What About Socialization?

Best Friends

Any homeschooler out there has heard this question more times than they can count. It’s the big elephant in the room with non-homeschoolers. But it’s kind of funny because we distinctly remember our school teachers saying over and over, “You are not here to socialize!” So why on earth does everyone seem to think that if kids don’t go to a traditional school, they won’t ever have healthy relationships?

What’s the real concern here? That kids will be weird and irrelevant? That they won’t blend in with the crowd? Is that really what we want — homogenized kids?

We think what people are mostly worried about is that kids won’t be emotionally healthy if they don’t follow the traditional school plan. But let us ask you: how well has the standard American education system done in producing high volumes of emotionally healthy adults?

Are most of the adults you know good communicators? Or are they emotionally constipated? Are they deep divers (meaning, can they hold deep conversations about multiple topics)? Or are they mostly surface dwellers? Are most of the adults you know confident? Do they have a healthy self-esteem? Or are they insecure and self-conscious?

We’re not sure what it’s like where you are, but in all the places we’ve lived, it doesn’t seem like the the school system has pumped out a society of well-socialized humans.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Are we really saying that a classroom full of 20-30 kids the same age as our kids is the best model for developing excellent social skills? Who are these kids, anyway? According to a recent Nielsen survey, the average household watches more than 5 hours of TV a day. About half of all homes are split by divorce. If they’ve got teens in the home, we should note that recent statistics show that 72% of high schoolers are drinking alcohol, and 70% of kids have had sex by the age of nineteen.

If these are the stats, is this the kind of socialization we want for our kids? Proverbs 22:15 says that foolishness is bound in the heart of child. And Proverbs 13:20 warns that a companion of fools will suffer harm. You do the math!

Besides, how is a large building, full of age segregated classrooms, the best setting for preparing our kids for the adult social scene? Let’s think about this. For the most part, kids go to school with other kids from their neighborhood. Once there, they’re segregated into subsets by age, and then broken down even further into smaller factions by ability (the gifted group, the learning disabled, etc.).

How is this in any way preparing our kids to socialize in the real world? If anything, it’s creating a class system where older kids refuse to fraternize with younger kids and those who learn differently are treated like misfits.

Let’s Flip the Script

From now on, maybe homeschoolers should turn the tables on the public. When we hear that a kid goes to public or private school, perhaps we should wince a little and then gather our eyebrows together and wrinkle our nose like we just smelled poop and say, “What about socialization?”

We’re sure there are the few obscure cases of socially isolated homeschoolers who are only allowed to befriend their siblings and rarely leave their unibomber-style cabins. But in our 23 combined years of homeschooling, we haven’t met any.

Like any people group, homeschoolers have their creative people, their awkward people, their comedians, their brainiacs, their extroverts and their introverts. Sure there are weird homeschool families. There are weird public school families too and weird private school families. Bottom line — weird people exist in all cross sections of society.

But unlike their public and private school counterparts, most of the homeschoolers we know interact with kids and adults of all ages every day. And they spend a lot of time under their parent’s guidance, which means they’re usually coached through  difficult social situations.

Homeschool groups have Queen Bees and Wannabees just like regular school groups. The difference is, it’s harder for these kids to fly under the adult radar in homeschool groups.

When there’s a conflict (and there always is), parents can coach kids through healthy resolution techniques. Parents can see how their kids behave in groups and react to other kids, and they can mentor them through the rough spots. When they see their kids having a bad attitude (jealousy, self-pity, pride, arrogance), they can help their kids identify it and give them tools to work through it.

Parents of public and private schooled kids can do the same things, of course, they just can’t do it for about 6-8 hours of the waking day, Monday through Friday.

Homeschool parents also spend a lot of time around their kids’ peers and can help their kids choose the right friends, based on common interests and not just proximity.

So what about socialization? You decide.

 

 

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Should I or Shouldn’t I Homeschool?

Skyler

Last week we posted Jody’s testimony of how she began homeschooling her son, Chase in Mom, Will You Homeschool Me?

By our small-blog standards, this thing has gone viral. Today alone, we’ve already had more than 14,000 visits to the blog! Do you know what this tells me? A lot of people are looking for education alternatives for their kids, and a lot of people are taking a serious look at homeschooling.

Jody’s post did a great job of illustrating how difficult this decision can be. Deciding whether or not to homeschool is no small choice to make. You’ve got to count the cost, and if you decide to do it, you’ve got to be committed, because I can guarantee that your resolve will be challenged along the way.

If you’ve never homeschooled, it can be hard to think through the pros and cons, so we wanted to post something from a veteran perspective to help families who are considering this option.

Between Jody and I, we’ve homeschooled 8 kids (not including my toddler, but we homeschool him too) for a combined 23 years (13 for her and 10 for me). We’ve experienced working with a special needs child, high schoolers, pre-readers, academically gifted and academically challenged kids and audio, visual, kinesthetic learners.

We’ve also had an umbrella school for homeschool families for four years and counseled many families on most aspects of homeschooling.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we’ve been there and seen a lot, so here are some basic pros and cons that we’ve seen over the years.

Homeschooling Pros

  • Customized Education — You can customize your child’s education. This is my absolute favorite! I LOVE that my ninth grader can start her own business and spend a good portion of her day learning about the formation of business entities and marketing strategies. I love that she can take the time she needs to perfect her craft so that she can offer an excellent service to her clients. I love that my 4th grader can spend a big part of his day growing plants and learning about botany because that’s what he loves. I love that two of my kids can use their peak performance hours to write movie scripts, film the movie, learn how to use professional editing and special effects software and master a final copy. And even with the standard academic subjects, they can all move as slowly or as quickly as they need to actually learn it.

  • Learning at Their Own Pace — Which leads me to my next pro — the goal of education can be learning, not passing a test or getting a grade, but actually gaining knowledge and understanding and being able to apply it. Sometimes that happens much faster than the standard American classroom allows it to happen. Other times, it takes a lot longer than a school lesson would take. It all depends on the kid and the subject the kid is learning.
  • Maximized Time — This is similar to the first two, but homeschooling avoids wasted time spent on transporting to and from school, transitioning from one class or one activity to another, waiting on long lines for food, water and the bathroom and constant distractions of friends, other kids’ questions, noises, sights, etc. Our children’s childhood is precious, and homeschooling allows you to maximize it.

  • Character Training Opportunities — So many people say that they couldn’t homeschool their kids because their kids would drive them crazy and they don’t think their kids would even listen to them. Homeschooling gives parents the time they need to teach communication and interpersonal skills and obedience. I’m not saying that it’s never frustrating or difficult, but when they’re with you all day, you can take the time you need to shape their character.

  • Community Involvement — Homeschooled kids can interact with the community throughout the day. Unlike their peers who are gathered into age specific groups for most of the day, homeschoolers tend to spend their days with kids who are both much younger and much older than themselves, adults, the elderly and people in different job sectors and socio-economic classes. For example, on Mondays our kids take a drama class with a large group of middle and high schoolers. On Tuesdays they spend the morning downtown with their youth pastor from church talking to to the homeless and offering them food and water. Then they spend the afternoon at a local tea house doing schoolwork, where they’ve been able to network and find new venues for their small businesses. After that they go the opera house, where they work with musicians and performers from around the world. On Wednesdays they take a few classes and then study at home or at a park. On Thursdays they take a class, sing at a local prayer house, babysit little kids and head back to the opera house. What I’m getting at here is that homeschooled kids have the flexibility to really connect with the community. Because of their availability, our kids have had the chance to be on the radio, attend community luncheons, sit in on city planning meetings, volunteer at a local parade, work with the Humane Society and nursing homes, and so much more.

