This is Dave writing. I’m late to the game on posting to this blog, so I thought maybe the best place to start would be a little bit about why I think home schooling is important and why I do it.
I work in a public school. I was a teacher for 5 years for mostly high school seniors (economics and sociology). I love teaching as well as the school for which I work. Those subjects are a huge part of my personality and how I see the world. Currently, I work for the district as a statistician/economist. So how can somebody as involved and connected to traditional schooling be a home schooler? Is this not hypocritical?
As I see it, not really. The more I taught, and the more I learned about teaching, the more I started to see what kids really need (or don’t need) educationally. They need a personalized and integrated curriculum. They need lessons that move at their own pace. They need lessons that are centered around their interests and strengths. They need to be treated as individuals. By its very nature, public education does not do these things very well.
That’s not an insult to public educators. It’s just that there are limits to what anybody can accomplish when there are 25 unique students in the room. The limits of public education are as much about the structure of the system as the teachers within it.
Without getting too far off base, here’s the logic: “public schools” and “public education” are not the same thing. Public education is a necessity in a free society. Jefferson, Mann, and others spoke of the need for educated citizens in order to have participatory, representative government. We all benefit from this, therefore we all should pay. Hence the basis of public education. This need not have led to state-run schools, but it did. And despite all of the arguments in favor or against, or all the philosophy about why we need schools, the only thing that really matters here is how they finally turned out: the factory school. Factories and mass production were all the rage at the time, and many thought, “why not apply that model to education.” You know the rest: following a bell schedule, uniforms, conformity, no talking, and most importantly, a large number of students to sit in a class and receive instruction from one teacher, a standardized curriculum for all kids, that changes little, that ignores their unique pace of growth.
Why doesn’t that work so well? The answer is obvious. Kids aren’t like “widgets” or steel. They are not all alike, and therefore we cannot assume that what works for one works for all. Kids are unique, and what works well for one, won’t for others. This diversity amongst individuals is the source of innovation and progress. Kind of strange to design an education system that, despite great intentions, destroys exactly what it claims to build, isn’t it? Today, our students still sit in classrooms that were designed in the industrial era to generate a largely standardized product and serve interests other than their own. Think about it: 30 kids, 1 teacher, 1 lesson, controlled curriculum, limited opportunities for expression, and perhaps most ironically, an experience that’s inconsistent with the real world learners will ultimately face.
I am an individualist. I want my children to grow into their own unique selves through a rich learning experience. That simply can’t happen in the modern classroom. How much attention and customization could my sons actually get? And frankly, my kids are the worst kind for this situation: they don’t get into trouble in school and they don’t get bad grades. Sounds good, except for the fact that it means they are ignored. And why should it be otherwise? Wouldn’t you try to put out the fires and save the sinking ships if you were their teacher? I emphasize again: at any given moment, the curriculum only speaks to a very narrow range of students in the room.
At work my goal is to convert mass production education into mass customized education: students receive personalized feedback as to their progress along with recommended learning activities. As they work on these, the teacher moves from one to the next, giving exactly the instruction that particular student needs. They face authentic learning and thinking situations, solve real problems, and master the core skills needed for society. They emerge not as reservoirs of facts and “content,” but as critical thinkers, problems solvers, communicators, and information-users. If you’re a home schooler reading this, you probably realize that sounds a lot like your day.
It will take a lifetime to bring this into public schools. Yet here is this incredible opportunity to give it to our children, right now. And more, not only is their academic education better, but so is their emotional development. They get to be themselves. They feel valued. They have a say in their educational process. They spend their day being educated by the people that care about them the most. We can at least give these two kids the opportunities I wish were given to all students. It’s funny too, because in order to give that education in the public school, it would take a massively complex array of systems, technology, management, tons of resources, and the aforementioned years of work. Yet to save our own sons, Stephanie and I only need let them stay home to learn more and be more.
I went into education to help children. Here’s a chance to provide to the two that matter the most to me what I have been working to give to the 3000 my school. What’s hypocritical about that?