Downside of Homeschooling?

Some comments and clarification on “The Downside of Homeschooling” from the article “Homeschooling: Is it for you?” written by Elizabeth Brown in the Mother & Baby magazine (December 2002) issue.

We would like to commend the writer for her informative piece on homeschooling in Malaysia. However, we would like to present our views on some points in the section on “The Downside of Homeschooling” which we feel could have been better presented by homeschooling practitioners or at least one who have had some intimate experience with homeschooling.

Elizabeth Brown wrote:

It is of course, very important that one looks at both points of view when thinking about any issue – especially one as important as the education of our children.

Here are some issues that need to be considered:

* Fully qualified teachers attend university for 3 – 4 years (and in some cases, six full-time years) to receive their degrees or diplomas to educate children. Whilst I am not suggesting they you do not know what is best for your children, is it possible for you to facilitate learning experiences the way the highly qualified, experienced and dedicated teachers with specialized education can?

Comments (Wai Leng): Much as we would like to believe that teaching skills are acquired through years of indoctrination at universities or colleges, the fact is, these highly qualified teachers are trained to teach in a classroom setting with highly structured methodology and often highly pedantic pedagogy. What children need is more freedom to express themselves through body, speech and mind, and more time and loving support to learn naturally, curiously and joyously. What children do NOT need is for their lives to be tightly scheduled, segregated and compartmentalized. You do not need a university degree to give your unending love, support and patience to your growing children eagerly learning about the world around them. Educating our own children should be viewed as a natural learning and growing process and not as a highly specialized subject that only the “qualified” specialists are capable of providing. If we view education as a growing process, who else is best to facilitate that process but the loving and caring parents who have been with the child since birth?

Comments (K V): Think about this: ALL parents do not have any diploma or degrees or masters in parenting. MOST parents do not have formal training in child psychology, degrees in education, etc yet as parents, we are thrust with the responsibility of bringing up our children. Are we parents qualified? Should we send our child away to people who have degrees to manage our children for us, since we do not have the required degrees or diplomas?

Think about this too: What are the qualifications to become a (primary) school teacher in Malaysia to begin with? Do they ALL have the 4 years (maybe 6 years) of university education? It would be good to check out the minimum qualification required to enroll into a local teachers’ training college.

While we acknowledge that there are very dedicated teachers out there (and we were taught by some of the most dedicated teachers around), homeschooling is not anti-teachers. I feel it is important to understand that the paradigm of homeschooling is very different from mainstream conventional schooling. Homeschooling should not be viewed as taking the school into the home but rather to take the home as a starting point of learning. The home is a place that we all feel secure, safe peaceful and above all, a place to be happy. Hence, homeschooling is not about how much one knows about teaching but the ability to understand oneself and facilitate an environment where knowledge can grow – in a non-formal setting. It is not about control of a classroom of students but rather the building of a relationship between children.

Elizabeth wrote:

*There needs to be clear distinction between ‘teacher’ and ‘parent’ so that the parent is not constantly nagging at the child to remain on the task and complete the work. This could be somewhat difficult. Regular schooling is a formal situation, where formality occurs as the child enters the classroom – it could be difficult to create this at home.

Comments (Wai Leng): Indeed, it is quite ridiculous to try to create the classroom in the home because that is precisely what we want to get away from! When a parent teaches her children, she remains a mother to them – not a teacher. She does not have to switch “masks” because to her children, she is still the same mother whether she is teaching or cooking or changing diapers! Contrary to what is generally perceived, homeschooling parents do not need to constantly nag at their children to do their homework because learning is taken as a pleasure, not pain. And it does not have to occur only at the desk at some designated place or time but throughout the child’s every waking and engaging moment.

