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Why homeschooling? December 28, 2005

Posted by samwyse in Homeschooling.

At one time, American public schools were probably the best in the world; unfortunately, the school administration tended to become one of the most ossified bureaucracies that this nation has ever seen. It has become impossible to get rid of bad teachers, who believe themselves competent despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

For example, a friend of my wife’s teaches at a nearby high school (not in my school district). She told us that the most recent Teacher of the Year award went to someone who has been arrested twice for assault, once against a student at the school! Unfortunately, this isn’t an exaggeration. The reason she told us was that she didn’t want to leak the news to the local newspaper, just in case her identity got back to the school board. Firing someone is hard, but making their life difficult is easy. So my wife called the reporter whose byline was on the story announcing the award and let him know, and everyone involved “lived in interesting times” for a while.

Fortunately, most teachers don’t have to “know” their subjects, and so neither do homeschoolers. At least through high school, you are teaching things that are already well known, and you can purchase text books to help you out. Of course, most American textbooks are also a mess, due to that same bureaucracy that makes decisions for political instead of pedological reasons, but home schoolers can pick and choose the ones that they feel are the best. As an example, U.S. school boards are being attacked from both sides on the matter of Intelligent Design. The result is unsatisfactory to everyone who isn’t simply warehousing their kids, but homeschoolers can pick the textbook that best fits with their personal beliefs.

I suspect that most kids would enjoy homeschooling, at least until puberty; then the drive to break away leads to all sorts of interesting behavior. I say “most kids”, because in my case we’ve adopted two Russian orphans with Attachment Disorder. Keeping them home with mommy is an important part of their therapy.

Letting kids watch TV is just another form of warehousing them. In Missouri, you have to keep a log that shows that you spend 1,000 hours per year teaching your child, so time at home is usually spent cracking the books. There are snack breaks, and “run around in the back yard until you collapse” breaks, and then back to the books. Except that there’s not always books; you try to do a lot of hands-on stuff. Cooking meals involves a lot of math, for instance. Adults and kids both will get cabin fever after a while, and there are lots of city parks with playground equipment that’s just sitting unused while school is in session.

Some people feel that homeschooling could be abused to just keep kids at home and/or work. That could be a problem, but I don’t see it. However we think about the public education system here, we all agree on the value of education. The Amish and Mennonite communities might be at risk for this. They are religious sects that live in rural areas and don’t want their kids “contaminated” by the surrounding culture. They really resented having to send their kids to public schools, but now they produce some excellent textbooks for homeschoolers. Migrant workers are another group that might be at risk, especially since there is a high proportion of illegal immegrants in that population. Even there, there seems to be an appreciation of the value of an education. There are special public school accomidations for those kids (where I expect the teachers are more dedicated than in mainstream public schools), and I don’t hear of people trying to keep their kids away.

In many places, public school is just a way of allowing women to go to work. Here in the US, I think that those same presures apply. My wife “retired” from a well-paying career to raise our children. Home schooling also has direct costs, since we have to both buy our own textbooks and continue to pay taxes to the public school district. Together, these factors depress my standard of living well below that of similarly paid co-workers. But such is life.

The point of homeschooling is to transfer power from the school system to the parents. I don’t think that the kids have much freedom in either setting, unless you want to argue about the freedom to just skip going to school at all.

Like everyone else, I want my kids to have a better life than mine. The two difficulties are that (a) their definition of “better” may not be the same as mine, and (b) unexpected events can strike at any time. The best way to handle either situation is to teach your kids how to adapt, and part of that is to expose them to as many different things as you can.

“A Man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” –Robert Heinlein

I still can’t do all of those, but I can and have done most of them, and my goal is to teach my kids to do them all.



1. kramtark - March 27, 2006

Great post. I found your blog by doing a nifty tag search for the tag “homeschooling”!

By the way, I saw that you had recently bookmarked/delicioused a link to a Gatto article, “Why Schools Don’t Educate.” I’m currently reading his book, “The Underground History of American Education,” which is freely available online.

There must be a “time limit” on how long a post will appear for a certain tag, because I found that one of my own posts about homeschooling did not appear under that tag.

I’d just like to comment on one part of your post, in particular… you say that “…part of [teaching your kids to adapt] is to expose them to as many different things as you can.” This is the reason my parents give when the explain why they had me go to public school — that I would be exposed to a huge number of personalities and situations which mirror those of the “real world.” Have you found that the types of exposure that your kids have gotten from homeschooling to be greater and/or more beneficial than those they would have received had they simply gone to public school?

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