Monday, April 12, 2010

Our Decision to Homeschool...

Let me first say that I am not an enemy of the public school system. I was educated in public schools (except for a few years in a private school) in Canada and Scotland, and my children began their educational journey in the public school system here in the United States. I went on to complete post-secondary education and completed several degrees, diplomas, certificates and courses from a total of of six (6) community colleges and universities. The public schools I attended provided a solid foundation for my further study and I have been reasonably successful in my chosen career and a productive member of society.

My children (now 11 and 13) have learned to read and write and learn the basics of arithmetic and science in the public schools and have had the opportunity to make friends and learn social skills within the confines of that environment. They have both had some very skilled and dedicated teachers, to whom my family owes a debt of gratitude for the hard work and care with which they educated my children. I am pleased with and give due credit to those teachers who have given my children extra help after school and have worked hard to ensure that all their students meet current standards. My wife is employed within the public school system. I feel fortunate to live in a country where every child has the opportunity to attain an education and I recognize that this would not be possible without a government supported public school system funded by taxes.

Yet I feel just as fortunate that I am living in a country where it has been recognized that it is both the parents' right and responsibility to raise their children and educate them in a manner which they deem to be in their best interests. I am glad that the state is willing to help with this task, but I don't want the state to take on the primary role in this endeavor. I want to take an active role in what my children learn and in helping them to develop to their full potential. My wife and I became parents because we wanted to parent. We, like most parents, love our children dearly and want what is best for them. Homeschooling provides us the opportunity to individualize the methods, objectives and content of our children's education to best suit their needs and interests. (This is somewhat, and quite reasonably, limited by the need to be compliant with state law, and to a certain extent, by both written and unwritten standards as to what "should" be taught, as well as requirements by future employers and institutions of higher learning.)

I should also say that our decision to home school our children was not based on content within the public schools that we found objectionable to our moral, political or religious beliefs. Our approach to curriculum is one that follows reasonably closely that found in the public schools, allowing for differences in time allotted (based on our children's needs) to each subject, as well as allowing them to study some subjects that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn. We would consider ourselves primarily "secular homeschoolers", though we are not offended by religious studies and would like our students to have the skills and knowledge to make informed and rational decisions about their own religious beliefs. Our own beliefs are no secret-mine are rooted in those held by the Anglican communion, while my wife is a Roman Catholic-but they play only a minimal role in our educational approach. Our political beliefs also did not play a role in our decision to educate our children at home.

We decided to home school our son in the middle of the first semester of his seventh grade in the public school system. There were various reasons for this. Medical problems within our extended family meant that we had to travel on a frequent basis during the autumn months and it was difficult to ensure that our son was able to keep up with his school work, and I will have to say that there were elements at the school who were less than sympathetic with our position and made this much more difficult. In addition, he has had some struggles with mathematics, but due to the nature of large classes, the flexibility to spend additional time on this subject was limited. We saw home education as a viable option to address both of these issues. We could adjust the amount of time devoted to math and we could ensure that he brought his school work on our travels. There were other contributing factors which I have decided not to discuss on this open forum.

During the same time frame, we elected to leave our daughter in the public school system. She seemed to be thriving academically and we didn't have the same issues in regards to keeping up with her work while we traveled. Sadly, as this year has progressed, our daughter has become more and more unhappy with school, to the point where she has stress related complaints as a result of bullying that the school seems unable to successfully address. She has gone from a cheerful, bubbly child who looked forward to school every day to an irritable unhappy girl who tries to find any excuse to avoid it.

In addition to this, the local school was "one of the twelve lowest performing schools in the state based on scores from last year's New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test results", which doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in its ability to adequately prepare my children for university. Why send my children to one of the lowest performing schools in the state, especially when they are having other issues in the public school, and there are clear benefits from an education at home? It just didn't make sense to us. I should add here, that we also considered private schools, but found that most of the better ones were out of our budget.

In the end, the decision was made to homeschool both of our children in the upcoming academic year because it seemed the best thing to do. It will give us an opportunity to focus on those areas in which they are weak and need additional help, to include subjects in which they are interested, to better protect them from bullying, and it also provides more time with which we as parents can bond with our children.

But does homeschooling really provide as good an education as one taught by state-certified teachers in a school setting? Will our children do as well on standardized achievement tests and college entrance exams? Granted there are some issues within the school that make homeschooling attractive, but will we do any better? Will they be ready for college and the real world? These questions all came to mind as we pondered our options. The answers seem to be that, indeed, home schooling can offer a quality of education at least comparable to that of the public schools, that homeschooled children are prepared for college and that they are well adjusted individuals socially, emotionally and psychologically. (This entry is an explanation of why we decided to homeschool and is not meant ot be a defence of homeschooling, so I don't include the studies here, but for those who are interested, I would refer the reader to: National Home Education Research Institute.)

Dr. Brian Ray summarizes our understanding of the current state of home education research: "Repeated studies by many researchers and data provided by United States state departments of education show that home-educated students consistently score, on average, well above the public school average on standardized academic achievement tests. To date, no research has found homeschool students to be doing worse, on average, than their counterparts in state-run schools.

"Multiple studies by various researchers have found the home educated to be doing well in terms of their social, emotional, and psychological development. Further, the limited research on the topic to date reveals that adults who were home educated are typically doing well on all measures considered, and they appear to be happy, on average, productive, and civically engaged members of their communities. No research has controverted these two general conclusions."" (Ray, Brian D. (2010, January 4). The harms of homeschooling? Where are the premises? The Educible Review, No. 10, available at:

Well, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. We plan to educate our children at home. We will comply with state law regarding the evaluation of home educated children, and may even go beyond those requirements to ensure that we are doing a good job and they are meeting the standards. If we find that we are not having success, then we will re-evaluate our decision (though I don't believe that will be an issue). Until then, we'll just fasten our seat belts and keep our hands and feet inside the car at all times...the ride is about to begin.

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