Monday, 1 March 2010

The advantages of home education

Educational choices are important and deeply personal - it concerns our children and their future.

When Christians speak to each other about them, it is helpful to distinguish between matters of principle and matters of preference.

One matter of principle is that God commands us to educate our children in a comprehensively Biblical understanding of life, which is taught in both Testaments:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:49, ESV)

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV)
But in how this principle is carried out, other principles apply. I am totally answerable to God for everything about my child's education: I have the responsibility to consider all the options and choose the best one, all things considered. But other Christians are also totally answerable to God, and not to me, and they also possess the liberty to weigh things before the Lord themselves. This does not mean that I think all ways are equally valid, or even don't think that some ways are not the New Covenant equivalent of burning your son as an offering to Moloch.... but there are many distinctions that need to be made before we go into all of that. And that is not my point today. This is just by way of introduction.

In this post I do not want to argue that home education is compulsory (I certainly do not believe that anyway), or that it is the most appropriate Christian option in every circumstance (I do not believe that either). I simply want to present a single point as to why it is often better, as a pedagogical choice. That is, that home education conducted by parents normally leads to a higher standard of learning. So this is not about the issues of distinctly Christian education, secularism, the dangers in state schools, etc. - it is simply about educational standards.

I want to say this because the meme "but I'll never be able to educate my child as well as a qualified teacher can!" is wide-spread. It seems to have seeped into the common currency. It is repeated often, but I don't think the people repeating it have thought it through or critically analysed it. Certainly if you get together a group of home educators you may find that several of them, especially at the beginning, have a fear that they will not be able to be "as good"; but the longer it goes on, the more that fear gets replaced with the reality - it is simply not true.

Why is it not true? Simple, really...
  • In home education, the child generally has the same teacher tracking him/her, year after year. The teacher is not having to acclimatise/adjust to your child for new each September.
  • And what is more, that teacher knows that child really really well anyway - because generally it's mum, and perhaps some of dad too.
  • This also has a bonus in the area of discipline. If mum/dad has laid the foundation before formal education begins, then by the time the child is starting on their A, B, C, then the spade-work of teaching respect to parents and good behaviour is mostly done. The issue of the child learning that "teacher" can be played up in ways that mum/dad never could never arises. Generally good discipline is an enormous advantage.
  • Add to that the huge bonus of class-size. At school, it's perhaps 25, 30, 35. At home it's never as high as that - begins with 1 and increases in 1s (or perhaps 2s!) from there. There is basically full time individual tuition. Or perhaps in a co-operative effort of several home-schoolers, maybe a group which is likely to be in the single digits, and 20 would be as high as you might see.
  • The advantage of this personal tuition can not be over-stated. You move at the pace of your child, not the class. The "problem kids" from the problem homes are not sucking up 50% (or more) of the class's time and the teacher's energy. The curriculum is not pitched at a medium or lowest common denominator level that your child is not at.
  • Not only the pace, but also the curriculum can and will be tailored to your child, instead of the one-size-fits-all national curriculum which is fixed like the law of the Medes and Persians before your child even enters the school gate.
This just the beginning, but these advantages are huge. Yes, perhaps mum is not a degreed physics teacher. But really, how does this fact affect the teaching of A, B, C to 5-year old Johnny or of long division to 8-year old Ursula? It's a red herring. For many of the earliest years, the issue is just that mum/dad is a few steps ahead, not that they've laid out the whole plan in stone for the next decade (which would be bad pedagogy in any case). There are all kinds of options available by the time you are getting to that kind of level, and this involves other issues. (For one thing, by that stage a properly trained home-school child will have acquired the necessary skills for self-learning, and will only need occasional access to an expert to clarify difficult issues - unlike in school where you still need to be led on a fairly short lead even to the age of 18. But I digress, and too much digression may obscure my basic point...).

No doubt education outside the home has its own advantages. Everything needs to be weighed. But quality of education, and whether the child will be held back, is in my mind a definite plus for home education, not a minus. I'd like to encourage Christians who are thinking through these issues to see through the simplistic assertion that because state-trained teachers have state-training, therefore they are going to be better than mum at it. It's simply not true. Mum does not need to live in fear that because she hasn't got the state's rubber stamp, therefore she will probably not be up to it educationally. In reality, all other things being equal or thereabouts, mum is the best qualified teacher there is. All other things being equal (so whatever families of freaks you have anecdotal knowledge of don't count!), on average a home-schooled child will not be behind, or even equal with, a mass-schooled one. They'll be leading the pack.

1 comment:

Blank said...

But really, how does this fact affect the teaching of A, B, C to 5-year old Johnny or of long division to 8-year old Ursula

No, exactly. And besides there are so many resources available either in print or through the internet. Eg. for the case you mention I just found long division worksheets or games, etc.