  • Self-Esteem and Confidence — There’s a difference between self-esteem and confidence. Self-esteem is how much you value yourself. Confidence is a belief in your abilities. We’ve got a post on how to build self-esteem and one on building confidence, but homeschooling can help with both. For one, they’re free from the negative social aspects of schooling (bullies, unhealthy comparisons, unrealistic expectations, etc.). As kids are given the freedom to spend a good portion of the day discovering who they are and finding purpose, their self-esteem will rise, and as they take the time to practice and become successful in a variety of things, their confidence will increase.
  • Life Skills — They can participate in the running of the household. Jody did two great posts on Raising the Head of a Household and Raising a Proverbs 31 Woman. I encourage you to check them out. You’ll be inspired! But homeschooling affords you the time to really train and equip your kids for adulthood, and along the way, you get lots of help. Speaking of which, check out the post on how to Turn Your Kids Into Clean Machines!
  • Experiential Learning — There’s greater opportunity for experiential learning. This is another BIG benefit for our family. We LOVE a good field trip, and we take A LOT of them! A few times a month we go somewhere — a theater, a dairy farm, an art studio, a pizza place, an aquarium, a science center, a newspaper printing press, a castle made entirely of recycled materials, a hydroponic farm, a TV station, a supermarket, a metal fabrication shop…you get the idea. We like field trips. We also love internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing opportunities and mentorships. And we seek out those opportunities like a dog on a scent!
  • Scheduling Freedom — We school year round, but that doesn’t mean we’re all work and no play. Oh no, no! We LOVE a day at Busch Gardens, and we love that we can go on Tuesday when everyone else is at school. No lines, no crowds – it’s beautiful. We happen to live in a vacation destination spot, so whenever family and friends are in town visiting our beautiful beaches and warm weather, we can take time off and go sight-seeing or boating or to an amusement park with them. Just as my husband has the flexibility to schedule his vacation time when he wants, we can schedule our time off when we want. We can also have occasional PJ days, and on a rainy day, when everyone feels sluggish and drab, we can make food together and cuddle on the couch to watch a documentary. Netflix and Amazon Prime are a homeschoolers best friends!
  • Well Rested and Hydrated Kids — Homeschooled kids can develop a sleep schedule that works well for their bodies and their family lifestyle. We’ve got a friend whose husband is a chef. They’re all night owls so they can involve dad in their life, but they can also get the sleep they need in the morning. And how about hydration? I know it sounds weird, but this was actually one of the minor reasons I decided to homeschool. My daughter’s kindergarten class didn’t allow them to keep water at their desks. Instead they took them to the water fountain twice a day. I knew that a few sips at the water fountain and her water bottle at lunch weren’t giving her the 20+ ounces she needed a day. At home I could schedule two big water breaks and make sure she was always hydrated – a super important part of being able to learn!

Homeschooling Cons

  • Financial Restraints — Homeschooling can be expensive. It doesn’t have to be (let’s face it, a library card is free), but if you want to use pre-packed curriculum, take special classes and benefit from a bunch of cool field trips, it takes money.  The good news is, you set the budget and let that determine what you can and can’t do. There’s always the library and the Internet.
  • Not Being Able to Work — It’s hard to work outside the home. Working and homeschooling at the same time can be done, but it’s no small task, and it’s probably not a good idea for a new homeschooling parent. It takes top notch organization and time management systems, a student who is willing and able to work well independently, and an effective process for monitoring your kid’s progress.

  • Sports, Music and Art Limitations — Sports, music and arts opportunities may be limited. We happen to live in a state and a county where there are no limitations on the public extra curricular activities that we can do. As county registered homeschoolers, our kids can participate in any public school sport or music or art program. They can even take classes at local public schools. But it’s not like that everywhere, and for some kids that can be a big drawback. You can seek out extra curricular activities (our kids do opera, Civil Air Patrol, scouts, art and music) or you could team up with other homeschool families and offer homeschool sports. Here in Sarasota, we’ve got homeschool tennis, volleyball and archery (I’m probably missing some others).

  • Therapy Limitations — Limited access to special needs therapy. Again, here in Florida, our kids can get all the speech, physical and occupational therapy they need through the public school system, but that may not be the case in other parts of the U.S., which can be a huge problem for some kids.
  • Limited Social Opportunities — It never fails. Whenever someone asks about homeschooling, we can expect this question: “But what about socialization?” We’re going to do a whole post on the myth of socialization, but let me just say that I’ve homeschooled in three different states, and I’ve never had trouble offering my kids great social opportunities. But I do realize that for some people, there is not a large local homeschool community. We’re blessed to have a few homeschool graduations and proms and yearbooks to choose from. Because of the extensive network in our area of homeschool families, our kids don’t have to miss out on anything public school kids do, but we know that’s not the case for every family. The truth is, as a homeschooler, you will have seek out social opportunities for your kids.
  • Your Own Challenges and Limitations — Here’s a tough one to face: as a homeschool parent, your own struggles and bad habits and challenges and limitations will be on display for your kids. If you’re disorganized or have a short fuse or are addicted to the television or the phone or the Internet; if you are prone to white lies and excuses or battle depression or overeat, your kids are not only going to know, but they’re probably to going to pick up the same issues. Remember, more is caught than taught. Your kids will do what you do, not what you say. But there’s a great silver lining in this dark cloud — homeschooling can also be the catalyst for you to begin making the changes you’ve always wanted to make in your own life. Being a role model for someone else can be a powerful motivator! So pick one thing; do some research; make a plan to fix it, and then work the plan. When you’ve got that one licked, move on to the next.

We hope we’ve helped you in this process. While you’re here, leave us a comment below and tell us what pros and cons we’ve missed!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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What Comes Out of Our Kids When No One is Looking?

Sky in hands heart Close Up

This morning I was clacking away at a new post on the pros and cons of homeschooling when my 9th grader sat down next to me wanting to share something. Someone had reposted one of her Tumblr blogs and added a lively endorsement of it. Because of the repost, her traffic spiked, she added followers, got private messages and a bunch of new notes (Tumblr speak for comments). She was stoked and wanted to read me the post.

What great timing. Her blog was a good example of what I hope my kids will gain from their education. I decided to strike while the opportunity was hot and share her post here. Check back later this week for The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling. In the meantime, let’s talk for a minute about education.

As most of you know, we homeschool. I suppose if we had to categorize our primary homeschooling method, we’d call ourselves unschoolers. We’ll write more about that later this week. But in short, we don’t typically use text books. Our curriculum is often informal and comes from a wide range of places.

I guess today’s post proves that curriculum can come from just about anywhere. Even Disney movies!

My daughter Skyler is a musician, and she LOVES Disney movie music. I never thought of it as curriculum, but I guess everything is curriculum to some degree.

Jody and I always talk about parenting with the end result in mind. Shouldn’t we educate our kids with the end result in mind too?

So, here’s the big question: What is it that we want from our kids’ education (whether we homeschool or use a private or public school)?

I want my kids’ education to give them effective communication tools, the ability to reason and think critically, and the skills and knowledge they’ll need for their unique life.

As unschoolers, we don’t do a lot of formal testing, but things like Skyler’s blog post are good indicators that her education is meeting our goals. I didn’t assign this to her. I had no idea she even wrote it. There were no cross curriculum objectives or common core standards involved (not there’s anything wrong with objectives and standards — as people who strive for excellence, we know they have a place).

But as parents, we are all the directors of our kids’ education (even if we choose to partner with a school for it), and we need frequent evidence that their education is meeting our goals. As often as possible, the evidence should come from the things that they do of their own free will, and not only from the results they achieve on assigned tasks.

What comes out of them when no one is looking is the best indicator of who they are becoming, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what education is all about?

By the way…did you read Sky’s post? No? Go do it! Just click here.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Mom, Will You Homeschool Me?

Mom Will You Homeschool Me

About fourteen years ago, my athletic, top-of-his-class and popular son came to me and blew me away with an unexpected question. As it turned out, he was battling an emotional turmoil, and the only way he could see out was to be homeschooled.

