I did actually send this to Alfie Kohn, but I imagine he is probably a bit too busy to answer lengthy e-mails such as this (why am I so damn long-winded?!). So I am going to post it here, and maybe someone else who searches “Alfie AND homeschooling” will find their way here and enlighten me.

Dear Mr. Kohn

After reading a selection of your articles (the latest being “Debunking the Case for National Standards: One-Size-Fits-All Mandates and Their Dangers”), I would definitely say I am a fan of your work and I fervently hope your wisdom is heeded as the nation tackles education reform. I just can’t quite reconcile you’re your dissatisfaction with public education and your position against homeschooling.

In this article, and others, you clearly state that that all kids should get a “great education […. ] But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education.” Yet schools have been churning out kids assembly line fashion since I was in school. If schools haven’t changed in the 20+ years since I was a student, what possible reason can you give me to send my kids back into those mindless fact factories hoping that I will get lucky and see the change we need in the next 10-12 years (my kids are 5, 6, and 8)?

What do you suggest we do if not homeschool? How can I give my sons a quality education, ensuring he has art, music, and P.E., no homework, and plenty of time after his studies for free play and family time? I submit it can’t be done in the current state of affairs.

I would ask that you please consider being supportive of homeschoolers until such time as the reform you speak of is within reach. Right now, I just don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unless it’s 20 years down the road and we exhort this generation of homeschoolers to become teachers. Imagine the breath of fresh air they would bring to the classrooms!

Heather XXXXX

PS I would like to share with you my backstory to lend some anecdotal evidence to your thorough and convincing research. I began my schooling in a small private school (35 kids in first – fifth grades). I don’t remember taking many tests, but I do remember getting report cards. Everyone always seemed to get a mix of A’s and B’s no matter what. I figured the teacher was sending the message that you are all doing well, but there is always room for improvement. I wasn’t terribly concerned with grades and I enjoyed my studies.

I moved on to public school in the 6th grade. I was tested for placement (of course) and immediately put into the highest of five levels (apparently the private school gave me a good education without yearly testing or over-emphasis on grades). I never got another B for the rest of my public school career. From that point on, I did everything you predicted. I became lazy. I did the minimum work required to get the A. I diligently copied notes so I could cram for tests the night before. Everything I read was discarded after testing. I love reading (especially the “classics”) but every book I had to read for school, I detest to this day (my favorite book of all time is Les Miserables which I read at 14 yo, yet I detest Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which we read 2 years later in class).

Yet I am a public school success story. I always scored in the 99th percentile on standardized tests. I got one question wrong on the ACTs. I was a National Merit Scholar. I placed in the top 10 in an IL State Math competition. I graduated #1 out of 300 and was named Math, English, Science, and Spanish student of the year (I can’t hold a conversation in Spanish, however, BTW). I took 2 years off before attending college (VA Tech). Despite getting a 5 on the AP Calculus exam, I got a C in college Calculus. I had forgotten too many formulas in my 2 years off. And since I never actually learned the “hows” and “why” behind calculus, I was lost without the formulas stuffed into my brain.

And that was the STEM class I passed. I had to drop physics. I was at first excited to learn that much of physics was applied calculus. Despite having taken college-placement Physics in high school, I never actually realized the tie between the two. But after one month I had to drop the course. It was one thing to get a “C” in math after being told I was a math genius, but I couldn’t stand to fail a class altogether.

I didn’t last two years in college. I couldn’t handle having to do so much work to be stamped “average”. And when I finally went back 10 years later, I majored in English, despite my love of math. It was just plain easier. And all I wanted at that point was a degree. I jumped back on the hamster wheel and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Some things you never forget.

All that to say, it was an easy decision to homeschool my kids. I was a public school superstar and it prepared me for little. If I am the best that a public school can produce, then how can I possibly, in good conscious, choose that for my kids? Please tell us homeschooling parents what you would have us do? We simply can’t stand to throw our kids under the bus while we wait for reform.

Update: I did get a response! See it here.

