Four boys, two parents, one school

With four boys under the age of nine, Tony Woodlief and his wife, who taught school in Detroit, have decided to educate their children at home. They hope “to cultivate in them an intellectual breadth and curiosity that public schools no longer offer.”

The secret of home-schooling, however, is that you don’t have to be a master teacher to do it well. Energy, dedication, and good materials are what you need. Your competition, meanwhile, is a system that by design and necessity seeks the median. Public (and many private) school students have to move along in all subjects at a similar pace, and in the same order. Outliers — the talkative, the energetic, the gifted, the struggling — are labeled and interventions (counseling, special classrooms, tutoring, medication) prescribed. The goal is not a full realization of the child’s potential, but rather the system’s smooth functioning.

It’s a lot easier to teach four of your own children than to teach 20 or 30 children you haven’t raised and don’t control outside the classroom.

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Comments

  1. Two points:

    1. Children, especially very young children, will work their hearts out for the love and approval of their parents. The approval of teachers pales into insignificance by comparison with the motivatingg power of the mutual love of children and parents. Three factors, coherent curricula, competent instructors, and motivated students, largely determinne overall system performance. It makes little diference whether you consider the parent’s love a facet of their “competence” as instructors which compensates for any deficiency in subject-area knowledge, or whether you attribute all the difference love makes to the factor of “student motivation”, homeschooling works for a reason which institutional instruction cannot replicate.

    2. Another motivating factor is the reward of competence, the feeling of confidence in mastery of a subject. This reward is enhanced when the student selects the task. Homeschools clearly have the advantage here for a reason your article mentions (schools treat groups of students as a “class”). Schools might be able to replicate the conditions which currently give homeschools an advantage here, but this would entail the creation of self-paced curricula. Schools could operate more like fitness clubs, with trainers assisting students individually as each student moves through a self-selected subject at a self-determined pace. The problem with thhis is, it would demonstrate the irrelevance of most teachers, and, since “public education” has become a make-work program for government employees, the system strenuously would resist this change.

    Why do we measure knowledge in “years”? What is a “year” of Algebra or “year” of US History”? I believe the system has a strong incentive to maximize man-hours (student and teacher) in the system. This is why schools pay students a wage based on time (e.g., “credit” for a “year” of English) for a task that is basically piecework (“read these books and write about them).

    As most schools currently operate, they often degrade rather than enhance education, by reducing rather than enhancing student motivation.

    If “public education” (i.e., the government-operated school system) is not a make-work program for government employees, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected insiders, and a venue for State-worshipful indoctrination, why cannot any student take, at any age, an exit exam (the GED will do) and apply the taxpayers’ K-12 education subsidy toward post-secondary tuition or toward a wage subsidy at any qualified (say, has filed W-2 forms on at least three employees for at least the previous four years) private-sector employer?

  2. Malcolm, I think we measure education in years and hours because it’s a reflection of the industrial era in which our current school system started. Everything seemed to be time-based in the early industrial age. Standardizing everything (parts, workers, and the value of an hour’s labor) was considered the goal. Since that idea was all the rage at the time, it’s very understandable that the school system would have adopted it. What’s NOT understandable is that we continue to use the same concepts long after they’ve lost whatever usefulness they had.

  3. I think you have to have a special kind of kid to home school. My kids and I would be at each others throats if they spent the entire day with me. They do much better work for others and it is frequently recommended to people to hire tutors just to help get homework done because the kids will do more work for them.

  4. I liked his distinction between education and public schools.

    Since most were educated in public schools there is a tendency to equate the two as exactly the same thing.

  5. Aloha, Henry Cate,

    Thanks for the kind words on your blog.
    You are in a better position than I to explain to Therese what “homeschool” does and does not entail (but I’ll try). Homeschooling isn’t a method. It’s everything EXCEPT the method of “school”.

