Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Teach Your Children Well (The Musical)

With our apologies to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young we present the Homeschool version of:

"Teach Your Children Well"
(Lyrics courtesy of Arby)
(Go ahead, sing along...you know you want to!)

You, who teach your kids,
alone at home,
you must be crazy!
You must, work twice as hard.
Your children need you.
You can’t be lazy!

Teach, your children well.
Most lessons aren’t, self-explanatory.
Some things, they learn alone,
but preparation, is mandatory.

Don't assume they know the “whys.”
If they told you, you would cry,
and then shake your head and sigh,
because you love them.

And you, of tender years,
don’t know as much,
as you think that you do.
And so please, listen carefully.
Your parent’s words,
Are not just voodoo.

Learn, your lessons well.
School isn’t hell,
that just slowly goes by.
So tell, your folks your dreams.
They’ll help you learn,
how to achieve them.

Kids can’t learn it all themselves.
Mom and dad must teach them well.
So buy your teacher’s guide and sigh,
because you love them.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Can Children Teach Themselves?

Several days ago I shared a post, Teach Your Children Well, which elicited a rather impassioned response from one of our readers.  The point which aroused the strongest protest was this:  “Children can’t teach themselves.”  In her response, the reader challenged that statement repeatedly.  So, I asked myself, CAN children teach themselves?  

At the outset, I want to stress that this post is not an indictment of unschooling.  Unschooling is not the method that I have chosen for my own homeschool, but I see the value in the approach and believe that children CAN learn in a less structured environment that depends heavily on the child’s natural desire to learn.  However, I do not believe that children—even in unschooling homes—teach themselves. 
I know many good homeschoolers.  They employ a wide variety of methods and means to accomplish their end goal.  They all desire to see their children grow into adulthood as capable people, able to function with a high level of success.  And regardless of the method chosen, good homeschoolers are ALL actively involved in the education of their children.  That involvement does not look the same for all parents, or for all children.  

I used to say about my firstborn that I could put her in a room with no windows and no doors and she would learn.  Though the description was used to portray a child who had a high level of natural desire and aptitude for learning, in reality, a room with no windows or doors is a horrible environment for learning.  If placed in one, my daughter would not have learned much.  Yes, she was highly motivated and she loved to learn.  And at many points during her 13 years as a homeschooled student, she learned very independently.  But she did not teach herself.  As her teacher, I placed within her grasp the resources that she needed in order to learn and then I let her go.  Would she have learned what she needed to learn if I had not provided her with the resources and experiences that became her teacher?  More than likely, no.  Children cannot teach themselves.   

Parents are teachers. Siblings are teachers.  Books are teachers.  Experience is a teacher.  Curriculum is a teacher.  Life is a teacher.  If a child has none of these placed within his grasp, I would suggest that he will learn very little.  A traditional homeschooler may take a much more active role in teaching her children than the unschooler does, but the unschooler invests much in ensuring that her children are provided with the experiences and resources that are required to learn successfully.  In her comment, the reader who challenged my post stated that her children learned “with only guidance from herself”.  By her own admission, her children did not teach themselves.  She guided them toward the necessary resources and experiences that taught them.  Children may be able to learn independently, but they cannot teach themselves.  

She also suggested that “Maybe it is you that should go back and read history books about the education of Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison…I doubt they used teacher’s guides.”  

I took the challenge.  After a quick google search, I learned something very interesting.  We homeschoolers often throw around the names of famous Americans who were home educated.  In many cases, these folks were in fact effectively schooled at home.  However, in some cases, we may be attributing the term “homeschooled” to a mere absence of formal education.  This appears to be the case for Abraham Lincoln.  Here is Abraham Lincoln’s description of his own education[1]
“My father, at the death of his father, was but six years of age; and he grew up, litterally [sic] without education. He removed from Kentucky to what is now Spencer County, Indiana, in my eighth year. We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals, still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher beyond "readin, writin, and cipherin" to the Rule of Three. If a straggler supposed to understand latin happened to sojourn in the neighborhood, he was looked upon as a wizzard [sic]. There was absolutely nothing to excite ambition for education. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.”
And this third person description was written by Lincoln himself for a campaign biography published by the Chicago Press and Tribune in 1860.
“Abraham now thinks that the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in a college or academy as a student, and never inside of a college or academy building till since he had a law license. What he has in the way of education he has picked up. After he was twenty-three and had separated from his father, he studied English grammar--imperfectly, of course, but so as to speak and write as well as he now does. He studied and nearly mastered the six books of Euclid since he was a member of Congress. He regrets his want of education, and does what he can to supply the want.
So back to my point from the original post.  If you homeschool, what is your goal?  To simply homeschool your children?  Or to teach them well?  Because, in fact, your children won't teach themselves.

[1] Both quotes from The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, edited by Roy Basler, and published by the Abraham Lincoln Association in 1953.  (http://quod.lib.umich.edu/l/lincoln/)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Teach Your Children Well

Everyone who has ever read this blog knows that we're all about homeschooling here.  You know I don't spend much blogging energy defending the "educational system" as a whole.  I am much more likely to defend homeschoolers and their right to teach their children as they see fit.  As a general rule, I don't believe that professional teachers are better equipped to teach children than parents are.

