Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Homeschool Regulation

I question I am seeing a lot of lately is along the lines of, ‘If there’s no regulatory body for homeschooling in Texas, then who makes sure that you’re doing it/that the kids are being properly educated?’.

For one thing, the question implies that there should be some sort of regulation. I understand where that particular flaw in logic comes from; after all, we’re used to our lives being ‘regulated’, even for the most trivial things. Most of us rely more on what we’ve been told than on what we inherently know (or could know). For example, we’re told what we should eat, and how often, rather than told to listen to our bodies. I’m not immune to that pressure; to this day I don’t know if eggs are good for me or bad for me, or if I can eat a whole one or only the whites (or yolks)… There are other examples, but the point is the same; without being told when or how much, we’ll learn through trial and error to listen to our bodies and figure out what the appropriate course of action is. The problem is that we’re comfortable with being told what to do and how to do it. We don’t even think about how many of our choices and decisions we routinely turn over to ‘the Experts’ and just have faith that ‘they know best‘.

We’re also very used to the traditional model of school, to the point that we (as a culture) honestly don’t even comprehend why or how going outside of that model is even possible, let alone desirable. The familiar model, which is to cover material, test for understanding, move on, rinse, repeat for 13+ years, must have some sort of regulatory process. For a state-funded, or even privately funded organization, effectiveness is a key component to sustainability, and so there must be some sort of regulation to facilitate that process. I don’t dispute that, and I am not fighting to change that model (today). But when you take what is familiar away, we basically have no idea what education would look like. We’ve eroded our instinct and confidence to educate our children in even rudimentary skills (like reading and writing and basic arithmetic) to the point that our default position is to look outside for instruction.

Another facet to the issue of regulation is the idea that without it, parents won’t teach their children, or they won’t teach them the Right Things, or the kids won’t be motivated to learn. This assumes that, one: parents don’t have their children’s best interests at heart; two: that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught; and three: that children are not instinctively inquisitive and eager to learn. Those are all incorrect assumptions.

If there is anything that parents are invested in, it’s their kids’ education and general well-being. In most cases, parents will work harder and more tirelessly on behalf of their children than anyone on the planet. For most of us in the working class our future relies, to some degree, on our kids ‘making it’ in life/ the real world because they’re going to have to take care of us one day! If that’s not incentive enough, then I don’t know what is. I jest… but truly, you don’t have to convince or coerce or bully or supervise parents making sure that their children are prepared for life. It’s innate, this desire to create successful offspring.

The second point is the idea that there are Right Things that Should Be Taught. Just… no. There are MANY ways to go about education. There are many models, many philosophies, concepts – you can make yourself go completely bananas trying to learn about every method, ever. For the parent trying to find The Right Way, or even the Best Way for Our Family, this process is one of the hardest steps in preparing to homeschool. There are so many options that it’s overwhelming and easy to get frustrated and lost. Clearly, with the varying requirements of different public education systems, even their experts and advisers can’t agree on what ‘should’ be taught and when. So what usually ends up happening is that the parents draw upon their own education as a guide. They pick things out that have been most helpful to them in the course of their life, or that they wish they’d understood better and make sure their kids are taught those things. They’ll cross-reference what they think is important with any number of resources, including the TEA’s scope and sequence (for Texas parents), to come up with a comprehensive educational plan for their kids – because they are invested. Add to that basic internet access, and a local support group and they’re pretty darn set.

Then there’s the bit about the kids. Honestly, when I hear things like that, the mental image I get is of a crotchety old man, griping about how ‘kids these days’ blah, blah, blah. I was one of those kids who liked school so much that I would play ‘school’ when I got home. But not all kids – most kids, I’d bet, hate the way school makes you learn. It’s definitely not for everyone; in fact few children learn best the way that most public schools teach. Even the way we think of as ‘normal’ has become less and less so over the years. Where children once had hours of free play and recess and PE built into the day, our children have restrictions, hours of homework and structured playdates on weekends. Play is a child’s work, and they need that activity – it’s how they learn. Even older kids, when deprived of screen time, will figure out things to do and learn the whole time they’re doing it. We go screen-free for several weeks during the summer, and as an experiment, we’ve given the boys Snap Circuits, The Dangerous Book for Boys (The Daring Book for Girls), The Boys Survival Book, and several versions of the Cub Scouts Handbooks, along with sheets, rope, pulleys, carabiner clips, and other assorted supplies’ and told them not to come home until sunset. They inevitably come home with tales of their adventures and newly acquired skills (involving math, science, reading comprehension, and good ol’ common sense). Given the option, I’d MUCH rather learn about physics and math by building a playhouse or erecting a tent than reading a textbook. So would they.

