Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

She knows what I want

CMinor took the bait and has produced a very nutritious post entitled My Life as a Homeschooler, Part I. My master plan of appearing intelligent through appropriating the ideas of great minds is progressing nicely, thank you.
Yeah, I guess I know what you mean about homeschooling philosophies--it's been an interesting evolutionary process. Fifteen years ago when I was still thinking about homeschooling, my mentors were mostly the wild and wooly unschoolers that still predominated in the movement and with few exceptions even the canned curricula strove to avoid the too school-y model. Lately on the few occasions I hang out with local homeschoolers (I'm not trying to be antisocial, but we've really got too much else going on) it seems everybody's on workbook packages and video courses. There's something about the idea of sitting your kid in front of the tube all day--even for educational lectures--that just grates on me. Even if you're schooling primarily for religious reasons, it seems to me there are better alternatives to "school at home" with an electronic tutor, yet!
This touches tangentially on something I've been chewing on for a while. I'm not delighted with the huge packaged curriculum programs I've run across, and specifically, I'm not delighted with what I've seen of their implementation in a homeschool environment. It seems (the BIG DISCLAIMER here to let everyone know that I'm not passing judgment, just articulating an observation) that these big programs make it a bit too easy to make the education process very hands-off for mom. But how can that be? you ask. Mom's at home all day. The kids are right there in the kitchen, doing their workbooks and their chapter fives and their coloring pages. And yet... opening the workbook to the assigned page, reading off the instructions, and then saying, "Okay, let's get this done by 11:00" while turning back to the phone call in progress -- heck, Junior might as well be at school. And (BIG DISCLAIMER again) I wonder if these programs fall into the "almost real school" category. The books are almost like textbooks at a real school! But without the "content"! St. Aloysius uses this math book! Our Lady of the Uber-Elite Academy uses this book, and they cost $12,000 a year!

This is vicarious education. This is "I would really rather send my kids to Catholic schools but I can't afford it/they might be corrupted". Undoubtedly Catholic schools are expensive. Undoubtedly there are bad apples even in the most orthodox settings who may teach your child uncouth habits, though a strong parental influence can lessen or overcome many of these types of ills. But homeschooling should be so much more than education on the cheap. And generations of Catholic mothers have impressed their values on their offspring despite oppressive educational conditions. Even the best Catholic schools won't be successful in imparting a religious spark if those lessons and values aren't lived and reinforced actively at home.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Wellll ... I'm certainly guilty of calling from the next room "Read to the end of the next chapter, then work the problems but skip #3" before turning back to the conversation with the dishwasher repairman, or the chore-at-hand, or (most usually) the work I'm doing with the other child, who also needs an education. I think I did that a few times just yesterday.

The thing is, unless you're only hs'ing one child, they have to be able to work on their own to some extent. I'll go over a lesson, explain the new concept, help work through a sample problem (or translation, or a few verses, whatever), then leave the child to do what she can on her own for a while, then later see what she's managed and do appropriate follow-up. But if I just did one-on-one tutoring with the older, Offspring #2 would languish, just as if I were only home-preschooling (is there really such a thing?) the other, Offspring #1 wouldn't learn much.

It's good for a kid to learn that sometimes you just have to try to figure out by yourself what's going wrong, or give something your best shot and move on, without someone to turn to immediately for help. The difference between this and school are the intensive initial and followup tutoring; the tailoring of the curriculum to that particular child's needs, both by skipping unnecessary work and by enrichment from other sources as necessary; and the whole environment, where Mom is there even if she's helping Offspring #2 build a giant palace from blocks instead of standing at your shoulder (not to mention the frequent provision of snacks, which seems to be why the kitchen table is a more popular work spot than the nice desk area we set up).

Even "school in a box" can work well if you don't expect it to run on its own, without the one-on-one tutoring. The big time-suck that a canned curriculum ideally solves for you is the curriculum planning that the "eclectic" homeschooler, poor sap, is doing in the evenings, weekends, and (in a big way) once a year or semester. This isn't fun family time at all, and I would happily skip this part of homeschooling if there was any canned curriculum that would work for us.

