Monday, July 21, 2008

Controversial Article About Homeschooler's Abilities On My Mind

Today I’m dealing with piles of accumulated paper, trashing some and filing the worthwhile paperwork and came across these articles which I was so floored by that I had printed them off to save. I had planned to blog them back then but I don’t recall ever getting around to it, so here I go, with some thoughts about what is on my mind with regard to our family’s homeschooling added in.

The articles I’m speaking about were published in a free e-newsletter called Epistula
(back articles from Epistula can be read here for free), published by Veritas Press, a Christian classical school and supplier of materials for home education. They also run intensive workshops to train parents to become home educator tutors in the method of classical education that they believe is right and best.

Back in December 2006 the Epistula came into my email inbox and I started reading the article “How Much is Enough?” which starts of saying that many readers were angry with Veritas Press for some things said in November 2006 feature article. I had not recalled that article so I stopped reading and checked my email inbox and found I’d never read the original article, so I backtracked and re-started there.

"Musings From a Mom” by Deirdre Salmon, published in the November 2006 Epistula is one mother’s testimony about her experience with homeschooling before and after the influence of Veritas Press in her life. She explains some changes she made to put her family more in line with higher academic standards and processes and procedures as recommended by Veritas Press.

For example Salmon states that it is not possible to arrive at a certain goal by homeschooling just in the mornings, as many homeschoolers do and as she was doing. Salmon had been listening to MP3 downloaded lectures from a former Veritas Press teacher training session because she could not afford to attend the training sessions in person. Salmon reworked their family schedule and they homeschool with a more hands on tutor style, doing math for 90 minutes (!), starting the lessons at 7:30am and ending at 4:30pm, even if the lessons are not completed by that time (that seems like a very long day to me).

I also thought then that the Salmon family was choosing to do a ton of academics at home and that leaves not much time for the different and sometimes very worthy type of outside classes and events that homeschoolers can take advantage of that are taught outside the home between the hours of 7:30am and 4:30pm (i.e. special nature classes for homeschoolers, experiential science programs and the like).

Some things that Salmon said upset some readers, mostly the part where it was said that Laurie Detweiler said in one recorded lecture that many homeschooling families who seek to enroll into Veritas Press’s oversight program (I believe this is the one they reference, it is called Scholars Online) are behind in Veritas Press’s eyes, when their parents had thought their children were either on grade level or even several grades ahead! The imbalance of reality and perception was discussed. (That got me to wondering if my kids really are doing as well as I think they are in some subjects however past experience with standardized testing revealed so many flaws in the system that even good scores are hard to trust as accurate.) After Salmon’s article was published, Veritas Press received enough questions and complaints to inspire a second article.

The follow-up article is “How Much is Enough?” by Martin Detweiler and was published in the December 2006 Epistula. In this article he tries to explain that indeed some homeschoolers are behind or not performing at a level in line with their parent’s opinions and assessments. One thing made apparent is that they feel it is important that Christians raise children to be Christians and giving a Christian education is important. I think the gist of his message is it is better to try to do the right thing well and even if it fails, it is better than to not even have tried to teach to a high standard. The last paragraph sums it up:

"It is not our purpose to send you on a guilt trip. However, it is our clear and express purpose to recognize that the educational standards of today are quite slack when weighed in the balance of history and student capability. And we want you to join us in doing something about it to the glory of God."

This brings up the issue of what expectations we should have, how high should our expectations be? If we think we are homeschooling with a goal in mind, are we really getting there? Are we putting in the time and effort that it truly takes to get to that place?

I have been asking myself if I have been putting in enough time, energy and enthusiasm into home educating my children. I know that this last year was rough, very rough on a personal level, for our family. We had three deaths to mourn, a job change and some other issues including finding some learning disabilities in one son. Processing and dealing with serious matters take mental energy and can drain enthusiasm in all people and for me that also impacted our homeschooling experience Additionally, when children deal with large stressful events such as more than grandparent dying in six months time, it impacts their life too. I’m not making excuses, I am addressing reality. If I know I slacked on teaching a subject because I was worn down and processing a death in the family then I don't have much to change for next year other than to actually follow-through and do the plans that I make for our family.

