Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cons of Homeschooling?

No, this isn't about homeschoolers who have gone to jail, but about the negatives to homeschooling, as put forth in this article.

Some of these are kind of dubious as negatives, IMO. Like the first two: having to accept your kids the way they are and them having to accept you, and having to accept full responsibility for your life and actions. I mean, you can avoid those things a little if your kids go to school, but mostly you're just fooling yourself if you think that you can get away with doing them for long, no matter who you farm your kids out to during the day.

And I'm sure the writer of this knows that perfectly well.

A lot of these are matters of courage. And a fairly mild sort of courage at that (but not one to be disqualified). Having to answer a lot of questions, angst, paving your own way and standing up alone are all matters of courage. There is a chance that some petty bureaucrat will decide to destroy your life, of course, which is not insignificant. But we all face that threat, increasingly, and it's not going to get any better if we all keep our heads down and do what our masters want.

So that just leaves a few other issues.

Do you have to be more resourceful than ever? Maybe. But it's never been easier. You don't have to go to libraries, museums, parks, or anything else, because you have more at your fingertips than the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world had 30 years ago. And that information can make it that much easier and cheaper to go to libraries and museums and parks as you wish.

Do homeschoolers have to struggle with balance more? No, not really. They perhaps have to struggle with balance differently from other parents. It's funny, though: Even back when The Boy was at a regular school, and I signed him up for scouts, I was sort of dismayed that scouts was an excuse for father-and-son time.

I already spent tons of time with him, even back then. (His younger sisters had not yet been born, I was making great cash part time, and even working at home some days.) I was trying to expose him to things I had no experience in! I've never needed an excuse to spend time with my kids, or a structured occasion (like scouts), but the issue of spending time is an interesting one I'll come back to at the end.

Working parents have to juggle their work and other schedules with their kids' school and extracurricular activity schedules, homework! (And most parents seem to be spending more time actually educating their kids through homework than the schools are doing) That's a serious balancing act!

But then, Takahashi is talking about becoming so consumed with homeschooling that you forget your own interests, which I think isn't such a big problem once you find your homeschooling groove. Part of becoming consumed by your child's education stems from the structure of traditional schooling. There's a competitiveness, a race condition in every class, in every year, and with the entire track from nursery school on.

You're missing out in part of the fun if you just map traditional school on to homeschooling. The Flower loves her Egyptology, and her butterflies, and her engineering projects, and while she works consistently on her basics, it's really the extra time pursuing the things she loves that will fuel the passion for learning we're all born with.

Remember, a homeschooling parent has 365 days a year to draw on. That's more than double the number of days for some public school years. Private school years are traditionally shorter, in fact, because a public school gets paid to run while a private school costs money to run. And most of the days they do attend school are wasted.

So, you know, you're not exactly competing against the Jesuits, if your goal is just to give your kid a better education. (And you can beat the Jesuits, too, pretty easily, if that's what you want to do.)

Which actually brings me around to the point I wanted to touch on back with my scouts story. Homeschooling requires self-discipline.

The home/school/work segregation enforces a certain structure. This structure is a good substitute for actual self-discipline. I've seen my mother in and out of work over the years, and when she has a job, she's a machine--not only does she do her job, she produces in the other fields she's interested: Quilts get made, bread gets baked, races get run, clothing sewn, whatever. This is quite apart from excelling in her work, which she does.

When she's out of work, she seems to have no time for anything. And it's impossible to find out what she's done with her time. It took me a long time to figure it out, but without the structure of a job, she tended to fritter and fuss. (I'm much the same way.)

Homeschooling requires you to create the discipline for your children--something most would agree many parents go light on these days, but you also have to create, you know, prarie style discipline. You need to make sure the work gets done at the times it can best be done. (Doing intellectual work in the mid-afternoon, e.g., is usually a bad idea.)

Academics, chores, extra-curricular responsibilities all have to be managed by you well enough so that you can teach the kid how to handle them, and ultimately let them take over those responsibilities so you can go back to slacking.

In the meantime, you have to get plenty of rest, eat right, exercise--you know, be an adult. That has to be, by far, the biggest insurmountable "con" of homeschooling. We're at a bread-and-circuses point in our culture, where nobody has to grow up or do anything they find unpleasant.

If you're homeschooling, you're going against that, doing work you don't need to to produce kids who are also going to tend to embrace work habits that are archaic. You're an ant in a world of grasshoppers, basically.

But, well, somebody has to keep the world going.


  1. I get that you're shocked. However, you leave little to go on as to why.


  2. Great post Blake!

    The thing that is most importaint and I think you do touch on it, is that what a parent gives-up by homeschooling is a whole salary.

    Even if you can work at home, you can't be teaching and testing software (or whatever) at the same time.

    If income is not an issue, then these other issues come into play and you give advice that makes sense.

    I wonder though how applicable it is in general: Sure, university educated people who know math, science, literature, history etc. can teach all that; but what of a working class mom who has a non-prep HS Diploma and isn't particularly bright? Could someone like that homeschool effectivly?

  3. Oh, right, I did want to touch on that, but I got to rambling. It shouldn't be assumed that The Flower's parents know anything about the subjects she's learning.

    I was more into Greek Mythology than Egyptian stuff. The Boy was all about the bloody Romans.

    You do end up learning a lot at the same time you're teaching it, you know? Then when the kids excel, they can best you at it, which they loooooove.

    You know how kids are always coming home from school saying, "Did you know...?" The really dumb parents always say "Yes, I knew that." They just can't bear to have the kid know something they don't.

    But The Boy loved weapons and became expert at them at an early age. The Flower, at two, was talking about species of birds and butterflies I still have no clue on.

    If you're learning with them, they see it not as a punishment ("You've been sentenced to 12 years of schooooolll!") but as something you do your whole life, like eating and sleeping.

  4. The salary issue is something else. You aren't giving up a whole salary, you're giving up a salary minus the cost of schooling, which isn't just tuition.

    Financially, it's tuition, books, the various fundraising schemes, take out food you had to get because you were too busy picking everyone up, etc. etc.

    So, if you have (say) four kids, and you're spending $6K each to send them to school, you have to net at least $24,000 from your efforts. Then the marginal tax rate becomes an issue.

    So, say you're a mom, making $48K a year, but spending at least half that on tuition. And maybe a quarter or more on taxes, depending on what your spouse makes? And then the other expenses?

    You could easily end up working for minimum wage or less. All so, what, you can have someone else raise and teach your kids badly?

    If you really need the extra few thousand, you need it. And I can imagine it's hard for a couple where both are making six figures to give it up.

    But I know women making less than what they're paying to have their kids schooled, and actually increasing their tax burden to boot. (And those laws are going to get worse, you know.)

  5. Today we were studying the Phoenicians. I told my rising 2nd grader that it's really cool he's learning about these guys in 1st grade. He asked me when I learned it and I told him 20th grade.

    "So I learned it NINETEEN GRADES before YOU????"

    That's right son.

    [btw, I'm in 20th grade right now.]

  6. Ruth Anne,

    Exactly! You know, if you don't think of it as teaching the kids so much as learning together, it makes a big difference in outlook.


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