Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some Observations about Homeschooling

I live in the state with the second largest homeschooling organization in America--but with a population ranked 22nd.

After watching and helping homeschoolers for thirteen years, I will shortly be homeschooling myself. In the last few years I have actively participated in homeschooling events as well. And even tutored history for homeschoolers.

Now, as I reflect upon what will happen when God's child comes into this world, I will be in the thick of it. Although not a recognized source of information in these homeschooling circles that won't stop me from bringing my observations. I will let the facts speak for themselves.

The Good News

1. Many homeschoolers are zealous about nurturing and educating their children.
2. Many are average parents working hard in a sinful world with good results.
3. Many children have testing advantages in SAT, etc.
4. Many children are socially adept.
5. Many children retain their parents' values.

These are good things. These are some of the fruits of homeschooling. Parental involvement is important in the life of a child (as I learned from my parents while attending public school) as the parents' activities and attitudes create the atmosphere of the home.

The Bad News

Now for the other shoe:

1. Many homeschoolers are less than optimal about nurturing and educating their children.
2. Many are average parents working hard in a sinful world with little results.
3. Many children have no testing advantage in SAT, etc.
4. Many children are socially inept.
5. Many children retain other parental values.

Someone will throw stones at me for writing this. But, then, that is the nature of critiques. This is an honest evaluation from my own experience. Homeschoolers still have a bell-curve: good, bad and C-students.

The "less-than-optimal" (distracted, lackadaisical, indifferent, whatever the reason) is simply due to fallen man's temptations. It is not a critique on homeschooling per se. Similarly, point two reflects the disparity between effort and results in a fallen world: even when parents do the best they can in good conscience, brainiac children and virtuous broods will not always materialize. The social ineptness of children is a nice way of saying that just because a child is homeschooled it does not follow that good manner spontaneous appear. And, of course, in line with the above, retaining parental values does not occur as a matter of course in home educated families. In fact, in most households (Christian, pagan, private or public school), children do retain the values of their parents: if the actions of parents are louder than their words, children general follow their actions.

But They're Still Smarter...Right?

What about that scholastic advantage? The latest work by Brian Ray and Bruce Eagleson, State Regulation of Homeschooling and Homeschoolers’ SAT Scores, notes in the introductory background information, that there are mixed results on the testing advantages of homeschoolers (SAT and ACT) (two studies show virtually no statistical advantage and two more show some advantage). As for college exams: "The few studies done on home-educated students’ performance on college-admissions tests suggest they score about as well as do those who are not homeschooled." This evaluation is confirmed by an earlier study (First Year College Performance, 2004) which found no "statistically significant" difference between homeschool and non-homeschool students in their first year of college. In short, children are not short-changed with respect to college by being homeschooled (answering a recent question from a concerned homeschool mom).

The first thing someone will challenge will be these statistics. Perhaps I used research biased against homeschoolers? Haven't we always heard that homeschoolers outperform their peers? Dr. Brian Ray is the founder of the NHERI: National Home Education Research Institution. Certainly not a group against homeschooling!

As for my own experience, I find the typical bell-curve amongst them. Some are brighter than others. Most may be brighter than their public-school counter-parts, but frankly, a little love, attention and discipline by parents can easily accomplish that. Besides, smarts is more than being able to take a test.

The Growth of Homeschooling Speaks for Itself...?

Actually, growth does not speak of anything than...growth. That growth must be interpreted. And in the first instance, in my experience, a significant minority of that growth arises from the lack of good Christian schools. Some parents frankly homeschool because there is no other option. This partly explains the recent number I read, that 65-75% of homeschooling families will quit this year. The retention rate is low.

Another interesting fact I have observed is that more and more parents don't homeschool full-time. Tutors or local group-schooling are being employed more often. This is reflected in the very numbers that many leaders hype-up. The National Center for Educational Statistics released their 2004 report on the number of homeschoolers: 1.1 million. But, reading the fine line shows a different story: both 1999 and 2003, about four out of five homeschoolers (82 percent) were homeschooled only, while about one out of five homeschoolers (18 percent) were enrolled in public or private schools part time [less than 25 hours a week]."

And Your Point Is...?

About two years ago I overheard a homeschooling leader retell a story. He was meeting with political movers and shakers in the state. They were discussing the woes of the public school: orphans, disruptive children, single-parent homes, etc. The overzealous homeschooler declared to the present company that he had the answer to those problems. "What was it?" they curiously asked. "Homeschooling."

My point is that homeschooling is not a panacea. It is simply an educational method. Nurture is important. Very important. But the narrow question of methods is not as important.

My other point is to encourage homeschoolers to be self-critical. Another homeschooling leader from out of state admonished the parents not to be too arrogant about being homeschoolers, "after all," he declared, "we know we are right, but we shouldn't shove it in the face of others." Forget self-critical. How about some humility?

I don't agree with all of the following but here is a homeschooler's professional evaluation of some myths (and even dangers) of homeschooling that any concerned parent should be aware of: The Myths of Homeschooling. Other myths include a homeschooling-is-almost-Gospel approach of some of the leaders. Others have commented on this, even those who are relatively new to homeschooling, such as Dangitbill's Homeschooling is Not the Gospel. I'll certainly have more to say to this little error!

This does not discourage me from homeschooling at all. The liberty I have in Christ means applying the best solution to the current situation as I see fit--homeschooling fulfills that requirement. In the upcoming months, I will bring more home education observations to the table. Stay tuned!


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