Remember that time you were talking with your friends at work about the Boston Tea Party? You know that time, your one friend was saying how much she sympathized with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Your other friend said she admired their ideals, but felt the Tea Partiers had a better grasp on practical ideas that could help our country. And then you said, “Yeah and speaking of the Tea Party, I didn’t get the importance of the Boston Tea Party in High School, but gosh, it seems so relevant now….”

You don’t remember saying that? Oh, you don’t actually know anything about the Boston Tea Party? How is that possible; American History is required in school?! Oh wait… yeah, no. I don’t remember either. I had to Google it just now to see what year it took place and my guess wasn’t even in the right century.
Well probably we were sick that day. Let’s talk instead about how Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy. How this “hero of liberty” turned into a despised despot.  How is that champions of “hope and change” can become so reviled for their attempts to bring reform?

That doesn’t ring a bell either? Missed that day too? What’s my point? I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am trying to make people feel mad. I didn’t know who Oliver Cromwell was either until some vague reference made me Google him the other day. Dude was so hated, he was dug up after he was buried and strung-up for all to see because he wasn’t executed properly the first time.

I used to be embarrassed by what I didn’t know. I guess I still am. But at least I can feel better by comparing myself to modern kids. They don’t just suck at history, most American 18 year olds today can’t find Japan, France, or the UK on a map! A third can’t even find the Pacific Ocean!! I am sure you all know by know that we barely rank in the middle and sometimes even at the bottom in international surveys, but here’s the government report just in case you want to see it in writing.

Why is this bad? We are an ignorant people and only getting more so. We can’t engage in meaningful discussions. We certainly can’t engage in a rational debate that doesn’t deteriorate into name-calling and mud-slinging. What’s the saying? If we forget our history then we are doomed to repeat it? We can’t keep taking away liberties and spending out of control and expect it won’t lead to our downfall.

If 90% of children can’t find Iran on a map, how are they going to form an opinion on whether or not Iran is a threat to Israel? Okay maybe you think it’s about time we got out of the middle of that conflict anyway. Fine. If we don’t care if the middle east blows itself off the map (solving a part of that whole geography ignorance problem BTW), then should we care that Iran and Venezuela are building a joint base that will allow Tehran to deal with “Iran’s enemies“? Care to guess who Iran considers its enemies?

So do I think my homeschooled kids going to retain historical facts because they are reading about them at the kitchen table instead of at a school desk? No, actually, I don’t. My point is that none of us remembers those things because we didn’t care. Nobody bothered talking to us about these concepts. They made us read dry textbooks then lectured at us.

My sons and I talk about these issues. We don’t use textbooks. I don’t lecture. Why waste time on textbooks and lectures when we know kids won’t retain the information or learn to do anything with it beyond test day? We aren’t even testing well!! 

I don’t mean to harp, so here’s my suggestion. Lets just sit the kids down into small groups, give them a short lesson to read on Oliver Cromwell, the Boston Tea Party, or whatever, and have them discuss how the events relate to what’s going on today. Whatever they get from that will stick with them much longer than those notes copied off the overheads.

One Year Ago Today

March 25, 2012

So I was trying to find a phone number in my G-mail, and came across this “conversation” I had with my sister about whether or not to homeschool. It’s funny to see how my ideas then are matching up to the reality of now.

These are really good questions to think about if you are considering homeschooling. If you don’t have a sister to put you through the ringer, you can borrow mine.   😉

Here’s the conversation (her questions/concerns are in blue):

  • “us vs. them” mentality can form

agreed. I think I would like to treat this as if we were going to private school. I am not going to tell everyone that asks that I made this choice because schools suck so bad and good parents would never do that to their kids. I am not exactly sure what I WILL say yet….

  • avoiding whack-job, fear-mongering christians…it seems like that used to be the bulk of homeschooling parents, but maybe that’s changed.

yeah, a good chunk of the homeschool blogs are christian moms, but there is a trend towards secular homeschooling. a lot of the people on the Meetup group I just joined stress in the profile that they want to participate in “secular” meetups and outings. I bet they are tired of being preached at. I will probably fall in with them. I DO want to start addressing the spiritual void that is in my family, but I am not trying to jump right into the deep end and be crazy.

  • finding social activities may become challenging and you’re driving for 3-4 different kids.