Rather than relying on external regulation to enforce education, it makes infinitely more sense to first of all have faith in parents and children, but also to leave education to the individual parent, who has been teaching their particular child(ren) since the day they were born. Most parents, with children in the public education sector and private/homeschooled/alternative schooling, do honestly and genuinely want what’s best for their kids, and they’ll work hard to make sure their kids get it. But if you want to educate your kids outside of the traditional model, here’s a newsflash: You don’t need to be told by the government, or state, or local school system, or experts how/when/how much/what to teach. Yes, really.

To answer the questions I know are coming:

  • Yes, some parents will be lazy.
  • Yes, there are some fundamentally crazy parents who will selectively educate their kids in religious nonsense to their detriment.
  • Yes, there will be some students who ‘graduate’ homeschool without fully mastering even basic concepts like arithmetic or reading.

But if you think that this never happens in mass education, then you’re either naive, or hopelessly under-educated on the subject (in which case, your opinion is less than invalid on this issue). Even within the public education system, you will have bad parents. In this equation, it’s not education that is at fault, it’s the parents. Period. You can’t take those few examples and blame homeschooling when the parents are at fault, because those children would be neglected and abused no matter where or how they were educated – because they have shitty parents.

So where does the idea that regulation is required come from? I’m sure it comes from many different places, but I think that some of it is based in personal bias. Maybe the person whoclaims that there ‘should be’ regulation either doesn’t have kids and is parroting what they’re familiar with, or maybe they do have children and have never stepped out side of the box. Maybe they have children, and can’t imagine taking on the additional task of homeschooling (or don’t want to) and honestly don’t see or understand why anyone would want to take on the burden of educating at home when there’s a perfectly adequate (and free) system set up to do that for you. Maybe the person you’re talking to lives in a state or area where the school system is beyond excellent (I know they exist; I’ve heard tales!!) and has no concept of how truly deplorable the public education system is where you live (*cough*BISD*cough*). Maybe the person is a teacher or college professor, and since academia is their bread and water, they truly feel that only someone as similarly educated as his or her august self is capable of imparting knowledge to the youth of the nation. Maybe the only ‘examples’ of homeschooling they’ve seen are sensationalized news stories about horrible parents that happened to ‘homeschool’ (but, of course, that was the click-bait), or the only children they’d come into contact with who were homeschooled were ‘under-educated’ according to the school’s intake testing (which is, by the way, not necessarily demonstrative of the child’s education – maybe they hadn’t covered fractions yet, but the child had an in-depth knowledge of Ancient Egypt and can play 2 instruments. Just sayin’.) Who knows why people think the funny things they do. If you have time to address their particular bias, feel free; otherwise just smile and nod and do your own thing.

What I am saying is that the entire idea that there should be regulation for homeschoolers is generally flawed, and even more-so when we consider the very individualized approach to education that homeschooling celebrates. On a small scale, education is truly mastery-focused. Where a child excels, progress is rapid. Where a student struggles, progress is slower, but thorough. In the end, the student’s education is more completely assimilated, and there is less of the ‘retain for test, then forget it’ model that is often found in mass education. Is there a place for testing and regulation in homeschool? Maybe. For re-entry into a traditional school, or entry into college, it may be necessary, though more and more colleges are allowing homeschoolers to be assessed differently than traditionally educated students. For specific career goals, testing may be necessary, to assure a good foundation for cumulative lessons, or review might be required to reaffirm foundation concepts. But even that is more for older kids, not pre-schoolers and elementary aged kids. If a parent isn’t capable of educating, without input from outside sources, a child through elementary school, then that’s not a good testimonial for the traditional model.

What do you think?

Warmly,
~h

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