Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Correcting Home-schooling Misconceptions

At risk of sounding like I think that Parents should be free to raise their children as they see fit, be it in deciding how much poison should be pumped into a childs body, or how they decide to educate them, I have to touch on the subject, again, today, though not from the perspective objecting to government interference (yet.)

You see, a friend of mine ran into some particularly unfriendly professionals when they took their daughter to the dentist this morning, apparently the staff was offended that they would dare to educate their own child. This sort of reaction is all too familiar to many home-school parents when they encounter people who would never question "the way it is supposed to be" and can be even more complicated when the uneducated dolts they have to deal with work with the government or its school system, and can be difficult to overcome. I drafted the following letter to the owner of the practice in response, and thought I would also share it here.

To Whom it may concern:

It has come to my attention that members of your staff have some very strong misconceptions about home-schooled children and their parents, and have gone so far as to make derogatory and offensive comments to the parents of a home-schooled child that was in your office today. While I doubt that these parents will ever return to your practice with their wonderful daughter, I hope I can fix some of those misconceptions and prevent your employees from so offending other parents, in the future, with their ignorance and inappropriate comments. This is an issue that should be considered in all seriousness, as today in the United States somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million children's parents choose to educate those children at home, to become more involved in the process of raising a well educated and responsible child.

I encourage you to share the following facts with your staff:

1. Home-schooled children are not neglected or disadvantaged educationally. 

In 1997, a study of 5,402 home-school students from 1,657 families was released. It was entitled, "Strengths of Their Own: Home Schoolers Across America." The study demonstrated that home-schoolers, on the average, out-performed their counterparts in the public schools by 30 to 37 percentile points in all subjects. These scores were all compiled from the educational industry standard Stanford Achievement Test, the same test that is used to benchmark the educational progress of children in public school. 

These 5,124 home-schoolers' composite scores on the basic battery of tests in reading, math, and language arts ranked 18 to 28 percentile points above public school averages. For instance, 692 home-schooled 4th graders averaged in the 77th percentile in reading, the 63rd percentile in math, and the 70th percentile in language arts. Sixth-grade home-schoolers, of 505 tested, scored in the 76th percentile in reading, the 65th percentile in math, and the 72nd percentile in language arts.

The home-schooled high schoolers did even better, which goes against the trend in public schools where studies show the longer a child is in the public schools, the lower he scores on standardized tests. One hundred and eighteen tenth-grade home-school students, as a group, made an average score of the 82nd percentile in reading, the 70th percentile in math, and the 81st percentile in language arts.

The fact is, on average, Home-schooled children are better educated than their Public School Peers, as evidenced by numerous studies on the subject, both from home-school advocacy groups, and by the various State Departments of Education. This academic aptitude results in a very high rate of acceptance into college and university programs, even, sometimes, at an accelerated age.

2. Home-schooled children are not neglected or disadvantaged socially.

Most families who choose to home-school their children are very active outside the home and make opportunities to practice social skills. Home-school parents have more natural opportunities to coach their children on social skills, and home-schooled children have more opportunities to relate to people of all ages, rather than only being isolated with twenty-five people their age in a classroom, and simply told to sit still. Many children, for example, may find a small home-schooled physical education class easier to adapt to than a public school class with all of its social distractions and disturbances. 

There are numerous sport or other social activities that are available to home-school children, even in most school districts, the ability to join sports teams or gym classes

Organizing social activities takes time, and some families, in some places, do struggle to avoid isolation, but even in these cases, enrolling a student in public school does not guarantee good social skills, a good social life, or good friends, either. As one mother said of her children's experiences in public school, "They don't really get social skills at school, and what they do get, I find to be negative." Examples of this abound, from grade school drug epidemics, to gang activity starting at ever younger ages, or as simple as social reinforcement of behavior that would be addressed as rude or inappropriate if addressed by a responsible adult. With their parents so often at their side, home-schooled children were able to see what good manners and self-confidence looked like, rather than be forced to adopt the jungle code of the average high school corridor.

By and large, it has been my observation and experience that home-schooled children grow up to be very polite and sociable, with the added benefit of being able to relate and interact with people outside of their own peer-group. They have fulfilling friendships, and have no social problems in day to day life, and have more experience in interacting in "the real world."

3. Parents do not only home-school "problem children" or children with learning disabilities.

Families will choose to undertake home-schooling their children for a variety of reasons, often something as simple as wanting to provide the best educational experience available. Many parents, in fact, come up against the opposite problem, that their child is learning faster than the classroom environment can provide new material. Many parents find it difficult or impossible to get the public education system to skip their child ahead a grade, or to skip subject levels they have already mastered, and don't want their child held back, or dumbed-down, just to keep up with an arbitrary age based curriculum system.

Other Parents simply want to be more involved with their children, and spend more time with them, something that can hardly be put in the realm of "neglect." One parent I know works long hours, and only has time off during the week, he says that if he didn't home-school, he would never see his own children. Instead, they do schoolwork the hours that he works, at home, and they take their days off together as a family. 

It is true that some parents can become frustrated by the public schools inability to address specific difficulties their child may experience, in a group setting, and choose to address those issues at home, in a one on one setting, but the majority of home-schooled children have no educational or behavioral problems, and shouldn't be treated any different than an average child coming from public school.

4. The Parents of home-schoolers are not all "Religious Zealots" or members of some "Lunatic Fringe."

Homeschooling families come from all walks of life, and can fit nearly as many descriptions as could be applied to parents of children in public schools, with, perhaps one exception. None of them can be called "uninvolved." 

There is no leader, and no reigning ideology that home-school parents must follow. For example, the Home School Legal Defense Association, despite its energetic lawyers and many admirers, is not the leader of home schooling in this country. Instead there a number of children whose families want them to learn at home for many different reasons, often having little to do with religion or politics.

The stereotypical image of home-schoolers as lockstep religious conservatives quickly falls apart when you discover that some of these parents have been shunned by their fundamentalist churches for teaching their kids at home rather than sending them to the church's school, and for many many parents, religious concerns play little to no part in their choice to become more involved in their children's educational process. As I have already mentioned, there are many reasons a parent would choose to home-school their children and those parents come from many different perspectives and backgrounds. 

Perhaps the most telling example I can think of is the sheer number of Public School Teachers who chose to home-school their own children. As one teacher, Maureen, volunteered apologetically: "I didn't want my children to be treated the way I treated some kids," She has a B.A. in psychology and a B.Ed. qualifying her as a teacher and has 13 years experience teaching in a public elementary school in Vancouver. She doesn't say this to claim that she was mean or uncaring, but says that in order to run a class with so many children, she had no choice but to engage in some form of manipulation, however subtle and well-intentioned it was. A desire to provide a better environment for her children why she now home-schools her two daughters. And its not just teachers, as there are several Public and Private school Principles who also chose to home-school their children, in addition to the scores of parents from every conceivable public and private background.

To assume someone is a religious fundamentalist or a member of some anti government political fringe, just because they chose to home-school their children is simply ignorant and is not borne out at all by the facts.

As a long time advocate of Home-school, and having been home-schooled myself, I hope this information helps you in understanding the reality of the present state of homeschooling in the United States, and contributes to your office's sensitivity in the future.

The basic idea to be considered can be boiled down to who cares more about a child's learning, than their own parents? Regardless of the situation or your staff's understanding of the issues at hand, no one has the right to insult a parent for doubtlessly doing what they feel is best for their children. 

Thank you for addressing this,
R. Franz.

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