Friday, June 4, 2010

Giving homeschooling a bad name

As everyone knows, homeschoolers are commonly dismissed by detractors [(waving) Hi Robert!] as crackpots and religious fanatics who (presumably) keep their children locked up in boxes in the basement and only trot them out long enough to memorize pi to the 30th decimal place and spout history dates to impress visiting CPS workers.

But it is a myth that all homeschooling is the same. And it's also untrue that homeschoolers uniformly approve and support all homeschooling techniques.

One of the controversial techniques is "unschooling," and ABC recently wrote a piece about it.

While I applaud parents' efforts to tailor children's education toward their specific needs, aptitudes, and abilities, there is a difference between tailoring and laziness. I have never met any unschoolers so I can't vouch for its long-term efficacy (unlike the long-term efficacy of homeschooling, which is well documented)... but if this article is anything to go by, I cannot praise unschooling.

Some of the red flags I saw in this article included:

Her [the mother] hands-off approach extends to other areas of the children's lives. The kids are allowed to eat whatever they want -- even pasta with peanut butter sauce -- as long as it is in the house... What's more, they make their own decisions, and don't have chores or rules. "Because we don't punish, we don't use the term rules," Martin said.

Sounds like the kids rule the roost and the parents just want to be "friends."

Martin said she has "such a present-based mind-set" that she doesn't think about her kids' futures, and that she just wants them to be happy.

Uh, as difficult a concept as it is to grasp, there is a future. Having a "present-based mind-set" and admitting you don't want to think about your kids' futures sounds like the old Grass Roots song, "Let's Live for Today." And just wanting your kids to "be happy" in no way prepares them for instances where they're not happy. Duh.

"Algebra is not something that everybody needs to know. This life is about honoring the fact that we are not all put on the earth to do the same thing in life. ... It is such an individualized education as opposed to a cookie cutter education where kids are kind of, this bucket of knowledge that you pour into kids and they may or may not learn it."

Obviously we are not all put on the earth to do the same thing, but to presume that such basic knowledge as algebra is unnecessary is wrong. That's kind of like saying it's not necessary to teach your child how to calculate the area of a triangle or to memorize the multiplication tables.

In the kitchen, a sticky issue came up: What to do when your child wants to eat the whole bag of cookies. Martin encouraged Berg to let her kids have it their way... "When you set up things with limits, you're setting up a scenario of kids sneaking things," Martin said.

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Children need boundaries to learn respect, self-control, manners, and to realize the whole world doesn't center around them.

Martin said her children have picked up adequate reading and math skills without formal instruction. But when we asked Devin [her son] a basic multiplication question, he stumbled.

Okay, I admit it irks me when strangers spring quizzes on my homeschooled kids to prove how unejikated they are. Kids learn things at different paces, and what they're learning in 6th grade in public school may not correlate to what my 6th grader is learning at home. Nor do I know what "basic multiplication question" the interviewer asked Devon (age 11).

But the attitude presented by these unschooling parents do not - repeat, do not - represent the attitudes of all homeschooling parents. I am hoping not all "unschoolers" fall into this line of thinking, because I've seen too many instances where parents with a "hippie" mentality and who impose no boundaries or discipline on their children end up raising out-of-control thugs. Children need to learn respect, discipline, and self-control in order to become stable functioning adults.

This opinion is not necessarily shared by the Home School Legal Defense Association, who is willing to give unschoolers the benefit of the doubt until such time as unschoolers are proven wrong.

But to my way of thinking, these types of "unschoolers" give homeschoolers a black eye. Just my $0.02.


  1. amen!

    I read about this on Spunky's blog and was shocked but truly not that suprised.

    This is PC parenting to the inth degree in my opinion.

    I wonder if Mrs Martin teaches her kids that they can have and do anything they please then does she teach "stealing is wrong" and other important social and moral laws?

    Life is not always "happy" and definately does not give us everything we want when we want it. There are rules wether we like it or not and there are certain things we must learn if we want to function in the real world.

    I sure hope my anti-home schooling family did not watch it. I get enough grief already.

  2. "Algebra is not something everybody needs to know?" The heck it's not!!! That was my logic when I decided to get two degrees in music--fortunately, you don't use much math in music other than counting to 3 or 4. However, now that I'm applying to PhD programs for musicology, what do these programs want? GRE scores. What comprises half of the GRE? Basic algebra. This summer, instead of working on my master's thesis like I should be, I'm re-learning basic math that I should have learned years ago in order to be prepared for the GRE, despite the fact that I'll never use that knowledge in my chosen field.