Here’s what was going down. The kids his age (7th grade) were starting to dabble in marijuana, alcohol and promiscuity. He did not want to travel down that road of destruction, but if he stayed in school, he could only see three options: #1 – partake in the activities and betray everything he stood for; #2 – walk away and be labeled a loser; #3 – be a loner. None of them appealed to him.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was standing in the doorway at the top of my stairwell — grey carpet, white walls with all of our family pictures lined down the hallway. My hand gripping the door handle to the steps, I was in shock.

I was emotionally constipated for sure. My son’s big chocolate brown eyes staring up at me, not quite understanding why I was so frozen in terror. I wanted to have courage, but at that moment, I felt like I was drowning in a whirlpool of self-doubt and fear of the unknown. But he needed an answer – and FAST.

“I’ll pray about it, and we’ll see. Maybe next year,” I managed with feigned confidence.

“Why not this year?” he pleaded. I could hear the urgency in his voice.

I sunk. What could I possibly say? I had no answer. My twelve year old seemed more confident than I was about this homeschooling thing. How could I do what he was asking of me? I was no teacher. I didn’t even have an undergraduate degree. I was just a mom and a house-wife.

The response that left my lips (clearly, the Holy Spirit had taken over) was, “Okay, I’ll pray about this year.” Was I crazy? What had I agreed to?

Well, I prayed. And as I prayed, I got a resounding “YES.”

So, several weeks into Chase’s seventh grade school year, we pulled him out of public school. I walked into the middle school that I had once attended and talked to the principal, whom I had gone to high school with. I told him I was pulling my honor student out of his school to teach him myself.

I gently explained that it had nothing to do with the quality of education that the school was providing, but it had everything to do with me giving my son exactly what he needed emotionally and spiritually. At the end of our conversation, he condescendingly blurted out, “Well, I won’t tell you I told you so when you fall flat on your face!”

I went from one word of discouragement to another.

Family was my next obstacle. One family member cornered me in my own home and said, “You’re going to ruin that kid! He’s going to hate you!” A family friend, who was a teacher, told me that I was in no way, shape or form qualified to homeschool my child and asked what made me think I was more qualified than she was for the job. I could go on and on.

The people in my life had made it clear that I was on my own, but regardless, it was time to figure out all of this homeschool stuff. I started by contacting a homeschool family that I knew. They invited Chase and I over to observe them. They were using the Switched on Schoolhouse curriculum, which is a program done on the computer. It appeared to be simple, intuitive, and it graded everything for the parent. Easy peasy. It was a no brainer. That was what I was going to use. Feeling a weight lift from my shoulders, I went home and ordered my new curriculum.

Well, it didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t really what I wanted. In hindsight, I’m surprised my boy didn’t end up with blood shot eyes from staring at the computer all day. After a few months, we decided to give Abeka a try. Purely textbook and classroom driven, I felt like I needed to have a master’s degree in lesson planning and spend 40 hours a week wading through the teacher’s notes in order to simply assign a lesson.

By the end of that first year, we had a few battle wounds, but then I discovered a beautiful thing called a homeschool convention. It changed my life! I could put my hands on curriculum and see if it was really something we wanted to try. In the midst of all this trial and error, I consulted with Chase often. I enjoyed his input, because I felt he was mature enough to help make choices in his own education.

After looking at a wide range of history curricula, I realized that my boy would read and research way more if I gave him topics instead of textbooks. I found a really cool U.S. history book that was not a traditional school book. I told him to read it. It was super thick. He loved it. He loved history. So, for history, he just read. He learned more than I ever knew about history, even after a full 13 years of public education.

When I pulled Chase out of school his weakest subject was writing. I was not a writer by trade, so I tried a variety of language arts curricula but to no avail. However, one thing Chase did excel at was reading. He read often, and he read good books. Maybe that’s what eventually helped build strong writing skills, or maybe the sheer volume of writing required of him in law school did it, but whatever the case, his lack of homeschool writing success didn’t seem to hinder him the long run. (Whew!) He recently wrote an article on the national debt. You can take a look and decide for yourself.

At the end of the day, we discovered that textbooks weren’t the best learning tools for Chase. Instead, we did a lot of hodge-podging. Take math for instance. I remember having different math textbooks and having him do a bit here and a bit there. But I’d say Chase’s primary math curriculum was helping his dad with the family business and eventually running his own business.

My husband Tony owned Hagaman Construction and was a general contractor. Often, he took Chase to work with him. He would challenge Chase to help him figure out the dimensions and measurements when creating a floor plan for a new home. Chase did math even when he didn’t realize he was doing it.

Talk about an education – not only did he learn practical math skills, but at the end of his “schooling,” that boy had enough skill to be able to build his own home. He poured concrete, laid block, framed houses, roofed, assisted with the electrical and plumbing and landscaped yards. And in the process, he developed a strong work ethic. Isn’t that what we want from an education? The building of both skill and character.

But my boy also wanted to attend college, so I knew the SAT was an important mountain to climb. In spite of our loose education plan and lack of formal math curriculum, Chase earned the highest level of the Bright Futures Scholarship and went to on to earn a free ride for his Bachelor’s Degree.

No one really told me how to homeschool, but I’d bet that’s exactly what most homeschool parents would say. We figured it out along the way, and maybe that’s even one of the most powerful benefits of homeschooling.

I followed Chase’s experiences and passions with the necessary education. He was passionate about politics, so we did everything we could to immerse him in it. We took him to TeenPact every year and spent a week at the capitol. He even wrote a bill that was read on the Senate floor. He paged for our senator during the school year, worked for him in the summer and flew to Missouri during an election year to help on a campaign.

I knew he would need a strong entrepreneurial spirit in whatever he did in life, so I challenged him to start his own business. He registered with all the necessary government entities and even paid taxes. His business was a success!

969376_10202171359227701_862736858_nChase is now an attorney in New Hampshire. At the start of this year, he was hired as the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bi-partisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy.

So, I guess I didn’t wreck the kid after all! I’ve since gone on to homeschool our two other children, and I did some things very differently with them, but that’s a story for another blog…

Jody Hagaman

Jody Hagaman and her husband Tony have three kids, ages 16 to 27. Jody’s story of how her son asked to be homeschooled has inspired tens of thousands of families around the nation. A true homeschooling success story, that son is now an attorney in New Hampshire and is the New England Regional Director of The Concord Coalition, a bipartisan organization dedicated to advocating responsible fiscal policy. As a community leader, Jody has served on the board of directors of many local non-profit organizations. Her work experience as a corrections officer on a crisis intervention team inspired her to make a difference in the lives of the next generation. She and Jenni co-host a weekly radio show, write a syndicated weekly column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about living on purpose with excellence and raising kids with the end result in mind.

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Ever Thought About Homeschooling?

Dad Teaching Kids

Everyone comes to homeschooling in a different way and for different reasons. For me, it started with my second child.

My oldest was diagnosed with autism, and by age three, he was going to school full-time year round in a special program for kids on the spectrum. The schools he attended as a little guy were awesome. They totally included me in everything they were doing.

I had regular team meetings with his teachers and therapists. I often spent the day in his classroom observing him. One school even had a special viewing room with a one-way mirror so I could watch some of his lessons without him knowing I was there. It was fabulous. I was able to create a continuous environment from school to home, using a lot of the same language and techniques that they used during the day.

But silly me — when my second child began kindergarten, I expected a similar team mentality at the private school she attended. Of course they didn’t have the nifty viewing room, but I thought there would be a regular conversation. I thought the teacher and I would be on a team and that I’d be welcome to spend days in the classroom observing on a regular basis.

Not so much!

When they did finally concede to an observation day, with considerable suspicion mind you, I was amazed at how much time they spent transitioning. A chunk of my daughter’s day was devoted to pushing in chairs, lining up and waiting. Plus, I noticed that the work she was doing in school was far below her ability. She was so distracted by all the other kids and the toys around the room that she was rushing through her work, giving it only a fraction of her attention.

