Why we homeschool?
Occassionally I am asked why I chose to homeschool my son and even though I have been doing it for a few years now and have been thinking about it for a few years more, I always feel a little caught off guard by the question. It's almost as if I feel like I should have an answer, as in a single answer, which I don't. I suppose if I was to have a single answer it would be this: I didn't choose to homeschool my son I just didn't choose to put him in school. Behind that decision there are many threads of thought though, some of which I feel quite strongly about. However I have never really woven those threads together into a complete reasoning. This then will be my attempt at that. To give this post some restriction in scope I'm only going to be considering reasons that relate directly to academic performance, though there were many other factor which also went into this decision.
Problems with the Education system
Lack of the traditional.
C.S. Lewis called them "men without chests," Harold Bloom called them "the school of resentment," Jordon Peterson calls them "the post-modern neo-marxists." The nomenclenture may be different but they all refer to the same phenomonom, that infiltrated the education system of the Western Democracies just over a hundred years ago - those Ted Kaczynski called "leftists."
It's certainly no secret that the schools and universities accross the Western world have been over run by the left. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, you often hear it said "if you're not on the left when you're young you don't have a heart and if you're not on the right when you're old, you don't have a brain." I think that is generally true for most of the population. And so in many ways it's better for our kids to be taught by those on the left who are generally more agreeable and compassionate but as extreme leftism is becoming the norm the tradeoff, I feel, is no longer worth it.
It seems fairly clear to me that the ultimate objective of the 'leftist' is to destroy traditional western culture. Including religious, philosophical, ethical, aesthetic and intellectual ideals, only through the destruction of traditional culture can the leftist achieve a truely collectivist society. The problem with this is that there is too much of value within our traditional culture, ideas that took millenia to develop can not be discarded for the hope that we'll all start getting along.
The erosion of Western culture is nothing new, when Neitzche announced the death of God in 1882 it was a damning comdemnation of the current state of Western culture, saying: "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of the deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?"
We had the mightiest and holiest and allowed it to bleed to death under our knives. I think the same can be said of our education system. We had Shakespeare, Sophocles and Marlowe, Dante, Milton, Homer and Virgil, Aquinas, Descartes and Kant - none of whom most graduates would be familiar. Is what they are reading better? No. For the most part they are reading textbooks written by commity attempting to train students for a job that will no longer exist when they graduate.
What have we lost by throwing away the canon? Our culture. For what is Western culture really but the ideals of Homer and Virgil plus the example of Christ, the letters of Paul, the plays of Shakespeare and Paradise Lost? But more than simply the ideas and aesthetic containted within the canon we have also lost a shared means of communication, a shared language of how to express ideas. Take free will for example: We can talk of free will as Homer understands it, as Aristotle does or as John Locke understands it or in Calvinist terms, Descartes' interpretation or Hobbes'. Each bringing its own language to use and ideas to explore the subject. It is the collected knowledge of the past 70 centuries and to throw it away is to usher in a second dark age.
I was once asked to join the vicar on stage in front of my whole my school. It was Easter time and he had just finished his sermon in assembly. Evidently (at least it is now,) he wanted to create a memorable point for all the children watching by having 3 kids come up to make origami crosses. The other two were from the older classes, we stood in a line next to the vicar who had set up a little table with paper and scissors. The older boy stood next to him, I was furthest away and a there was a girl between us. The vicar started folding, telling us what to fold and where. I peered behind the shoulders of the two older kids, craning my neck to follow along. Next came the cutting, the vicar cut and unfolded his cross, the two others followed. Then I cut and unfolded but instead of a beautiful cross, pieces of paper just fell to the floor.
For most there, probably quite a forgettable Easter assembly but I remember it well. I'm sure there's a good metaphor in there somewhere, something about falling short of the example of Christ....anyway. The point is that out of just three of us cutting a simple origami cross one of us failed. It could have been because I wasn't paying attention (very possible!) but even so, the vicar didn't notice that a third of his class was making a mistake. If it was a class of 30 would 10 of us have failed?
We all know instinctively that bigger class sizes are detrimental to the academic results of students. How can a teacher possibly teach to the level of 30 different people at once? Let alone check that they are following and understanding what is being taught; cutting in the right place. How can he not hold the more advanced members back and not go too fast for those that lag behind? I can recall being sat at the back of class with a group of friends with whom I would spend almost every class talking. An hour math class might result in my doing one small problem at the top of my page and I'm sure my cohorts would have had similar loooking exercise books.
At 11 years old I was to take the entrance examination for what would become my secondary school - Stamford Boys School. My parents hired a tutor for me whom I would visit after school to work on my maths and grammar. I forget her name now, Mrs. Bramblewood or somesuch. Nevertheless, when I was sat at Mrs. Bramblewood's desk, (I'll just call her Mrs. Bramblewood, it's certainly better than Jane Doe, where did they come up with that?) I was attentive, focused and industrious. She'd give me a task and I would do it, if I had a problem, I would ask and she would help me. Each class I was completing more work in maths and English than I would usually do in a month at school. Pages and pages of math problems, and problems far above what we were doing in school. I'd write an essay every evening I was there, I could see the progress I was making!
