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Homeschooling For The Rest of Us – Maybe

homeschoolPeople homeschool for lots of reasons, but the biggest commonality seems to be a deep distrust of the educational system as it is.

Andrew O’Hehir has been documenting his wife’s experience homeschooling their twins, who are almost 6, for Salon. He says their reasons are not religious or a wholesale rejection of mainstream culture — but based on this article,a breathtaking sense of superiority does seem to be a pretty strong motivator. I honestly don’t know how he managed to type this lengthy article, since he must have wrenched his arm patting himself on the back with quotes like this, from Susan Engel, a psychologist who runs the teaching program at Williams College: “For people like you, I totally understand (homeschooling). In the end, do I wish people like you were in the public schools? Yes. I wish you were. I wish your kids were. I want more of that good stuff in public schools. It might be one more reason why the schools might get better.”

Sheesh.

O’Hehir’s central point is that young children learn better through play and that the increasingly academic-focused nature of kindergarten does young kids no favors in fostering a joy of learning. What he doesn’t cite, though, are many hard facts supporting that notion, just the unsupported opinions of researchers like Engel. She may have rock-solid research behind her opinions, but O’Hehir never cites it. Further, while poo-pooing the notion that kids should be learning reading and math in any structured wayin kindergarten, he cites Engel’s model as an ideal. And her model includes focused time on academics, just presented in a more casual, relaxed manner than many kindergartens do it. While he shakes his head at academically focused kindergarten, he doesn’t ever say what’s so bad about it. And his vision of public schools being warehouses where kids do worksheets on the letter G for hours doesn’t jibe with most of the kindergartens we looked at — and the one that did was a Friends school.

He also cites, as support for his argument for play-based learning in the younger grades, the oft-repeated notion that most children in Finland (and Denmark) don’t start school until they are seven years old. As the awesome Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman note in their Nutureshock blog (companion piece to the book), that’s a fallacy. While they start what we would consider elementary school at seven, 98 percent of Danish kids are enrolled in a kindergarten-equivalent preschool. 93 percent of younger kids are in early-education programs, starting at age 3, and most Finnish kids go to high-quality daycare or preschool or both.

O’Hehir does acknowledge that his own family’s terrific experience homeschooling can’t be translated to What Everyone Must Do, so I’ll avoid using my own kid’s experience in an all-day, academically focused kindergarten as some central truth. I will say, though, that my young (she was four at the beginning of the year), curious, bright-but-hardly-a-genius daughter has thrived in kindergarten. We could have left her in her Montessori school for another year, but to my admitted surprise, she’s doing wonderfully in a more traditional environment. What it comes down to is a small class and a fantastic teacher. I don’t live somewhere where the public schools are remotely an option (we’re talking gunplay in middle school and a 25 percent graduation rate, not to mention stories from my teacher friends that would make your head explode), so I can’t speak to the failings of a “normal” district. And maybe because of that, I just don’t see what’s so bad about a little academic rigor.

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