I began to think that she might be better off at home.

Being a researcher and a reader at heart, I scoured the internet, subscribed to every homeschooling magazine I could find, talked to other homeschoolers and read a bunch of books.

By November 2004, I pulled her from Kindergarten and started homeschooling. The people in my life were convinced I was going to wreck her for sure, and there were many times in that first year that I might have agreed with them.

It’s a good thing God made her strong, because she and I were learning together, and it was a bit messy in those early years.

For starters, I thought homeschooling meant that I had to bring school into my home. Poor kid. She was a highly kinesthetic learner, and although she desperately wanted to be obedient, she was incapable of both sitting still and paying attention.

Oh, she could sit still like a champion, but it took every ounce of her concentration, and there wasn’t a drop left to pay attention to the lesson. She was also very capable of paying close attention to her school work and learning quite well; she just had to be either in perpetual motion or hanging upside down to do it.

Once I realized that this was the case, I replaced her chair with a big gymnastics ball to let her bounce during lessons. I let her hang upside down whenever she wanted (or should I say needed?), and I discovered that blank white paper and colorful markers could occupy her hands so her mind could listen to me read.

I also figured out, a few years into the journey, that we didn’t need to duplicate conventional school models. The advantages of homeschooling meant that we could customize her plan, and she could learn about things that interested her. We traded the workbooks for living books and the fill-in-the-blanks for field trips, projects and experiments. Soon, learning HOW TO LEARN became more important to us that WHAT WE LEARNED.

By the time my third child was ready for “school,” we had developed a lifestyle and a family culture of learning, so he was woven in seamlessly, as were his younger siblings.

When Griffyn, my oldest, was 8 1/2 something shifted. Instead of the school being the experts, from whom I gleaned tremendous wisdom and insight, I became the expert, and they were leaning on me for answers. We had moved to New Jersey then and the district didn’t have all the bells and whistles we’d become accustomed to in New York.

At times, the teacher and the therapists seemed clueless, and almost daily they were turning to me for guidance.

By then, we had been homeschooling for a year and a half, and I was beginning to feel like Griffyn was too much of an outsider. We put him on a bus in the morning and went about our exciting, activity-filled day. When he came home in the afternoon, he’d missed out on all the fun and learning and bonding that had happened while he was away.

Pulling Griffyn from school was one of the scariest decisions I’d ever made. I wasn’t sure what would happen or if he would regress or even just stagnate.

But after the first week, I caught myself wondering what had taken us so long. Of course he belonged at home with us. The constant conversation and the stimulating activities were catalysts for immediate progress in his speech and his behavior, and I was able to identify learning gaps and find ways to fill them.

After almost a decade of homeschooling, I’m relieved to say that I didn’t wreck the kids after all. They are all highly unique, smart, motivated (well, most of the time!), passionate kids. They’re good communicators, empathetic and full of purpose.

Check back this week. We’ll have more homeschooling stories to share, and we’ll answer some frequently asked questions. If you have a question, be sure to leave us a comment.

 

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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What’s Your Education Philosophy?

Education Philosophy

Regardless of whether we choose to send our kids to public school or private school or to homeschool them, we — their parents — are the ultimate directors of their education. We decide how, when and where they are going to learn.

So shouldn’t we have a basic understanding of what education is and how it happens?

Shouldn’t we think through the choices and prayerfully figure out what we believe about education? It’s one of the most impactful decisions we will ever make as parents. Shouldn’t we do it carefully and diligently? We think so.

On our weekly radio show, we are currently doing a series on educational choices. We timed it at this point in the year because March and April tend to be the months when we parents make educational decisions for the following school year. Private schools often begin enrolling students this time of year. Homeschoolers begin making plans for the next school year and preparing a list of curriculum needs and questions for the May homeschool conventions.

Today, we want to encourage you to start thinking about your child’s education by first figuring out your own education philosophy. 

Your philosophy can (and probably will) change as you become a more experienced parent and as your kids grow and change. So write down today’s philosophy, and save it. Then, next year, pull it out, and see what worked, what didn’t and how your thoughts have changed. 

Here are some questions you can use to shape your philosophy, and some basic information on education models and educational philosophers.

Questions to Help You Prepare an Education Philosophy

What are your goals for your kids’ education?

What are their goals for themselves?

What do you value? (faith, health, community, friendships, art, the environment, etc.)

Is your kids’ popularity important to you? How does it play a role in their education?

Does education happen primarily in a structured environment?

Does there need to be a trained teacher present for education to happen?

Who is ultimately responsible for educating our kids? Some might say it’s the government’s. Some might say it’s the school’s. Some might say it’s the parent’s.  We think that ultimately, it’s the student’s responsibility. Parents and schools and government may have a role in it. They may oversee it and offer guidance, but ultimately, we believe it’s the learner’s duty to learn. What do you believe?

Do you think education should include motivation and inspiration?

Is a connection to the community important to you? If so, how will their education facilitate that?

How will your child discover his talents and interests? And once he’s aware of those, what role will it take in the education process?

Should education always be fun? We know a few people who think so. We think education should be engaging, but it doesn’t always have to provide pleasure or amusement. In fact, we believe strongly that an important part of education is building stamina. Like the runner who has to push his muscles to an uncomfortable place in order to increase speed and distance, we think a learner has to push himself to uncomfortable places in order to increase understanding and application. What are your thoughts on fun and stamina in education?

Should education be practical? Last week, we wrote a blog on how we think education should prepare kids for life. What do you think?

Educational Movements

We think it’s important to understand at least the basics of what’s out there in education. I’m not saying you should read volumes or take classes on it. I’m not even suggesting you read whole books on different education movements and philosophers, but I am saying that we should all at least be familiar with these things because how much we know impacts the decisions we make for our kids.

The Internet makes summarized information quickly available, right in our homes, whenever we’re free. There’s no excuse for ignorance. We can skip reading junk email and checking in on social media for a half hour a day to do a little homework that will help us make more informed choices. (Okay, stepping off the soap box now. Thanks for indulging me!)

Classical Education – This model embraces the study of a classical canon of literature, poetry, drama, philosophy, history, art and languages, especially language

Humanistic Education – This model emphasizes issues of moral autonomy, personal freedom and tolerance. There were different subsets of this movement, stretching as far back as classical Athens and ancient Rome. Existentialist humanism emphasizes issues of freedom and identity and questions modernism’s focus on the primacy of rational thinking. Whereas, radical humanism (also known as critical pedagogy) emphasizes social and political engagement

Contemplative Education — This model focuses on bringing spiritual awareness into the pedagogical process. Contemplative might include the use of inspirational content, and various practices that actively draw attention to the students’ consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.

Democratic Education — This is a theory of learning and school governance in which students and staff participate freely and equally in a school democracy. In a democratic school, there is typically shared decision-making among students and staff on matters concerning living, working and learning together.

Social Reconstructionism — This model focuses on achieving social change (with the goal of achieving social justice and equity) by altering social systems. Key points are: 1. social systems that marginalize and oppress others need to be changed and 2. achieving this change requires both creating a system that serves as a change agent and a having a willingness to change the system’s purposes and structures as the social contexts in which it exists evolve. Educational reconstruction purposefully and explicitly requires that schools function as change agents, empowering students to question systems in which they live and work and to create a society that is more equitable and just. Social reconstructionism rests upon the idea that schools need to actively assist students in changing the world that they are a part of; it directly prompts the recognition that human beings tend to adopt authoritarian systems which can become controlling, manipulative, and which perpetuate the status quo and thus lie in opposition to ideas of free will.

Unschooling — This education model includes is a range of educational practices centered on allowing children to learn through life experiences, reading material and select courses, rather than through a more traditional school curriculum. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child. For more information on unschooling, listen to our podcast on the topic.