  6. Therese, that is a point I’ve heard made many times. My response is pretty typical of homeschoolers I know: my children need to respect me at least as much as they respect a person outside our family. If they will do more work for an outsider, something is wrong in our family, and sending the kids away for huge chunks of time is not going to fix it.

    Who is recommending tutors for this purpose? Tutors? Education professionals?

  7. “I think you have to have a special kind of kid to home school. My kids and I would be at each others throats if they spent the entire day with me.”

    No. My homeschooled kids are pretty average and there are days that we’re at each others’ throats. On most other days we just work at getting along like any other family does on holidays or summer vacations. Pretty normal stuff.

    If homeschooling isn’t your choice then it’s not your choice. That’s fair. No need to assign those of us that do it special qualities that mere mortals lack.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    “If homeschooling isn’t your choice then it’s not your choice. That’s fair. No need to assign those of us that do it special qualities that mere mortals lack.”

    “If they will do more work for an outsider, something is wrong in our family, and sending the kids away for huge chunks of time is not going to fix it.”

    I agree with both of these comments. While you don’t have to be superhuman to homeschool, you do need to develop and refine some parenting skills that non-homeschoolers may not necessarily be focused on, and probably should be.

    I know many wonderful parent who’s children attend school. I know some not-so-great homeschoolers who need to work on their parenting skills. Yes, I’m being judgemental here. But, good homeschooling means good parenting. It’s almost inescapable.

  9. Therese wrote: “My kids and I would be at each others throats if they spent the entire day with me.”

    One thing you fail to take into consideration is the negative effects on children of spending long hours in a depersonalized institutional setting where they are primarily being socialized by their own peers.

    I had to work full-time out of financial necessity and put my oldest in group daycare from the age of 9 months until shortly after her 3rd birthday. I found our interactions after a long day of me being at work and her being at daycare to be quite challenging, to say the least.

    I noticed a *MAJOR* improvement in her attitude once I was finally in a financial position to be able to quit my job and become a stay-at-home mom. She quickly became noticeably more cooperative, polite, and generally pleasant to be around.

    Many homeschool families who’ve taken their children out of traditional schools report similar behavioral improvements.

  10. “If they will do more work for an outsider, something is wrong in our family, and sending the kids away for huge chunks of time is not going to fix it.”

    I have to disagree. At least for my son, he knew that work that we assigned was always our choice, and thus where hated school-work was concerned, we were *choosing* to be evil and robbing him of his free time.

    On the other hand, work assigned by teachers was essentially the product of an unchangeable irrational system that simply had to be endured.

    Thus, massive complaints about school work we assigned (when we thought that the school as not covering certain topics), and only the standard complaints about school work teachers assigned.

    By the time he was 10, he understood that school wasn’t a personal attack upon his freedom, but until then home-schooling would have been a nightmare.

    One other point – public schools have the experience to identify problems that individuals might miss. My son’s first grade teacher was the one who realized that my oldest was autistic. Without that, the diagnosis would have been much, much later.

  11. Tom, I’m glad school is working for your son, in particular that diagnosis. I agree with those who say that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Still, I am wondering about teaching young children that schoolwork and homework are “irrational” and “to be endured.” Why not help kids to understand why they have to learn some things that they don’t enjoy, and that sometimes learning is hard work without an immediately visible payoff?

  12. Crimson Wife, I’m with you. Sometimes the negative influence of peers really does shape a child’s behaviour.

    My girls have been homeschooled from the beginning (they’re now 13 and 10), and while we do sometimes get at each other, usually it’s because of me rather than them. I’m the one not sticking to the schedule, and then they think they can goof off, etc.

    But last year our 13-year-old nephew joined us. He’s a great kid, but he had some really bad habits from being in the school system. He just didn’t listen as well.

    Over the last six months he has really changed, and become far less sarcastic, and far more easy-going. It’s been neat to watch.

    I’m nothing special, but my kids do really, really well academically. It’s much harder to teach a stubborn child to use a potty than it is to teach a child to multiply! Trust me.