A friend sent me an article enumerating reasons that homeschoolers fail. This friend asked me to share my thoughts. As I read the article I wondered how many families will be negatively impacted by this list of reasons for failure. Unfortunately, this article may make parents feel insecure, second guess their experience, or make unnecessary changes. If changes need to be made then, by all means, make the changes that need to be made. However, I have seen families totally change from an enjoyable homeschool experience, to a more structured experience simply because someone questioned whether what they are doing is the best for their student. One year I met a mom who had organized a unit study centered around baseball for the son’s entire academic year. The son loved it. The mom loved it. The dad loved seeing them loving it but, when the dad made the following remark, he instilled so much doubt that his wife totally changed plans for the following academic year. He said, “That’s great, but what if he’s getting behind?” She second guessed her success and the next year she put her son in front of a computer for a full on-line curriculum. He was miserable, she was miserable and after a little encouragement, she was excited to return to teaching unit study style. (Read this blog to expound on that thought.)
Although the article I read contains information that may be pertinent and worth pondering, I am afraid that it may cause unrest and dissatisfaction of situations that are working well for particular families. When I asked the friend who shared this article how she felt after reading it, she said, “I read this and got that panicked feeling and started questioning if I did this all wrong or if my kids are behind.” As well intentioned as the author may be, and in spite of the fact that some of the information may be practical and applicable to a certain degree, my immediate thought was that this article will cause more insecurities among homeschooling parents than it will create changes. There are comments worth considering in this article, but I do believe parents need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water simply because an article may point a finger at a particular homeschooling style and declare that as a reason for failure.
The article mentioned defines failure as “not accomplishing an acceptable standard.” What is an acceptable standard? The article goes on to define that as, “… A level of accomplishment that would be found average or better by an informed objective analysis.” Those statements beg many questions such as, “Can one be successful without accomplishing an acceptable standard?” “Who determines what is average or better than average in terms of accomplishment?” Those questions aside, let’s talk about each reason listed for failure.
Failure #1: Inadequate structure, poor organization – failure to establish goals. Successfully completing high school does require intention and goal setting so that students are well prepared for life after high school, regardless of the path that entails. However, elementary and even the middle school years do not need to be structured in a rigid fashion. Establishing goals for high school is a great idea. In an article about Olympic Gold Medal winner, Jamie Anderson, her mom shared that she homeschooled her children by placing a priority on character. She encouraged her children to play outdoors and to pursue their interests. Apparently she has been so successful homeschooling her eight children that Jamie plans to copy what her mom did 100%. This mom would have been criticized for her lack of structure and perhaps even her failure to establish academic goals, but who can argue with the outcome? She had goals, but one of her goals was to be less structured. It worked for her family.
Failure #2: Not Adapting to How A Child Learns. This is somewhat important, but children can adjust to teaching methods that may not be adapted to how they learn. After all, when I was in school the entire classroom (24 to 30 students) was taught the same way. Having nine children of my own, I did attempt (somewhat) to address each child’s learning style after I listened to a talk years ago by Cynthia Tobias entitled, “How Children Learn.” To be honest, I was so busy with homeschooling, taking care of babies, making meals, keeping up with laundry, going to multiple church services and handling so many other responsibilities that I probably did not put as much effort into this as others. Regardless, my children (for the most part) did well and have survived. Eight of the nine are married and my youngest (single) daughter is traveling all over the world, working to make life better for many people.
Failure #3: Switching Curriculum Constantly Although I can see a benefit to consistency, one of the beauties of homeschooling is the freedom to change things up for any number of reasons. Perhaps what you are using is not working, or something new and exciting becomes available. Our family homeschooled co-op style using unit studies so we used different materials every year. In this article an analogy was used insinuating that if you have a great cake recipe, you do not switch ingredients or change it up. You stick with what works. The analogy breaks down when one discovers he/she is gluten intolerant and can no longer make cakes that include ingredients containing gluten.