Prussian Industrial Model — Horace Mann, credited as the father of the American public school system, studied a wide variety of educational models before implementing the Prussian system designed by Fredrick the Great. King Frederick created a system that was engineered to teach obedience and solidify his control. Primary goals of this method include teaching students to following directions and learn basic skills and conformity. Mann chose the Prussian model, with its depersonalized learning and strict hierarchy of power, because it was the cheapest and easiest way to teach literacy on a large scale.

This system was perpetuated throughout the early twentieth century by social efficiency theorists who sought to industrialize the educational process. Led by educators such as Ellwood P. Cubberley, they used education as a tool for social engineering:

“Our schools are, in a sense, factories in which the raw products (children) are to be shaped and fashioned into products to meet the various demands of life.” (Cubberley, 1917)

Building upon the depersonalized uniformity and rigid hierarchy of the Prussian system, they constructed an industrial schooling model designed to produce millions of workers for Americaʼs factories.

Believing that most of America’s students were destined for a life of menial, industrial labor, these theorists created a multi-track educational system meant to sort students from an early age. While the best and brightest were carefully groomed for leadership positions, the majority was relegated to a monotonous education of rote learning and task completion.

Consequently, our schooling system is still locked into the Prussian-Industrial framework. For both students and teachers, procedure is emphasized over innovation, uniformity over individual expression and control over empowerment.

Americaʼs classrooms still operate under the Prussian-Industrial Model.

Philosophers of Education

Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC) — Socrates’ important contribution to Western thought is his dialectic method of inquiry, known as the Socratic method. To solve a problem, it would be broken down into a series of questions, the answers to which gradually distill the ultimate answer a person seeks. The influence of this approach is most strongly felt today in the use of the scientific method, in which hypothesis is the first stage. The development and practice of this method is one of Socrates’ most enduring contributions.

Plato (424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) — Plato’s educational philosophy was grounded in his vision of the ideal Republic, wherein the individual was best served by being subordinated to a just society. He advocated removing children from their mothers’ care and raising them as wards of the state, with great care being taken to differentiate children suitable to the various castes, the highest receiving the most education, so that they could act as guardians of the city and care for the less able. Education by his standards would include facts, skills, physical discipline and music and art, which he considered the highest form of endeavor.

Plato believed that talent was distributed non-genetically and therefore must be found in children born in any social class. He insisted that those suitably gifted should be trained by the state so that they may be qualified to assume the role of a ruling class. 

Plato’s writings contain some of the following ideas: Elementary education should be confined to the guardian class till the age of 18, followed by two years of compulsory military training and then by higher education for those who qualified. While elementary education made the soul responsive to the environment, higher education helped the soul to search for truth which illuminated it. Both boys and girls receive the same kind of education. Elementary education consisted of music and gymnastics, designed to train and blend gentle and fierce qualities in the individual and create a harmonious person.

At the age of 20, a selection was made. The best students would take an advanced course in mathematics, geometry, astronomy and harmonics. The first course in the scheme of higher education would last for ten years. It would be for those who had a flair for science. At the age of 30 there would be another selection; those who qualified would study dialectics and metaphysics, logic and philosophy for the next five years. After accepting junior positions in the army for 15 years, a man would have completed his theoretical and practical education by the age of 50.

Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) — Only fragments of Aristotle’s treatise On Education are still in existence. We know of his philosophy of education primarily through brief passages in other works. Aristotle considered human nature, habit and reason to be equally important forces to be cultivated in education. He considered repetition to be a key tool to develop good habits. The teacher was to lead the student systematically.

Aristotle placed great emphasis on balancing the theoretical and practical aspects of subjects taught. Subjects he explicitly mentions as being important included reading, writing and mathematics; music; physical education; literature and history; and a wide range of sciences. He also mentioned the importance of play.

One of education’s primary missions for Aristotle, perhaps its most important, was to produce good and virtuous citizens for the polis.

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth.”

Avicenna (980 – 1037) — In the medieval Islamic world, an elementary school was known as a maktab, which dates back to at least the 10th century. Like madrasahs (which referred to higher education), a maktab was often attached to a mosque.

In the 11th century, Ibn Sina (known as Avicenna in the West), wrote a chapter dealing with the maktab entitled “The Role of the Teacher in the Training and Upbringing of Children,” as a guide to teachers working at maktab schools.

He wrote that children can learn better if taught in classes instead of individual tuition from private tutors, and he gave a number of reasons for why this is the case, citing the value of competition and emulation among pupils as well as the usefulness of group discussions and debates. Ibn Sina described the curriculum of a maktab school in some detail, describing the curricula for two stages of education in a maktab school.[17]

Avicenna wrote that children should be sent to a maktab school from the age of 6 and be taught primary education until they reach the age of 14. During which time, he wrote that they should be taught the Qur’an, Islamic metaphysics, language, literature, Islamic ethics, and manual skills (which could refer to a variety of practical skills).

Avicenna refers to the secondary education stage of maktab schooling as the period of specialization, when students should begin to acquire manual skills, regardless of their social status. He believed children after age 14 should be given a choice to choose and specialize in subjects they have an interest in, whether it was reading, manual skills, literature, preaching, medicine, geometry, trade and commerce, craftsmanship, or any other subject or profession they would be interested in pursuing for a future career.

He wrote that this was a transitional stage and that there needs to be flexibility regarding the age in which pupils graduate, as the student’s emotional development and chosen subjects need to be taken into account.

Ibn Tufail (c. 1105 – 1185) — In the 12th century, the Andalusian-Arabian philosopher and novelist Ibn Tufail (known as “Abubacer” or “Ebn Tophail” in the West) demonstrated the empiricist theory of ‘tabula rasa’ as a thought experiment through his Arabic philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, in which he depicted the development of the mind of a feral child “from a tabula rasa to that of an adult, in complete isolation from society” on a desert island, through experience alone.

The Latin translation of his philosophical novel, Philosophus Autodidactus, published by Edward Pococke the Younger in 1671, had an influence on John Locke’s formulation of tabula rasa in “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”.[20]

John Locke (1632-1704) — Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education is an outline on how to educate the mind: he expresses the belief that education makes the man, or, more fundamentally, that the mind is an “empty cabinet.”

“I think I may say that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.”

Locke also wrote that “the little and almost insensible impressions on our tender infancies have very important and lasting consequences.” He argued that the “associations of ideas” that one makes when young are more important than those made later because they are the foundation of the self: they are, put differently, what first mark the tabula rasa.

In his Essay, in which is introduced both of these concepts, Locke warns against, for example, letting “a foolish maid” convince a child that “goblins and sprites” are associated with the night for “darkness shall ever afterwards bring with it those frightful ideas, and they shall be so joined, that he can no more bear the one than the other.”

“Associationism,” as this theory would come to be called, exerted a powerful influence over eighteenth-century thought, particularly educational theory, as nearly every educational writer warned parents not to allow their children to develop negative associations. It also led to the development of psychology and other new disciplines with David Hartley’s attempt to discover a biological mechanism for associationism in his Observations on Man (1749).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) —  Rousseau, though he paid his respects to Plato’s philosophy, rejected it as impractical due to the decayed state of society. Rousseau also had a different theory of human development. Where Plato held that people are born with skills appropriate to different castes (though he did not regard these skills as being inherited), Rousseau held that there was one developmental process common to all humans. This was an intrinsic, natural process, of which the primary behavioral manifestation was curiosity. This differed from Locke’s ‘tabula rasa’ in that it was an active process deriving from the child’s nature, which drove the child to learn and adapt to its surroundings.

Rousseau wrote in his book Emile that all children are perfectly designed organisms, ready to learn from their surroundings so as to grow into virtuous adults, but due to the malign influence of corrupt society, they often fail to do so. Rousseau advocated an educational method which consisted of removing the child from society—for example, to a country home—and alternately conditioning him through changes to his environment and setting traps and puzzles for him to solve or overcome.

