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Why We Homeschool, part 5 September 7, 2007

Posted by Laura in Faith, Family, Homeschooling.
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No Child Left Behind?

If you drive around and look at schools nowadays you are likely to see a ring of portable classrooms skirting the main building. They are there because the school has far more students enrolled in it than it was built to contain. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for elementary grades to have 25 or more children per class. That means that one teacher has the responsibility to teach that many children to read, add, and so on. That is a monumental task.

Think back to that time you taught your child to ride a bike without training wheels. It took your one-on-one attention for days probably to help him get that one skill mastered. Now consider trying to simultaneously teach it to 24 more.

Most are really excited and want you to help them first. They continue clamoring for your attention while you try to get the first one started and make it very difficult for anyone to hear or concentrate. You get that one going and turn your attention to the next only to find the first one upside down in the bushes crying.

One or two of your students have never seen a bicycle before, so you have to start way back with explaining how a bike works, what a kickstand is, etc. A few of them are on the young side and don’t have the motor skills or coordination to pedal yet, but they have to show proficiency now because the mandate says they do. It will reflect badly on you if they don’t. A couple tried to ride before and fell off, so they don’t plan to ever try again. Then there are three or four who have known how to ride a bike for two years and they’re bored. And because they are bored, they are getting in trouble.

So what do you do? You are only one person and you’ve got LOTS more to teach besides this. You can’t hold everyone up until the last few stragglers finally get it. You’ve gotta move on. Maybe they’ll get it later. Maybe not.

These are the challenges and decisions facing an elementary teacher. She is stretched so thin and the money just isn’t there to decrease the student/teacher ratio. The best she can do to assess the progress of individual students (besides grade papers) is to have “small group” instruction. She’ll probably need a good supply of dependable parent volunteers to keep order among the rest, though. That gives her a better feel for what skills they have mastered, but doesn’t really provide much more additional time to go back and reteach to the struggling individual.

What if it is my child that is getting left behind? Would I know? Does the teacher have the time to give that kind of feedback so I’ll know I need to work on this at home? My personal experience and observations from Benjamin’s class are that the teacher has her hands full “putting out fires”- keeping the kids with behavior problems from tearing apart the classroom, getting band-aids, filling out paperwork for the special ed department and the like. Somewhere in there, she plans and prepares the materials for her lessons. She’ll make sure to contact Jack’s parent to let them know he doesn’t even know his alphabet yet, but compared to that problem, another child’s low math test grade may not even show up on her mental radar.

What if my child finds this very easy and begins to find other things to occupy himself? He may need more stimulation and challenges than he will get when the “average” children are the ones on which she has to focus. Chances are he will put his energy into activities which will just make her job more difficult. That’s not going to work out well for either of them.

Our goal in teaching children should be to educate each one. The teacher would certainly like to, but she can’t tailor her teaching to so many varied levels. It isn’t possible. As a result, she’s got to concentrate on that large “average” section and hope for the best. No frills, no waiting.

When we teach our children at home, one-on-one (or close to it), we know exactly how each child is progressing. We can take the extra day to practice adding money using decimal points and skip the review of ordinal numbers. Each child works at his own pace, really masters the skills, and is challenged by the material.

We have consistently finished a grade level’s work weeks before the end of the year and can spend time working on projects of our own choosing and lots of field trips. In my experience, public schools rarely get more than ¾ of the way through the text books and have little time allowed for individual exploration.

I don’t mean to say that public schools are “bad” or that we think less of people who choose to enroll their children there. That’s not the case. And many of the concerns I mentioned are far less problematic the older a child gets. A middle school student should be able to tell his parents if he is struggling. He understands how grades work and what they mean. He is able to work more independently since he has lots of experience with what is expected of him.

For financial reasons, lots of people have no choice about how their children will be schooled. Others think that personality clashes would make homeschooling an impossibility. Some rightly feel that a conventional education would best prepare their child for the career they anticipate for him. There are many children whose learning challenges can best be addressed by trained professionals in the venue provided by their tax dollars. We know that homeschooling is not for everyone. And if God is calling parents to use public schools, then they can count on Him to have the child’s best interests at heart. (Jeremiah 29:11).

Most kids do fine and have dedicated teachers doing their very best. There IS a lot of learning going on there. Most folks we know have chosen where they will live just so their children will be in schools they feel good about or they drive them to and pay for private schools. I think Benjamin learned a remarkable amount in public K considering the size of his classes, but God has laid it on our hearts to play a more integral role in our children’s education right now.

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Comments»

1. jipmeister - September 10, 2007

Those are some of the very reasons we chose to homeschool. My oldest was falling between the cracks and the teacher had so many students (fourth grade class with almost 30 kids) that needed close supervision because of behavior issues that she hadn’t even noticed that my daughter was behind.
ok so there were a few more issues involved but probably wouldn’t have been as big as they were had the classes been more manageable.
I’m absolutely loving the schools up here – elementary – highschool classe sizes average around 15 students!! The older kids usually have around 18-20!

D

2. chickenmama - September 10, 2007

Wonderful! Why are states north and west of Kentucky somehow able to have reasonable class sizes and Southern schools just can’t seem to manage it? Even some private schools around here have 22 or more per class. If I were paying what amounts to college tuition for elementary school, I’d sure want smaller teacher-student ratios!

3. Entertained reader - September 12, 2007

I want to let you know that once again, I appreciate this fifth installment, but I just have to disagree with certain factors.

