Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Great Defense of Home Schooling

Joanne Burke is a homeschooling mother who is going back to school to get her teachers license. The following is one of the best defenses of homeschooling I have read.

My discussion board posting in response to a student’s question about the value of homeschooling (4/11/10):

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about something that is close to my heart. It used to be that I ran into more people with misconceptions and negative impressions about homeschoolers, but I am finding that more and more, home schooling is being acknowledged as the viable option mentioned. My own story is that at 18, when I first heard about home schooling, my reaction was, “I wish I could have been taught that way!” which stemmed partly from my negative experiences in school. I loved learning, but could imagine a much more positive learning environment than the one I had experienced.
In college, many of my ballet students were home schooled and I had the opportunity to get to know them and their families. I was impressed! Overall, these were children who knew how to carry on intelligent conversations with adults, were creative and delightful. While leading stretching exercises on the floor, I used to interview them, “What do you like about doing school at home?” and I learned a lot from their answers.
I have known home school students who have completed high school early and begun attending junior colleges. Another who completed high school early and spent what would have been her senior year learning to run a political campaign while living with and volunteering for a friend of her family’s who was running for office in another state. Some of the home school students I have known have received college scholarships and graduated with honors.
Home schooling is now legal in all 50 states. When the home schooling movement of the 1980’s emerged, that was not the case. Home School Legal Defense Association was formed and through its efforts this victory for educational freedom was won. You can read about the history of home education at their website: www.hslda.org .
Now that the home education movement has “grown up,” many students who were taught at home are choosing to teach their own children at home because of their own positive experiences. You can read the study that documents the attitudes and success levels of adults who were home educated at the National Home Education Research Institute at www.nheri.org. Other fascinating studies include that the home schooled student’s success is not dependent on the level of education of the parents.
For the “What about socialization?” question that every home educator has been asked: The question should be, what kind of socialization do children need? (I know I will ruffle a few feathers with this comment, and I know it is ironic that I’m seeking employment in the public school setting). I believe that age-integrated social interactions are more beneficial than same-age interactions. The traditional grade leveled classroom is an artificial setting and the only time during our entire lives where we interact for a large part of the day solely with same-age peers. That doesn’t happen at work, that doesn’t happen in college; for me that doesn’t happen in marriage – my husband is twelve years older than I am. Consider our current course, TED 622A: we are interacting with each other and it sounds like students range in age from their twenties to possibly fifties. I believe that Vygotsky’s concepts of Zone of Proximal Development and scaffolding support age-integrated interactions, student to student, and teacher to student.
Sometimes while reading the textbooks for NU’s teacher preparation program I have to smile as I can see that what is being stated as “best” is in reality more easily accomplished through learning at home. Several textbooks have pointed out the value of age-integrated interactions. Others have talked about providing a comfortable place for children to read, with couches and bean bag chairs. Hmm. Sounds like home!
Here is an excerpt from a discussion board posting I wrote for my last class that relates the readings to home education: “From a home school teacher’s perspective, I found it interesting that ‘research indicates that students who are seated closest to you will gain the most from read-alouds (Gunning, 2010, p. 129). My students are always seated close! For the classroom teacher, it is important to rotate the seating so every student will have that experience. Regarding the importance of the foundation laid at home, Cunningham writes that in order to help students who have come from a literacy-deprived background, “We must do all we can, and we must do it in ways that are as close to the home experiences as possible” (Cunningham, 2009, pp. 7-8).”
Most home school families that I know are very involved in their communities with students participating in outside activities. Some are so active they joke, “Home schooling? When are we home!” My children play community sports, hook up with a local charter school to participate in field trips, sell mistletoe at Christmas time that they have cut from our property, are active at church and take classes outside of our home, including piano and art. My oldest son, who is 13, is a junior instructor at a martial arts studio, where classes are age and level integrated.
I’ve discovered that taking the time to model and teach kindness and respect in the context of our family and then extending it to others we interact with has been very successful. Our community baseball season just started and all three boys are playing on three different teams. My husband had been taking our 13 year old to his practices and the other night I picked up my son and met the coach for the first time. His words surprised me, “We are so glad to have James on the team! He never gives me any lip and he looks at me intently, really listening, and tries to apply what I am telling him.” Was I proud? Yes, but also appalled when I thought about what he was saying. That is just baseline behavior for a coach-player relationship! I asked my son how the other boys behaved. He told me, “As soon as they are unsupervised for a minute, they go squirrely!”
We’ve taught our boys to always shake the hand of their teacher/coach and look them directly in the eye when leaving and thank them for their time and what they’ve taught. We’ve heard back from more than one person that their jaw dropped when they were thanked. I believe that one of the benefits of teaching children at home is that they are not as frequently exposed to the bad habits and attitudes of other children and pressured to participate. Then when they do encounter it, sitting in the dugout for example, they recognize it for what it is and are not attracted to it. Regarding teaching students to “get along with others in the sandbox,” the home educator has much more time and opportunity to teach conflict resolution than the classroom teacher, unless the student is an only child. Many home schooling families are larger families, however.
What my husband and I appreciate about home schooling is that we have a greater influence over our children than anyone else at this critical stage of their development. We see ourselves as directors of their education seeking to provide for their needs. Sometimes that has meant outside classes. Sometimes that has meant additional tutoring from someone else. We are on a continual educational journey. We attend home educator conferences and are connected with other families who share our educational goals. Nobody loves our children more than we do. Nobody knows them as well as we do. Nobody is more committed to their success than we are.
Homeschooling has been an amazing experience for our family as we learn together and support each other. When I begin teaching in a public school, we plan to continue to home school our children, with my husband becoming the main on-site teacher. We are also considering adjusting their school year so that I will teach units during the summer.

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