True… but I think I would face that either way. If they are in school and one has chess club on wed/Fri and another has soccer on Tues/Thurs, and yet another has a band recital Wed. night…. I think this is just a logistics issue I am going to face no matter what and I will just have to be proactive and try and sign them up for groups that span ages. Like karate at the rec center has classes based on level and they are on the same day just at different times. Also, the plus to homeschooling is that we can have things going on in the evenings without turning into a disconnected madhouse. We will have all day to get stuff done and be together and can plan stuff in the evenings without rushing from here to there.

  • your house tends to be a little distracting in the video game department, changing that might make you feel like a nazi…especially because it would possibly involve trying to change your husband.

Jeff continues to surprise me… he is now okay with giving up cable and he has decided to sell all his Joes so he can focus on toys the boys are interested in. The video games don’t get turned on until after dinner. I am more lax when we have company and on weekends, but that is pretty standard on weekdays.

  • that said, it might become tempting to let the computer be their teacher (Nathan particularly) since it engages them so well, but that isn’t balanced.

The biggest problem is definitely the computer. They only play educational games during the day and they all learn alot from them, but that can’t be what they do alllll day of course. I will have to work on that, but I think as I work on planning our schedule and educational goals, that stuff will fall into line. I have also noticed that if I get into something, they jump on board. This will be important in the science/art department. I plan on figuring out ways to include them in my projects like woodworking, gardening, and cooking. Also the science kits like I mentioned before.

  • you will lose your mind if you don’t figure out a way to get yourself out of the house and have your own social life…one MAJOR component of why parents send kids to school, and i don’t think that’s wrong. please don’t underestimate this one…i am only just beginning to see how my happiness profoundly effects my husband. if i’m not happy, our marriage isn’t happy.

This is true. I have a few things up my sleeve. School being one of them. Some small business ideas I have are another. I think the biggest key is that I love to work. I am at a crossroads… I thoroughly researched becoming a lawyer and am disillusioned. The market is so supersaturated and it is getting worse even as schools are becoming more expensive. Plus so many of them get jaded so fast because the system is so corrupt. All my life I have wanted to start a business. I need to stop being so afraid of failure and do something. That is a another discussion altogether though!

  • if you give up your GI money for school because homeschooling consumes all of your time, i will personally kill you. how does this idea effect your current plan?

Doesn’t change much either way. Jeff’s application was denied and he doesn’t want to go anyway, so I am thinking I should just do what he was going to do… get my MBA. Goes along with wanting to run my own business in any case and gets me some start-up capital.

  • public school sports programs…particularly if one of your boys has the potential to play at a college level. they need the high school prep for that. i’ve heard that some school districts allow homeschool kids to participate…i suppose you can find out what your school district’s policy is on that.

I have no problem sending them to high school if they are that interested in sports. I think the critical years for molding and shaping them will be the grade school/jr high years anyway. Or at least the critical years for keeping them from the molding and shaping that happens in school!

One of the things I am really excited about is the freedom to pursue an interest from beginning to end, exhaustively, until we are satisfied or lose interest. Not for an hour a day, stopping when the bell rings no matter where we are at. For example, I think I want to include learning Chinese as our foreign language. Those people are gonna own us in the next few decades, so how great would that be to unleash my boys upon the world speaking that language. Plus, I can learn it right along with them. Or at least try. So I don’t have to just surrender myself to this role of teacher… I can instead also be a learner and just take the boys with me on my journey. They want to do anything I am doing anyway, so how cool is that if we are really learning together.

Has it really been only a year since I even started considering this?!

20 Great Reasons to Homeschool
(click picture to enlarge)

Homeschool Domination

March 21, 2012

Homeschool Domination
Created by: College At Home

This is fresh off the press from my homeschooling mentor. I think it is well worth the re-post. I find it very telling that graduation rates have been stagnant since the 70s despite the lowering of standards.

I just finished another book by John Taylor Gatto. After I turned the last page, I closed it , turned to my husband and said, “That might have been the best book I’ve ever read and that makes me so very sad.”