What I’m trying to do, and why I’m thinking about all of this, is that I am taking stock of what is happening here, how we’ve met my homeschooling goals for the year we just wrapped up, how closely we followed our plans, and what this all means for the 2008-2009 school year. My children have not met all of my high standards, I know that already. I also wonder if some of my standards are lower than they should be.

Lastly, I am trying to be very frank with myself asking what part I personally played in contributing to my children not arriving at all the destinations I had planned for them. I want to dig in and find answers so I can make whatever changes must happen for this upcoming academic year. I can share that so far I realize I need to free up more of my time and to make sure I am disciplined with the free time and use it in the right ways. Last month, I let go of two volunteer positions, one in the homeschooling community and one at church. I am not going to volunteer to do a project that I’ve done for the last four years, for the local homeschooling community. I have quit off of some email discussion groups so that I'm spending less time at the computer having interesting conversations. I have also turned down some outside classes and events for my children that seem so wonderful! I feel like all I’ve been saying is "no", “no thank you” or "sorry, I can't" lately. These changes are being made because I feel the need to stay home more to buckle down and get done what was planned to get done here at home for homeschooling lessons as well as general house and yard upkeep.

Those are some things on my mind this month. I’d like to figure this all out and wrap it up soon so I can just relax and enjoy the rest of the summer without all of this weighing on my mind. I want to be prepared to jump in with both feet after Labor Day with the next homeschooling year all planned out ahead of us. I want to have high expectations yet attainable and reasonable goals for my children.

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Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

In thinking about this, I am reminded of Vigotsky's "zone of proximal development." In teaching, we generally want to have high but rational expectations for students so that we cause them to reach beyond their current level of comfort into the "Zone." N. and I talked about this a lot; all of us tend to drag our feet when trying something that is hard, and so do our kids! But it is important to discern what is merely hard and what might be impossible for kids who have disabilities. It is so important that we do not let the disability to get in the way of their real talents and abilities.

© 2003-2008 Mental multivitamin/M-mv said...

The Salmon article, which was linked at the WTM boards in 11.2006, prompted an M-mv entry that may interest you:

christinemm said...

MMV your post is great! It was motivating to read how you are well prepared and put so much effort into homeschooling.

Sometimes I feel like the constant attention to my own preparation is what some such as Alvin Rosenfield MD who wrote "The Over-Scheduled Child" would call "hyper parenting" or maybe it would bug Mr. Epstein would say is living in a Kindergarchy, which he thinks is bad.

I'm reading Marva Collins now and taking it in.

Thanks for linking to your post!

LivingByLearning said...

Questioning our choices is a frequent feature of parenting, and something I did before homeschooling as well.

When you're in the trenches, it can be hard to see the progress. However, I have an older child (who I don't homeschool) so I have a wider perspective regarding the younger.

From that viewpoint, I can see that the younger is learning and advancing on so many fronts, even when I see that he lags in others. The trick for me is to focus on the positive, and not dwell unnecessarily on the negative.

It's important to provide opportunities for growth in weak areas, but to also celebrate his strengths. Happy, confident children can achieve anything.

christinemm said...

LivingbyLearning thanks for your wise comments!

I have another blog post drafted that needs polishing, which I wrote a couple of days ago. The gist is that I'm trying to get over the urge I've had since the first of the year to hurry and fill the bucket. When my focus is on filling a bucket, or concentrating on the deficits in a child or what needs improvement, or gaps, the joy is not there. I somehow need to get back to a more carefree joy about learning while also taking care of the basic foundational things and addressing deficits and gaps. I'm not sure how it can all be done!

Johanna in NZ said...

Hello, some of the links mentioned have changed. The one for the article 'How Much is Enough?' is now: