school. It is probably one of the best schools available when you consider everything (academics, class size, student behavior, etc.). But it is still school.

Here is what you can expect if you send your children to school:

The school will love your children simply because they are well-behaved. Expect your children to be one yr ahead if it is private school, two yrs ahead if it is public school.

You will be judged for your children's academic success. If your child breezes through with straight A's, they will compliment you. If your child is behind the class in learning sight words, you will be looked upon with disdain. If your child has learning disabilities you will cause resentment for making their job harder at the same time they conjecture that you made the LD's worse by keeping them at home. You will be expected to own up to either your great teaching skills or your lack of teaching skills instead of saying, "That is how God made them; we are just following His lead and doing the best we can."

Your children will get sick every week. You will be amazed at the number and variety of new illnesses that enter your home. Your children will not get as sick as the others, but if you have three or more, you can expect to have a child home sick every week in the winter.

You will learn to dread the morning Sick Evaluation. This is where you have to determine who is sick enough to stay home. You will have to discern which children are faking it. You will eventually make a mistake and send a sick child to school. That will cause you pain because your child will feel like she cannot trust you to care for her.

And you will get every single sickness that they bring home. Every single one. A job outside the home might not have enough sick days to support this lifestyle.

If your child is outgoing and friendly, then it is because "school is really helping him to open up." If your child is shy and quiet, then it is because homeschooling made her that way.

You will learn to feel the vibe from the teachers and school officials to easily discern how they feel about homeschoolers. On one hand you'll have teachers asking you for curric advice; on the other hand you'll have teachers dismissing any knowledge that you have about schooling. Some teachers will try to teach you lessons, like "Giving up Control".

Your children will notice their appearances and make changes. These changes might involve scissors and razors and beauty products. There will be much thought given to clothing, even if they wear uniforms.

Your children will learn new things that you wish they didn't know. You will become adept at defining interesting words at a second's notice, usually in the car. ("It means a female dog, and..."; "It means that someone likes the way you look and really wants to marry you.") You will be kept busy with letting them know that words like "dumb-butt" are not to be spoken in your house.

You will be playing catch-up. Your children will do things and you'll learn about them afterwards. You'll scramble to find out information and deal with it.

You will be going to the store about three times per week to get something that they need. You will have to do doc/dentist/etc appts after school hours when everyone is tired and cranky.

Your grade school aged children will only learn American History.

If you have to help with homework, you might want to keep your homeschooling curric handy, esp the math and grammar books.

One of your children might fall in with the bad crowd, where the conversations revolve around that intimate thing that married people do. If you are lucky, the bad crowd (which is frequently the mean crowd) will kick your child out and she can find some nice friends.

Your children will be tired and hungry after school. If they are quiet by nature, they'll need time alone. If they are very social, plan to spend the rest of the day listening to them and doing things with them. The social child doesn't get enough talking/doing in school, and the quiet child doesn't get enough peace and quiet.

Expect your children to need an earlier bedtime and more sleep.

There will be many hidden costs, such as school supplies and clothing.

You will notice a change in your house. It will stay clean. If you have boys you might even walk into the bathroom and wonder if they are still living at home.

You will notice your children becoming less active. They will be content to laze about even when good weather and God's gorgeous creation call them outside.

Some of these things I had never thought of. Others I knew, but it helps to be able to see them all in one place, doesn't it? Thanks, Susan, for pointing them out, and for the help it gives other homeschoolers in evaluating the real choices involved in homeschooling vs. regular school.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Making Disciples of Our Kids

Among the reasons many parents choose homeschooling is the desire to transmit their values to their children. Today, in an editorial on OneNewsNow entitled "Fix My Kid," veteran youth worker Al Menconi has an excellent article on why many Christian parents are having difficulty raising their children to follow their own beliefs.

Mr. Menconi highlights the teaching of Deuteronomy 6:7, pointing out how badly we often fail at precisely what this verse tells us to do. Talking about the teachings of the Bible, the verse says, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." He goes on to discuss how, at each of these times, many of us are doing exactly the opposite.

He has a point. But I think what he misses in the article is the whole issue of schooling. It seems quite clear from this verse that children are expected to accompany their parents in their daily lives. But most modern kids spend many of their waking hours in school. After subtracting 9 hours a day for sleeping (scientists say kids need 10-12), kids are left with 104 hours each week. For the kids in our neighborhood, almost half of those are used just getting to school, being in school, and getting home again. And that doesn't count an another 7-10 hours (sometimes more) in homework. That means kids who go to school (public or private), are investing about half their waking hours in school-related activities, away from their parents. Then many church kids spend another six hours or more in church activities - church, Sunday School, youth group, Bible study, etc. - where they are mostly separated from their parents.

When we "sit at home" - when would that be, for many children today? If my kids were in school, they'd have to catch the bus at 7:45 am (6:45 for my 11yo). They'd get home at 4 pm (3 for my 11yo - but she'd have a lot more homework). Three days a week there'd be just time for a bit of homework and a snack before they have to be at swimming at 5:30 (Wednesdays we go to dinner at the church and then to Bible study - that day we'd also have to leave at 5:15 but we wouldn't get home until 9:00). They'd get home from swimming at 7:30, eat a quick dinner, take a quick shower, and be off to bed so they could get up and repeat the process the next day. And based on my experience, my kids are not that unusual - it's pretty typical for kids to have some sort of sports activity that takes up a couple of hours several days a week. Most kids today don't have a lot of time to "sit at home."

When we "walk along the road" - well, OK, we spend a lot of time driving around, don't we? But how much of that time is spent with our kids in the car with us, if they are in school? And driving with the radio on doesn't provide our kids with the kind of conversation Deut. 6:7 requires. How much time would Biblical people have spent "walking along the road" with their kids?

"When you lie down" and "when you get up" - for families with kids in school, these are often hectic, rushed times, as we try to get everything ready and collected, from homework to lunches to everything in between. It's even worse if both parents work, because they're also trying to get themselves out the door.

It seems to me that parents who really want to make disciples of their kids have GOT to find ways to spend real, concrete blocks of time with them. I'll be the first to say I don't think homeschooling is for everybody. But seriously, if we want to follow the teaching of Deut. 6:7, homeschooling makes it much simpler. It gives us another 40-50 hours a week with our kids - time we can spend actually "sitting at home" and "walking along the way." It gives us time "when we lie down" and "when we get up" to sit quietly and talk - about life, about Scripture, about friendships, about whatever we find important.

When I was in high school (lo these many years ago!), I was homeschooled. Every day after breakfast, my mom and I would sit around the table after breakfast and just talk for an hour. I cannot tell you how significant this time was to the person I have become. As a teenager, I felt I understood why my parents believed and acted as they did. I internalized their values much more deeply than many of my peers. I also learned to think logically and rationally, to relate to others as adults, to apply what I believe to my everyday life, to balance arguments rather than take a one-sided position - so many critically important things.

If Christian parents really are serious about raising their kids to follow Jesus, about making disciples of them, we need to find ways of spending significant time with them. Obviously there's still no guarantee. But if we don't ever do the things described in Deut. 6:7 with our kids, we're almost guaranteed to fail.