Blast from the Past: Another Milestone

Happy 2009! It’s a banner year for us, as we will be graduating our third child from homeschooling this year.

It’s a bittersweet time, of course, because I have so enjoyed the years dd17 and I have spent learning together. It’s been quite a ride, too.

She officially began homeschooling at age 4, when I bought her a set of preschool workbooks from Rod and Staff. This was her idea, not mine, of course. She had seen her older siblings doing school and wanted to be just like them. I acquiesced, but we never worked together formally until she got a bit older. The main reason for this was that I had a hard time juggling her, our toddler with special needs (and many medical and therapy appointments) and our older kids, 10 and 12, who were also homeschooled.

Around that time, my husband came home to work, and my own workload lightened up with his help. As the chaos lessened, I found that working with my daughter was a nice daily respite from Algebra and other challenges that come with homeschooling pre-teens.

The years flew by, and before I knew it, our two older kids had graduated from high school and homeschooling. Now my daughter and I could work together interrupted only by her little brother; the big kids were at work or college.

These were fun years. She was in a homeschoolers’ Girl Scout troop, and we baked and sewed together, too.

At age 11, she decided to study the violin (she still does). Soon she asked me to teach her to make quilts, and she helped make them for a mission project with our church. She made and sold crafts, and began writing novels.

Before long, she was the favorite babysitter of our neighborhood (as her elder sister had once been). And through it all she was her younger brother’s favorite playmate, and his primary translator (he’s speech-delayed).

This past year she began driving, and started her first and second jobs, both in the tourist town in which we now live. She’s working on her second novel, and is thinking she may go to college to major in criminal justice, but not right away. She’d like a year off first.

She’s a joy to live with: generous, loving and kind. She’s not as eager to live on her own as our eldest was, and for that I’m grateful, because we’re really not ready to let her go yet.

So this year will be her last as a homeschooler. I will miss “doing school” with her. Over the past few years, we’ve slowly weaned ourselves off of our daily work together by increasing her independent work. Ideally, that should make it easier for me to let go. But it’s still going to be hard, come May.

(Originally posted 1/2/09. Our daughter did end up going to college and earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. She worked for a couple of different local law enforcement agencies before deciding it wasn’t for her. She now works as a nanny, runs her own sewing business, and is married to a young man she met in college who was also homeschooled. And she is still a joy to be around  🙂   .)

Blast from the Past: What Does a Degree from Harvard Get You?

Back when I was fairly new to homeschooling, a California family whose homeschooled son was accepted to Harvard made it big in the news (see links for their books below). Homeschooling was pretty much unknown at that time, so the idea that a child who did not attend school could get into a university, much less Harvard, created quite a stir.

Since that time, some homeschooling parents made it their goal to raise children who could gain acceptance into the best colleges, and they’ve done quite a job of achieving that goal. Many homeschooled kids have since graduated from college with honors, including one of mine.

But that wasn’t the reason we homeschooled him. His academic achievements were spurred by his own motivation. Our goal was to raise Christian kids who had a good basic education, could think for themselves, and who had developed the ability to teach themselves whatever they might need to know.

There’s nothing wrong with homeschooling children so that they can get into Harvard, but I hope it’s not the only reason a parent chooses to homeschool, because a degree from Harvard doesn’t guarantee learning as much as it does “a good student,” as college professor Joseph Epstein describes here:

I have come to distrust the type I think of as “the good student”–that is, the student who sails through school and is easily admitted into the top colleges and professional schools. The good student is the kid who works hard in high school, piles up lots of activities, and scores high on his SATs, and for his efforts gets into one of the 20 or so schools in the country that ring the gong of success. While there he gets a preponderance of A’s. This allows him to move on to the next good, or even slightly better, graduate, business, or professional school, where he will get more A’s still, and move onward and ever upward. His perfect résumé in hand, he runs only one risk–that of catching cold from the draft created by all the doors opening for him wherever he goes, as he piles up scads of money, honors, and finally ends up being offered a job at a high level of government. He has, in a sense Spike Lee never intended, done the right thing.

What’s wrong with this? Am I describing anything worse than effort and virtue richly rewarded? I believe I am. My sense of the good student is that, while in class, he really has only one pertinent question, which is, What does this guy, his professor at the moment, want? Whatever it is–a good dose of liberalism, libertarianism, feminism, conservatism–he gives it to him, in exchange for another A to slip into his backpack alongside all the others on his long trudge to the Harvard, Yale, Stanford law or business schools, and thence into the empyrean.

Just what the world needs…another Yes Man (or Woman), someone who goes with the party line in order to gain approval. In his essay, Epstein points out that there are some students who are willing to stick with their beliefs, no matter what belief system their professor professes. His own son is one of them. But they know they may be punished at grade time.

Epstein also suggests that those who do not attend high-brow colleges and universities like Harvard have a better chance of real success in the world:

Universities are of course the last bastion of snobbery in America. The problem is that the snobbery works. Nor is this snobbery likely to be seriously eroded in our lifetime. No parent whose child has the choice of going to Princeton or Arizona State is likely to advise the kid to become a Sun Devil. Go to one of the supposedly better schools and your chances for success in the great world increase, flat-out, no doubt about it. To have been accepted at one of the top schools means that a child has done what he was told, followed instructions, kept his eye on the prize, played the game, and won. But does it mean much more?

Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan were two of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. Truman didn’t go to college at all, and Reagan, one strains to remember, went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. Each was his own man, each, in his different way, without the least trace of conformity or hostage to received opinion or conventional wisdom. Schooling, even what passes for the best schooling, would, one feels, have made either man less himself and thereby probably worse.

Epstein taught at Northwestern University for over thirty years, so he’s had some time to develop this theory. What do you think?

(Originally posted 12/8/08.)

Blast from the Past: Fix the Real Problem First

Lately I’m hearing from people who might stop homeschooling because something unrelated to homeschooling is making it too hard for them to teach their children.

For example, a woman is grieving the loss of her mom, and is taking it so hard that she’s just not up to working with the kids. So she’s wondering if she should just put them in school.

I’m not sure the answer is to stop homeschooling. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time off of homeschooling and even her normal routine if she’s too upset to do those things. Grieving is a natural part of life, and her kids are grieving, too, I’m sure. The whole family could benefit from a break. When they’re up to it, they can pick up their studies again. (Here’s more about grief and homeschooling.)

The bottom line: if you figure out the real problem, you may not have to give up on homeschooling after all.

(Originally posted 10/31/08)

Blast from the Past: Preschool is Not Necessary

Recently, I was approached by a journalism student working on a project who wanted my opinion on preschool. Here is part of her email along with my responses to her questions:

I’m working on this article and I want to focus on why enrollment in preschools
has consistenly gone up, especially for children that are 3 and 4 years old. I
also am looking at whether preschool is a necessary step for children and why
or why not. Below I’ve listed a few questions for you. Please feel free to
elaborate on anything as much as you feel necessary and if you can send your
answers back to me as soon as possible, that would be great (my article is due
at the end of the week)!

1. In the article by Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, you were included because of
your blogging about the necessity of preschool. Tell me more about this – what
influences your opinions about preschool?

Actually, I blogged that preschool is not necessary and can be harmful. I think the primary influence on my thinking about preschool is that my generation did not have preschool and we’ve done just fine, and none of my own children went to preschool (or to school at all), and they are doing very well. Ex. My son graduated from college last year magna cum laude.

2. Do you believe that preschool is more beneficial for children than staying
at home with mom? What sort of things can a child gain from each? Do some
outweigh others?

Heavens, no. I think being home with a parent or someone else who loves you very much (i.e. grandparent) is far superior to preschool. Also, I believe children of all ages need freedom to learn, and the classroom is not a place of freedom. I see no advantages to preschool except for the child who is living in neglect, and the advantages to him/her, besides being common sense, are well-documented.

3. What do you think is one of the biggest concerns for mothers that sways
them one way or the other?

I don’t think it’s just mothers; dads care, too. I think most parents believe the hype that preschool is necessary so the child doesn’t fall behind his peers. Most studies refute this, btw, and in actuality you often see the child who was in preschool burn out in school by about the third grade.

4. Even though preschool may not be necessary, is it actually beneficial? Can
children benefit just as much when they stay at home with their mothers?

Again, I see no benefits of preschool for most children. Interested parents, plus sibs, neighbors and extended family for socialization did just fine for generations and will continue to do so.

5. What sort of background to have with children? How does this background
impact they way you think about this issue? Any specific occurences that
influence your opinions?

I’ve homeschooled my four (inc. one with dev. disabilities) from birth. They are now 15, 17, 23 and 25, so I’ve seen the results. Also, the kids I’ve known who went to preschool tended to become very peer dependent, and not as self-motivated as other kids. Take our next-door neighbors. The boys who lived on one side of us did not go to preschool. Great kids…one is now a music teacher, the other an optometrist. The girl on the other side was in daycare from six weeks on, preschool for two years before school. Flunked out of high school. And this from a more affluent family.

6. Is there anything else you feel is important for me to know about this
issue that I have not asked about?

You’re probably out of time, but it would be interesting to examine the vested interests of those who promote preschool so hard in the face of so many studies suggesting it’s not working. My guess is they have a certain mindset they want to inculcate, and that kind of thing works best when started very early on.

Thanks again and can’t wait to hear from you!

Her deadline was fast-approaching, so I don’t know if she had time to read an editorial I shared with her about preschool from the Wall Street Journal, but I hope she did because it’s well worth reading.

(Originally published 10/20/08, and I haven’t changed my mind!)

Blast from the Past: Must Homeschool Success Equal Homeschooled Grandchildren?

It alarms me when I hear someone say (usually in a homeschool convention speech) that our homeschooling efforts will prove successful only if all of our children homeschool their own kids someday.Yes, I think it would be wonderful if that happened, but I’m not going to hold my breath for it. And we have not told our children that they must homeschool our someday grandkids. For one thing, God called us to homeschool. It wasn’t a decision we made because someone here on earth expected us to do it (back then, nobody expected us to do it…they were all pretty surprised, actually.) So how can we demand that our kids do it? That request has to come from God.

I don’t believe the goal of homeschooling is to perpetuate it. I think the goal is to allow children to grow up naturally within the protective circle of the family, to live in the real world (as opposed to the unreal world of the classroom) and to learn what they need to prepare them for life. Once they’re adults, they should have the freedom we have to make their own decisions, with God’s direction.

(Originally published 10/11/08. We now have one grandchild and another on the way. Our grandson is in full-time daycare. He is sweet, bright and we are all quite smitten with him!)