    What I'm trying to get to is this--these people are not homeschoolers. To be a homeschooler, there has to be some sort of "schooling" involved. I was homeschooled for several years when I was a kid, and it was great because my mom could tailor the curriculum to fit my needs. I excelled at language/arts, so we got through that stuff quickly so that we could focus on the areas in which I struggled. Like math. See above. :D

    Anyway, this doesn't sound like homeschooling or unschooling or whatever. This just sounds like lazy parenting.

  3. It's a given that most people love their children and want them to be happy. It's a truism that most other people don't love your children, and don't give a fig if they're happy. The point here is, you're supposed to be training up these little heathens to function among other people. They're not going to be in your house forever. they must go out and get jobs where they'll have to do what they're told, not what they want. They must interact with other people in an acceptable way, they must obey laws. Everyone, no matter how much their mother loves them, must learn to live by rules. I'm just seeing the end results on these children... Fired for absenteeism, arrested for trespassing, institutionalized for failure to follow simple instructions, perhaps even shot for being selfish self-centered jerks who have never been told NO!

  4. Excellent points by the two previous posters.

    I will add that those "unschooling" parents are very, very much in the minority in the homeschooling community. Heck, they don't even accurately represent what truly constitutes actual unschooling philosophy.

    The idea of unschooling can be summed up by the term "student-led learning." Think of it as free-form unit studies. Lots of activities, lots of interaction between the student and parents and other adults.

    These people are just flat out neglecting their children's upbringing, which is neither legal, nor Biblical.

    Another aspect of this was pointed out in the latest HSLDA magazine issue, where a student blamed the parent for NOT forcing him to do more math in their homeschool. It turns out that his career path required math, and he regretted not sticking with it.

    (Bragging on) By the way, the latest issue of HSLDA magazine has my son's picture in it.

    He's the "blondish" kid behind the dark-haired guy in the half-page ad for the Generation Joshua/iGovern program on Page 15.

    The picture obviously must have been taken when he went back east last summer for two weeks to participate in Patrick Henry College's youth leadership programs.

    When my wife and I saw it, we looked at each other and both said, "How does he do that!?"

    That's just one thing that includes what for my son has been a remarkable year. I only wish I had applied myself when I was younger one-tenth of what he has done so far in his 18 1/2 years. (Bragging off)


  5. I have an aunt (now estranged from the family) who "un schooled". Short of being a pervert or giving your kid drugs I can't see a way to mess them up worse. Her older kid was taught to read by my not insane other aunt when she was 14 or so. She turned 18 and got as far away from her crazy mother as possible. She took a lot of remedial community college classes and will honestly likely never dig out of the educational hole her mom put her in.

    I know another family who home schooled. They did quite poorly at it. They are good people and I genuinely believe they tried their best but the results were just bad. The mother had some junior college and they didn't really get into one of those programs so things didn't work. The two oldest brothers are great hard working men (as well as my close friends) but were not able to get apprenticeships to highly paid skills because of a lack of basic math. I believe their parents did them a major dis service.

    One thing that both education and the military practice is that you teach two levels below your certification/ level. People teaching K-12 have a bachelors degree and people teaching college have at least a masters. Platoons train teams and Companies train squads. I am not saying that is a set in stone rule, just interesting that it seems to be used in multiple areas.

    I can honestly say that I have a real sour taste in my mouth about home school. However I do realize that these examples are just a very narrow sub section of the whole.

  6. I believe it is important to keep in mind that the media is going to show the most extreme cases in order to "prove" the need for government intervention into the lives of families and children.

    I heard about this article a while back and was completely shocked! I first heard of "un-schooling" several years ago, when I met a wonderful family who approached education in this way. There are four children in this family, all grown now, (the youngest is 19) who are all well-read, well educated, informed, polite, respectful young adults who love the Lord and have an infectious energy about them that I enjoy being with and allowing my own "home schooled" children to be with.

    I doubt, seriously, that the media would "interview" this family and plaster them all over because it would not gain the desired effect. And really, how many families do YOU know that live the way this family has been portrayed? We live in the middle of many home school families and I don't know any that live this way.

  7. This piece was propaganda ! These people were crazy, not at all common for unschoolers.They were chosen so the media could discount homeschooling, it's not in their agenda to have an inteligent, educated public, they ask to many questions you know! KY in MO

  8. The closest I have been to an unschooling family was a single mom that struggled with a strong-willed son. Rather than fight him she just let him meander through his days, reading a bit here, doing a bit of schoolwork there. Nothing difficult and if he struggled with something he would whine about it and she would not make him complete it. He had the attention span of a gnat, so spending any time at all around him was tedious at best. In my opinion he should have been in school if she didn't want to take the time to really work with him. Homeschooling only benefits the children if they actually LEARN something besides how to get their own way.

