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Leave it to the experts: the homeschooling parents September 9, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, older son, teaching, younger son.
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A friend on Facebook posted the following article: What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents

I agree with some of the sentiment of the article: helicopter parents are damaging to their children.  On the other hand, I have enough experience not to buy this line:

For starters, we are educators, not nannies. We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.

Most elementary school teachers are trained to deal with a room full of children.  They are not heavily entrenched in child psychology, learning disabilities, giftedness, or many other things that can affect individual children and their functioning in the classroom.  Their training is in dealing with large numbers of average children…a more sophisticated form of crowd control.

I am not trying to be mean to elementary school teachers; I am stating a fact about their education.  (I considered becoming a teacher at one point, so I do know what types of classes are required.)  The reality is that their education is limited, and they are reluctant to admit that.  Now, there are exceptional elementary school teachers out there.  I ran into a couple during my youth, and I’ve run into a couple as my children have gone through school.  Unfortunately, my experience is that they are also the minority, if not completely rare.

Too often, teachers have told me that “they are professionals,” but they fail to realize that I am the expert in MY child.  They will come to me with a complaint about the child’s behavior, and when I give them suggestions on ways to deal with it because, well, they asked, I am told that what I am suggesting is not possible.  If these people are professionals, then why are they asking my opinion and, better yet, why are they then telling me they can’t take my advice?!

To add further insult to injury, I more than once ran into teachers who told me that my son’s difficulties in school were because of homeschooling.  I remember clearly when the older boy’s third grade teacher said he obviously didn’t remember his math facts very well because he always performed poorly at Around the World…only to be told a couple weeks later by the principal that he’d done exceptionally well during their annual testing and that, “he obviously knows his math facts!”  All I could ascertain from this was that the teacher was biased against homeschooling as well as having a poor handle on my son’s actual abilities.

I felt rather vindicated, therefore, reading the results of a scientific study on homeschooling done at a university – that is, it isn’t being done by opponents or proponents of homeschooling and therefore has no reason to be biased one way or the other.  It was also funded by the Canadian government.

The study showed that homeschoolers who use curriculum are more likely to be accelerated in their studies relative to their publicly-schooled and unschooled peers when measured by standardized tests.  They don’t look at the Big S (socialization), although they mention that schooling is an important form of socialization.  (And it’s one that is a very poor form, if you ask me.  I am still appalled by some of the things my son heard at school from his classmates.)

They weren’t certain of the factors that led to acceleration, but they mentioned more focused study on math and reading.  When I homeschooled, I felt like the topics were more diverse than what my kids have encountered in a regular school.  Also, we spent less time doing schoolwork than what my kids spend in a regular day at school…and that doesn’t include homework.

I’m certain that more studies will bear out the same result (in fact, most have), and help parents to be more confident that homeschooling is an acceptable and even superior alternative to a public classroom (and a cheaper alternative to private school).  At the very least, I’d be happy if a few teachers paid attention and realized that parents can be as or more effective in working with their own children than the supposed experts.



1. Kari - September 10, 2011

I think part of the stigma against homeschooling arises from teachers’ often incorrect assumption that parents who homeschool are not experienced educators themselves or are not capable of teaching effectively because they don’t have degrees in education. In my mind, the biggest advantage to homeschooling is the ability to tailor every lesson specifically to your child’s interests and learning style.


mareserinitatis - September 10, 2011

Yeah, there is that assumption. On the other hand, I’m biased because I know of teachers who had to retake the praxis exam multiple times because of failed math scores…and I guess that has colored my perception (well, along with the experiences I’ve had).

Flexibility in homeschooling is just amazing. Over the years I’ve thrown out many approaches, tried this or that curriculum. Some things would work, some things wouldn’t, some would work for a while and then we’d hit a roadblock. Changing things around hasn’t seemed to hurt and may have helped. Ironically, it seemed like video lectures are the most effective thing for the older boy, especially the ones with lots of images and illustrations. The younger one, at least right now, seems to need interaction and immediate feedback and a lot of encouragement…and I imagine he doesn’t get much in a classroom. And I don’t know that we would’ve ever figured that out if I hadn’t been working with them at home.


