Giving home schooling a bad name

Rick Santorum’s home-school hokum
America’s most famous home-schooler spent three years soaking Pennsylvania taxpayers for his kids’ education

I don’t need other reasons to not like Santorum and almost didn’t bother to read this article (I had already heard about his highly ethically questionable behavior) but decided to take a look just for the heck of it. I found it surprising in the article’s focus on home schooling and since I am interested in education in general and have studied homes schooling quite a bit (I had intended to home school our boy) I felt I had something to say, hence this post…

I had a massive dislike of my public school educational time. I am sure that a great deal of that was due to my dad being in the Navy and us moving every couple of years (I attended quite a few schools and lemme tell you, that scars you for life!). However, I also found the pace, particularly in high school, to be abysmally slow (keep in mind, this was 30 years ago, I can’t imagine things have improved) and could, even in advanced ‘AP’ classes, pass (I was, and likely will always remain, a ‘C’ student (in graduate school ‘B’ is the new ‘C’ and that is all I achieved)) simply by being in class and exposed to lecture (I was able to, for the most part, drift through my bachelors degree the same way, but things changed dramatically in graduate school where I likely studied for each class as much as I had in my entire career up to that point). Though I am sure some will consider this a form of bragging, I consider it a clear sign that our educational expectations of a society are so poor that someone like me can lazily drift through school without having to apply himself. If (as I like to believe; who doesn’t think they are the smartest (and best looking!) thing around?) I am pretty smart, oughtn’t the educational system have the obligation to recognize that and put me in the situation (which finally happened in graduate school) where I had to actually apply myself in order to succeed? I am quite sure that if my classes were 10x more challenging I would have exerted 10x more effort (perhaps I would finally been inspired and put in 20x more) and been able to learn so much more. As I often comment, I have become a scientist and a lover of learning in spite of my education, not because of it.

Back to home schooling… I thought a lot about how I would try to educate any children I might have, even before I ever had any (despite my wife’s convictions from time to time, I have always had an interest in being a dad, just not a strong enough interest to be the prime motivator to make it happen). Those thoughts happened much more often after I did become a dad (hard to believe it was 7 years ago; I swear I was able to hold the little bologna loaf in my arm just a few weeks ago) and I had pretty much settled on doing the home school thing. One thing I hadn’t considered until it was time to put rubber to road was the rather acute lack of social experiences that one gets when one is home schooled. Yes, people talk about their kids being so much better able to interact with adults, but you know what? Learning to deal with peer pressure and the nasty, mean things that other children do, is important in life because there are always adults (in stature and chronological age) that have the mentality of these spiteful, nasty, cliquish children one almost inevitably meets in school.

A couple of things that drove that point home to me happened when we would take our boy to the playground (he has always been a big boy (consistently at the 99% percentile height and weight) and we try to encourage him to exercise regularly (sadly without a lot of positive results)). One time he met another boy about his age (3 or 4 I guess) and the other boy had basically no knowledge or experience with other kids and was very hesitant to play. He worked his way out of that shell, but I was interested in looking at his care giver (looked like a grandma) and how cautious she looked. I tend to play pretty rough with my boy (he doesn’t seem to feel pain unless something unexpected happens, indeed he seems to enjoy getting beaten up (and beating up) and I am sure will be recruited into football as soon as some coach finds this out about him) and he has picked some of that up (most of his cousins play pretty rough as well, so I am not the only culprit). Another time we were at a playground and he was playing with another boy (older at this point, perhaps they were 4 or 5) and that boy was hesitating climbing over something or other and my boy gave him a swat to the butt to get him moving. To all of our surprise the boy immediately started to cry, ran to his mother who then hustled him off the playground and away. Our boy was quite confused, he hadn’t even manhandled the other kid and I wasn’t able to offer much in the way of explanation (well, didn’t choose to). I was thinking as I observed this event that the parents probably were keeping the boy so protected from the world that he would probably grow up totally incapable of interactions as an adult.

These events (and plenty of others) started me thinking that as much as I felt home schooling was a better educational approach, it was incomplete. So incomplete that homeschooling at a young age might lead to a lifetime of scaring just like my education process did, though with totally different sets of scars. I read this article a while ago:

A home-schooler goes to college
It wasn’t the schoolwork or social life that threw me. It’s that I never realized how dull a classroom could be

and it also had me thinking. As much as I disliked high school it did prepare me (in a sad way) for college. Since there is no current way to get an advanced degree without having achieved the earlier milestones, perhaps some organized school is a necessary preparation for the ‘rigors’ of college. In any case, due to money issues we had to put our boy into preschool so my wife could go back to work full-time so our window to home school pretty much snapped shut in my face (my wife was far from convinced she (the responsibilities would have fallen mostly on her shoulders) could manage anyway). I found that in the preschools he was attending (some at the YMCA, others at a Catholic school) he was actually learning quite well. For kindergarten we opted to go with public school (largely because that is what the boy wanted, he had had some speech classes (he was a very slow talker, but was walking at around 6 months) at the local elementary school and he remembered those times with fondness (though after he actually started school he said he wanted to go back to the Catholic school, though I am sure their kindergarten would have been much more rigorous than their preschool)) and because of the head start he got in the preschool he was actually promoted to first grade halfway through kindergarten. His progress in second grade doesn’t seem to be going as well and it is hard for me to judge where the problems might lie. However, he is still making overall progress and appears to be doing satisfactorily, but his 6 month older cousin is much more advanced, at least so it seems to me (but then again girls supposedly take to education better than boys).

So I still can’t make up my mind about home schooling. Perhaps when he gets older we can discuss as a family the idea of his learning from home. At the tender age of 7 he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to progress without heavy handed direction and I am generally way too tired to provide that when I get home. Maybe if he picks up some personal discipline (he has been making good progress as a Taekwondo student the last year) we can contemplate that route. He has got lots of social exposure at this point and my understanding it is increasingly common for home schooled students to be allowed to play organized school sports (he seems to love sports, though they have been mostly ‘disorganized’ up to this point) so he might be able to have his cake and eat it also.

Author: Tfoui

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