Monday, April 07, 2008

Private Schools vs. Home Schools

This morning there was a post on the Uncompahgre Gorge blog by danielquenton. He asked the question, "Are private schools better than homeschooling is? What do you think?"

Of course, I can hardly ever resist a question like that. And having a fairly strong opinion on this issue, I had to get my 2 cents' worth in!

I believe (pretty strongly, too), that generally speaking, for most kids, homeschooling is better. Here are some reasons why:

1) Homeschooling provides by far the best teacher-student ratio. This means kids get a more individualized education, and waste less time “learning” what they already know, and doing worksheets in order to keep them busy while the teacher tries to help someone else.

2) Homeschooling takes advantage of a completely different format than classroom education. Kids learn science more effectively, for example, by experiencing the world around them - real gardening rather than bringing home little bean seeds in a jar that ultimately gets thrown away; catching a grasshopper in a jar and watching it eat before releasing it; bird-watching in the backyard or a nearby park; playing with soap bubbles and water to experience the properties of each; and so on. They learn history better by field trips to places where things happened, by reading biographies, original sources, and historical fiction in a comfortable, friendly environment, and then by discussing what they’ve learned with family and friends (rather than reading a textbook full of information processed and made dull by a committee, and then answering a bunch of questions about it). They get a much better foundation in math by cooking, sewing, helping remodel the basement, etc. - and they understand the relevance of it. They get more out of literature when they read whole books rather than just excerpts. And they learn art and music more thoroughly when they see it built into their parents’ lives rather than just as another class they have to get through. Private schools, no matter how good, simply can’t offer the advantages of the homeschooling format - real, whole books, life experience, field trips, observation of real life, interaction with and mentoring by many different people, time to explore, apprenticeship, discussion, and much more.

3) Homeschooling teachers are far more invested in their children’s success than private school teachers can possibly be. After all, ultimately the responsibility for how the child turns out belongs to parents (even when they send their children to school). No one says, “Well, it’s no wonder that child turned out so bad - they had such a terrible third-grade teacher.” The buck stops with the parent, and in homeschooling, that’s even more true.

4) Studies have shown that one of the top measures of a child’s academic success is their relationship with their teacher. Homeschooling parents go to great effort to maintain a good relationship with their children. There’s no guarantee that a child will have that kind of relationship with their teachers, even in a private school.

5) Homeschooling allows the teacher to use any curriculum or format that fits a particular student, and to use different curricula or formats for each student. And when students outgrow the teacher’s ability (which they will in many areas - and which, incidentally, some students will do in a classroom approach as well), homeschooling allows the teacher to seek out a different way for the student to learn - whether an online or correspondence course, a college-level class, a book, a mentor or tutor, or some other approach.

6) Homeschooling allows a family the flexibility to determine their priorities based on what’s best for them as a whole group. They have the freedom to put up their textbooks and take a six-day trip back east, as our family did last spring. (Dad bought a car in New Hampshire and we drove it back to Colorado, stopping to enjoy historic Massachusetts, a town in New York named after our family, and Niagara Falls, among other things. Our kids learned more history and geography from that trip than they would have learned in weeks of textbooks, and the learning is alive and real to them still a year later.) Or they can decide to do a bit extra during the summer so they can take time off when other kids are in school. Or they can skip math on a day when the kids are restless and bake cookies instead (a great lesson in fractions or multiplication, especially if you halve or double the recipe).

In short, generally speaking homeschooling is a much better option for most kids. Of course, there are some parents who do not have the self-discipline necessary to keep their kids on task; there are single parents who really can’t make the time to educate their kids; and there are selfish parents who aren’t willing to give up their own agenda to make their kids a priority during the years they are being educated. There are also kids who hate being homeschooled or who desperately want to go to school. Those families might be better off putting their kids in private school. But for parents who care about their children’s education and are willing to dedicate the time and energy necessary, home schooling really provides a much better education.

There’s a reason why the Columbia Missourian online had this quote at the end of their article on homeschooling yesterday:

“The dean of academic affairs at Columbia College, Terry Smith, home schooled his children and remains an influence on the recruitment of future home-schooled students. . . .‘There are no home-schooled students at Columbia College that haven’t excelled,” Monnig said. “They are all really involved, and most are on the dean’s list.’”


Shawna said...

I agree with what you had to say regarding numbers 1, 3 and 5... but I do not feel the same as you regarding 2, 4 and 6.

Number 2 described my entire childhood up through junior high and I was public schooled. In fact, I think it says more about our time in history than it says about anything. Schools tended to have more freedoms in years past; and my parents were just young and active and interested in life. We did all of those things you mentioned regarding the classroom projects (and our beans were planted in the garden when we brought them home) and the others: bubbles, mud cakes, experimental baking, catching insects and reptiles and camping and hiking,board games, collecting recyclable cans were all done after school and on weekends and summers. We never felt overwhelmed or taxed, but of course we didn't have the homework issue that kids today have. Yet we had a very full and active life... as did many of my friends, although not all of them.