Have you considered certain programs that would supplement your teaching? I know a really popular one in Minnesota is called ‘kumon’. It includes daily excersizes in Math and/or Reading, and a weekly visit to a center. It’s not for ‘extra help’ relating to delays. It’s purpose is to advance children’s abilities through daily excersizes. During the Summer I was a childcare provider. The classroom I was in was children going into 3rd grade. I found that the 4 students that used Kumon were much more advanced. (3 of the children knew how to use long division and decimal systems flawlessly!)

Or have you looked into Montessori? It is a very interesting and different system to public schooling. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, social, and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment. I was a student aid in a Montessori classroom for elementary aged students. It was very quiet and different. The ‘teacher’ has little to do with learning which is so interesting and non-traditional. The adult will aid children, but will not lead, or instruct. I found this type of learning to be very beneficial to the children.

Please refer to my second comment on ‘Why we homeschool part 3’.

4. chickenmama - September 13, 2007

It seems your main concern (along with most detractors of homeschooling) is socialization. It was one of my concerns and a major issue for Joe. That concern is understandable, but we get out among other people a lot. I haven’t addressed it yet (though I plan to), but we do participate in something like the “kumon” you mention. I even teach there. It is a great program and I believe we all benefit from it. I plan to discuss the socialization issue, too. I’ve written the next installment to the homeschool series, but I’m trying to keep balance to the topics on the blog. I’ll get it up soon.

5. Amy - September 14, 2007

Chickenmama,

I am enjoying reading about your journey into homeschooling. I hope to home school my own children and appreciate your insight. I know it can be controversial although I’m not sure why. Up until the mid-1800s all American children were taught at home. Our children can get a good education in the current school system but we must admit that it is certainly has it’s problems as well.

I wonder why people consider homeschooling to be inferior to public or private “traditional” schooling. I suppose it is because the typical school setting is what we consider to be “normal”. Most of us came from public or private schools, so did our parents and their parents before them. Some of us can’t even imagine what education looks like without a teacher and a roomful of pupils.

Detractors always point to the possibility that the children’s education will be neglected in a home school situation. “They will lag behind their public schooled counterparts” they say. But can’t we all point to students who have been failed by the public school systems too? Yes, any system can fail students.

Across the country, parents are graduating their homeschoolers to college and colleges and universities (Harvard among them) are courting homeschooled youth because they tend to be better students.

Look at the National Spelling and Geography bees contestants and you’ll find many homeschoolers in their ranks. I copied this from HSLDA:
“The achievement of these homeschoolers shows that their parents have provided excellent academic instruction. Although homeschoolers make up approximately 2 percent of the U.S. school-age population, they made up 12 percent of the 251 spelling bee finalists and 5 percent of the 55 geography bee finalists. Three of the past seven spelling bee winners have been homeschooled. Last year’s homeschooled winner of the geography bee was 10 years old, the youngest in that event’s history.”

Oddly enough, “the high percentage of homeschoolers in national competitions has garnered complaints from homeschool critics. Some feel homeschoolers have an unfair advantage over traditionally schooled students since they do not have to follow a public school schedule.” Unfair advantage? Exactly. Why follow the public school schedule if you don’t have too. That’s one of the reasons why I want to homeschool, because it will give us the flexibility to take time off when we need it and focus on special topics for longer periods of time if we want to.

Most parents who home school do so because they want the very best education for their children as possible. I would not be concerned that they will neglect a certain area of instruction because they have no personal experience. There are so many co-ops and community classes to fill the gaps if necessary. Many high school aged home-schoolers attend college classes. I’m sure something like kumon that Entertained Reader mentioned is available to home-schoolers also. But it may not be necessary to supplement the home school as it is the public school education because these kids are already getting the extra attention they need from their teacher.

It’s funny that some people just can’t believe a parent can do as good a job as a professional teacher. Even you, although you are a teacher by profession, and a science teacher no less. You have your master’s degree in education and have been given the responsibility of teaching a roomful of kids without the proper supplies but you can’t be trusted to teach your own kids? Hmmm.

My husband’s cousin home schools/schooled her two kids. Her eldest started public school last year in the eighth grade. She had no problems and did not have to play catch up. In fact she was bored most of the time because she was way ahead of her peers. And his cousin, the homeschooling mom, doesn’t even have her high-school diploma. Yet, her student was better prepared for eighth grade than most of those coming from the public elementary school. She still homeschools her youngest who has some learning disabilities.

Just some of my thoughts. I’ll probably weigh in on your post about socialization. That’s a huge topic in and of itself.

Dreamer

6. chickenmama - September 17, 2007

Dreamer,

So many good points! You know some statistics that I didn’t even know. You’ve really done your homework and have obviously given very careful consideration to this. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I’ve been meaning to point out one of the things you mentioned- that until relatively recent times, it the was the norm to teach your children at home. And how many brilliant inventors, orators, scientists, and such came out of that period! Maybe I will still get around to including that in the future.

When Joe read the part about people protesting that homeschoolers have an unfair advantage in their education, he burst out laughing. Yeah, that’s kinda the point. We aren’t limited.

You are also right about the many options that now exist to assist and supplement homeschooling. I plan to eventually get to a discussion of curriculum choices, enrichment programs, and support groups. There are some fabulous resources available to help out those who are interested.

Since it has come up several times lately, I probably will try to tackle the subject of socialization next.

Thanks so much for your great insight.


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