A Perception of OFTP

Recently OFTP received a letter which elicited a lot of response from the membership on the oftp email list. It is quite possible that the views expressed are common among people considering home education as a means of choosing something besides a problem-ridden public school system. The writer, more than likely not conversant with home education philosophy, expresses concern over the following issues that are a result of reading the OFTP web site:

  • the great amount of detail on regulation/monitoring, and personal choice of curriculum;
  • the tendency away from structured curriculum toward putting one'’s trust into a child-centered curriculum.

Questions are raised such as:

  • "“How do you teach your children to cope with a formal setting?"”
  • “"How do you teach your children to know how to learn from a book?"
  • "“Is homeschooling more for children not suited to post secondary education?"

The writer equates guidelines with quality control, and quality control with a successful finished product (the product in this case being a skilled worker who can compete for jobs and live with others successfully in society). The vision of life is one of a very competitive market, if not presently then certainly in the future. The thought is that an educational approach which was learner-directed would not achieve these goals. "“The other thing that concerns us is the lack of guidelines."”  "“Despite your dislike for guidelines and government curriculum, it is a reality.”"

The question OFTP needs to ask itself is whether this writer'’s perception of us from our website is universal for the uninitiated parent who has little or no knowledge of home learning. The following statement is somewhat alarming as it is gained after reading our website: "“I couldn't imagine ‘'going with the flow'’ until my child was left behind in the dust.”"

Here is the writer's original text:

I, along with two other mothers are seriously considering home education.  Not because our children are being left behind, but because we felt that they would move ahead at a faster pace than they are with one teacher spread over 25 children.

After reading your site it seems a bit scary! We may be a little overprotective or maybe not picking up on what you are trying to get across, but, it seems like you want to wing it with your children, and are happy with them learning to read and add as long as they have fun and pick up other more important things like what shapes we can find in the clouds?  Where does the preparation for formal education, when you can no longer just have them help cut a pie as math class? My daughter decided to be a vet when she was three and really wanted to reach that goal, I obviously can'’t teach her medical school, so how do you teach your children to cope with a formal setting. To know how to learn from a book?  Or is homeschooling more for children not suited to post secondary education.

The other thing that concerns us is the lack of guidelines. What can be done if you let your child relax and learn things like reading when they are 10-12.  How does he fit in with peers? Is this fair to your child?

We assumed homeschooling was a better alternative because of the individual attention each child would receive, but after reading your site, we feel like we are setting our children up for failure, a fun childhood but ultimately failure in society.  Really how many jobs are there where there is no structure and you can just do as you like all day and work when you ‘'feel'’ like it?  It almost sounds like the Montessori disaster that some children have been exposed to.

Not that I am any happier with our school system, everyone (except one little girl) in our group is highly motivated and way ahead of their class, essentially bored with school.  I would really like to get a better feel for this so we will be picking up the books you recommended and hopefully it will have a different tone than the website that just seems to go on and on about no curriculum or standardized testing as guidelines for homeschooling. Personally that would make me, and it is unanimous in our group, feel much better. To know that we have taught our children so well they can compete or bypass the education level of children at the same learning stage (i.e. my 6 year old passing a typical grade 2 or 3 test) . I couldn'’t imagine ‘'going with the flow'’ until my child was left behind in the dust.

Despite your dislike for guidelines and government curriculum, it is a reality and with homeschooling only making up 1% of the school age children population, one day our children will have to compete for jobs, etc. with the school-educated child. Our goal is to have them much better equipped than the school taught child.  If there is anyone in my area that you could recommend us talking with we would really appreciate any help offered.

Some OFTP members chose to respond to the writer's concerns. Here are some excerpts from their letters:

Structure and lack of structure in home education curriculum, Bruce writes:

“One of the great benefits of homeschooling over the school system is that you can design your program with as much or as little structure, include or exclude topics, and teach or let your children learn in whatever way you see fit. Some of your concern about the school system is probably your dislike of the fact that in school, your kids must learn a certain topic, at a certain time, in a certain way, and if your kids are ahead or behind that arbitrary schedule, it'’s too bad for them. If you homeschool your children, you determine how much structure and how much curricular material you need. There are several good curricula out there for purchase.

Moreover, not all homeschoolers are completely unstructured in their approach. Some are very structured. The OFTP site may emphasize unstructured learning more than structured learning, but the organization specifically does not exclude people from membership based on their approach to, or goals for, teaching their kids at home. There are other groups who espouse certain approaches or ideals (such as a particular set of religious beliefs) and you could find some links to some of these groups from the OFTP page.

Many parents start homeschooling using a very structured approach, but gradually relax the structure over time, for several reasons. Many of them find that their kids do not need the external structure of parental demands and requirements, because their children become self-motivated and willingly engage in many different sorts of learning. Others find that too much structure actually seems to inhibit their children’'s desire to learn. Still others find that a highly structured approach suits them and their children best. Again, the great thing is that it is up to you to decide what works for you and your family, instead of being up to politicians and bureaucrats.”