Number 4... this year of homeschooling has in many ways harmed my relationship with my youngest son. As much and as hard as I try, he is not willing to take any sort of "instruction" from me should I present activities, ideas, or conversations and he feels that everything I do or say is an attempt to "teach" him when honestly it is not! It is just everyday interactions that I also had/have with his siblings. He responds better to an outside source when it comes to learning... in fact, he has decided learning is awful and as a life long learner, that just breaks my heart. I have had to point out many instances in which he was learning and say, "see? Wasn't that fun? And you were learning something!" This has helped to alleviate the dislike of learning. But this has not been the best situation for him due to very different personalities, learning styles and expectations.

And number 6 I feel is just a pressure that I think parents don't really need to worry about and that schools tend to use to their advantage and that homeschooling families tend to exaggerate. We have never arranged our schedules around the school calendar. If there is a trip to be had, we were strong believers that the kids would learn more on and during that trip than they would in the classroom; and I wasn't opposed to an occasional "personal health" day--corporate America does it, why shouldn't our children? In fact, parents even have date nights and girls night out and moms night out and other things that take them away from their duties as parents and provide a nice break to the regular routine. And I was know to check my children out for just some special time or special happening: a new movie that we wanted to see, a lunch date, a trip to pick up a special this or that. The school wasn't always happy, especially when my child came back and all the students ask where he went and he answered. But these things are part of life and learning as well and the schools need to be put in their place regarding what is best for the child and who decides that. Parents have tended to hand that over too willingly.

I don't think one form of schooling is better than another. I do though see trends in education that I feel harm the family... and that can and often harm children within the public sector due to population within the campus, politics, bureaucracy and cultural trends. I think the issue of what better educates our children and nurtures them is more about our societal expectations, politics and values than our educational practices.

And I do realize that some of the issues I brought up are more in regards to public schools, but they apply just as easily and maybe even easier to private schooling.

Marcy Muser said...


I see your point, but I think much of what you've said reflects more on your family of origin than on the school experience for most kids. Here's what I mean.

Number 2 - It sounds like your family was pretty strongly invested in your education outside the classroom. That's not what I see happening among most school kids, though. How much time did you have after school? Because the kids in our neighborhood (even the first-graders) don't get home until 4:30 pm. Then they have dinner, homework (averaging 78 minutes per day, according to the latest studies), and baths. When do they have time to plant seedlings in the garden, catch grasshoppers, listen to Mom read a story aloud, or play a game? Yes, they have weekends and summers - but they don't have their lives, like our kids do.

Also, the point of Number 2 was that the very format of homeschooling allows us to PLAN that into our child's education. As both their parent and their teacher, we can make sure they form the relationship between planting the seeds and reaping the fruit, for example.

Number 4 - Now this point I can see. Homeschooling is difficult, and it is only after years of doing it that I see the benefits in my relationship with my middle-schooler. (My second-grader is still fighting me.) But time and discipline eventually combine to result in a stronger relationship for many families (certainly not all). Keep in mind, too, that this is the most difficult time for kids and teachers in school, too - spring fever has hit, summer is still weeks away, and everyone's nerves are raw. But here I can definitely see what you're saying.

Number 6 - If your parents didn't rearrange their schedule around the school schedule, they were definitely the exception to the rule. Most families do their traveling during school breaks - that's why it's such a pain to vacation anywhere during Christmas break, spring break, and summer vacation. And schools and teachers generally don't take kindly to students being gone for any significant length of time. My sister-in-law, for example, has gotten a letter requiring her to go to truancy court in both of the last two years because her daughter has missed more than two weeks of each year due to severe asthma - and this in spite of the fact that the school KNEW the child was desperately sick. I'm glad to hear you pulled your kids out of school sometimes - but schools generally frown on that sort of thing and most parents don't feel free to do it.

I DO agree that the best educational choice for any particular family will vary. Every family has to weigh the issues THEY have to deal with, and make the best decision they can. One of my sisters-in-law was terribly disorganized; when she tried to homeschool her kids, two of the three lost an entire academic year. Needless to say, I did not encourage her to homeschool! But I do think homeschooling, done right, is generally the best way for a child to be educated. And when you look at the list of prominent people who've been home educated, you realize that a very high percentage of our highest achievers got their education at home.

That's my opinion, anyway. :)

Shawna said...

I understand your point, but my family really didn't think that much about education... it was just a different society back then. Kids weren't scheduled hardly at all, and families did what families had to do; if a trip to see grandparents took three days from the school week most parents weren't all that concerned.

Somewhere along the way society began giving much more power to our schools. That is my point. I think families need to take back their power; they need to stop making school the have-all of a child's experience. Life is the experience and school is just one part of that.

And I do agree that it probably takes time to develop a good home education situation and model... I just think each family has to decide if that time will be beneficial in the end or more harmful.

And I love your point about kids getting home so late from schools... again I point to societal shifts. We all went to neighborhood schools, so that when school let out at 3:00 we were home by 3:30 or 3:45 at the latest. And again, we weren't scheduled for music lessons and arts classes and sports and such. Much of that would be a weekend thing or a seasonal type thing. Music lessons often took place in a music teachers home, some place close by or in town... society today has turned it into a business that functions otherwise.