Comments (K V): As one looks at homeschooling in a different paradigm, homeschoolers look at the “teacher-student” relationship differently. There is no teacher and no student – just parents and children, and of course, the community. Homeschooling is not a power play where a “teacher/parent” exerts authority over their “student/child”. Homeschooling is a non-formal education process and it is important that parents be parents and not teachers and that is an important starting point. Perhaps the real downside here is how we really be parents and stay one – parents are sometimes the manager we bring home, at times the police, judge and executioner who heedlessly punish and set standards (sometimes double standards!) which confuse our children – how often are we parents in a positive sense of the word. Our modernized world and work has changed us. We need to go back and look at ourselves and start from there.

Last week we watched a documentary on TV about orangutans. The orangutans are very maternal animals and very protective of their of offspring and hardly exert violence on their young. Surely they do not scold them with abusive words such as “stupid” or “dumb”, nor do they slap or punish them. The orangutans have never forced their young to be better than other orangutans on the next tree nor pressure them to learn additional skills that are not natural to them. And of course they do not send their young to school either! Yet, human beings have so much insecurity and stress that these are sometimes projected onto our children.

The challenge is really to be positive parents. Forget about trying to be teachers. Homeschooling is about being supportive parents, following our hearts with confidence.

Elizabeth wrote:

* It is important not to over-idealize the impact of homeschooling on family life. It is an enormous investment of time for a teaching parent and it can lead to burnout. Parents who choose to stay at home and homeschool them make a huge sacrifice – you will simply never be away from your children. Being responsible for their emotional and social well-being is a demanding task, but to be responsible for their education as well could be overwhelming.

Comments (WL): I think it is more important not to over-idealize the institution of schooling! If we take into consideration the enormous investment of tax-payers’ money in building bigger schools and bigger staff, and examine the outcome of it, we will come to realize that parents who opt to homeschool need only a tiny fraction of that kind of investment but the “rewards” are often more bountiful and rewarding. I think choosing to educate one’s own children should not be viewed as a sacrifice on the parents part, but a privilege. We feel very privileged to be able to play a meaningful role in our children’s growing years. And the other misconception is that parents never get away from their children, which I feel is not true. Homeschoolers learn from an early age to be self-guided and independent learners. Because homeschooling families are very close-knitted, there is usually no reason to want to get away from each other. But that does not mean we do not take an occasional break on our own which is healthy and encouraged.

Comments (K V): Choosing to sacrifice is not a downside, it is a serious commitment and at times, a very difficult thing to do – whether you are homeschooling or not. Homeschooling adds that little more responsibility. If one tries to turn the home into a school by setting deadlines, pressuring the children unnecessarily, making them take exams or anything that is not the natural learning style of a child can lead to burnout of parents and stress-out of the child. Methods of dealing with this have been practiced and the end result can be really rewarding. Consider this: homeschoolers and their parents take more vacation than non-homeschoolers!

Elizabeth wrote:

* Probably the most common concern about homeschooling is that of the social needs of the children – are they being met adequately? Are your children able to get along well with others in an informal setting? Being with other children of the same age group is very important for the development of their social skills.

Comments (WL): It is a common misconception that children should mix with other children of the same age group. The fact is, children gain much more by interacting with people from a more varied age and background. In this way, they are not limited to only one level of mindset but are exposed to deeper levels of thinking and communication with older children or adults and yet display very caring and compassionate behavior towards younger children. Incidents of taunting and bullying hardly ever occurs in these kind of setting because children have good role models to emulate and they are not made to feel inferior or superior at any time of their growing years. Establishing meaningful relationships with one’s family members and relatives, neighbours and friends is what true socializing is really about, and this applies to everybody, whether or not they are homeschooling.

Comments (K V): If you take a look at the interaction activity of a mainstream students in schools you will find that at least half of their waking time is spent with their peers in class. But when most of that time they are required to sit still and not talk but to listen to the teacher or copy from the board, or when the class gets so noisy that children can hardly hear one another, one wonders what kind of “interaction” one gets in these kind of situation. Whatever time children have left at home with the parents (if they are home!) may be spent on finishing tones of homework! Parents do not have control or overview of their children’s activities.

