If you bumped into me on the street, you probably wouldn’t assume I had any kids. Not only do I have kids, I now have five kids, and we are home schooling each and every one of them. I wasn’t home schooled myself, and I came from a family where my father was a dentist and my mother was a public school teacher. My sister and brother-in law are teachers as well. And yet here I am, one of the biggest home school advocates there is. In this post I will share with you why.
First, here are some of the reasons we don’t use the public educational system.
1. All students do not learn the same way. I’ve always been a hands-on learner. I need to carefully watch something being done, understanding each and every step of the process and how it relates to the whole before I grasp the subject. If I don’t understand a step, it’s almost impossible for me to go on and understand what’s being taught next.
Back when I was in school, I would raise my hand when I didn’t understand something in class, which was quite often. This was fine the first few times, but with 30 other students eventually the teachers would grow tired of my hand being raised and would eventually ask me to stop raising my hand. Flash. I remember some of the moments to this day. They were moments that I stopped learning. In a math class the lessons continued to build on each other and I naturally fell further and further behind.
Like all good students, I had the fear of being held back a grade burned into my soul. So I would cheat during tests and copy other students homework just to get passing grades. In math alone that went on from probably 5th grade until I graduated from high school.
Students have different learning styles and teachers are put in the impossible position to see that each student, and each style is adequately addressed so that everyone flourishes. Some students do great in the system, most others do not.
2. Large group learning environments are not ideal. Under the best possible conditions, having a teacher (and if the students are lucky, an assistant) and 30 kids in a classroom attempting to learn a subject is not ideal. Throw in kids that don’t listen to anyone in authority, who are disrespectful of teachers and their peers, kids that are coming from really rough situations, kids that are strung out on sugar and kids that flat out don’t want to be there, and you end up with a pretty poor learning environment. Today’s teachers are doing their best, and are doing well under the circumstances that they are dealt. I think there are more people every day recognizing the weaknesses of our educational system, but don’t act because they feel there are no other alternatives.
3. We don’t want our children learning most of what their peers have to teach. (especially during the young and foolish years) When kids go to school, they spend all their time with their peers. A teacher will give some lectures, and spend a little time with each student if they are lucky, but most of their time is spent with their peers. Learning. This can be fine when you are around to supervise the teaching that is taking place. With no parents around, their peers are the last people we want them to be learning from and spending all day with. It seems like we recognize this in most areas of learning, like music, sports, art and technology. If we want our children to really excel in something we have them learn from those that are older and wiser than they are. But for general education, we’ve decided that the best way for children to learn is to herd them all into little classrooms and hope it turns out well.
4. I disagree with the end destination of public school. Public school’s main purpose is to breed college students, as a college degree students are told, is the ticket to a successful life. I think that is crazy, and I would never subject my kids to years of emphasis on test taking, memorization and a system that in word, encourages them to be creative and change the world, but in deed, prepares them to all go down the same narrow path and become cogs in a wheel. College isn’t for most people, and our public education system simply isn’t addressing that fact. As an example, over 80% of small businesses fail. Could it be that it’s because 0% of students are being prepared to start small businesses? Students are being trained to go to college and get comfortable jobs. They are not encouraged to be entrepreneurial or think outside the box. So it should be no surprise that after years of studying to pass tests and memorizing useless facts that people are very ill prepared to start their own business or earn a living on their own.
So those are some of the reasons why we don’t send out kids to public school. So what’s the best alternative? There are private schools with smaller classrooms, but they are often expensive and still struggle with some of the same issues as above. There are also charter schools which I think are a step in the right direction, but still fall short. I’m convinced that educating kids at home is the best route.
Here are some of my reasons we’ve chosen our home as the primary place of education for our children.
1. So they can learn at their own pace. Some kids learn very quickly while others learn more slowly. In public school, kids are often made fun of and mocked for taking longer than their peers to learn something. They are shamed out of raising their hand or asking questions, and often would rather not ask the question if it means that the rest of the class sees that they do not understand something. In a home learning situation, this toxic environment does not exist. Kids can learn at their own pace without the fear and worry of being made fun of. This actually speeds up the learning process and makes it as it should be.
2. To give them the individualized attention they need. Kids have questions when they are learning. They need those questions answered before they can progress, but when you have one teacher for 30 students, it can be near impossible to give the students the help and attention they need. At best the teacher and assistants are spread so thin that the learning process is slowed to a crawl for those that need more help. In a home learning environment, questions get answered immediately.
3. To teach them responsibility. My wife and I are first responsible for our children’s education. After my wife and I, our children are responsible for their own education. We are trying to teach our children at a young age that they are not to look to others to do everything for them. We want them to realize that they are responsible for themselves. Their education, or lack thereof, will affect them the rest of their lives. That’s not something you leave into the hands of other people.
