A Personalized Defense of Home Schooling

There have been many good essays written in defense of home schooling. I won’t try to re-argue their points. I have compiled here a few of my thoughts that arise while reading the essays.

Public school defenders, while arguing for ‘socialization’, point out that children learn leadership skills while working in class. This is supposedly a skill the child can never learn in the ‘isolated home environment’. I assert that, rather than leadership, children learn followship skills. They learn how to follow along in the herd. Whether being led by a teacher or by the ‘popular kids’, individual input is not encouraged. Even the popular kid ‘leaders’ don’t learn how to lead. True leadership is and must be grounded in unshakeable principles. What the popular kids do is, in fact, ride a wave of herd sentiment. They are leaders only as long as they don’t lead the kids somewhere the kids don’t already want to go. And where do the kids want to go? Where everyone else goes. A vicious circle is created where everyone follows everyone else, albeit in highly complex social arrangements. This is not leadership.

Leadership skills are learned by developing self-esteem, confidence, and self-knowledge. These are developed in a nurturing environment with strong, guiding principles. You may freely read ‘religion’ here. What good is a leader who doesn’t know where she is going? I believe the environments home schooling provides, and more importantly the environments home schooling avoids, enable naturally the development of leadership skills.

I think of what I do at work on a daily basis, what I get paid to do. I work with manufacturing companies and computer software. I work in small teams, sometimes giving presentations before large groups. At no time do I sit in a room with 30 people my same age and listen to someone read to us. I work individually or in small groups, creating and arranging pieces of a solution to develop the whole.

All the manufacturing knowledge I have was learned after both school and college. 98% of the computer knowledge I have was learned after public school. Imagine a public school that would let me play at taking apart their computers! Remember, this was in the ‘80s when each computer was a thing of mystery. The cases were sealed; the room was locked unless a teacher was there to instruct us in every keystroke. There was no help manual, in fact there were no textbooks yet!

If there were ever occasions to work on group projects which mirrored the ‘real world’ work environment, a curious collaboration/compromise would take place. The teacher would pre-select groups of three or four kids. The kids would all be of different abilities (there’s the socialization dragon). The theory is that the kids would work together, with the slower kids learning from the smarter kids, and the smarter kids learning how to teach and ‘lead’ the slower kids. Here’s the reality: since there were no competing strong personalities, there was no scope for compromise. By default, the smart kid was assigned the task of designing a solution. The smart kid also had the task of designing tasks which could be performed by the slower kids so they could all claim credit for the ‘group’ project. Notice here I completely ignore the scenario where the slow kids threaten to beat up the smart kid unless he does the whole project for them.

You may say these in fact are real world scenarios. Not in my world, they’re not. If anyone pulled that with me he’d be fired.

The projects I get involved in are with people who are all committed to a single goal. We all collaborate on which tasks need to be done, and who is best suited to the task. We then put our heads together and solve problems. I never, ever learned to do this in a school classroom. I did learn to do this in extra curricular activities. The one which comes particularly to mind is Role Playing Games (RPGs). Despite what people may say about RPGs, when played properly one can learn problem solving skills, responsibility & consequences, and skills for maneuvering within large-scale, complex structures of many rules and relationships. These are skills which I need to exercise daily.

When I think of all the studying I did in Chemistry, both in high school and in college, I wonder ‘what have I learned?’. Chemistry is a subject which I find fascinating. I always enjoyed it and always earned good grades. But I cannot remember rule one from any of the classes! Imagine if I had learned chemistry, not in terms of acids & bases, but in terms of vinegar, baking soda and ammonia. I bet I’d still be able to perform experiments today.

The classes I remember most, and use the most from high school: business math, typing, economics, were all electives. These were not in the curriculum. These were classes which I chose to take. Imagine schooling at home where a child can choose to take the majority (some would argue all) of topics & subjects to learn. How much better will they be learned, when the child’s attention and interest are peaked (and piqued)?

For all the high school history classes I took, what really interests me in history is what I have chosen to read about. That’s a confusing statement. Here is what I mean: I have found books which cover the spectrum of history. I have chosen to read them. I can take the time to focus in on threads of events and really understand what was going on. In school, the curriculum is so paced as to disallow any lingering on a particularly fascinating topic. The class must move on! ‘You can always read more in your spare time’! Why not have history be a subject where it is taught entirely in your spare time? Or in large chunks of time – for example, a field trip to a battlefield or historic re-enactment (Williamsburg, Old Salem, etc.).

Sure, we need to be exposed to an overview of history, otherwise there is no interconnection, perspective or relevance of the individual events. But when a child gets a hold on some topic or subject which really catches their interest, how much harm is done when we move on prematurely? How many fires are snuffed? The typical answer from public school educators: ‘Children can continue learning at home about topics which interest them.’, only begs the question ‘why not learn everything at home?’.

Just a thought: Why are public school proponents worried about the qualifications of parents who home school when in fact most of those parents were educated in the public school system?

Do I have doubts? Sure. It is a big undertaking to teach everything from shape & texture recognition to Shakespeare and trigonometry. But the benefits of home schooling outweigh the benefits of public schooling and the costs of public schooling are greater than the costs of home schooling. I consider our family fortunate to be in the position to be able to home school our children.

In the end, the measurement of success is determined by Claire and Alex. Will they perceive themselves as happy, healthy adults? Will the move confidently and purposefully through society, bringing glory to God and showing love to their neighbors?

I believe that home schooling is the best way to bring this about. I have prayed much on this issue and will continue to do so. This is not a social choice or a religious choice or a financial choice. It is not a choice made in pride, in fear or in ignorance. This is the best way we, as parents, can raise our children.

I truly believe everyone has the choice to find what is best for them and right in the world. I believe that in my choice of jobs. I believe that in my choice of relationships. I believe that in my decision to educate my children.

There is a rule when negotiating: If you’re not prepared to walk away from a negotiation, you’ve already lost. Too many of us are not prepared to walk away from public schools. We have convinced ourselves that public schools are the way to educate because ‘that is the way it is done’. To think otherwise forces us to question our own education, and no one likes to do that. We are fortunate to live in a time when there are alternatives. There is also an infrastructure of support for those who choose other than the public school system. Maybe when we were growing up these choices did not exist. But they do now, and upon consideration, prove to be superior to public, or even private schooling.

Chris Jamison
August, 1998


Copyright Chris Jamison 1998