    Having said that I have also had the opportunity to spend a lot of time around other homeschoolers and I couldn't ask for a nicer group of people for my 2 girls to grow up with. Seriously--some of the finest folks you will ever run across nowadays are homeschoolers.

    It looks like we will be homeschooling this coming year again after having our younger daughter in a private Christian school for the last 2 years. This last year was terrible with a teacher that didn't care about the kids and I swear after spending time with her she had the mental capacity of a 12 year old. How she earned a teaching degree will always be a mystery to me. Say what you will about homeschooling parents that don't have a teaching degree, but I know one thing for certain--at least they love their children and most of them pour their heart and soul into truly preparing them for the world they are stepping into.

    How many certificated teachers can you honestly describe like that?

  9. Yes, the media always likes to dig up the most extreme families. I have homeschooled for over 26 years. I knew people who went to jail for homeschooling. Many years ago, in KY, every time they wanted to make a case against homeschooling they would trot out the story of a bunch of crazies who lived in a tree house.
    To the people who "blame" homeschooling for a kid whose parents didn't make him study math more, or whose kids needed some remedial math in jr college, how about looking at the statistics for graduates of public schools who get out needing remedial math.

  10. I could never unschool, especially like that. My kids would watch tv and play video games all day if left to their own devices!!

    I have a friend who uses the Charlotte Mason method and what she does is direct their learning and lots of unit studies so they get all the basics in. She has the self discipline to keep it from becoming a free fall all. Her oldest 3 oldest all scored very high on the ACT and have full or partial scholarships now, so it works, but the kind of unschooling they had in that program...chaos. No way..

  11. Save the Canning JarsJune 4, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    My two kids started in private school, had 5 years in public, and were homeschooled grades 7 through 12. They both say that the homeschooling years were the best (funny, aren't these the teen years when friends are cool and parents are dumb?) We had no rebellion, no drinking or drugs, no driving tickets. Instead, we had family night at the movies where we watched John Wayne and laughed together and made memories. The kids helped remodel our 104 year old farmhouse, built a 1200 sq. ft. garage, gardened, canned, commuted 1 1/2 hrs. 3 times/week to take a college band class at age 14. We read the Bible, we cleaned the church. We did everything during those homeschooling years.

    We held class, but it was casual(as in reading classical literature while lying across the foot of a king sized bed, while eating popcorn next to a purring cat. Public school officials would have had a seizure had they seen how relaxed we were.)

    So how did they turn out? The daughter graduated with her bachelor degree with a 4.0 gpa, and 28 of those hours were honor's college coursework. That's right folks, she never ever had a B.

    The son went to college one year ahead of his age group. He got his bachelor degree with a 3.95 gpa (highest honors) with 24 hrs. of honor's college coursework. Both kids CLEP'ed college algebra and college trigonometry and took calculus "just for fun". Oh, and did I mention they both went through college DEBT FREE?

    One does not have to sit up straight at a desk to learn...but one must do the work!
    God bless all you homeschooling families out there!

  12. My sister calls herself an unschooler, but her household doesn't match the article's description at all. The children (she has four) have always had age-appropriate chores and, although the education is "student-led," my sis will watch their activities and, if they skip over a basic subject (like Math, or Grammar) too frequently, she sits with them and makes them work on it.

    There were some rocky times, due to her eldest son's Asberger's, and the fact that she spoiled her youngest son terribly because she wanted more children but couldn't have any, but she figured it all out and now they are all great kids. All but the youngest hold jobs outside the home, the oldest daughter holds down two jobs, saving for college, and they all seem to be doing fine.

    And, my sis never completed college. Contrary to popular belief, it IS possible to be intelligent without a degree hanging on your wall (or, gathering dust on a shelf, as mine is).

    Because of her encouragement and the deplorable state of public schooling, I homeschool also. I graduated my daughter last year and will homeschool my son to graduation also. Even if I have to go underground to do it.


  13. Have you ever watched the show "The Strictest Parents"? It's a pretty neat show...I actually watch it with my kids, just to teach them more of how most teens are.

    Unfortunately, these parents are going to have trouble kids on their hands in a few years. They're bad parents. BUT! Merely because they're homeschooling, THIS is what the news article focuses on. What about all the 99% of kids that are public schooled who have parents like that? We don't hear about them! No! Only because they happen to be homeschooled.

