Public school teachers, school administrators, and academics
who are skeptical of homeschooling feel confident in expressing their opinions about homeschooling because they believe their status
as a professional educator qualifies them to assess whether or not
home education is a viable option.
However, there are a few problems with comparing public schools to homeschooling:
- Even with federal standards, one cannot measure every school in America by one classroom, one teacher, one school, or even an entire district. This means the comparison must focus on federal standards and regulations themselves, and the system as a whole.
- Homeschooling is outside of this system. It is an educational option for individual families to exercise as they see fit. There is no national homeschool system or federal home education standards.
- The intimate, nurturing, family-oriented homeschool environment cannot be compared with the institution of brick-and-mortar, age-segregated classrooms.
It doesn't matter how much experience you have in the world of education if your underlying premise is faulty. A teaching degree or political position does not qualify one to comment on homeschooling simply because they have a career in education.
Let's dig down a little deeper at how the traditional classroom differs from the average homeschool and why comparing the two is pointless.
Public/traditional schools use methods appropriate to the task of educating 20-30 students per class. They must keep the needs of the group as paramount, and individual attention is difficult to come by. The teacher and students begin the school year as complete strangers, and by the end of the year the staff and children may know each other fairly well, but certainly not on the same personal level as family. Teachers are actually required to maintain an appropriate distance, which not only keeps them out of legal trouble, but is essential for remaining fair and impartial when teaching a large group. These methods are necessary for the specific task of organizing and educating a fairly large group of children.
A homeschool parent oversees the education of their own child or children in their home. In most households this results in a very low student/teacher ratio, even in large families. A parent does not need keep an emotional or physical distance to assess their child's progress. They do not need to be 'politically correct', or avoid teaching from their own point of view. Families can create an educational environment that is loving, relaxed, comfortable, nurturing, and specific to the child.
A significant amount of time in school is spent with the logistics of managing a number of students--standing in lines, taking attendance and counting heads, excusing (or accompanying) kids to the bathroom or to get a drink, distributing or turning in papers, maintaining discipline, safety and fire drills, and other administrative and organizational duties. Teachers attempt to keep the lines of communication open with 20-30 sets of parents, the principal, administrators, and superintendent. They must submit lesson plans that meet federal and local standards, and are focused on test results that help the school qualify for federal funding. There is a constant struggle within every dedicated teacher to adhere to the political demands of their job while also providing instruction and a stimulating learning environment for a classroom of students with a variety of needs.
A homeschool family spends their time in ways that benefit each individual child as well as the whole family. They set the schedule according to their child's physical and developmental needs. Learning time is spent focused and engaged in the process because there are few, in any, 'administrative issues' to attend to. Families have struggles of a more personal nature because children are being parented at the same time they are being educated. There may be interruptions, such as phone calls, visitors, illness, or broken washing machines. However, these can become learning opportunities for homeschoolers!
For teachers, the confinement of the classroom is essential for learning, organization, and safety. This can place a near-sighted student or struggling learner at the back of the class. A child who wishes to focus can be distracted day after day by being next to a disruptive influence. A teacher is limited in their ability to provide for the individual physical and academic needs of students. Children are also required to be physically still and quiet during much of the day. Their questions are limited to those specifically about the lesson at hand.
The average home, or even small apartment, allows a variety of creative ways to meet the needs of the child, whether they enjoy learning in isolated quiet, in the sunshine, under a shade tree, comfy on the couch with mom or dad, or at the kitchen table while mom makes dinner. Special needs can also be accommodated in a safe and nurturing home setting. Children are free to exercise, eat when hungry, rest when weary, and ask questions when curiosity or inspiration strike. With this freedom comes the need to make sure core skills are practiced regularly, and children progress to the best of their ability.
The state chooses the curriculum that schools will use, but this choice is limited. Education standards can change at the whim of culture and politicians. Schools have some liberty as to they implement national standards, which means in spite of the desire to create a level playing field for every child in America; every school, every classroom, is different. A class may be able take one or two field trips per year. School happens during fixed hours of the day according to a mandated yearly schedule.
The homeschool parent and student have complete freedom to choose teaching materials and courses. They can take advantage of instructional videos, educational websites and online courses, tutors and workshops, and any resources available from their local bookstore or library. The entire day is at their disposal, the whole school year is theirs to plan, and the opportunities for field trips to museums, historic landmarks, zoos, arboretums, concerts, and plays are unlimited.
Support and accountability:
The public school teacher has a built-in support system and accountability. They have been formally trained for their vocation, and must continue to learn in order to maintain their certification. Schools receive taxpayer money and federal funds for textbooks and other educational materials. Their pool of resources offers students access to expensive equipment the average family would find cost prohibitive.
Homeschoolers are mostly independent, and foot the bill for their child's education. This can be addressed with support groups and co-ops, but parents must take responsibility to get 'plugged in' with other families for information, accountability, and encouragement. There are many creative way parents can afford quality materials, from using the library to curriculum sharing/swapping with other homeschoolers. Professional certification is not needed for homeschooling parents, however, as parents aren't required to actually 'teach'. Instead, they can serve as learning coaches and guides, allowing their children to be self-directed and responsible while providing resources and direction.
Directing a child's education requires strength of character and some serious effort. The parent must learn and grow and adjust to the ever-changing demands of their growing child. They must assess their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their child's, and find ways to fill in gaps and meet specific needs. They are accountable only to themselves, and as such, bear the full weight of responsibility for educating their child.
Parents are by nature deeply invested in the health and well-being of their children. Moms and dads are willing to go the extra mile to help kids explore their abilities and interests, and address their specific needs year after year. In spite of how it might feel, parents do not have to bear the burden alone--there are local support groups in every state, as well as online help and encouragement in the form of message boards, magazines, Facebook groups, and blogs.
Now that we've examined the differences, are professional educators qualified to critique homeschooling? Probably not--as long as their measuring stick is the public school system, their conclusions will always be faulty.
It's not surprising that a public school teacher would judge what is needed to homeschool by what is essential to the public school classroom. But the specialization and certification a public school teacher must possess is simply not applicable to a homeschool environment, and I think the brief explanations above illustrate why.
Dear Homeschool Parent:
Stop feeling as if you need the permission of teachers and school officials to homeschool, or that you owe them an explanation. You are not a second class citizen, you are not depriving your child of better opportunities, and you don't need to look at public school classrooms as a standard of quality education. Have confidence in your choice to homeschool, hold your head high, and move forward with your family on your homeschooling journey.