Rousseau was unusual in that he recognized and addressed the potential of a problem of legitimation for teaching. He advocated that adults always be truthful with children, and in particular that they never hide the fact that the basis for their authority in teaching was purely one of physical coercion: “I’m bigger than you.” Once children reached the age of reason, at about 12, they would be engaged as free individuals in the ongoing process of their own.

He once said that a child should grow up without adult interference and that the child must be guided to suffer from the experience of the natural consequences of his own acts or behaviour. When he experiences the consequences of his own acts, he advises himself.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776 – 1841) — Considered the founder of pedagogy as an academic discipline, Herbart established a system of pedagogy built on the preparation and then presentation of engaging material (for example, using genuine works of literature rather than school readers), analysis with the class, review of the material, and drawing conclusions relevant to larger contexts. He strongly influenced the development of pedagogy throughout Europe and beyond.

Horace Mann (1776 – 1859) — Mann was an American education reformist who argued that  universal public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.

Mann won widespread approval from modernizers, especially in his Whig Party, for building public schools. Most states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers. Mann has been credited by educational historians as the “Father of the Common School Movement.”

He advocated for and helped implement the Prussian-Industrial model of education (see above).

Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) — Mason was a British educator who invested her life in improving the quality of children’s education. Her ideas led to a method used by some homeschoolers.

Mason’s philosophy of education is probably best summarized by the principles given at the beginning of each of her books. Two key mottos taken from those principles are “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life” and “Education is the science of relations.”

She believed that children were born persons and should be respected as such; they should also be taught the Way of the Will and the Way of Reason. Her motto for students was “I am, I can, I ought, I will.”

Charlotte Mason believed that children should be introduced to subjects through living books, not through the use of “compendiums, abstracts, or selections.” She used abridged books only when the content was deemed inappropriate for children. She preferred that parents or teachers read aloud those texts (such as Plutarch and the Old Testament), making omissions only where necessary.

John Dewey (1859-1952) — In Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, Dewey stated that education, in its broadest sense, is the means of the “social continuity of life” given the “primary ineluctable facts of the birth and death of each one of the constituent members in a social group.”

Education is therefore a necessity, for “the life of the group goes on.” Dewey was a proponent of Educational Progressivism and was a relentless campaigner for reform of education, pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences.

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) — Steiner founded a holistic educational approach on the basis of his spiritual philosophy (anthroposophy). Now known as Steiner or Waldorf education, his pedagogy emphasizes a balanced development of cognitive, affective/artistic and practical skills (head, heart and hands).

Steiner’s theory of child development divides education into three discrete developmental stages predating but with close similarities to the stages of development described by Piaget.

Early childhood education occurs through imitation; teachers provide practical activities and a healthy environment. Steiner believed that young children should meet only goodness.

Elementary education is strongly arts-based, centered on the teacher’s creative authority; the elementary school-age child should meet beauty.

Secondary education seeks to develop the judgment, intellect, and practical idealism; the adolescent should meet truth.

In all stages of schooling, learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and cognitive elements and emphasizing the role of the imagination in learning. Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula and instructional methods within collegial structures.

Maria Montessori(1870-1952) — The Montessori method arose from Dr. Maria Montessori’s 1907 discovery of what she referred to as “the child’s true normal nature.”

Montessori conducted an experimental observation of young children given freedom in an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The method itself aims to duplicate this experimental observation to bring about, sustain and support their true natural way of being.

William Heard Kilpatrick (1871-1965) — William Heard Kilpatrick was a U.S. American philosopher of education and a colleague and a successor of John Dewey. He was a major figure in the progressive education movement of the early 20th century.

Kilpatrick developed the Project Method for early childhood education, which was a form of Progressive Education organized curriculum and classroom activities around a subject’s central theme. He believed that the role of a teacher should be that of a “guide” as opposed to an authoritarian figure.

Kilpatrick believed that children should direct their own learning according to their interests and should be allowed to explore their environment, experiencing their learning through the natural senses.

Proponents of Progressive Education and the Project Method reject traditional schooling that focuses on memorization, rote learning, strictly organized classrooms (desks in rows; students always seated) and typical forms of assessment.

A. S. Neill (1883-1973) — Neill founded the Summerhill School, the oldest existing democratic school in Suffolk, England in 1921. He wrote a number of books that now define much of contemporary democratic education philosophy.

Neill believed that the happiness of the child should be the paramount consideration in decisions about the child’s upbringing, and that this happiness grew from a sense of personal freedom.

He felt that deprivation of this sense of freedom during childhood, and the consequent unhappiness experienced by the repressed child, was responsible for many of the psychological disorders of adulthood.

Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980) — Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist known for his studies of how children progressively develop knowledge of the world, studies that eventually described the genesis of an exceptionally wide spectrum of human understanding.

Piaget placed great importance on the education of children. As Director of the International Bureau of Education, he declared in 1934 that “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.”

Jerome Bruner (1915- ) — Bruner’s The Process of Education and Toward a Theory of Instruction are landmarks in conceptualizing learning and curriculum development. A major contributor to the inquiry method in education, Bruner argued that any subject can be taught in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.

This notion underpinned his concept of the spiral curriculum — curriculum that revisits basic ideas, building on them until the student had grasped the full formal concept.

He emphasized intuition as a neglected but essential feature of productive thinking. He felt that interest in the material being learned was the best stimulus for learning, rather than external motivations such as grades.

Bruner developed the concept of discovery learning which promoted learning as a process of constructing new ideas based on current or past knowledge; students are encouraged to discover facts and relationships and continually build on what they already know.

John Holt (1923-1985) — In 1964 Holt published his first book, How Children Fail, asserting that the academic failure of schoolchildren was not despite the efforts of the schools, but actually because of the schools.

Not surprisingly, How Children Fail ignited a firestorm of controversy. Holt was catapulted into the American national consciousness to the extent that he made appearances on major TV talk shows, wrote book reviews for Life magazine, and was a guest on the To Tell The Truth TV game show.

In his follow-up work, How Children Learn, published in 1967, Holt tried to elucidate the learning process of children and why he believed school short circuits that process.

Holt is considered the father of the unschooling movement (see above).

 

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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How to Be An Outlier

Outliers Cover

We’re in the midst of talking about education, and I thought it would be appropriate to throw in some words about a few good books. After all, at the end of the day, reading is the most profound form of education for the active learner.

Active learner is the key here. We can shove anything we want down our kids’ throats, and out of obedience or fear of a bad grade and subsequent disapproval (or fear that they won’t get into the right college), they’ll read the thing, but they may not learn. We kicked off this discussion by arguing that our kids are not containers that we can pour information into. They have to be actively engaged in the process if any real learning is going to happen.

That being said, I strongly believe that one of the GREATEST responsibilities of educators is to motivate kids to read and to inspire a love of reading. By the way, parents, whether or not you home school your kids, you ARE educators. In fact, you are your children’s primary educator; they will learn more from you than from all of their elementary, middle and high school teachers combined. Sure, they may get more raw data from their schooling, but they will actually LEARN from you (the good and the bad).

So fill your home with books. Become a reader yourself, if you’re not already. Read to your kids, no matter what their age. I still read to my high schooler, and it is truly some of the most valuable time we have together!

If you do that, you’re already on your way to becoming an Outlier.

Okay, so what is an outlier? It’s a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience.

In November 2008, one of my favorite authors Malcolm Gladwell published “Outliers: The Story of Success,” and in it, he took his readers deep into a handful of unique situations and people to discover some key elements of Outliers. I can not encourage you enough to read this book, if you haven’t already. And in spite of a few four letter words, it’s entirely worth having your teens read it as well.