2. Chris Lindsay - September 10, 2011

For what it’s worth, I follow a blog that talks about homeschooling that’s been a really interesting read for someone who’s ignorant of the subject.


I usually try to stay out of the conversation about homeschooling because 1) I don’t have kids and 2) It always feels like talking about it leads to disparaging it or disparaging public education. I know it doesn’t need to be that way, but it seems like praising one infers criticism of the other.


mareserinitatis - September 10, 2011

It’s funny…talking about homeschooling with public schoolers and public school with homeschoolers does have that effect. I think there’s a lot of defensiveness on both sides, but I think that getting hard data on effectiveness is one way to deal with it. I think there are a lot of assumptions about what does and doesn’t go on with homeschooling as well as questioning motives and all that. It’s frustrating seeing both sides of it, but I guess I’ve felt a lot more negativity about homeschooling than about sending my kids to school…probably because more people send their kids to school than homeschool. But you bring up a very good point. Might have to elaborate on it later.


3. Luke Holzmann - September 12, 2011

I was going to share the study but two things irritated me so I didn’t:
1. The way the socialization sentence was written made it sound like homeschoolers aren’t socialized (which–from what I saw in the article–their data didn’t show, and is simply not the case in my observation).
2. 74 children? I never took a stats class, and the one research course I took in college–as a film major–was pretty sparse on how many people you needed to have in a study before it was statistically significant to the point where you could start making generalizations about the entire populace. But if I recall correctly, even with large studies, they tended to have something that mentioned, “more study should be done on this subject”… so to have “results” from a scientific/non-biased study that involved only 37 children from each group felt thin to me. Am I way off on that?

You hit the nail on the head, by the by. My wife was an education major and she often said that her classes were about crowd control… which may explain why she went on to play a Frost Mage in WoW [smile].



mareserinitatis - September 12, 2011

Excellent points, as always.

1 – The study didn’t examine socialization, so I think it’s a red herring to bring it into the argument. I think that was specific to the article, but it shows how much work needs to be done.

2 – You might want to read this: http://statswithcats.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/30-samples-standard-suggestion-or-superstition/

The gist of it is that it can give us an idea of trends, but to get better data, we need more samples. So yes, you can make some preliminary conclusions based on a study of that size.

I am wondering if this was, in fact, a preliminary study which will be used to justify more grant money to investigate the issue. Particularly, I imagine there will be requests to have a larger study and also try to determine what factors led to the structured homeschoolers having higher achievement scores as this has a lot of implications for educational policy.

As far as teaching, that was one reason I decided not to attempt teacher certification. I’m far more interested in educational theory and psychology than crowd control, and the courses I would have to take definitely dealt very little with what *I* think is a major component to teaching.


4. poprice - September 12, 2011

“I’m far more interested in educational theory and psychology than crowd control”

Bingo. Homeschooling lets a lot of us “go there” with that impulse, eh?

The post itself is an excellent, thoughtful response to what amounted to a rambling Internet rant. Thank you.

And don’t get me started on how I do in fact second guess lawyers and doctors. That’s what Google is for, right?


5. Laura Lamond (@LemonadebyLaura) - September 12, 2011

I am a “retired” teacher who chose to home school (unschool) my children. My oldest is now in brick-and-mortar school. I would like to see data on those who home school with a child-led approach, rather than standardized curriculum.

We need to start recognizing the importance of developmental psychology as well as learning differences as not just single introductory courses for teachers, but as the foundation for the profession. And teaching most definitely needs to be considered a profession–our children are worth it.

I agree that helicopter parenting stifles children, as does standardization of curriculum. Parents sometimes forget that school is a very different sort of place than home, and because of this, children may behave differently there than at home.

