As with many things of this nature, the correct answer is always, “It depends”. Specifically, it depends on the child or children and the parents. It also depends, to a lesser extent, on the school system in question.
However, in my experience, given the right tools and attitudes, homeschooling can be far superior to the average public school experience – doubly so for “gifted” children. There are several arguments that are tossed out as reasons that homeschooling cannot possibly compete, much less surpass, our standard public education system. I will address each of these concerns in turn.
First concern: A parent couldn’t possibly begin to know how to teach their child as well as a licensed, accredited public school teacher. The reality is that everybody is home-schooled for the most important developmental years of life. Somehow, we expect parents from every walk of life to teach their infants to walk, talk and do all the things kids learn how to do before they get to school. Amazingly enough, almost all of them do.
But as children grow older, their subjects become more involved. Can the average parent teach a child chemistry, biology, physics and higher mathematics? In short, yes we can. Just as we don’t expect each and every teacher to write their own textbook, we shouldn’t expect home-school parents not to avail themselves of the many quality resources available on the market.
Buckminster Fuller once said, “Anyone who has done anything of importance or value has been essentially self-taught.” And a bit of simple observation will bear this out. When someone falls in love with a subject, be it poetry, baseball statistics or Geology, they become ravenous and devour everything they can about the subject. They don’t need to be motivated, they ARE motivated. If there’s something that they don’t understand, they find a way to get the explanation they need.
As humans we are, in essence, learning machines. It comes as natural to us as breathing. Unfortunately, there is something inherent in public schooling that corrupts this natural state. The peer pressure, the regimentation and one other thing dull our children down, blunting the keen edge of their curiosity until the only thing they can ask is, “Will this be on the test?”
The one other thing is the fatal flaw of public education (and frankly in some homeschooling situations as well). Public schools do not comprehend or appreciate the concept of MASTERY. Mastery is how we learn as infants and toddlers.
If we left it up to the public education system; we would give infants 12 months to learn how to walk. If they failed, we would segregate them into a special “remedial walking” class. If after 2 or three months of this, we’d fit them to a wheelchair and say, “Well, Johnny, this is the only way you’ll ever keep up with the other children.”
The fact is that in almost every case, children learn how to walk. Some take a little longer than others, but everybody gets it. I’m not talking about children with real special needs and or challenges. I’m talking about regular kids. They all learn to walk, talk, tie their shoes, tell time, wipe their bottom and brush their teeth. Every single one of them.
But they learn it through mastery, not taking pop quizzes. As parents, we lavish attention on our children, giving them encouragement, guidance and leadership. And it works. But for some reason, when they get to first grade, we switch up all the rules and start grading on a curve.
Home-school parents have teaching groups, study groups, more field trips than you can imagine and they integrate the child in everyday life. That’s how people have been learning for thousands of years. It works.
This brings up the second objection; Socialization. Frankly, if you want to tell me that it’ better to put my children in an environment that promotes bullying, drugs, gang violence, promiscuous sex and apathy towards intellectual endeavors… don’t waste your time. My children get to interact with a wide range of other children, people from other cultures, different socio-economic strata and they don’t have to deal with the crushing weight of peer pressure and blind conformity.
My children get plenty of experience dealing with conflict, negotiation and resolution with each other and their friends. They are not “shut-ins” nor are they outcasts. My seven year old daughter has a social calendar that looks like a pop star’s; what with teas, afternoons playing on the jungle-gym, sleep-overs, Barbie’s, and other get-togethers. On the other hand, my 10 year old son is more introverted, preferring to spend more time by himself and a few friends. But he’s the hit at my health club, where he can intelligently discuss current events and recent scientific breakthroughs with a range of grown men. He is polite, respectful and well spoken.
Our approach to school is what we call, “Integrated Learning”. Instead of simply reading about something and taking a test on it, we strive to make it real and alive. For instance, if we were studying Geology, we might go to a cliff and look at the different layers, exploring fossils and such. I say “we” for a purpose; “we” all learn, all the time. If I am curious about the earth and how it is made, then my children are more likely to be as well. So, I lead by example, by learning.
Certainly, if you don’t like expanding your knowledge, aren’t interested in learning yourself, you probably aren’t going to be as successful a home-school parent as you could be. Then again, if you simply get out of your child’s way and provide them with some basic tools and resources… and insulate them from the negative aspects of our public education system – you probably can’t go too wrong either.