He asked why (as any good husband would know to do when a wife asks such a question). Actually he asked if it was better than Les Mis, but then he asked why. (FYI it’s probably not better than Les Mis, but is it really fair to compare a treatise on modern schooling with  the greatest French novel of the 19th century?)

Anyway, it’s a profoundly great book because his ideas strike at the heart of the problems that disease this nation. For example, by separating out the young and the old and locking them away from the rest of society in various institutions we are perpetuating a society with no past and no future.

The reason this book makes me sad is because I will probably never actually meet one other person in the flesh who has read this book. It makes me sad that a powerful book written to open our eyes to the absolute decay of the system we trust to raise our children, will never be read by the parents who need it most.

So there’s my backward book recommendation. I want to buy this book and send it to everyone I know. But I don’t think they would read it. Like clean eating, a person has to be ready for this kind of information. They have to already intuit that we have a problem and be hungry for a change. And once you are ready for it, reading the book is like preaching to the choir. Although if you only vaguely sense that something is seriously wrong, this book will help clarify those feelings and put them into words. Maybe it will make you into an activist. I want to become an activist?

BTW, A Different Kind of Teacher is not about homeschooling. Whilst it would seem that Gatto is impressed by homeschooling, he does not present it as the solution for our society’s ills.

In case my kids ever wonder about the moment that so profoundly changed the course of their lives… here it is documented for posterity.

This RSA speech by Ken Robinson blew me away. I knew we had a problem in this country with public schools. I didn’t have any kids in school at the time, but I didn’t live under a rock. But for the first time I had an inkling of why schools are failing. They were designed to meet the needs of a different way of life.

Now if you have read any of my other homeschooling posts, you will know I give a lot of credit for my decision to homeschool to CNut over at Marginalizing Morons. His blog isn’t really about homeschooling, however. I found his blog because he makes scathing & witty observations about government and society. The title says it all… how can I not like such a site?

I do remember having been impressed with his son’s amazing progress, and curious if I could emulate it. I was thinking I would work with our kids on our own time, however, and just supplement their educations (some other time I would like to talk about why this was a bad idea).

I remember all this so clearly because I had read enough of CNut’s blog to know he would appreciate the video. I sent it to him, he posted it, and after taking a moment to savor seeing my name in print, I clicked the “homeschooling” label off to the right and checked out what else he had to say on the topic.

Shortly thereafter I was reading John Gatto, and from there it’s all history.

I am always interested to hear how other’s came to the decision to homeschool. It wasn’t a hard one for me. Once I saw other homeschooled kids and read the statistics I was ready to jump on board. But I am weird like that. I have made some pretty major life decisions on the spot. Convincing my husband was the hardest part.

I love homeschooling so much, nothing would make me happier than to be a part of introducing the joy to someone else. Please e-mail me and I would be happy to answer any questions. Or comment and share your story! I would love to hear it.

My Son’s First Rejection

February 19, 2012


I don’t know why I keep coming back to this issue. Maybe because when I was deciding to homeschool, that was the biggest objection that came up. I now know that I was mistaken in my belief that the main purpose of school is to educate. I mostly dismissed the “socialization” caveat as misplaced priorities. But I think if it’s going to be a priority for parents and educators, then we should at least make an attempt to do it right.

Last Thursday I attended a music recital at our local Elementary School. Our district allows homeschooled children to take part in extra-curricular activities and “special” classes like Art, Computers, & Gym. Nathan takes Art & Music with the other 1st graders 3 times a week.

During this event, my middle son, Brandon, was rejected by a group of boys who were all bent over a brand new Kindle Fire. At first they mostly ignored his inquiries and friendly gestures. But as he persisted in talking to them, they started to say mean things to him. I watched his attempts to befriend these boys and their rejection of him warily. I was curious to see how Brandon would react. Brandon doesn’t see new children as outsiders, he sees them as potential playmates. But he also gets that electronic “toys” are way cool and other kids don’t usually give them up or share them readily. I don’t think Brandon was traumatized, but it made me sad to see him pushed aside.

As I told this story later, most people dismissed my concern. “Boys will be boys” or “They didn’t know him, so why would they accept him?” But I want to question those assumptions. We actually are not used to this behavior at all. Parents of toddlers and pre-K children will often sit at the park and marvel over how their kids will just buddy up and play together without ever having been introduced. We assume they grow out of this, but I think they are schooled out of this.