But nothing changed at school, I still sat with the same group at the back in the tall desks that tip back just far enough so that you lean against the back wall and look cool (except that one time that Jennifer and I fell flat on our backs.) I hadn't changed, it was that Mrs. Bramblewood's desk was a much better place for academics than in a room surrounded by my friends.
Plato had Socrates, Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, Nero had Seneca, Flaccus tutored the grandons of Caesar Augustus and I had Mrs Bramblewood. The enviroment that comes along with having a personal tutor is one of responsibility, there's no slipping past the teacher after class as everyone leaves, there's no handing in your empty book because you know he wont look at it till next week. There's just a task that you're expected to finish now and will be graded immediately. The Greeks and Romans knew this was the optimal enviroment to learn, how did we forget?
Age discrepancy in the Classroom
Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly illucidates a little known phenomina present solely due to the current education system in his book Outliers. That a huge percentage of professional atheletes have their birthdays in the same or adjoining months. In the book he gives examples of ice hockey players and football players among others and after thinking about it (after reading the book) it seems so obvious. Most school years start in September and so a boy born in September will be 11 months older than a boy born in August, even though they are in the same class. At 6 years old an 11 month handicap is enormous on the playing field! Then turn your attention to what its doing to their academics! A boy born in August will be, developmentally, 6 months on average behind his peers. Potentially they could catch up in later years but in reality (as teachers teach to the middle) the top kids will stay ahead and the bottom kids will lag further behind. This deficeit is often further cemented by class streaming in the younger years, where those with higher aptitue in math, for example, are put into a higher class. Those in the higher class cover more difficult material and so make more progress and it is more difficult for a boy in the lower class to 'move up' with every semester that passes.
Studies come out year after year telling us that exams aren't predictive of future success, that exams create stress for students which is counter productive to their learning. They tell us that studying for an exam causes students to cram and then forget. Essentially it turns education into a means to an end instead of being an end in itself. Instead of telling students "Go find an area of history that interests you and do some deep reading on it," we are telling them "cram these facts and quotes about the Nazis and Tudor England because they are going to be on the exam." It's no wonder they don't enjoy it and leave retaining very little of what they studied.
How well does a parent ever get to know the teachers that teach their child? Perhaps some more than others but for most parents they may say a couple of nice words when they pick their child up at the end of the day and have a short conversation at some school event. Very few would know what the teacher's religious beliefs are, or political leanings, or what their tempermant or personality type is. How many even know what their academic background is? I took some advice from a book I read (I forget the book) "only employ a teacher if you both trust and respect him." If you really want to apply this advice you really need to know a teacher well before you can say that you truely trust or respect them.
I had teachers that I really liked at school and also teachers that no one liked. One teacher, Mr. Caldwell taught us physics for two years after which he transferred to another school nearby where he taught my friend physics untill one class the police came and took him away in handcuffs. His home and laptop were evidentally searched and he was convicted of multiple counts of child pornography. Thinking back he was always sat at his desk in front of us with his laptop open and would often close it when one of us went to ask him a question - now we know why!
My Latin teacher was a lovely man, Mr. Morgan. Friendly and talkative he would chat with us about anything and always had time for us. He was a terrible teacher though, he had no classroom control, barely being able to keep the topic of discussion on the subject he was teaching. In our vocabulary tests many boys would leave their books open to cheat and he wouldn't ever make us close them. He read through the text book going off on tangents here and there until the bell rang.
In ancient times fathers would find the best tutor they could for their child to study under, shouldn't we be a little more discerning?
It's almost a cliche to say that different people learn in different ways, anyone who has met a real bookworm or carpenter or a mathematician can see it instantly. It's so obviously true that it's almost not worth rehashing except for the fact that the school systems still completely ignores it. The fact, that stares us all in the face poses a direct threat to the schooling system because there is no way it can offer individualized curricula without disbanding the idea of 'schooling.'
It could be done. John Taylor Gatto managed to 'mentor' his students who all followed their own individual interests, spending much time out of the classroom, out of school, completely unsupervised, the result? Gatto won New York Teacher of the Year 3 times, famously quitting in the OP ED pages of the New York Journal while still Teacher of the Year saying he was no longer willing to hurt children. During his time as a highschool teacher he raised the standard of inner city students of "ghetto schools, filled with blacks and hispanics who had never eaten off a tablecloth" enough that they were competing academically with the "Hoity-toity" schools on the upper west side.
The reason we don't do it? It certainly makes you think that perhaps schooling isn't really about academics.