And again the homework issue: we really didn't have homework in the elementary years beyond the occasional book report. Our time after school was our time... and school didn't take us into evening and our parents didn't have us scheduled in the afternoons.

I think if parents and communities took back some of their power than schools would fall into line. Why are parents so afraid of schools--the tardies, the absences, the missing homework? Do they feel it reflects upon them as parents? As people? Do they question their own judgement regarding their parenting and what they see as best for their children? Are they trying to keep up with the Jones'?

Honestly, my parents never showed a lot of interest in my schooling beyond the teacher/parent conferences, the occasional school play, the classroom parties... it wasn't until jr high and me getting a little mouthy that we began to have my parents more involved. And that was pretty standard in our neighborhood and school.

And when we look at the homeschooling achievers we can also construct a list on publicly and privately schooled achievers--Marie Curie as an example, Einstein as an example. I agree with you that it is a valid option and one I think I would love to see grow and flourish, but I don't necessarily see it as better than other options.

And I love being able to discuss our differing views in a friendly mannerer... that is so hard to find these days and your views help expand my own views, so thank you for taking on these tough issues :-)

Marcy Muser said...


Yes, I do agree that parents have given schools a lot more power lately. I also think that schools have been allowed (by society in general) to assume more power. After all, when my sister-in-law gets a letter summoning her to truancy court because her daughter has been out sick more than two weeks in the year, it's understandable that she'd be a bit intimidated, you know? (BTW she ended up pulling her daughter out and homeschooling her the rest of the year just because of this issue.) Why have we gotten to the place where society allows the school to do this to a parent? (I mean, the child had pneumonia and was at the hospital some of that time, you know?)

And there are similar problems with homework. You know I've done a bit of reading about homework recently; I'm appalled at the way some schools are allowed to humiliate children who don't do their homework. Some schools actually make the child turn their shirt inside out and wear a button all day that says, "I didn't do my homework"! That is simply outrageous and should not be allowed.

But to deal with this issue, individual parents can't do it alone. People who are sending their kids to school have to be willing to take the time to get together and organize to put an end to the power issues. If they're not willing to do that, or if they can't get other parents to join them, it seems to me homeschooling is the best choice. What do you think?

Shawna said...

When the schools fail or parents feel that they are in a situation to be able to homeschool from the beginning or have a child who would be receptive to homeschooling after attending school, then yes ... I think it can be the better option. But for the majority of folks who have seen failure with the public system, private is their best alternative.

And I do think the parent and the environment of the home play a big part in determining if homeschooling would be the better. Some parents simply are not cut out for it, no matter how much they love their children. And some environments simply will not provide as much as a private or public school depending upon demographics, socioeconomics, and the ability of the family to get out and about to utilize what a community might offer.

I honestly wish that the US prolonged the start of school, as is done in Finland and Sweden and such, to the age of 7 or 8. And I truly believe homework should not even be considered in the primary grades of k-2, and any work that an elementary 3rd-6th gets should be the projects and such: book reports, science fairs, etc. The period stuff that has a purpose. I think the busy work can wait until a child is old enough to sit down and based upon what is going on in class can then tend his/her homework alone and have it resonate with whatever is going on in their classrooms/discussions/etc. But I do not buy this 20 minutes per grade. How many adults want or are willing to come home from work and devote 2 more hours to the office? (yes, I know that the career minded do this, but the average person, the mentally and spiritually healthy person who also values family and relationships and community?) And yet we expected this of growing, developing, energetic and curious children.

It would be nice if homeschooling were more out there, more talked about and discussed so that parents could consider it as an option. (I wasn't even aware of it as an option until after my oldest graduated school and I had been teaching school for awhile!)

Marcy Muser said...


Yes, I can see your point. I think private school beats public school, for sure. And I agree that homeschooling is not for every family; there are people who are too disorganized, people who are too selfish, and people who must work full-time, for whom homeschooling isn't a practical option.

I just think homeschooling is the best choice for KIDS, all other things being equal.

I agree, too, that it would be much better if school were delayed (or at least if parents were given the OPTION to delay starting). There's so much pressure these days that you feel like a bad parent if you don't put your 3yo in preschool, you know? And if you even THINK about not sending your child to kindergarten, you must be seriously disturbed (according to society's current perspective, I mean). And I agree on the topic of homework, too - in the early years (even in 4th-6th grade IMO), it ought to be limited to only those things that really NEED to be sent home. Math and reading worksheets, long lists of spelling words, sentences for vocabulary, and other such seatwork and busywork don't belong outside the classroom (if they even belong INSIDE the classroom, which I sometimes wonder about!).

I do think that homeschooling is becoming more and more a talked-about option for parents. Almost everyone knows something about it these days (though sometimes they have more mis-information than information, if you know what I mean!). And many people consider it. Now the trick is to get the truth about it out to as many people as possible - to provide them with solid answers to objections about socialization and the other issues they are concerned about.