Take a homeschooling child for example, playgroups or children’s get-together is a common activity. Often, they get a chance to go out to visit other families and interact with other people of different age groups / backgrounds. Other times, children get to go on business meetings with their parents (in several homeschoolers’ case) and get a chance to interact with people in the business world. Before you say “how can?”, remember this is a different paradigm: “Why not?” If one plans well, children and parents’ space often gets overlapped and can be an interesting experience. Who gets a wider scope of interaction – children who are cooped up in classrooms or children who get to experience the real world out there? In any case, the real world consists of people of varied age group and backgrounds – very unlike the monolithic world created in schools.

Elizabeth wrote:

* Another question that comes to mind is co-operative learning. Co-operative learning is very much a learning behaviour encouraged in the regular school. Is your child being disadvantaged, in a sense, by one-to-one tuition at home?

Comments (WL): Is co-operative learning really encouraged in schools? If we think about it, students nowadays are so competitive, each wanting to outdo the other, it is hardly likely that they will be co-operative! When students are benchmarked by their performances in exams only, the result is we get a student population that is highly individualistic and limited in their outlook in life.

Comments (K V): By now, you will realize that homeschoolers are never locked up in the house and subjected to one-to-one tuition! Homeschooling is a dynamic learning experience which can vary from day to day – students get to choose what they want to learn and when and how they want to do it. When this happens, the focus, concentration and attention will be stronger.

Elizabeth wrote:

* A discussion I had with an experienced teacher in a rural Australian school brought about an interesting point to consider. This articulate teacher (who has at least twenty years of teaching experience) noted that the fact that children have a different school teacher every year, or so in some cases every couple of years, means that children are in the position to benefit from teachers’ strengths.

Teachers have different areas of interest and talent. For example, some teachers are talented in art and can pass on their passion and expertise; others may be more confident in their math or literacy knowledge. However, certainly exposure to a variety of teachers provides children with a well-rounded education that simply cannot be matched at home.

Comments (WL): While we do not doubt the teaching abilities and skills of experienced teachers, we should also not overlook the skills and talents of parents who are nowadays a highly talented and educated lot! Children can benefit from the talents of their parents as well as from other parents as well. It doesn’t mean that homeschooling parents have to know everything. It just means that parents provide the right environment and opportunities for their children to learn and grow at their own pace and will. We also tap a lot from our community for additional resources and support, which is what homeschooling is all about – making connections with ourselves, our family and our community.

Comments (K V): Again, when we talk about paradigm shift, we are talking about teachers being facilitators of knowledge. There is no reason why parents cannot be facilitators of knowledge too. Ultimately knowledge is just getting from the outside but generating a deep understanding and knowing these knowledge for themselves would really benefit the student.

* Even a well-designed curriculum, along with great flexibility and efficiency, cannot always substitute for expertise or for access to educational facilities, such as science labs, sports equipment or library, which most schools offer. Are you willing to accept that your children may be deprived of such facilities and services?

Comments (WL): Homeschoolers are usually highly positive and creative people because we have learnt to believe in ourselves and the goodness of others. There are many possibilities out there if we are willing to put our minds and hearts to it to make things happen. In today’s globalized world, nothing is exclusive – not even schools and its facilities. Homeschoolers just have to be more resourceful in tapping into existing resources or create their own!

Comments (K V): What is better than a well-designed curriculum is a combination of curricula taken from the best sources from any part of the world. This is the power and flexibility in homeschooling. Resource centers are springing up with good educational materials. Public sports facilities are also increasing in their numbers and public libraries are much bigger and better equipped than most school libraries. The sad thing is most regular school-going children have little opportunity or time to make use of these public facilities.

Homeschooling like any other approaches to education has its limitations and even downsides and I do admit that not everyone can just jump into homeschooling their children. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the deschooling of parents to see education in a different perspective. Homeschoolers will be the best to tell you their difficulties and the challenges they face. If you are really keen to consider this option speak to other homeschoolers.

Perhaps one of the best upside is that if one curriculum doesn’t work for your child, one can always change it – anytime. In schools, this could take a decade or so to materialize and by then, too much damage has been done already!

Wai Leng & K V Soon

December 31, 2002

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