Friday, November 12, 2010

A Short Homeschooling Aside

A kind person recently posted a comment on an earlier blog post I’d made about how my homeschooled kids were doing well being in local elementary this year. Little did that individual know that those queries would become a full-blown blog post. Surprise!

Here’s what Me, Myself and I wrote:

Just picked up Acacia in the hope it might be as good as reviewers have been saying (from what I have read so far, it exceeds expectations by the way) and found my way here.

I find home schooling such an oddity and also something of a concern. I live in the UK where it is illegal and sometimes, when I read articles on home-schooling in the USA I am glad that is the case.

Now, while I accept that there are children educated at home with parents like you and that they receive a good balanced education, I seem to read a lot about children being educated with parents who have a specific agenda. An agenda related to religious fundamentalism that teaches "Creationism" over evolution and other "controversial" subjects.

A perfect example, that might be of interest to you as a historian is:

The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome, by Susan Wise Bauer.

Bauer - Doctorate of Divinity - was home-schooled and produced this book for adults and also as a tool for teaching history as part of a home-schooling program. In it she accepts Bible stories as "truth" and in the first chapter supplies "evidence" to "prove" that the "Flood" occurred.

This book has received very good reviews on Amazon. I was wondering what your thoughts on this might be? Or is it I just have a distorted view of American Home-schooling? (Assuming you even read your old blogs)

Anyway, just a thought.

Again, first book is excellent so far and really only popped over here to say thanks and now when I get here congratulations to Maya :-)

And here are my thoughts in response:

First off, thanks for picking up Acacia: The War with the Mein. Very glad to hear you’re enjoying it. I hope you keep doing so. And that you tell people about it!

Second, homeschooling isn’t illegal in the UK. Legally, it’s pretty similar to in the US. Children have to be educated, but the law does not say that school is the only route to education. There are some countries where homeschooling is pretty much illegal - Germany comes to mind - but that’s not the case in the UK.

This is true throughout the UK, but I'm most familiar with Scotland. Take, for example, this "Home Education Guidance" material from The Scottish Government website:

"Every child has a right to an education, and it is the duty of the parent of every school age child to provide that education, either by sending the child to school, or by other means.

Home education is a key aspect of parental choice, and is an equally valid choice alongside the option to send a child to school. However, it is a choice which only a minority of parents make. Each individual enquiry about home education, request to withdraw a child from school, or contact between a local authority and a home educating family should be dealt with as fairly, consistently, timeously and accurately as possible."

I’m in a position to be familiar with this issue over on your turf because my wife is Scottish. I met her in Scotland and we lived there for a number of years. My daughter was born there, and went as far as pre-school in Scotland, before we moved back to the USA. We think a lot about moving back, and have looked into homeschooling in Scotland. It’s not illegal; it’s just not as common.

Actually, you might say it’s less regulated than in the US. Here in Massachusetts we have to petition the school district to homeschool, draw up a plan for each year, and then at the end of the year provide them work samples, journals, etc that show how the year went. All of this needs to be approved by the school board, and signed off on by the Superintendent of our district. So, in some ways by having homeschooling be a more common it’s also more overseen by the school authorities. (This varies greatly across the country, though.)

By the way, we’ve never had a problem with any of our homeschooling arrangements. When we visited the local elementary school at the beginning of this year, the principal was thrilled to have the kids in the school. He also complimented us on the thoroughness of our homeschool materials. Turns out, he was part of the committee that had to approve them. We also just had our parent/teacher conferences at the school. Both kids are doing well, and both their teachers commend them on creative thinking, enthusiastic learning, and being avid readers. Maya’s teacher actually said she can likes it that Maya approaches things in ways that seem out of the box at times, which she says brings something fresh to the class. My understanding is that a lot of the best colleges feel the same way, and are getting more and more savvy on how promising homeschooled kids can be.

Third, there is only one thing that homeschoolers have in common - for some reason or another they have decided they want things other than (or in addition to) what their school possibilities offer and they are in a position to take it on themselves. (I added that “and” because a lot of people don’t like their kid’s school much, but not everyone is able to do something like homeschool.)

That’s all we have in common as a group, though. Think of how many different things that can include. Sure, some do it because they’re ultra-conservative or religious. But some do it because they’re ultra-liberal or think there’s too much latent religiosity in the school system. Some do it because they want to travel a lot and have the kids come with them. (A couple of years ago we spent an autumn in Shetland, living with my father in law. The kids went to the primary school while they were there, did a term, had a great time and there were no complications or strings on either end.) Some do it because they want a more academically strenuous curriculum, or because they think the system is too limited, or because their kids are really good at something and they want to develop that more than there school can. There are tons of reasons, and lots of them overlap.

Homeschooling does mean that there’s the possibility the schooling is done badly. But there’s the possibility that the schooling is done badly in school. Yes, you could raise your kids with some crazy religious ideas. But plenty of folks send their kids to school and still have crazy religious ideas.

As for your query about that writer… I don’t have anything specific to say about what a certain writer that happened to be homeschooled might have written. It doesn’t have anything at all to do with us. Do people with their kids in school have any responsibility to comment on the weird things that other people who have went to school do? I guess this seems like kind of a non-issue to me, because the majority of weird stuff that gets written is by people who have come through a normal educational system.

But, you might say, I read about a case where some crazy guy kept his family of ten children locked up in a compound out in the desert, doing all manner of horrible things to them and saying it was his right to do so as a homeschooler.

To which I say that's confusing two different things. Please separate them. I have a great deal of sympathy and concern for children who are abused and/or poorly educated. But if a child is being abused or neglected it's the abuse or neglect that's the problem, not that they claim it's homeschooling. I believe parents should have choice, but with it comes responsibility, and I've no problem with our looking after the welfare of young people at a societal level.

So, I do think you have an incomplete picture of what homeschooling means - both here and in the UK. Why do you hear all these awful stories about things in the USA? Hey, I've lived in the UK. You all love to read stories about awful things Americans do! It's a lot more fun. The fact that David Durham's family has been part of a vibrant, liberally-minded homeschooling community that involved lots of classes, sporting events, library events, school interaction, travel, language study, environmental programs and produced children that so far are at or above the academic standards for their age... Well, that's hardly going to sell newspapers. But it is a big part of exactly what many people homeschool for.

Wow. Long answer. Dude, you just kept me from working on Acacia Three for a good hour and a half. I’ll get back to it in a minute.

Let me just close by making sure I say a few other things.

Remember, my kids are happily in school now, and it’s going great! I’m not at all interested in proselytizing. If homeschooling isn’t your thing, that’s absolutely fine with me. I loved homeschooling, but that doesn’t mean I think it's for everybody. Nor do I think for a minute that parents that have their kids in school are necessarily anything less than wonderful parents. We homeschooled because we wanted to AND because it worked for us to do so.

On balance I think the best we can do is have governments that provide education and/or ensure that kids are educated. I think that system should also include avenues for parents to take on a primary educational role if they want to, and I think government authorities have the responsibility to ensure that parents are providing for their children - whether they're in school or not.

What would we do if we found ourselves living back in the UK soon? (Rejoice!) Oh, and… the kids would start by going to school. We’re all satisfied that that would work for us. My wife did well by Scottish schools, and my brother in law is a teacher now. There are lots of ways we’re confident the British system would work well for the kids. But…

... we’re living proof that there are alternatives.

Okay, now, since the kids are away at school and the house is quiet, I’m going to carry on toward the end of Acacia 3.

I hope, Me, Myself and I, that you don't mind me taking this time to respond to you. It's all meant with respect, of course.

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