Tuesday, November 10, 2009

One of my many hats...

is as a tutor for gifted and special needs' children. Parents often ask me if they should homeschool their children, and I usually tell them the reasons why I am increasingly concerned with this prevailing sociopolitical trend in America. There are some problems with homeschooling, which I see when I teach in the college classroom. I agree that some children will benefit from homeschooling, but they are usually special needs' students who do best when they have undivided attention.

I have seen other arguments against homeschooling, but because most of the people making them lack time in the college classroom, they also lack awareness of what your child needs to excel in a college environment. The skills your child will need are not skills you can teach them through homeschooling most of the time, not unless you are using a diversified, collaborative group system that more closely resembles a charter school, rather than the typically casual environment of the home.

Homeschooling is not inherently antisocial, it’s not ‘unfair’ to public school children, it’s not necessarily elitist, although it can be intellectually unfair to your child to deprive him or her of a rigorous academic environment that challenges them through diversity and collaboration. The National Education Association lobbies against homeschooling for precisely these reasons, stating that “home schooling programs cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience."

CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2004/EDUCATION/08/13/b2s.homeschool/index.html.

The heart of the psychological reality for parents of homeschooling is control, control over your child, his or her focus on what you deem important, and the sense that you know best and are equipped to provide the kind of education you think they will need. To understand this belief, read this article written by a mother who makes it clear that, although she is not qualified to judge her children's future academic needs, she nonetheless is "pulling them out of school" so that she can take the "burden" off of them: http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-248471.

This attitude, that children should not have to withstand the "burden" of the traditional classroom, is worrying. Unless you are a trained professional, you might only be thinking in terms of course material and your personal values, rather than the ways in which a more traditional, albeit imperfect, school setting, provides academic skills you are not currently aware your child will need to excel in today’s more rigorous college or university environment.

Homeschooled children receive somewhat mixed messages, in that they are usually very bright, curious kids who like to learn, like to read, and are constantly absorbing new information, but they receive this information through their parents. The home environment is not rigorous, and you lack objectivity and authority in your child’s eyes. Instead, children and parents work out a schedule that suits their personal needs and purposes. This is great for special needs’ children, who, it can be argued, rely heavily on parental intervention to begin with, but most kids do better with much more interpersonal, academically-oriented interaction, rather than interaction with a small group of well-known, familiar people. This articles discusses this concern, and brings up some of the other arguments against homeschooling:


I have clients who are currently considering homeschooling their nine year old boy. He is very bright, but has a lot of trouble focusing at school. This problem is exacerbated at home, where he is surrounded by interruptions and cannot apply himself. His parents are well-meaning, but are doing him a disservice by ignoring his lack of focus at the expense of wanting him to have “the best” education money can buy. He needs to be in a disciplined setting, where specific behaviors are expected of him, rather than a more casual home environment, where he can get up from his work whenever he pleases.

Students I have taught who were homeschooled have shown themselves to be very bright, and good at paperwork, but limited in their abilities to interact collaboratively. Their abilities to argue constructively are poor, because they have so little experience discussing their beliefs and opinions amongst groups. One student in particular stands out, because she learned at home that there was only one book she should ever rely on, and that was the Bible. However, in a typical composition classroom, we use a minimum of three sources to support an argumentation paper, and her inability and unwillingness to do so earned her a much lower grade than her intellectual abilities deserved.

Ultimately, there are students who will do well being homeschooled. As I've said, they are typically special-needs students who simply must have the one-on-one focused attention to succeed in an academic environment. However, most students who are capable, bright, and eager learners, lose out relying on parents to provide a rigorous, in-home preparation for their academic career.

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