In it, you’ll learn the magic of 10,000 hours. You’ll understand why our brains are more like rice paddies than wheat fields but also why many geniuses seem to have a propensity for failure. You’ll learn why a surprisingly large percentage of Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the year and why Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were destined for technology greatness. You’ll find out what a Mexican and a South Korean airline have in common that makes them more prone to crashing than other airlines. And why one town in Pennsylvania has an abnormally low incidence of heart disease.

Gladwell’s writing style is engaging and entertaining, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll find Outliers to be a fun read.

Coincidentally, when I first read Outliers, it seemed to be a continuation of another book I’d just read, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. When I flipped to the back and checked Gladwell’s bibliography, he referenced the book. So, if you read Outliers and find yourself hungry for more, check out Talent is Overrated. It’s not as captivating as Outliers, but the information is great.

Talent

Then, later that same year (2009), I picked up Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, and my hunger for fascinating anomalies was fed once again. Freakonomics was as engaging as Outliers was, but I have warn you that the language is not appropriate for kids, and the opening segment that offers an economist’s explanation for the dramatic drop in crime rates in the 90s was horrifying.

freakonomicsThose issues aside, you will be intrigued, and you will learn and grow from all three of these books. And that will be a step in your journey toward becoming an Outlier!

Happy reading…

 

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Do Hard Things

Do-Hard-Things

I’m not sure how or when it actually started, but over the past 100 years or so, the word teenager has become synonymous with rebellion in the eyes of the Western world. And although I’m fully aware that this is a lie through and through (rebellion is NOT a natural part of the maturing process), there is one kind of teenage rebellion that I can get behind.

Do Hard Things, written by teen brothers Alex & Brett Harris, touts itself as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.” They call it a rebelution, and with their book and their popular blog and traveling conventions, they are doing their part to fight against the prevailing caricature of the stereotypical under-achieving, apathetic, incompetent and impotent teenager.

They expose the myth of adolescence and compare the pathetically low expectations of today’s teenagers (make your bed, put gas in the car, do your homework) to the expectations of teenagers during the formation of our country. They introduce us to a young George Washington, as an example, who at the age of 17 was selected to be the official surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. For three years, the adults in his life trusted him to measure and record previously unmapped territories. They expected young George to do his job with excellence in spite of the dangers and hardships of the uncharted frontier, brimming with dangerous wildlife and potentially hostile natives.

This book is both educational and inspirational, and it’s a must read for all parents, teens and pre-teens. If we can all join forces and join the rebelution, we are bound to make some mighty changes over the next few decades.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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You’re Gonna Wish Your Kid Could Go To THIS School!

Airplaine-Repair-300x214-220x150

Last week I went on rant about how our education system is not preparing kids for life. And since we’re doing an extended series on educational choices on both the radio show and on our blog, I just HAD to share a fascinating story about one school that DID prepare kids for life.

The story takes us back to 1940 in Arvin, California. By the way, I didn’t find out until I was an adult (a homeschooling mom, actually) how fascinating history really is. During my public education, it was little more than an exercise in memorizing dry facts and then regurgitating them for a test. But history is full of people’s stories — it’s full of drama and comedy and tragedy and serendipity and hopes and dreams. It’s interesting stuff!

And this story is no exception. It’s the story of the amazing Weedpatch School, and it should be a model for schools all over the country.

Back in 1940, the town of Arvin had a big problem, it was a problem facing many towns in California at that time. The problem was a group of people known as Okies. These were the people who had migrated from the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. They came to California, destitute, looking for work on one of the many lush California farms. They arrived with all of their belongings strapped to broken down old cars. They were starving, dirty and surviving only on a shred of hope that there might be some work for them in California.

Oakies

 

But with so many people arriving at the same time with the same hope, there were at least 10 men for every job. Author John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath to bring awareness to the Okie’s plight and photographers like Dorothea Lange circulated images of the destitution to capture the public’s attention.

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The government was aware of how bad things were. They stepped in and set up camps to help house this dying population. One of those was Weedpatch Camp in Arvin.

The Okie kids were having tremendous trouble in the public schools. They were dirty, uneducated, inconsistent in attendance (sometimes their parents needed them home to help with younger siblings or to help make money ) and often they didn’t have proper clothing (some wore over sized potato sacks, broken shoes or no shoes at all). These kids were big targets for bullying, and many teachers didn’t want the burden of teaching kids who were so far behind.

The school board was irritated by the tax burden of caring for these kids, and many shopkeepers and restaurant owners jumped on the irritation bandwagon  and stopped serving Oakie families in their establishments.

But an educator named Leo Hart felt differently. He spent afternoons playing with the Oakie kids in a field next to Weedpatch Camp, and he knew that with the right opportunities, these kids would go far. They had already survived so much, and in spite of their appearance, they had heart and determination.

In 1939 he ran for the office of Kern County superintendent of education and won the position. His motivation was to “to find out what to do for these children to get them adjusted into society and to take their rightful place.” He knew the other schools didn’t want these kids, so he convinced the schools to officially claim that they had no room for them. That allowed him to apply to build an emergency school, which was granted, but he also knew that the school district didn’t want to pay for it. So Leo Hart set out to get donations.

Since the town’s people were happy to have the Okie kids out of their schools, they gladly donated old lumber, piping, electrical supplies, and other materials.

In May and June of 1940, Leo visited a number of colleges and universities in California searching for bright new graduates who wanted to help change the destiny of the Okie kids. He recruited people who would not only teach them the basics but would also help teach life skills. He gathered a group of idealists willing to work hard to get the Okies up to grade level and also teach health, agriculture, animal husbandry, typing, plumbing, electrical wiring and even aircraft mechanics.

Over the next year, the students and teachers and even Leo himself, built the school with donated materials and their own hands. The Arvin Federal Emergency School (better known as The Weedpatch School) didn’t only teach reading, writing, math, science, history and geography, it taught the kids carpentry, masonry and every other skilled labor needed to make the school operational. Kids worked in shifts. One group had lessons in the morning and worked on the school construction in the after noon, and another group did the opposite.

They planted an extensive garden that grew food for the Weedpatch Camp and raised animals. They converted a donated old train car into a classroom, complete with electricity and plumbing. They learned how to make clothing, can food, butcher meat, and even make their own cosmetics (how’s that for a chemistry class!). One of the teachers bought a C-46 airplane from a military surplus for $200, and the kids learned aircraft mechanics, and as a reward for academic excellence, they got to taxi the plane on the field.

The kids even built an in-ground swimming pool.

Soon, word got out about what was happening with the “dumb Okies” in this emergency school, and parents throughout the town wanted their kids to have these opportunities too. After four years of great success, the emergency charter ran out, and the school was incorporated into the larger district.

But by then, the attitude of the general public toward Okies had shifted, and the once discarded population of tattered, uneducated kids had transformed into a population of young people who understood their own value.

From the community of Okie kids who built the Weedpatch School came a college professor, the owner of Utah mining company, two high school principals, owners of two large construction companies in Hawaii and California, two restaurant owners in Boise, Idaho, an IBM marketing manager, a judge, a nutritionist, a mechanical engineer, a legal secretary, a captain of the Kern County Fire Department, an investigator for the California Department of Industrial Relations, along with many school teachers, business owners and postal clerks.

With today’s MEGA push to boost kids’ self-esteem, we ought to take a lesson from the Weedpatch School. Instead of handing out meaningless “awards” and making sure no kid strikes out on the baseball field, we might want to give them opportunities to work hard and build something of value. Imagine how the Okie kids felt about themselves after they’d turned a dried up field into a school with an in-ground pool that they’d built with their own hands.

Now that’s public education at its finest!

Your thoughts?

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Have You Bought Into the BIG Education LIE?

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Earlier this week I watched a quick video called The Truth About School, and I got all fired up! We just kicked off an extended series on education, so the timing was perfect for today’s rant about the big education lie. I hope you’ll stick with me through it, but even MORE importantly, I hope you’ll join the conversation by giving your two cents in the comments below. We need ideas. We need voices. But first, let’s look at the problem.