“Work ethic” is lauded as a reason to impose busy work on students and assign hours of homework, despite the fact that several studies have shown that homework has no measurable benefit to students. children need time to unwind and to play–which, unlike homework, has been shown to have a profound positive effect on children’s academic success as well as general well-being.

Teachers sometimes forget that parents are in a long-term relationship with their children and will have a wide-angled view of the situation. And truth be told, there are some parents who spend little time with their kids, and barely know them at all.

I have seen some excellent teachers who manage to treat students as respected individuals, despite the difficulties of working within a system designed more for crowd control. They are rare, and deserve recognition.

We need to remember that the education system is more than the teachers. Administrators and politicians should be shouldering more of the responsibility when problems arise.

For too long, parents and teachers have been hostile toward each other. This benefits no one, especially not the student. A dialogue that is open on both sides is important for the student’s sake. Both parents and teachers have to be willing to allow the child to be themselves and work with them where they are, while respecting their individuality and meeting their changing needs. Adult egos too often get in the way, and only cause more problems rather than solving them.


6. Aadel Bussinger (@TheseTempTents) - September 12, 2011

I just ended my 2-year run of teacher prep because of the classes I “had” to take in order to get my license. I have homeschooled my children for 8 years since my oldest was 4 and we have never regretted it. I wanted to get a teaching degree so that I could help out other students- maybe start an alternative ed center in my town. I am interested in Ed Philosophy, History, and the humanities and all my classes were classroom management, making a portfolio, and/or individualized education plans. I realized quickly that the areas I wanted to teach were not going to be covered and that no real dialogue about methods and models would ever be brought up.

I still have hopes of starting a center for the struggling kids and parents that I talk to EVERY day who are frustrated with the system, who don’t feel heard and understood; and who are consistently pressured by teachers and administrators to evaluate, medicate, and victimize the very children they claim to fight for.


7. Anna - September 12, 2011

The study did have a limited reach, but it has be benifit of being a non-bias source so that is a point in it’s favor as my PS friends often point out that most of the other studies are done by hard core pro-homeschooling organizations. The bias is obvious even to me, a hard core homeschooler myself. I search regularly for these studies so was happy to see this one, even if it was rather small.


8. Mona - September 13, 2011

Your assessment of the situation is exactly what drove us to homeschooling. It wasn’t that the teachers were necessarily ignorant or incapable of teaching – quite the contrary. Out of the three years my child was in public school (K-2), two of his teachers were brand new and quite excellent. They LOVED my child, despite his quirks. The third teacher (who happened to be sandwiched between the other two chronologically for my child) was exactly what you describe. She was convinced that she was “a professional” which meant to her “an expert” and that I was just a stupid parent who didn’t know my own child. She didn’t listen to what I said, didn’t care what I suggested – nor, in fact, what the other professionals (you know, the ones with PhDs and years of experience in child psychology, occupational therapy, medicine) who were working with my child suggested. And even though my child is five years beyond that teacher, we are still dealing with the emotional effects on my child from her classroom. He will probably never trust another teacher because she told him that he wasn’t smart enough to be in her class (which he knew to be false, so why believe anything else a teacher says? I won’t even go INTO how else that has affected him).


9. Katie - September 14, 2011

I enjoyed your article – I just have to point out one small point. Homeschool is only cheaper than private school if there is already a parent who can be at home with the child. If both parents are working, or if there is only one parent in the home, homeschooling and foregoing the income a parent would receive may be more expensive than private school for some people. I do feel like I am lucky to have the ability to homeschool, but not everyone really has that ability.


mareserinitatis - September 16, 2011

I guess that’s where I’m lucky, so to speak. I’ve never made much more than enough to offset the expense of sending a child to private school, so I’ve not had to face that dilemma. On the other hand, I definitely have preferred to be able to work…so that’s where the decision would be difficult for me.


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