10 January 2007

Homeschooling and Social Responsibility

Here's a comment I wrote on Ben's homeschooling post that got out of hand. So I'm stealing it for myself. :D

First, on the social ease aspect: I’m middling on this one. Most homeschoolers I know are fairly normal, not totally inept in any way. However, there’s always that aura of something different about them that you can somehow tell they weren’t raised in the public school system. I’m not certain how to pinpoint it yet, but when I meet homeschoolers I can usually tell before it comes up. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing yet, but it certainly is different.

As for qualifications on teaching on different subjects, I have to agree with you that it would be one of the best parts of homeschooling to be able to learn along with your kids. However, I do worry that it could cause problems if your interests differ from your children’s too significantly. Could a practical accountant who refuses to read books (like my dad) really teach a child who loved literature? Of course, in this case, we have my English major mother to balance it out, but there still is a distinct possibility that your child will love subjects you think useless. What if the parents aren’t motivated to learn the subjects?

But my main qualm with homeschooling is that it seems so selfish. I mean, I realize trying to protect your children from worldly influences and bad teaching is a good thing. However, what happens to the children whose parents aren’t educated? Are they just stuck? It seems like reverting back to older times when your education was mainly based on what your parents knew/could afford to teach you.

A public school system is a huge achievement for society. If all the best and brightest and most motivated go to homeschool, where does that leave children born to those who don’t care? Without those bright children to interact with, is it back to the uneducated slums? Without morally grounded children, will schools turn into dens of violence?

I guess I see it as a social responsibility issue. I am part of society, therefore I must invest myself in it. As Church members, we are not supposed to be of the world, but we are supposed to be in it. If we all leave and go form our Zion without everyone else, we have failed in our purpose, though our own lives become perfect and ideal. As appealing as it might be to do homeschooling (and I admit it sounds like fun to me), I will seek out good schools for my children and do my best to help the local schools succeed. I will campaign for less homework, so that my kids have time to pursue other interests as well.

I just don’t see homeschooling as a viable option for any developed society, and I care too much about what happens to society to abandon it like that.


PinkyLunt said...

I fully disagree with almost everything you just said. I almost think that it is better to homeschool children. Children who are homeschooled, generally, have more respect and are have better manners by a long shot. Which even if you teach your public school children manners they learn very vulgar things from the other children. Also, when a parent decides to homeschool they accept the responsibility of having to learn subjects that they wouldn't normally want to learn. I don't think that any uneducated person would get the bright idea of homeschooling their child, especially when you have to meet so many state requirements. Look at my husband, he learned almost NOTHING in the three years of public high school that he went to. However, in the many many years of homeschooling he learned more than most people learn all throughout high school and college. For some people public school is the equivalent of Hell. People learn in different ways, a parent can better address their child's learning than a teacher can in a crowded public classroom, where most of the of kids could careless if they were there or not.

Marisa VanSkiver said...

I have to say that I agree with Liz. I have seen those families that have tried to shelter their children by taking them out of public schools (or other means), and it's not good. When that happens, they have to enter the world sometime and the shock can send them over the edge. I've seen it happen way too many times with people from my home area. Plus, like Liz said, if we are going to go and shelter ourselves, what good are we doing the world? We are depriving it of our values and morals and those kids that don't have them from their parents are missing out on the opportunity to learn them from friends at school because their parents are too scared to let them enter the public school system.

Liz Muir said...

Heather: I totally acknowledge everything you said. It is true that homeschooling is helpful in having more control over what your children learn. It does work. However I have two problems with this perspective.

First, as I said, pulling all of the good moral children out of school can't be a good thing for the other people. Peer pressure works both ways, not just negative but also positive. Someone must be left to set a good example.

Second, as Marisa says, eventually your children will be exposed to this stuff. You have to trust them to use their agency to make the right decisions. You can't make someone a good person by taking away the possibility of bad choices. That's just poor logic.

You also seem to have misunderstood my comment about uneducated parents and homeschooling. My worry is not that they will try to home school their children, which as you point out is unlikely. My worry is that if everyone else does, these children are essentially disenfranchised. They have no chance at a decent education because the public school system becomes a herding pen for delinquents. (I can say this with no guile, having been a product of public school myself.)

My point is that it is unfair to pull all the good kids out because it hurts the rest of the population. It's all about striking a balance between public good and personal good. I definitely grant that home schooling is necessary in some situations. However, I think we have to consider more than just our own children when we decide to pull them out.

PinkyLunt said...

I didn't say that it was to shelter anyone, because that isn't fair for the children. I know that no good can come from sheltering your children THAT much. I think it's good for a child to have friends and have to deal with peer pressure, it builds character. However, it bothers me that parents seem to care less about proper manners, simple thins like saying please and thank you. Or not hitting another child. (Especially now that I am working with children all the time, and I see the best and worst of them.) Those few bad apples make it harder for the rest of us to keep our children in check. I think it's harder for me to agree completely with you because I have experience a lot when it comes to peer pressure and the cruelty of children towards each other.

Liz Muir said...

In such situations, it seems to me to be more effective to remove the problem child, rather than to remove the other children. But that's another matter entirely. I'm not a fan of keeping undisciplined or cruel children in school. Like you say, basic manners should be expected.

But I don't see how home schooling would really make that much of a difference. I'd argue that most of our "please"/"thank you" habits are formed before the school years even begin.

