Homeschooling: The Optimum Education

Public education her in Alexandria, Virginia and throughout most of America is hopelessly broken. For the past 30 or so years everything imaginable has been tried and retried to fix it, but nothing has worked. High-sounding titles and jargon is all we have to show for the billions of taxpayer dollars thrown at the problem-- No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, special ed., bilingual ed., English as a second language, mainstreaming, inclusion, differentiation, reading specialists, resource teachers, whole language, cooperative learning, integrated curriculum, flexible groupings, the new math, the new grammar, conflict resolution, state standardized testing, magnet schools, charter schools, talented and gifted programs, afterschool programs, preschool programs, free lunch program, rubrics, and so on and on.

Yet according to the latest international rankings, American middle-schoolers came in 31st in key subjects like math and science, about the same as 30 years ago. The students ranked were representative groups from the top of their classes in their respective nations. Had students in general been included, our representative group would have ranked even lower. Many, in fact, graduate from high school unable to read and compute above a fourth-grade level, if that.

So what can American parents do to assure that their kids get the basic education they will need to compete in today’s global job market? One option is to enroll them in private schools. But not many parents could afford that. Besides, the quality of education offered in most private schools is not that great either. For the average American family the best option by far is homeschooling.

Now it’s no surprise that the growing popularity of homeschooling has elicited vehement opposition among public school teachers, education professors, teacher unions, school boards, state, local and Federal educrats, and others with vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

Their usual anti-homeschooling tirade goes something like this: Homeschooling is a sham, inferior, unnatural, off-the-wall kind of do-it-yourself instruction loosely stitched-together by religious recluses and social misfits incapable of coping with the traditional, time-tested, offering of public education. Common sense alone shows that in order to learn, develop and become socialized to their full potential, children must be taught by certified teachers in resource-rich schools and classrooms where they can interact, cooperate, and exchange ideas with large groups of peers.

Well, to begin with, the pro-public school folks, got their historical sequence backwards. American public schools as they exist today are a relatively recent development. Conceived in the 1880s to acculturate working-class immigrants and prepare them for factory employment, the schools were modeled like assembly lines in which students were grouped by age, instructed according to a regular, prescribed schedule, and processed uniformly from grade to grade. And to this day, nothing has changed.

Before that time, the typical American school was a small one-room affair serving no more than 20 students of mixed ages, the older ones helping the younger, each learning at his or her own pace, under the supervision of a single teacher independent of administrative higher-ups. The school master or mistress on those days was usually the best educated and highly respected member of the community. In sparsely populated rural areas kids were taught at home by itinerant tutors or, if none could be had, by family members or neighbors. Among the wealthy, the usual form of education for children under 12, and often into adulthood, was homeschooling.

Notable homeschooled Americans, to name but a few, include: William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Clara Barton Susan B. Anthony, Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. The lives and works of these great public figures soundly debunk the pet socialization argument of the anti-homeschooling advocates. Surely none can be accused of having being timid, reclusive, misfits.

The notion that unsocialized kids sequestered all day in a classroom with other equally unsocialized peers will somehow socialize one another, is ludicrous. And the same goes with the notion that such kids can enlighten one another by thrashing among themselves opinions on subjects of which they know nothing about. Much like those notable homeschoolers of past generations, homeschoolers today tend to spend much of their time listening to adults who know their stuff, running errands with their parents, helping out in the family business, interacting with people of all persuasions and ages, as well as with peers. All the ones I’ve met are active in the Boy Scouts, athletic teams, bands, theater, and other peer groups. None that I’ve heard of are locked up in closets or otherwise cut off from the real world. Though I have no hard stats to prove it, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that incidents of violence, drug addiction, bullying, rape, depression, unwanted pregnancies and other such pathological problems are on average, far less prevalent in homeschools than in the best of public schools.

Also self-debunking is notion that only certified public school teachers are qualified to educate children. Elementary public school teachers in America generally are not much better educated in the core subjects than a high school sophomore. Most of their formal college education consists of courses in crowd control and teaching methodology. In effect, they are a throwback to the 1880’s when a rudimentary knowledge of the three R’s was all they needed to instruct future factory workers. Though, sad to say, many certified teachers today don’t even know their Three R’s.

Teaching a child one-one, adjusting to his or her learning rhythm as the instruction progresses, comes quite naturally to any parent, relative or neighbor of normal maturity and intelligence. A legitimate college education is preferable but not necessary for homeschooling children. A year’s worth of educational materials and background information for the tutor can be had for less than the cost of a NFL game ticket, or once the tutor gets the hang of it, from the Internet or the public library as the need arises. And baby-sitting for the kids when not being tutored usually poses no problem as most homeschooling families either have a stay-at-home parent or guardian, take turns with the kids, or share baby-sitting time with other homeschooling families. They don’t need the all-day baby-sitting service of public schools.

Another advantage of homeschooling is that much more can be accomplished in one hour of distraction-free individualized instruction than in six hours of fits and starts in a typically crowded and often disruption- prone classroom. The reason why public school students are assigned homework is that the only way most can learn is by working alone or, if necessary, with someone’s help in the privacy of their room. In effect, by homeschooling.

Note also how the jargonized programs listed at the beginning of this blog—flexible groupings, differentiation, integrated curriculum, talented and gifted, special ed.—betray the fact that the powers-that-be in public education are aware that the assembly-line model designed to mass-produce interchangeable factory workers in the 1880’s, doesn’t work with modern-day kids of diverse abilities and backgrounds. To their credit, the powers-that-be have tried to correct the problem, but hidebound as they are to that obsolete model, they can’t.

To clinch the point I wished to make, I close with a partial list of other notable homeschoolers in American and world history: Andrew Carnegie, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Willa Cather, William Blake, Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Blaise Pascal, Leonardo da Vinci, King James I, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Buddha, Moses. The proof is in the pudding.

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