Editorial

Those who Homeschool: True Defenders of the Faith

 

During recent years have you noticed how those Catholics who home school their children really stand out in their faith?  These are people who are truly defenders of the faith.  They are teaching their children not only by providing their education but by being living witnesses to Christ. 

Some claim that homeschooling is not adequate.  Is homeschooling good or bad?  Let’s take a look at it:

The beginning of the modern homeschool movement began in 1964 when John Caldwell Holt published his first work, How Children Fail. A teacher and an observer of children and education, Holt asserted that academic failure of schoolchildren was not in spite of the efforts of the schools, but actually because of the schools.  Holt intended to reform the school system but went farther, along with other authors, instructing parents on how to legally educate their children at home. In 1977, Holt began producing a magazine dedicated to home education: Growing Without Schooling.

Almost simultaneously, educational professionals Ray and Dorothy Moore began to research the academic validity of the rapidly growing Early Childhood Education movement. They concluded that formal schooling before ages 8–12 not only lacked the anticipated effectiveness but was actually harmful to children, particularly boys (due to their lag in maturity). The Moores began to publish their findings that formal schooling was damaging young children academically, socially, mentally, and even physiologically. They presented evidence that undesired effects such as juvenile delinquency, nearsightedness, increased enrollment of students in special education classes, and behavioral problems were the result of increasingly earlier enrollment of students. The Moores cited studies demonstrating that orphans who were given surrogate mothers were measurably more intelligent, with superior long term effects – even though the mothers were mentally retarded teenagers. Their primary assertion was that the bonds made with parents and the emotional development at home during these years produced critical long-term results that were cut short by enrollment in school, and could neither be replaced nor afterward corrected in an institutional setting. They maintained that the vast majority of children are far better situated at home — even with mediocre parents — than with the most gifted and motivated teachers in a school setting (assuming the child has a gifted and motivated teacher).

One common theme in the homeschool philosophies of both Holt and the Moores is that home education should not be an attempt to bring the school construct into the home, or a view of education as an academic preliminary to life. They viewed it as a natural, experiential aspect of life that occurs as the members of the family are involved with one another in daily living.

So what has happened in the United States? In 1999 the number of homeschoolers was estimated at 850,000 students and about 2,400,000 in 2006. This is only a small percentage of the student population but it is growing. As expected, most of the parents cited the social environments of other forms of schooling (including safety, drugs, bullying and negative peer-pressure) as an important reason why they home school.

Methods of homeschooling vary from using an education publisher not affiliated with homeschooling to a curriculum or books from a homeschooling organization. Some develop their own curriculum and depend upon the library and purchase of selected books.  Some imitate the public schools, but most follow a learner-paced curriculum.

Homeschoolers often take advantage of educational opportunities at museums, community centers, athletic clubs, after-school programs, churches, science preserves, parks, and other community resources. Secondary school-level students may take classes at community colleges, which typically have open admission policies.

Groups of homeschooling families often join together to create homeschool co-ops. These groups typically meet once a week and provide a classroom environment. These are family-centered support groups whose members seek to pool their talents and resources in a collective effort to broaden the scope of their children's education. They provide a classroom environment where students can do hands-on and group learning such as: performing, science experiments, art projects, spelling bees, discussions, etc. All parents whose children take classes serve in volunteer roles to make the program a success.

And how do the homeschoolers stack up against those educated in the private and public school system? Because home education allows each student to progress at his or her own rate, almost one in four home school students is enrolled one or more grades above age level. On average, home school students in grades 1- 4 perform one grade level higher than their public and private school counterparts. The achievement gap begins to widen in grade 5; by 8th grade the average home school student performs four grade levels above the national average.

What about the often-made statement that homeschooled children lack social skills? Several secular studies show that “while half of the conventionally schooled children scored at or below the 50th percentile in self-concept, only 10.3 percent of the home-schooling children did so." The self-concept of home-schooling children is significantly higher (and very much so statistically) than that of children attending the conventional school. This of course has important implications in the areas of academic achievement and socialization. Regarding socialization, it appears that very few homeschooling children are socially deprived. Critics who speak out against homeschooling on the basis of social deprivation are actually addressing an area which favors homeschoolers. The research data indicates that it is the conventionally schooled child who is actually deprived.

Further studies find that homeschool graduates are active and involved in their communities. Seventy-one percent participate in an ongoing community service activity, like coaching a sports team, volunteering at a school, or working with a church or neighborhood association, compared with thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults of similar ages from a traditional education background. Homeschool graduates are more involved in civic affairs and vote in much higher percentages than their peers – seventy-six percent to twenty-nine percent.

The following are comments from a homeschooling mom (Schooling at Home by Sally Thomas): “The fact is that home schooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It’s time-effective, in that a home schooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who’s one of twenty-five in a classroom. It’s effort—effective, in that a child doesn’t spend needless hours over a concept already mastered simply because others haven’t mastered it yet.

“To my mind, however, home schooling’s greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a ‘school life,’ that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else.”

“At home we can do what’s nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between ‘learning’ and ‘everything else’ have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education. We spend some time formally learning Latin, for example, but we also say our table blessing in Latin and sing Latin hymns during prayers. Both older children sing in our parish treble choir: still more Latin, which is not a dead language to them but a living, singing one.

“The twelve-year-old is working her way through an English-grammar-and-composition text, but she is also, on her own, writing a play, which our local children’s theater will produce in the spring. The nine-year-old has his own subscription to National Geographic and fills us in at dinner on the events of the D-Day invasion or the habits of the basking shark. He practices handwriting, with which he struggles, by writing letters to friends in England, where we lived when he was small.

“Last November, the older children and a friend adopted a project for sending care packages to soldiers in Iraq; they wrote letters, knitted hats, made Christmas cards, and one Saturday went door-to-door around the neighborhood collecting funds to cover postage and to buy school supplies for the soldiers to hand out to Iraqi children.

This undertaking by itself was something of a mini-curriculum, involving reading, handwriting, composition, art, math, community service, and even public relations. At their best, our days are saturated with what school merely strives to replicate: real, substantial, active, useful, and moral learning.

Most important for us in the ordering of our life is that our home schooling day unfolds from habits of prayer. We begin the day with the rosary and a saint’s life; we say the Angelus at lunchtime; we do a lesson from the catechism or a reading in apologetics and say the evening office before bed.

Our children have internalized this rhythm and, to my intense gratification, the older children marshal the younger children to prayers even when their father and I are absent. The day is shaped and organized by times of turning to God. A lot of unscheduled learning seems to happen during these times. In saying the rosary, for example, we exercise our skills in memorization and recitation, as well as in contemplation. The little children practice sitting still; they also practice counting. In remembering our daily intentions together, we practice the discipline of inclining our hearts and minds toward the needs of others. Often, too, during devotions we find ourselves plunged into discussions about current events, ethics, and questions about God and life that have been simmering unasked in some child’s mind until just that moment.”

Sally Thomas, and all home schooling parents, are really Defenders of the Faith.  God Bless Them All!

Jim Fritz

Note: For further information there are many, many homeschool sites on the Internet as well as several homeschooling conferences held throughout the United States during the summer months.


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