What I think you're getting at is depending on a canned curriculum to do *everything*, including the actual teaching and followup--which is what happens if they watch a video, then do problems, then you check them quickly against an answer key and hand back the graded paper, and there's nothing more.

But if I've spent half an hour explaining and demonstrating division of fractions or the subjunctive mood with "ut," I have no problem with going to do something else while the child does a workbook practice page on the subject.

mrsdarwin said...

Allow me to clarify.

What I think you're getting at is depending on a canned curriculum to do *everything*, including the actual teaching and followup--which is what happens if they watch a video, then do problems, then you check them quickly against an answer key and hand back the graded paper, and there's nothing more.

This is exactly what I'm talking about, and what I've seen in action more than once. I'm speaking of the "homeschooling as babysitter" mode of approach.

I also find myself in the embarrassing situation of thinking of specific cases of the behavior I'm describing without wanting to lay them out publicly.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Do tell! You can use pseudonyms. One of the shamefully favorite topics of conversation at homeschool park days is What's Wrong With N's Homeschooling Method. Sad wretches that we are. Makes you afraid not to show up for Park Day actually.

mrsdarwin said...

Heh. Moms' groups are the same everywhere.

Actually, we should get together sometime, and then I'll give you all the juicy gossip about people you don't know. :) I've been wanting to email you, but since we switched computers I've been rebuilding my address book. Drop me a note sometime, and we can have coffee and chat (after first putting the kids in front of a workbook so they won't disturb our social time).

Literacy-chic said...

So if you're not doing it for the "Catholic schools are too expensive" reason, or the "my children might be corrupted" reason, or even the "religious" reason (vague as it is), is it the "I can do better than the schools" reason, or the "teachers aren't well enough prepared" reason? Or family tradition? ;) I've got a million of 'em, though I admit to not being a homeschooler myself. After all, I'm pretty firmly entrenched in the "system"--at least at the upper end.

My mother homeschooled my five siblings, but not me, and it was not a pleasant experience and has not had satisfactory outcomes, but there are complicated reasons for that. Let's just say that I've seen first hand the results of a failure (or inability, actually) to commit 100% to the homeschooling effort. And I couldn't go there myself. I helped her out when I could, including buying textbooks for her this year off of eBay (in part to avoid the overpriced, overFundamentalist Abeka curriculum of which I disapproved from day 1!!)

When I'm pulling out my hair over this or that thing my son has told me about his current teacher (at the third-rate only-Catholic-school-in town), I almost regret that I don't homeschool. After all, I'll never be satisfied with whatever school he attends!

I admire all of your efforts, and particularly respect the fact that both Darwin & Mrs. Darwin were homeschooled themselves. How did the homeschooling philosophies/practices of your families differ?

mrsdarwin said...


Ah, you're anticipating my next post. :)

Darwin and I had differing homeschool experiences, and I'm going to be posting my impressions of my own homeschooling background to give the readership an idea of where I'm coming from.

"We can do better than the schools" is a reason that resonates with both of us -- probably because we figger we're pretty smart here. :)

Literacy-chic said...

I figured as much! :) And don't forget the "standardized tests are evil" argument--dear to my own heart!

Looking forward to the next installment!

CMinor said...

No argument there, O.H. Especially as kids grow older, they need to take increasing ownership of their educations--which has something to do with why mine have tended to end up in high school! And it's amazing how darn much daily drudgery arises to interfere with one's plans for an idyllic educational adventure. Sometimes those workbooks can be a salvo.

I think any reasonably competent parent can homeschool, but lemme tellya, it's a heck of a lot of work. Not everyone is willing to take that on, and not everyone has the wisdom to recognize that they don't want to take it on. So a lot of people end up "doing school" at home.

One of the advantages to hs is that, once you've decided you're willing to put in the work, you can pretty much design and build your own program so that it works for you and for the kids. This is especially a boon if you have a kid for whom traditional classroom education doesn't work. My oldest was LD and distractable (well, still is) and had a very hard time of it when he was in conventional schools. It was nice to be able to tailor his curriculum, drop something if it wasn't working and try something different, and allow him to work at his level in each subject rather than at some arbitrary standard he was always going to be either ahead of or behind depending on the subject. I've known some excellent teachers, but in a classroom setting that just can't be duplicated.