Failure #4: You can’t teach what you don’t know If I believed that I had to know everything that my children needed to learn, then I would have quit after my children finished third grade. (Although I attended college, what I did not know in terms of what I would be teaching my children was vast.) As it turned out, I learned right alongside them (without letting them know how little I knew). And, if a certain subject is required, and you feel inadequate to teach that subject, then you find a class, or a tutor, or some other creative solution. You can teach what you don’t know if you are willing to learn right along with your children.
Failure #5: Using tools not intended to be complete (supplements, apps, websites) Well now, this comment will probably step on the toes of many who use supplements, apps, and/or the KHAN academy. These tools can be useful if the parent and/or student understands exactly what is being offered. If there are holes, or gaps in these products, that can be remedied by the parent or student or by another program. The insinuation here is that these free products are too difficult to resist and what they offer may be of little to no value if it is not a complete program.
Failure # 6: Expecting to educate in too little time Trying to reassure parents in the past I have been known to suggest that you could try to not teach your child anything up until their senior year and then totally catch them up in the 12th grade. (Many would say that would be expecting too much in too little time, right?) Yet I did that with one of mine. This particular son attended co-ops, but didn’t really pay much attention. So during his 12th grade year I said, “We are doing two things this year, #1 – Studying for the college exam because you need a certain score for the scholarship to Bryan College and #2 – Filling in any gaps and reviewing everything you should have learned up until now.” And, guess what? He did fine. He graduated, married and is running his own business! My youngest son could have cared less about anything academic until his intellectual fires were lit during a co-op his tenth year of high school. Wowza. Did he make up for lost time after that! He began dual enrolling in college classes, carries a 4.0 GPA and plans to graduate college with at least two majors. My mentor told me (this was in 1985) that I should not even worry about curriculum during the elementary grades and possibly even during middle school. She said that what I should do is make learning fun and use natural, every day opportunities to fuel the fire for knowledge. She also said I should read aloud, often. I heeded this advice and I believe that is one of the reasons I enjoyed homeschooling so much! If you teach your child how to find the information they need, when they need it, then they will be life-long learners who will be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to when properly motivated. As Sir Ken Robinson said, “You can’t know everything about everything.”
Failure #7: There’s always tomorrow This statement suggests that procrastinators will fail and that lost time cannot be recovered. But, there is (often) always tomorrow and I wish more homeschooling parents would remember that. Years ago, at a worldview seminar I organized, I stayed in host housing and one of the perks to the hosts was allowing their teens to come to the seminar for free, yet the parents did not allow their students to attend because they were behind in their school work. Really? They could have caught up on their school work another day. Instead, they missed out on an amazing six hour seminar that they could have attended for free. After hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, my 16 year old son went to Mississippi to help with the clean-up. He stayed there two weeks. Recently he attended a meeting where I was speaking to homeschooling parents and he shared with the group that many more of his friends would have volunteered, but their parents would not allow them to miss school. He then encouraged parents to weigh the benefits of allowing their students to participate in opportunities that arise. The year the State of Florida was killing Terry Schiavo we took a break from all things academic and became very involved with the protest at the capitol, on the streets, and even where Terry Schiavo was being starved (dehydrated) to death. My children learned a lot during that experience. Realizing that no one is guaranteed one more day on this earth, it is commonly assumed that there is always tomorrow. Did you have a bad day today? There is always tomorrow. Did you not get as much accomplished as you planned? There is always tomorrow. Do you want to take a break from academics in order to minister to others? There is always tomorrow. Is someone in your immediate (or extended) family ill and in need of care? There is always tomorrow.
When you come across articles that make you feel unsettled, be careful not to place guilt where guilt should not be placed. Articles that list reasons for failure will never apply to everyone reading the article. For that reason, read the article the same way you eat a piece of steak, chew up the meat and spit out the gristle. If changes need to be made, make changes. If you are enjoying your homeschool experience and your children are thriving, carry on!