4. To train them to be self-starters. There are mornings when I will get up and find my oldest son out in the living room working on a math lesson in his book. He would do this as a 7 year old (now he’s 8). We’ve told him that when he gets done with one grade of math that he can start on the next one. He knows that at some point there won’t be anymore math lessons so he’s just working on cranking them all out until he’s done. He’s now a couple years ahead in math for his age. We want to teach all of our children to be self starters as there isn’t always going to be someone telling them what they need to do to become successful. They need to learn to make those decisions by themselves and then act on those decisions.
5. To encourage their gifts and interests. When you are teaching your children at home, you can custom tailor their education to meet their gifts and interests. Have a child that is really interested in how things work, taking things apart and fixing things? You can have bicycle class and teach them everything there is to know about bicycles. How to build them, how to fix them, the history of them and take them on field trips to bike shops and to meet custom bike manufacturers. If you have a child that is really interested in computers and how they work, you can have them learn how to code…as a second grader. Have a child that loves to cook or write, you can encourage them to spend significant amounts of time investing in these worthwhile subjects.
Sure kids can learn these things at the end of the day, but I don’t think that’s best. The end of the day is the best time for a family to just enjoy each other and relax, and play together. The bulk of learning should be in the morning and middle of the day, and I think it’s a waste to delay the specialized education of students until they are 18 years old. If a child starts showing interest in something when they are young, they should be encouraged.
6. We aren’t worried about “socialization.” Kids turn out like their parents. My three boys are like little clones of myself, for the good and the bad. I often hear how homeschooling one’s children robs them of much needed socialization. That’s a load of garbage that I’m not sure who came up with. If parents are socially awkward, it’s very likely that their kids will be socially awkward. Kids will usually act and talk like those that they hang out with the most. I think the awkward home school kid image came not from a lack of public school, but maybe because they had awkward home school parents. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
As far as hanging out with other kids, that’s what neighborhoods and siblings are for. We have 15 neighbor kids within a tennis balls throw of our front porch. (I can throw quite a ways) They are constantly playing with each other all throughout the day. Then our kids spend a lot of time with each other, and have grown very close, which is very important to us. Friends and neighbors come and go, but siblings are around for a lifetime. The sibling relationships should really be encouraged in my opinion.
7. We want to spend a lot of time with our kids. Life is short, and eight hours away from your kids each day is a long time. Add that time up over 12-14 years of school, and that’s the majority of their childhood, especially if you factor in extra curricular activities. We really enjoy spending time with our kids. I think that many people don’t have a problem sending their kids off to school because it gives them a break. If a parent needs an eight hour break from their kids each day, there are parenting issues that need to be addressed. Children should be enjoyable to be around, not a burden.
I say this a lot, but I’ve never heard someone later in life say they spent too much time with their children when they were young. Usually it’s the opposite. It’s regret over a lack of time spent with them and a desire to do it over again. You will never regret spending more of your life with your children.
I hated sitting in class. I hated feeling like an inconvenience to my teachers. I loathed the stress of falling too far behind and being unable to cheat my way to see another grade. I didn’t want to let my family down. I hated the cruelty of students, some of which was/is so severe that it would cause most adults to weep. If you want to know why so many young people struggle with addiction, it’s because they are trying to cope with a mountain of pain, much of which is inflicted by their peers. I’ve changed a lot since I was in school, but I would never wish my worst enemy to have to go through some of the things that kids are going through in public schools all over the country each year. The kids know what I’m talking about, the teachers do as well, but everyone else doesn’t find out until some kid can’t take it anymore.
It’s the perfect storm. Isolate young children struggling with their identity, throw them all together with hundreds of other foolish, undisciplined and utterly cruel children into a school with not enough teachers or supervision and see what happens. The really sinister part of the entire thing is how desperate they all are for each others approval, above anything else, because public school is now their world. So they endure enormous amounts of pain, and say nothing. They bottle it up and save the side affects of their anguish for later in life. It all keeps going unchecked until a child commits suicide. Or the sadness turns to anger and they shoot up a school. No one ever seems to question the system that fosters such a toxic environment.
I always looked up to the classmate that would notice that the real answer was missing from a multiple choice problem. I believe the answer to our broken educational system is that parents need to take the responsibility of educating their own children. At the end of the day, if a kid isn’t prepared for life in the real world after high school, it’s not the public school’s fault, it’s the parents.
Further (and better) reading: I just came across a essay by Paul Graham (a very successful programmer, investor and writer) on Why Nerds are Unpopular. It is the greatest dissection of the public school system I’ve ever read. Ever. The accuracy of it will blow your mind. It’s also fascinating. I highly recommend you give it a read! Just give yourself some time, as it’s pretty long. Pro-tip: save it to Pocket on your phone, and then listen to it for free while you’re driving or out for a walk.