    Everyone, especially the media, is so willing to find EVERY single negative example of homeschooling they can...and THAT is why we have such a bad rap! Kinda ticks me off just a little...(in case you couldn't tell)

  14. I use Seton curriculum, and stick by it very closely, plus the kids READ READ READ...(My secret is they don't have to do as many chores if they read...LOL).

    Last year my oldest homeschooler read over 150 chapter books(many of which she reads over and over).

    And the younger ones read over 80 books, (or more)...not counting the ones we didn't check out from the library.

  15. I'm a 'whatever works' homeschooler, and we don't spend a lot more than an hour or two a day on what could be called school work, but I make sure that my son has the math and reading skills of students a year older than him at all times.

    If anything ever happened to me, my job, or my health, it's pretty certain my son would end up going to public or private school. Along with dealing with the trauma of whatever it was that brought him to school, I don't want him to also be stressed out because he was unable to do the things he'd be expected to do and unaware of the things he'd be expected to know in a classroom setting.

    In fact, in such a case, I'd want him to be able to coast through school for a few months while he adjusted.

    Since I'm in a position to make sure that would happen, that's what I do.

  16. I remember building a 1200 sq foot garage also, and never getting "permitted" to do the simple ability and learnimg and exercise to do the sensible again....damn the regulators that leech on the backs of realists..

  17. I am an unschool parent. The Martins, while lovely people, are what is called "Radical Unschoolers". I have met them several times at unschooling conferences. In general, unschooling parents are not hands off. We tailor things to our children. My son is 8. He started reading at 3 because we would lay in bed snuggling and reading books at all hours.
    Our "schooling" is tailored to his interests. He has difficulty writing (ADHD & Sensory Integration Dysfunction) and we are seeing an occupational therapist for that. While many other unschooling parents wouldn't do that, I see it as a medical intervention, the same as giving a diabetic child a shot of insulin.
    And the whole food thing? Yes, he gets to eat mostly what he wants, when he wants. But, he has 29 allergies and when he eats something he shouldn't, he gets physically ill from it.So, he monitors ingredients in everything when we go shopping.
    As corn is out, all the thousands of things like candy and soda that have corn syrup in it are out also. All gluten, soy and milk products are also out. What is left, he can eat as much as he wants, when he wants.
    We learn where his interests lead us, currently he wants to do 4-H, lego robotics, sports, cooking,gardening & medicinal herbs and fine arts(ceramics).
    He reads daily(but what he wants to read) and is learning that way,,,
    we do lots of museums, and he learns that way, he does alot on the internet and has learned to research. He even has his own little web blog, (mostly about Pokemon...)
    The idea is that he will learn things when he wants to and when they are relative to his life.
    When he wants to know how to do something, he has to research it. It is my job as the parent to "strew" his path with things that may interest him. Then, if needed, I facilitate his exploration of such things until he feels he has learned as much as he needs at this point.
    He tends to go in circles about a month apiece. First it was everything science, (hero is Bill Nye) then it was history, then Math until he figured out numbers to 1,000,000, it keeps changing.
    We attend a monthly "Book report lunch" which he likes because of the GF pizza and all his friends there) and while sometimes he does an actual book report, it is never written, but we have done slide shows, movies, and many other ways of presenting.
    Not all unschoolers are unparenters!

  18. I realize that I'm about 7 months late, but here goes...

    First, I would point out that any story that the media gets hold of about *any* sort of schooling is going to be biased toward public education - follow the money. They will also focus on the most eccentric family AND points of interest that they are able to find, which will not give a real picture of what an unschooler's average day is about. I would encourage you to reach out in your area to some other local my experience they are some of the loveliest families with the most well adjusted kids.

    Second, but more important than the unreliability of the media, is the habit of criticizing each other's methods. We are infinitely privileged to live in a place where we have the option to choose the method we find appropriate. Educating our child at home is something I am grateful to have the opportunity to do - a civil liberty that I do not want revoked for any reason. While I live in a place that is extremely progressive and homeschool-friendly - many are not, and there are parents out there who struggle to retain these rights we take for granted. The LAST thing we as a home school community should be doing, is classifying one another as "bad" or "the wrong way". Saying that one method is giving the entire population of home schoolers a "bad name" is taking a step down a slippery slope of regulation and subjugation.

    I am not an unschooler, But I am a home schooler who values individuality and the rights of parents to choose what is best for their children's education and general well being. My hope is for a community that works together, *despite* differences.

    Thanks for writing! I'm enjoying catching up on your blog and learning about your family.

  19. Well spoken, Jessieliz! I stand corrected - and happily so.

    - Patrice