I am part of a rather large homeschooling group and those kids don’t seem to lose this ability. Because of these classes at the school, we can only fit in homeschool Meetups about once a month. Every time we go, I feel like we are the new people. I have yet to notice my boys playing with the same kids twice. What I have not noticed is any of my boys ever being rejected. Nathan loves to play with older boys. I have seen 11, 12, and 13 yr old boys assimilate him into their woodland adventures without a second thought. Brandon will play with anybody and tends to bounce from group to group. It wasn’t until he tried to play with a group of boys from the public school that he faced his first rejection.

For some reason I haven’t been able to shake the unpleasant “taste” this experience has left with me. Naturally, whenever something lingers in the subconscious, the topic seems to pop up everywhere thereafter. My mentor posted an article on his blog today that discourages liberals from homeschooling because it doesn’t embody good, liberal “social values” (social on a societal scale, not necessarily childhood friendships). The comments led me to some interesting links, and I came across the following research:

I hope to elaborate more on these articles in future posts, but the bottom line is that I just don’t think schools are doing this “socialization” thing right. We don’t have to tolerate bratty kids, pre-teen angst, and teenage rebellion. We are teaching these things to our children. We can do better.

School Reform Part I

February 15, 2012

Well here’s my answer to school reform that allows us to use the current infrastructure, employees, and materials. This plan could be  launched immediately or implemented gradually. Let’s bring back the Little Red School House to every classroom.

First you take 2-3 kids from every current grade level (1st – 12th) and put them together in one classroom. Then you abolish those grade levels, grades, and homework. From that point on, children will not be assigned labels based on age or test scores. The teacher’s job will now be to assist the students at the highest level of instruction and to maintain order. Learning will be largely self-directed so children cannot join this classroom until they can read.

Children will no longer sit through lectures or lessons. They will be presented with a syllabus for each subject and all coursework and instructional materials in written or digital form. Young children will be presented their expected tasks everyday; older children by week or month, and teens and pre-teens will receive more and more autonomy until they are in complete control of their schedule. Core subjects, or the 3 R’s, will be the focus of the first part of the day (and the rest of this post).

Let’s use one subject, math, to demonstrate how this concept will work. Depending on how a child best learns, a basic curriculum will be chosen by the parent and teacher. For example, my son uses a computer based program called IXL with much success. I know another child who is working independently through the Kumon books. Other homeschoolers swear by Saxon.

With all methods, the child starts with basic skills and moves on only once they are mastered. Occasionally my oldest child, Nathan, struggles with a problem or new concept in IXL. He does not hesitate to ask me for assistance. But I have noticed my younger child, Brandon, always asks his older brother for help first. Nathan is only 6, but 4 year old Brandon looks up to him as the source of all knowledge. Not only does that make Nathan feel smart, it makes him feel needed and useful. So in the Ultra Retro Reformed Classroom (URRC), a child needing help will first ask his peers. If they are unable to assist, then the child will then ask a student who has mastered that level.

Students will be carefully instructed that teaching is just as much a part of their day as learning. Children new to this style of learning will need to be coached on how to intereact this way, but veteran homeschoolers with large families can tell you that this happens naturally if the children know no other way.

The power in this program lies in the idea that no child moves forward until they have mastered their current level. Since they are not assigned grade levels, they will have no reason to feel bad if they are “held back.” They will not waste time repeating a grade because they failed only certain subjects. It would actually be impossible to fail a subject because a child will not move forward until they have achieved an “A” level understanding at the task at hand.

Back to math, specifically IXL, each subject is be broken into a number of skills. Each skill is presented through a series of problems. A child must achieve 100 points to complete the skill. If a question is missed, they lose points. They must correctly answer a similar question eventually to get to 100 points. Several skills can be completed in one sitting if a child is proficient in that subject, or one skill can be worked on each day if the child needs to work at a slower place.