On competition, Betty writes:

“I do not believe that most of us homeschool because we want our children to be at some level with respect to their peers.  Rather, it is a choice shaped by our commitment to seeing the child'’s learning take place in a positive, family setting where the child'’s needs can be better met than in the school system at a particular point in time. That also may change, and many homeschoolers do return to school, when it meets their needs.”

On being ready for the job market, Betty and Bruce write:

“You voiced concern about your children not adjusting to the work world when they were older if they learned in an unstructured system. Remember that in most positions there are no bells that ring at 40 minute intervals, no one to check your work after each segment.  In the work world, it is initiative and the ability to work without constant supervision that is prized.  “Self-motivated”  and “self-starter” are often advertised in the want ads as being required attributes.  And work is not broken into small, unrelated chunks.  Having a system where the child leads the learning process rather than having it imposed is not unlike an executive’'s decisions of which projects are most urgent and need attention.”

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“Homeschoolers can work in structured settings, and are able to get jobs where they have to follow orders. Schools are not the only place we learn these skills (and they are skills). We learn them in families, churches, volunteer organizations, sports, music and all sorts of other activities, all of which homeschoolers participate in. There are surely some homeschooled children out  there who don'’t have these skills, but there are also children who have gone to school for 13+ years who also don'’t have them, so you'’re not cheating your kids out of these abilities by homeschooling. Schools are only one place where we learn to “"fit into society"” and they are not the most important place, nor do they always teach us the right ways in which to fit in. One dimension of this is again the issue of standards. In school, kids learn to measure themselves against an arbitrary set of externally imposed standards. But, as you know, these standards are not always appropriate. My point is that there is nothing magical about schools which will ensure that our children will be useful and productive members of society. That is more a parenting issue than a schooling issue.”

On curriculum and learning more about what home education is, Pat and Carolyn write:

“Your concerns are certainly normal, but be assured that there are as many different styles of home learning as there are homeschooling families. We know families who keep strict hours and follow a packaged curriculum to the letter, as well as families (such as our own) who are following a more relaxed learning plan, and are quite pleased with the results. There is no wrong approach to learning (well, actually there is: strictly segregate children by age, put them in rows in a classroom, tell them to be quiet, and force them to change subjects every time the bell rings), and each home learning family must find its own way.

Your inquiry comes at a good time, because the Home Based Learning Network of Ottawa is presenting a one-day homeschooling conference on Saturday, May 1st, at Carleton University.  I encourage you to attend -- check out our web site at http://www.flora.org/hbln for more information. (web editor's note, May 2013: currently redirects to https://sites.google.com/site/ottawahbln/)

I find it very helpful to participate in the hs-ca e-mail list. This list is a true online community, and you will occasionally find some off-topic threads (to the casual observer, anyway -- we usually feel we’'re on-topic no matter what we say!), but there's an enormous wealth of homeschooling information available from the list. After two years of participating, I still feel that the greatest strength of this list lies in its diversity: members'’ home learning styles range from radical unschooling to highly structured, and the exchange of ideas and opinions makes for a tremendously productive learning environment for new members.”

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“I would like to deal with guidelines, curriculum and standardized testing, all of which seem to be of particular concern to you.  I am assuming that by "“guidelines"” you mean what should be taught at what age.  Only a couple of generations ago, formal schooling was not begun until a child was much older than the four-year-old we send off today. My grandfather started school at eight, my father at six, and I started at five.  My nieces started preschool at three.  I would like to suggest that this wasn'’t done because there are  myriad  studies proving that earlier formal education produces better learners (there are no repeatable studies that prove this).  It was done because schools were having more and more trouble producing good readers, writers and scientists and they convinced people that if they just had the kids for a few more years, they could do a better job.  It was also done because parents didn'’t want to pay for day care for seven or eight years.

There are, however, studies that show that children who read later actually read better.  Also, because they learned to read easily, partly due to their advanced maturity, they also have more confidence going on to the next learning adventure.  Guidelines then, have changed over the years and the motivation for change has not been to benefit each individual child.  It has been strictly for the benefit of mass education. The truth is that the guidelines have been seriously dumbed down in recent years.  If you doubt this, look at of a set McGuffey readers originally published over one hundred years ago, and see how you do with the fourth reader and the spelling words at the back of the speller.”

Shelley and Carolyn understand the difficulty of making the jump to home education:

“I can understand your concerns about your children falling behind because of lack of structure in our high-tech world and I think it is in large part due to a fear of the unknown.  It was scary for me to make that decision because all of my knowledge and past experience involved the public school system.  After meeting other families, seeing their bright, sociable, and confident children, and discussing education issues with them I no longer hold any reservations.  It is a tremendous step to decide to homeschool but it is one  that I have found to be very rewarding.”

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“We live in a society where virtually everyone has gone through a formal school system of some sort.  Being as steeped as we are in a public school way of thinking, it is difficult to look at it from an entirely different point of view.  I know, because I was also brought up (successfully) in the system and knew no one who questioned it. It took YEARS of reading to become comfortable with the idea that another approach just might be better.  I would suggest to you that the easiest way to do this is to look at the goal and work back to the best method of reaching that goal.