However, I've had a rant building up over a number of months.  Years even.

But first a little background.  First, I am a veteran homeschooler.  I have homeschooled my four children for more than 20 years.  Second, I work on a part-time contract as a homeschool consultant for Alpha Omega Publications (AOP), a large homeschool curriculum publishing company.  I represent AOP at homeschool conventions all over the country, as well as help to administrate AOP's social media presence.  (Oh, and by the way, yes, it is Alpha Omega's curriculum that Arby's wife hates!)  

As a homeschool consultant, I answer lots of questions about homeschooling in general and about AOP's curriculum in particular.  I am usually a pretty strong believer in the adage "the only stupid question is an unasked one."  However, there's one question in particular that I'm getting a little tired of hearing.
"Are your Teacher's Guides really necessary?  I mean I think I can do 4th grade Math!"
Now, I know I'm gonna step on more than a few toes here, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

Yes, teacher's guides can be expensive and I know that lots of families are necessarily trying to save money these days.  And yes, that mom probably does know how to do 4th grade math.  But does she really know how to teach 4th grade math?  And is knowing how to teach really that important for homeschoolers?

I'll get back to the actual question of the necessity of teacher's guides in a few minutes, but first I want to address the more important issue of why I'm so bothered by the question to begin with...and keep in mind I've been asked this question more times than I can begin to count!  Over the months I've grown more and more convinced that the question itself is a sign of a bigger (and somewhat troubling) issue.  It seems there are growing numbers of homeschoolers who are trying to take the "easy road" to homeschooling--a road that costs little in terms of time and/or money.  But children cannot teach themselves.  While I believe that most parents can do at least as good a job (and often better) as most trained teachers can, the fact remains that teaching a child at home is a job not to be taken lightly.  It requires a tremendous level of commitment.  It can cost a great deal of time and money.  If a homeschooler isn't willing or able to spend a lot of money, the commitment in time will likely go up significantly.  And for parents who don't want to (or can't) spend large amounts of time, the financial commitment should go up considerably.  

I am a trained teacher.  But when I started homeschooling I didn't make the assumption that my teacher training meant I could do it all on my own.  I used the resources that were available to me to assist me in teaching my own children.  Over 20+ years of teaching my four children at home, I purposed to equip myself to educate my children.  I spent countless hours learning how to be a good homeschooler.  I spent money on resources that I knew would help me teach them.  I learned Algebra and Chemistry so that I could teach it to them.  I read books that I never wanted to read so that I could discuss them with my daughters .  I invested a great deal in my children's education.  And that investment has paid off in the lives of my children.

The changes in the homeschooling movement in the last 20 years are staggering.  Those changes are mostly good ones.  But in my opinion, they have created a problem as well.  The exploding growth of the homeschooling movement and the plethora of available resources may have created the illusion that homeschooling is "easy."  And it may be easy to homeschool, but it definitely isn't easy to do it well.  By choosing to homeschool, parents are taking full responsibility for the academic development (and futures) of their children.  I don't believe it is possible to overstate the importance of the task at hand.  It is a huge, life-impacting decision.  Parents who purpose to homeschool should also purpose to do everything in their power to do it well.

So, what about Teacher's Guides?  Are they really necessary?  Unfortunately, I can't answer that question for every parent.  Some parents may be equipped to teach without them.  But in many cases, the use of a teacher's guide is the most effect way to ensure that a child will receive the instruction they need to fully grasp the content of the lesson. Even trained teachers use teacher's guides.  They are, in many cases, the main source of instruction. It puzzles me why so many parents insist that they are unnecessary.

So is the question of the necessity of teacher's guides really the right question?  A far more important question to ask is this:

As a homeschooler, what is your goal?  Is it simply to homeschool?  Or is it to "teach your children well?"

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Independence Day: Freedom is Not Free

It would seem that blogging has taken a back seat to life lately for both Arby and I! I've been able to manage an occasional post over at my other blog, but The Homeschool Apologist has suffered just a bit! (Okay...so maybe no new posts since the middle of May is more than just a bit!!) I guess when our school year ended, my creative blogging juices dried up as well! Hopefully they'll start flowing again soon!

Until then, I'd love to have you hop on over to one of my favorite "meeting spots" for homeschoolers, The Homeschool Village, to read a guest post I was asked to write in celebration of Independence Day. Here's a little bit to get you started...

To many Americans, Independence Day has become little more than a holiday dedicated to family barbecues, parades, and fireworks. Though the celebrations have a value all their own, is it possible that we have lost our appreciation for the very idea the day celebrates? Has the true value of our freedom been swallowed up in our enjoyment of the benefits that liberty affords us?

The problem is a simple one. A person who has never felt the weight of the oppressor’s bonds can do little more than imagine the sheer joy of finally gaining freedom from them. Our forefathers understood oppression. They had suffered it and it made their hearts cry out for freedom. Though fighting for freedom brought with it a great and terrible price, for early Americans, it was a price worth paying. Some, like Patrick Henry, made it clear they valued liberty even over life itself.
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
(Read more....)