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.