When my wife, Heidi, first mentioned that she might like to home school Caleb I was…less than excited. I didn’t want him to be that weird and awkward kid with little to no social skills. The kid that can tell you all the good local repeaters and their frequencies for his HAM radio but who can’t carry on a normal conversation with his peers. I know that I shouldn’t stereotype, but that’s what immediately came to my mind. Now I am not opposed to nerds (I am one) or HAM radio operators (I am one of those as well) I just wanted our kid to be “normal.” Then again, what does “normal” really mean? In the years to come (yes it took years) I have not only been convinced that home schooling was where God was leading us but I have also started to question my definition of “normal” and whether or not I even wanted my kids to be “normal”. I can’t remember all the turning points in my journey toward home schooling but I can list five reasons that I am in favor of it for our kids. So here they are:
- There is no such thing as a “normal” student. I like to tell my students (I teach high school science) that “normal is a self-referenced term and therefore bears no meaning.” Yes, I say it like that just to make them pause and process the sentence. I don’t think that every student should fit into the same mold, yet much of traditional schooling is focused on making kids fit the mold. This is not necessarily the goal but rather a need of organized schooling to make it work for large groups of students. For example, students are expected to sit quietly for some part of, if not all, of a class period and either absorb information conveyed to them or work quietly on a specific task. In order for this to work we need to train the students to conform to this “mold” of what a good student looks like in order to perform well. Rather than fitting into a mold however, I believe education should help students diversify and grow, not teach them to become like the student sitting next to them. This is not to say that traditional education produces robots who are not unique, but I would argue that there is a lot more room for diversity and individuality in a home-school setting where it is not necessary to teach larger groups of students but rather where instruction can be individualized and each child’s strengths can be leveraged.
- Healthy socialization may not happen at school. It was striking to me when we read in some of Raymond Moore’s books that the modern practice of putting large numbers of students of the same age in a classroom together and letting them socialize is a relatively modern practice (in the last 150 years or so). I hadn’t thought about this and the implications of it. Why do we think that it is good for students to be “socialized” with peers of the same age for large amounts of time everyday. It seems quite a risk to take. Granted, if they have a strong teacher who is willing and able to teach them how to be a responsible member of society, things may work out. But what if the teacher is weak or apathetic or just unavailable because of other issues going on in the class? Who ends up running the ship? Is this a case of the blind leading the blind into what is socially acceptable? It has been my experience with our four children that social training is a constant task which has to be done over and over and over. This becomes incredibly more difficult when, in a traditional classroom, a teacher is now responsible for almost ten times as many children. With home schooling, my kids get more time with their mom and other adults who they can model after and learn from (hopefully they don’t pick up too many of my bad habits). As far as socializing with peers, we are blessed to live in a community where there are a lot of opportunities for social interaction (church and church functions, home school groups, and just breaking bread with other families to name a few). I like home schooling because it focuses more on socialization in the real world where they will interact and work with people of all ages, not just people their own age.
- Traditional education wastes incredible amounts of time. – Let’s take one of my typical class periods with 25 students. Any time we get off task as a class we waste incredible amounts of man hours. For example lets say it takes 30 seconds to get everyone’s attention. That’s 12.5 minutes wasted as a whole (25 students multiplied by 30 seconds). Now lets say there is a discipline issue that takes another 30 seconds, we are now up to 25 minutes wasted. We easily work up into hours and hours of wasted man hours each day at school, and these are just minor distractions. The problem is actually worse than that. I would argue that putting 25 kids of the same age in the same room increases the chance of distraction exponentially. So not only are we wasting man hours dealing with minor issues, we are also causing distractions of large numbers of students simply by being in a classroom with their friends. Many of my students don’t even bother doing their work in class because they just can’t focus past the distractions. These students then end up using family time at home to get that work done. Home schooling on the other hand, allows students to learn at the appropriate time with fewer distractions and frees up time in the evening that would have been spent on homework if they were in traditional school. By making the use of time more efficient these students not only use less time but use time earlier in the day when their brains are more ready to work. One of the best benefits of efficient time use is that it leaves more time to read as a family. Reading books for enjoyment/learning as a family is one of the best educational practices there is, and freeing up time to do more of that is a major benefit of home schooling.
- All subjects are and should be connected. – What I mean by this is that math is very much tied to science but also to language and history and every other “subject” taught in schools. In traditional education students often ask the question, “when am I ever going to use this?” Part of the reason for that question is that they don’t see connections between subjects that should really be taught together. I have a lot of fun pointing out greek and latin roots to words when I teach science. One of my favorite scientific names is ursus arctos (the brown bear). I like it because ursus in Latin means bear and arctos in Greek means bear. So the scientific name for the brown bear is literally bear bear. That’s just fun. The point I’m driving at though is that this is really a lesson in language that is directly tied to biology and a host of other subjects. That last sentence you just read betrays some of our faulty conceptions about subjects. Without thinking I wrote that language was “tied to” biology, as if they were two totally unrelated things held together against their will by a tiny thread. We should be treating them as concepts that go together seamlessly (no tying necessary). In home schooling it is much easier to teach in this seamless manner because we have more freedom to choose topics of study and time allotted to those topics. For example, we can take time to plant a garden which can include real life lessons in geometry (row arrangement), arithmetic (numbers of seeds, yield to seed ratio), biology (seed structure, photosynthesis), Languages (greek and latin roots of the scientific names of seeds), chemistry (soil acidity, micro nutrients) and a host of other “subjects” that are, once again, really all seamlessly connected.
- I would rather have my wife teaching my kids than anyone else in the world. – A huge amount of time is spent schooling our kids. If there is one person I trust to use that time to teach my kids right from wrong, how to treat others, how to be a part of a community, and introduce them to Jesus, it is my wife. The fact that she is not a trained teacher (she is a nurse) doesn’t bother me in the least. There isn’t some magic formula that teachers have that allows them to teach every student perfectly. (If there was our school system would be incredible). In fact, much of the training that teachers receive is in dealing with large groups of kids and how to manage a classroom. Good teaching, whether it be by moms or trained teachers, involves knowing your students with all of their strengths and weaknesses and then helping them learn the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed. In all my years of teaching I have never known a student as well as I know my own kids. This makes me (and my wife) highly qualified to teach our own children There may be “subjects” we are not “qualified” to teach but this only presents an opportunity to learn with our kids (a very good way to model being a lifelong learner). I know there are great teachers you can send your kids to to learn from and I am certainly not saying that home schooling is for everyone. But when I have a wife who is willing to put the time and effort into teaching our kids at home and, in the process, strengthening our family, I am all for it.