Using Kumon or Saxon, a child will complete a lesson and set of problems each day. Each problem gets progressively harder, so if a child is able to finish, they have demonstrated mastery. no test is needed. They cannot skip problems and they can and should ask for help when they are struggling, so they can never be left behind.

My 4 year is happily working his way through the Pre-K IXL lessons one each day. I don’t require him to do this work since he is only 4, but he wants to because he sees his older brother doing it. My first grade aged son is about half way through second grade level math. If he were in public school, he would not be able to work at his own pace as he does now. Why in the world do we separate kids from each other by age and expect it to be a useful indicator as to what level of work they should be completing!

Each child is unique. A “gifted” reader may struggle to master long division. Let him fly through his reading lessons and take his time working out his math! Free him from bells and jostling down hallways, bouncing from one subject to another. Let him work in peace until he has mastered his lesson!

If you think it is somehow unfair to make children teach each other, or that it will take away from the time they need to learn themselves, then please take a look at some large homeschooling families with an open mind. Or talk to a teacher. Ask her how much she learned about geography in her college courses? Or if she just remembered it from high school? Ask her when she learned her subject? I’ll bet you it was on the job. She learned it by teaching it. I got A’s in Algebra in school, but mastered the subject once I began to tutor others. My son has no problem pausing his own lesson to look over and answer his brother’s questions. I watch a 6 year old and a 4 year old do this happily every day. Just imagine for a second what it would feel like to go to school and be part of something. Imagine feeling needed. Imagine what it would do for a child’s self-esteem to be able to impart their knowledge to another? And we aren’t just turning one or two kids into teacher’s pets. Every child can offer something to someone if they are not always behind. That would be a gift we are giving our children, not an imposition.

This method will easily work just as well for reading and writing as math. We don’t need to invent a whole new curriculum. The workbooks and textbooks in use now are probably fine. Again, the key is to disregard the child’s age or grade and empower her to work through the material at her own pace.

If the experience of about a million homeschoolers is any indication, most children will progress much faster than they are currently working in school. Tests indicate that homeschooled children are one grade level above their peers in elementary school, and by the end of 8th grade are four years ahead of public-schooled kids. It’s because we are free. Free to let them grow. Let’s give that freedom to all kids.

A Pitch for School Reform

February 14, 2012

I have been reading (and watching) speeches, articles, and documentaries critiquing the current educational and political system. I can’t help but agree. With everybody… liberals, conservatives, activists, non-partisan think tanks…. Pretty much anyone with a brain can give some very compelling reasons for why everything we know is wrong.

And even if I don’t agree with the logic motivating our most popular protesters, I am glad they are taking to the streets and questioning this nightmare. But what I am not hearing are solutions. No one is even trying to present ideas we can all agree on. They are only trying to drum up enough support to topple their opponents. Those in power do not seem interested in preserving and promoting our freedoms. Both sides are willing to squash exactly one-half of us in order to get their own way. Are we really satisfied to live in a country whose leaders will marginalize fully half of their constituents?

This is one of the reasons I have decided to champion the causes of homeschooling and clean eating. These issues attract and affect people from all walks of life. In the U.S., ultra-liberal nest-gen hippies have been eating raw, organic, and free-range for years. Conservatives are snatching up small farms and starting CSAs to preserve the ways and skills of their grandparents. Remember that article we discussed a couple weeks ago about the growing appeal of homeschooling? We can thank fundamentalist Christians for fighting to keep homeschooling legal in the 80s. But the fastest growing segment of homeschoolers today are from the DIY Generation.  Not to mention both of these lifestyles have been practiced by human beings for milllennia… before everything had to have a political agenda.

So now I am going to try throwing out some solutions. I would love feedback. Usually I sit in my home depressed that I can’t do anything to help the growing crises our country faces. But one of the speeches I heard yesterday said that big change never comes from a big movement. It comes from a small determined group. I want to be in that group. So what the heck… let’s put a workable idea on the table and maybe we can run with it.

So here it is (or will be in the next two days):

Standing in the Middle (SIM) School Reform:

This is the first thing I ever saw that made me stop in my tracks and rethink the status quo concerning education.

For some reason it ends rather abruptly. If anyone has a link to the rest of the speech (with or without animation, I would love to add it.