The Girl in the Other Room said...

I feel so dumb. I don't have much of an opinion on this subject. All I can think of is that I wouldn't homeschool my kids because I am too selfish and want to be away from them so that I can miss them. If they were home all of the time, I would go crazy.

Not Too Pensive said...

You know you're on a Mormon blog when...

(long response ahead...)

I don't have too much experience with homeschooled children, but my two main experiences run from one extreme to another.

The bad first: an overly protective and genuinely weird mother who homeschooled her two children out of an intense fear that, should she did not oversee every moment of their education, she might have to get a real life. The mother had only minimal education after high school, and in my opinion saw homeschooling as a way to avoid work or interaction with adults.

I remember walking into the home one day to find her doing nothing particularly educational. The older daughter, seven, was prancing about the house without a shirt on, showing no embarrassment at all in front of guests . Now, I know... she was just a kid, and yes, there's nothing to be ashamed of and all of that, but... that's just not right. The mother was watching some PBS children's program with the other daughter, five, who was similarly ragged and unkempt, but at least covered. The children were just... weird. Afraid of strangers, and any interaction we had with them made me feel odd. The house was a wreck.

Obviously, appearances aren't the only thing, but it didn't get any better from there. The mother and ostensible teacher of these two children asked my mother, a classroom teacher with decades of experience, to do the necessary paperwork to certify her curriculum met the standards. To say it was a joke would be an understatement - most of the learning involved watching PBS, drawing, and doing a little reading. While the children could read fairly well, their math and social skills were pitiful, and they lacked any attention span. Real "instruction" lasted at most 2 hours a day. When my mother refused to certify her curriculum and recommended the children immediately be placed in a normal elementary school, the "homeschooling" mother stormed off, found another teacher known for rubber stamping, and is likely still homeschooling the now middle school-aged children.

On the other hand was another family I also met through my ward back home. The mother, a woman with a degree in special education, strong social skills, a good work ethic, and just generally a good solid citizen. The couple's first child was born with special education needs and, finding the county school system's offerings completely unacceptable (they really, truly, did suck, and continue to do so) she started homeschooling. The rest of the couple's children would not suffer from any problems, but by this time they'd moved to a fairly remote location away from the city and transportation to and from school would be quite difficult. So, they decided to continue homeschooling the rest of their children (the first all the way through school, the rest until they hit around high school age). In contrast to the first mother, this woman sought out advice from teachers in her children's grade level, spent a great deal on academic supplies, and kept the T.V. off until well into the evening - PBS was not a substitute for teaching.

Even though they homeschooled, the parents did everything they could to socialize their children - church, little league sports, music, you name it. The house was clean, the children bright, and everyone was well groomed and taken care of - no topless children wandering around.

The children were remarkably well prepared for adult life - great people, every one of them. Homeschooling really worked for them, because they made it work. The oldest son overcame many of the problems posed by his learning disability and after serving a successful mission went on to become... well... a truck driver so he could see more of the U.S. before he starts college. Funny kid, but he'll do well, I'm sure.

I think homeschooling can work if you MAKE it work and compensate for the differences. The point of homeschooling shouldn't be too shield your children from the outside world generally, nor should it be to ensure your children develop a dependency on you. Instead, it should be used by families qualified to use it, and with care to compensate for the differences between homeschooling and public schools.

Courtney said...

Firstly, I was not homeschooled. I attened a public school my entire schooling career (except a one year stint at a private American school when I lived in Europe).
I used to think that homeschooling was so, so bad. I mean, why would you do that to your child? They are bound to be weird. But the more I know about public schooling, it is becoming a more viable option for my children. If I can afford private school, I will definitely do that, but it is unlikely. The thing is, and you brought this up, I am horrible at math and science. How could I possible allow my potentially scientific children to bloom? But the thing is, I would rather have them bloom in areas where I excel (literature, writing, history, etc.) than not at all. I don't think most homeschoolers do so in an attempt to shelter their children. I think the main goal is to give their children a better education than they will get in an obviously struggling public school system. 100% of homeschooling mothers I know are not trying to shelter their children, it is all about education. The majority of homeschoolers are involved in a huge network of other homeschoolers as well. It is naive to think you can shelter your children-- when this is the case, it is sad and children do suffer. I just don't think that's the aim of most homeschooling parents.
One draw back is that it fully limits your life as a mother. Some women are really good at staying home all the time, but I know I won't be. So, even though I would want my children to get a better-than-public education, I think a sane and thriving mother would be more valuable. Ultimately I don't know what I will do. It really depends on where I end up raising my children. So, homeschooling can go terribly wrong, and though they would do better in public school, their home environment won't help even if they are in school. But I think many homeschools are thriving establishments working towards quality education. I think this is also a new development. Homeschools have come a long, long way. I shall have to blog about this.

Anonymous said...

Why single out homeschooling for your criticism? The number of private school students in this country *FAR* outnumber the number of homeschooled students- why do you not criticize *THEIR* parents for refusing to enroll them in public schools?

Liz Muir said...

Actually, you're right. I would say the same for private schoolers. However, that wasn't the subject at hand and the post isn't designed to be comprehensive.

Now, did you have something constructive to add?

Portia said...

Having gone to private school my entire life, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this, Liz.

Anonymous: private school and homeschool are certainly not equivalent. Private school has that all-important socializing aspect. What I noticed most going to one was the emphasis on college prep.