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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Lessons from Homeschoolers

Speaking at a homeschoolers conference recently I was asked in the Q and A, “Do mainstream educators take homeschooling seriously? Do they know what we accomplish?” Thinking about that question, I believe the answer is “no.” Which is too bad, homeschoolers have a lot to teach us.

It’s not a path for everyone. To be successful at it you need some teacher genes, you need to be dedicated, and you need the luxury of available time. But I believe those who do it well are offering their children an education that may be without peer.

To begin, the idea that putting 25 children of the same age in a box (i.e. classroom) is a great way to teach socialization skills is a concept that needs to be examined. The good homeschoolers make sure their children are involved in activities with other children, but not necessarily all of the same age. When you are eight you can learn a lot from ten and twelve-year-olds. And if you spend time with younger children, you’re likely to learn the value of patience and maybe sweetness. If, at ten, you’re called on to teach others, you’ll find that teaching is a terrific way to learn subject matter. Gangs are usually age similar groups; they are not great at fostering self-esteem.

Our all-the-same-age classrooms make lesson planning a bit easier for teachers, but it’s the individualized teaching I’ve seen in some classrooms that has left me awed. Given 21st century technology, that should be easier and easier to accomplish, even in large classrooms. We just need to change conventional mindsets.

So, yes, we can learn from homeschoolers, and also from the one-room schools of our pioneering days. Something else (close to my heart): the one size-fits-all-textbook has been a failure. Classrooms should be filled with good books. That doesn’t seem like a difficult concept. Nor is it expensive. But visit public schools, as I do, and you’ll find many classrooms bereft of books, they just have one-subject over-priced textbooks (or, often now, their technological equivalent).

In our time we’ve been attracted to mass production approaches to learning. Rational homeschoolers don’t tolerate them; after all, those parents have to deal with the stuff too. Creating an environment where everyone—adults and children—learns together and exults in the process, that’s what the best homeschoolers do. We can all learn from that model.
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