Bullying on the bus...
Teasing and torment on the playground...
Wear the “right” clothes...
Listen to the “right” music...
Try to be popular...
At a very young age, children have a sense of belonging, which can be both positive and negative. Many students, and some of their parents, believe it’s more important to be popular than smart. Some children are sent to school with a lack of respect for authority and for education. The role of the teacher has always been to teach children how to get along at the same time they teach them academics.
We only need to look to the story about 68 year-old Karen Klein, the bus monitor in Greece, New York who was bullied by middle school children, to see how mean students can be, not only to one another but to the adults in charge of supervising them (Huffington Post). The public school system is a microcosm for society at large, and those diverse personalities and backgrounds converge in the same building.
It’s hard to tell whether children have changed or if the media focuses on certain stories more because they are trying fill their 24/7 news coverage. Many local newspapers have a “sound-off” section where people can make anonymous comments about anything and schools often find themselves at the receiving end. What used to be a place to educate all children and provide them with opportunities to change their lives, have become a target for political battles. All of this is changing the public school system and parents are looking for alternatives.
Parents want their children to remain safe and they also have the belief that education is about engaging students with skills that will prepare them for life, and not about maintaining behavior issues during the day or over-assessing children. As the public school system goes through our present corporate reform of high stakes testing and accountability, some parents are looking for something different and they are choosing homeschooling.
There are many ways that we can educate children and children need different pathways. Parents choose to send their kids to public or private school while others choose to homeschool their children. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics 1.5 million children were homeschooled in 2007 (NCES). Given the increase in high stakes testing and budget cuts, I would venture to guess that number is much higher.
Parents homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. They want educational freedom so they can educate their children on the topics and curriculum that they find to be the most important. Many times they enjoy the religious freedom to provide their children with a faith based education that the public school cannot provide.
More importantly, homeschooling provides parents with the opportunity to cut down on the stress their children feel from their peers. There is less of a focus on fitting in with societal norms, like wearing the “right” clothes and listening to the “right” music and having the “right” games to play with. Homeschooling provides parents with the opportunity to focus on education and not on fitting in.
One of the many criticisms of homeschooling is that children loose out on the social and emotional growth they can get from hanging out with peers. However, many communities, including the one where I am a principal, have a strong homeschool network where homeschooled students play and learn with one another. In addition, children who are homeschooled still participate in after-school activities like Odyssey of the Mind and Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts or community sports programs.
In addition, there are Book fairs, weekend events, and other community events where homeschooled children can be invited to attend. Although many may believe that is not the job of the public school, which it is not, schools can still create bonds with students who are educated outside of their buildings. After all, we are supposed to teach children to respect differences and expose them to different pathways.
Another issue that has long been a problem for homeschooled children is the stigma that comes along with being homeschooled. Those who don’t understand it or have limited knowledge of it, think that it is for students who do not fit into the public school society or for parents who are angry over the education their children may have received while attending the public school system.
Although some of that may be true, to say that there is one type of homeschool student is like saying that all public schools are the same, and we know they are not. Parents who homeschool their children want more control over their child’s education and they want to shield them from some of the issues that happen in public and private schools. They want their children to focus on individuality and worry less about fitting in. Parents want their children to focus more on academics and less on peer relationships.
The final criticism is that the parents who choose to do it are not certified teachers. They do not have special training in education and cannot prepare their children for college and the workforce. Many parents try to make up that fact by joining networks that make up for the fact that they may not be certified teachers. In addition, there are certified on-line classes that homeschool students can take from accredited programs.
In the End
Children need different pathways to find success. Some students do not do well in the public or private school system, nor do their parents, or they have different needs than any of those options can offer. Homeschooling is not easy. It takes work and parents need to separate their role of parent and teacher which a difficult task.
Parents who homeschool their children have to make sure they are providing a plethora of hands-on activities and inquiry-based learning. To provide a whole child experience, homeschool parents need to make sure they are not working in isolation. They need to tap into homeschool networks to make sure their children are learning from different peers as well as from their parents. Public school is a great place for many students but some students need something different, and homeschooling is one of those options that parents choose.
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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.