For myself, the goal is to have a young adult who functions well in the society that will be at that time, i.e. the society of the future. The truth of the matter is that no one (including the schools, and I think their constantly changing curriculum bears this out) really knows what skills will be truly necessary at that time, or the best way to teach them (think about the whole language/phonics debate or the “new math” failure!). Society is changing at an unprecedented rate and beyond good language and math skills, we really don'’t know what the world will be like for our young people and what skills they will need.  I am reminded of a story my father told me about choosing his own career.  He was born in 1917 (a time when things were changing much more slowly than today, I think you would agree).  When he became a young man, his parents wanted him to become a tailor.  He was interested in a new field called electronics and had a particular fascination for radio.  Against his parents'’ wishes, he pursued electronics.  If he had become a tailor, he would have likely been out of a job by middle age.  As it was, he had a very happy career doing work he loved.  I would suggest that nothing in his schooling at that time really prepared him to deal with this new field of electronics which was just in its infancy.  He learned on his own, driven by his own passion for the subject.

With this thought in mind then, I think the goal must be to have a child who has a great zeal for learning.  One who knows how to question and how to find answers to his questions.  One whose interests haven'’t been set aside for the ones a school board (or his peers) thinks he should have.  One who hasn'’t been bored to tears with repetitive worksheets that are too easy or one who hasn'’t been thoroughly discouraged by textbooks that are too hard for him yet.

You have already recognized that your own children are bored and in need of a challenge. Perhaps, rather than moving them ahead more quickly through the school board designed system which you have already seen to be inadequate, (and I don'’t think you would want to send your 11-year-old high school graduate off to college to study veterinary medicine) you might want to branch out in areas that the school cannot entertain because of its structure.  A budding vet might want to spend her afternoons volunteering at a local animal shelter after doing her academics in the morning. She might want to write an article for the local newspaper about her experiences instead of writing about how she spent her summer vacation.  Seeing themselves as contributing members of society (as opposed to being shuffled off into a carefully controlled environment designed just for children that adults refer to as the “real world”) is a wonderful motivator for kids.  It also gives them a maturity that no school can hope to develop.

You are right to assume that home education is a better alternative because of the individual attention each child receives.  A child in school has four or five direct interactions with his teacher each day. A home educated child has over a hundred.  Can you imagine how many more questions of his you could answer in a school year!  And because HE asked them, he is much more likely to remember the answer. A child in the early grades spends 35 to 40 minutes a day “"on task”", yet they are in school at least 6-1/2 hours.  What a waste of a child’'s time!  They could be planting a garden, taking a clock apart or reading a great book that challenges them instead of a reader with carefully controlled vocabulary.  I suspect you were being facetious when you mentioned observing the shapes that can be found in the clouds, but an observation like this could lead to learning to predict the weather by the clouds or the names of the types of clouds.  An older child would go on to learn about the makeup of the atmosphere and how it is threatened by our greedy and wasteful societal habits.”

On competition, Wanetta and Ellen write:

“I'’m sure that most of us are not homeschooling for those reasons--we are trying to help our children to a) enjoy life and enjoy learning; b) make positive relationships with others; c) not get caught up in competition; d) become strong, independent individuals who are comfortable and happy with who they are.......etc.  Also we are trying to keep out the unhealthy environment that exists in schools today.

The writer and her group seem more concerned about turning their children into some kind of “"elitist mutants"” to go out into the world and squash any opponents to their success in school and the workplace. Where is the camaraderie, cooperation, friendliness, sense of community, sense of self, compassion for others?”

“Peer pressure has never been an issue.  In fact, my son doesn’'t have any idea that the school would have been pushing him to read when he was six or seven.  His friends are good friends, some schooled and some unschooled, nothing has ever been said.  There is much data to support later reading and it certainly is more fair than subjecting children at the age of seven to remedial help (the dumb class) and the cruel taunts of school bullies so that it is easier for teachers to teach.  That'’s right, the only reason for pushing children to read and write is so the schools can bring out all those lovely worksheets.  It is a convenience for the teachers.

My children look like every other child, they are articulate, bright, self-confident and in almost every situation outshine schooled children with their social skills and their knowledge.  I do not care whether they are behind or ahead of others.  Education is a personal journey and competition should be left for the sports arena.  I know it is difficult to believe that children can learn without teacher at the blackboard and filling out endless worksheets but the truth is - they do!!!

My daughter at age twelve, spent most of one year studying Greek mythology, that led her to other ancient civilizations - Egyptians, Romans, Medieval England.  She got hooked on the Kennedy'’s and has read and watched reams of material on them.  She can read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I do not need tests or pages of work to know what she has learned, we hear about it around the dinner table every night. How many schooled children sit down to dinner every night and when the question of "“what did you do today?"” is asked, answer - nothing. It NEVER happens with a homeschooler - even an unstructured one.

Education is not about regurgitating facts for a test, it is about developing oneself into a caring, responsible, articulate, happy citizen. You are right that there are lots of jobs that leave no room for creativity or thinking, that is one of the reasons I homeschool - I hope my children will discover something they love, that will translate into a job that they love. The thought of my wonderful children stuck behind computers in dull offices for thirty years is not why I had children.”

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Topics: Perceptions of Homeschooling