As I was watching the video, I had an aha moment. It wasn’t a new revelation. It was more like a sudden awareness. We send our kids to school for 13 YEARS! That’s a long time.

And wait…there are initiatives in different parts of the country to lower the compulsory education age. Really? The government wants my kids for even more than 13 years? To do what? I can tell you for sure what they’re NOT doing. They are NOT preparing our kids for life and no new legislation can convince me that that’s changing any time soon.

For five years my family lived across the street from an elementary school, and we grieved as we watched lines of innocent children pouring out of buses, filing lethargically into big stone buildings where they would be trapped for the lion’s share of the day’s sunlight hours having the love of learning beaten out of them.

Think I’m being dramatic? Why is it that a third of adults in the U.S. report that they have not read one single book in the past year? It’s because they do not love to learn. Ask anyone who loves learning how many books they’ve read in the past year, and I guarantee you’ll find out it’s way more than one.

Can you tell me why people applaud politicians who say we need to “invest in our future” by increasing education funding? We are a brainwashed society (probably because we’re also a product of the stupefying education system) who is standing by and allowing the government to take our hard earned dollars (dollars that our public eduction did NOT teach us how to earn, keep or grow, by the way) so they can squander 13 years of our kids’ lives.

What the heck are they doing with all that time? Again, I can tell what they’re NOT doing — they are NOT preparing our kids for life.

Does school teach kids how to start a business? Ask your middle schooler to explain the difference between a sole proprietorship, a DBA, an LLC, an S-Corp, a C-Corp and 501(c)3. Ask your high schooler how to choose which kind of business entity a new business owner should become and the steps it takes to do that.

Does the school teach our kids how to file taxes? Ask your tenth grader what W-2 is or a 1099 or a Schedule C. Ask him to explain the standard deduction.

Does school teach kids the steps between an idea and a successful product launch? Does it teach them how to sketch an idea, build a basic mock-up and then turn that mock-up into a prototype? Does it teach them how to turn their prototype into a working product and then take it to market?

Nope. Watch one episode of Shark Tank, and you’ll find out that our education system does not prepare our children to succeed in the marketplace.

Let’s talk about finances. In the course of that grueling 13 years, does the school system teach our kids about our banking and finance system? Ask your 9th grader to explain the principles of compound interest. Ask your 11th grader what steps you need to take to buy a house. For heaven’s sake, most kids don’t even graduate knowing how to open a bank account or how to balance a checkbook.

You might be reading this and saying, “Oh my son’s school did a lesson on balancing a checkbook. I know education is bad in other schools, but OUR school is good.” We actually hear some version of this all the time. I think parents are so desperately afraid to face the truth because they don’t have an alternative. Let’s face it, not everyone can homeschool.

But the truth is, schools are not preparing our kids for life.

Kids should be learning not just how to balance a checkbook, but how to comparison shop when they’re opening a bank account. What should they be looking for in a checking account? Should they open a money market instead? What is a CD and why or why not should they have one? What’s the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA? What’s the difference between stocks and bonds? What are mutual funds? How do you evaluate whether or not an investment opportunity is a good one?

Does the school system even teach our kids how to be wise consumers? Does it teach them how to find independent product ratings and do cost comparisons? Does it teach them about extended warranties and why you would or wouldn’t want to buy them?

We all live in some kind of house or apartment and drive some kind of vehicle, right? Does school teach our kids how to maintain or repair those things? Nope. We have to depend on other people for everything. Obviously there are some things that we would want to call an expert to do. But after 13 precious years, most kids graduate from the public education system not knowing how to change the oil in their car, repair the brakes, or replace a worn out belt or a broken water pump. These are all fairly simple tasks, and during lean economic times, it can be a big help to do them yourself and not have to pay someone.

We all have to eat right? So does our school system use a portion of those 13 years to teach us how to grow or prepare food? Ask your 4th grader what hardiness zone you live in. Ask them when it’s the best time of year to plant vegetables in your neck of the woods. Ask them what kind of soil you have and what kind organic material and mulch they should add. Ask them to explain the difference between annuals and perennials and how to decide between tilling or building a raised bed.

I remember my first trip to the grocery store as an independent adult. I had no clue what to buy. Hmmm….I should get some milk and some bread, people buy those things, right? School never taught me how to plan a menu, make a shopping list and cook the food, and that was back in the day when we were still required to take HomeEc. I remember reading a recipe that said I needed to make a roux. What the heck is that? Or a bechamel? If your high schooler was asked to bring a crudite to a party, would she know what it was? As it turns out, these are not advanced food preparation things. These are the basics! But unless their parents are foodies, most kids have no clue how to really cook. No wonder fast food places are so successful in this culture.

So, the education system doesn’t prepare our kids for the business world, our finance system or consumerism. It also doesn’t prepare us to be effective members of our government system.

Does your kid know how to effectively lobby for something that impacts their daily life? Do you? Does your kid even know the difference between federal, state and municipal government? Do they know which lawmaking branch deals with education? Do they know who is responsible for the traffic laws? Do they know how to track their representative’s voting records? If not, how on earth can they cast an educated vote?

Aren’t you starting to feel like we’ve created a society where all the important information is elusive? It’s as if everything that we really need to know is a big secret.

So what the heck is our government doing with our kids for 13 YEARS?

There’s been a big push toward foreign language. As Jody and I talk to college admissions officers, we’re hearing that they want to see quality foreign language credits. But the fact is, we are still a nation of people who speak only one language. My family members in the Middle East all speak multiple languages, and they learned them at school. But in spite of the policy changes, we are not producing multilingual kids.

So what are we teaching them? A bunch of facts? Well, not even that!

Here’s a fun test for you. No peaking, okay?

How long did the Pony Express run in the U.S.?

50 years?

100 years?

Most people we ask give us one of these two answers.

Are you ready for the real answer? The Pony Express ran a single mail delivery line from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacremento, California (it didn’t deliver mail all over the country as most people believe) for a year and a half. That’s it! Basically, the Pony Express was a big flop. It was a business failure. So how come we all know about it, and we all think it was tantamount to the U.S. Postal Service of the 1800s?

Because one of the Pony Express riders, William Cody (better known as Buffalo Bill), who was out of work when the Pony Express went belly up, began touring the U.S. and Europe with his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows that depicted the exciting perils of riding the Pony Express.

As I’ve done history with my own kids, I’ve learned so much that either I’d missed in my own public school education or was never taught. Do you remember learning about the Dust Bowl migration? I don’t. But it was the largest human migration in the history of this country. From 1931, when the drought in the Plains states began, through 1940, 2.5 million people relocated. Not only did the Dust Bowl stimulate the most seismic movement of people in our country’s history, but it also played a part in the economic downturn of the Great Depression. Yet, I’m not sure that I had even heard the phrase Dust Bowl in my public education.

So what are our kids learning? English is now called Language Arts in most schools, but it seems to me it’s more about the arts than the language these days. Ask your 7th grader the difference between a verb, a participle and a gerund. Ask him what a semi-colon is and how it’s used. Ask him to list the six basic verb forms and explain the proper use of each one. Forget your 7th grader, how would you do on that test?

As a writer, these things happen to be my wheel house (but don’t ask me anything about sines, cosines and tangents). I can tell you that few adults understand the grammar rules of our language. I’m consistently aware of glaring syntax and punctuation errors in emails, blogs and Facebook posts. But I don’t judge the people. It’s the school system that should be ashamed! We graduate kids from high school with just enough writing ability to skate by.

So, what’s the answer to all this?

We have no idea!

But it’s time for us to wake up from The Matrix that is our public education system and start searching for real solutions.

Let’s talk about it and brainstorm and make calls to our leaders.

If you’ve got any thoughts to share, we want to hear them! If you had a say in what our kids learn over these 13 years, what would it include?

Let’s keep the conversation going…

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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