Thoughts on Homeschooling

by Jim Muncy

Here are some of my thoughts on various aspects of homeschooling. Most of these originated as posts to one of the homeschooling lists.

Table of Contents

  1. Let the Children Play
  2. From Weird to In Vogue in Less Than Two Years
  3. Restaurant Games
  4. Understanding Christian Homeschoolers
  5. Reasonable Standards?
  6. Ten Reasons Not to Homeschool
  7. Birth Order: Satire From a Youngest Child
  8. Becoming Comfortable With a Concept
  9. Our Homeschool Experience
  10. Why Teach History
  11. Diversity in Home Education
  12. Reading Versus Television
  13. Bicycling in the Morning
  14. Don't Lose the Memories
  15. Getting Alonzo Interested in Basketball--Not
  16. Lifelong Learning
  17. Unschooling Unchristian?

Let the Children Play

April 19, 1994

I sit here looking out my home office window watching my children enjoy an absolutely beautiful Spring day. They are exploring the world around them and having a wonderful time doing so. We've already finished our formal teaching and now they are free to engage in real learning. They are learning about the wonderful world God has given to us.

As I sit here, I think of all the children who are sitting at their desks in classrooms all over this city looking out the windows wishing they were doing exactly what my children are doing right now. The thought makes me sad. In less than an hour we can teach our children what it would take a teacher in a traditional classroom setting six hours to teach. And so our children are now finished learning all that stuffy stuff us adults think they should learn and are out in God's creation learning in their own way.

I feel that this is one of the biggest advantages of homeschooling. Children only have so many hours in the day. Every one that is spent waiting for others to catch up, waiting for the teacher to control the crowds, waiting in line, etc. is time that could be better spent exploring and learning about the world.

Why are children so hard to control in a classroom? It is because of the way they were made. They were made to explore, to discover, to exercise their bodies, to be creative, and the like. In many classroom settings (not all), the very thing that the child was equipped with to learn about the world is labeled BAD.

Why waste so much of our children's time in mindless activities. Let him be in the background watching the ants carry their food. Let him be in his sandbox being creative. Let him be in the kitchen with his mother learning how to measure and cook. Let him watch his father waste his time on INTERNET. Let him help dad paint the fence. Let him run, bicycle, climb, and all of the other activities that are developing him physically. Let him interact with his brother and sisters. Let him play, explore, have fun, and learn about the world the way he was created to learn about the world. Don't put him in a desk, make him sit there, and make him feel that the way his body and mind is telling him to learn is bad.

From Weird to In Vogue in Less Than Two Years

April 22, 1994

My wife and I were discussing last night the way attitudes have changed dramatically over the past few years towards homeschoolers. When Alonzo was a baby, we had decided to try homeschooling our children. We started telling people that we were planning to do so, we started attending homeschooling conferences and meeting, etc. Six years ago, when we would bring it up, people would give us that look like "are you on drugs?" Then they would start coming up with the standard responses as to why our kids would forever be socially and intellectually impoverished. At one point, we decided not to tell anyone we were planning on homeschooling because of the reactions we were getting.

Then, sometime over the last couple of years, things seem to have changed. Now, when we say we are homeschooling our kids, people say things like "that's great;" "Wow, I wish I could do that;" or "I know someone else who is homeschooling and they seem to have great kids." Yea, there are still those who don't think we are doing the right thing, but they are becoming fewer and further between. I have actually got to where I sort of like mentioning that we are homeschooling because of the positive things people will say about it. I was telling my wife last night that we seem to have moved from being weird to being in vogue in less than two years.

Being a marketing professor and liking to study things like the diffusion of an innovation, the adoption process, etc. I have wondered why this seems to be happening. Here are my thoughts.

First, I think more people are seeing our product. I have to be honest, when I first heard about homeschooling, I was quite skeptical. Like others, I expected the homeschooled kids to be social dwarfs and intellectual pygmies. The only problem was that this didn't seem to match up with the kids I was seeing. Oh, I could write off the first family by saying to myself "Yea, these are good kids despite being homeschooled. I bet they would be really smart and really well behaved if their parents would just send them off to the schools." But then I met another family. I thought to myself "Wow, what a coincidence. Another homeschooled family, another good bunch of kids. These families really could have great kids if they would just send their kids to school like everyone else." After seeing four or five families of homeschooled kids and after having them all appear to be very well adjusted socially, academically, and emotionally, I began to question my assumption that homeschooling must dramatically impede social and intellectual development. It was only at that point that I began to ask the parents what they were doing to these kids to make the turn out this way--"How are you overcoming all of those obvious limitations of homeschooling?" Eventually I came to the conclusion that, to a large extent, these kids were turning out so good BECAUSE OF homeschooling and not IN SPITE OF homeschooling.

Another reason I think that homeschooling is becoming "cool" is because the research done on homeschoolers is confirming it as a viable alternative to traditional education. In the early 80's people would say "parents cant educate their kids." To test this, academic researchers started comparing the educational achievement of homeschoolers to that of traditionally schooled students. And the results were that parents seem to be a very good job of educating their children at home. Thus, it became pretty easy for homeschoolers to dispel the myth that homeschooling was hurting the children academically. Then came the ominous "what about socialization?" question. By the early 1990's less homeschooling research was being done on the academic questions and more on the socialization issues. And, low and behold, homeschoolers were turning out to have at least equal social skills if not better social skills as did their traditionally schooled contemporaries. Thus, again, the product of homeschooling was validating its effectiveness as an alternative to traditional education.

The third factor that I think may have moved us homeschoolers over the edge "from weird to in vogue" was the media. I think us homeschoolers are a curiosity to them. We're different, we're interesting, and we appear to be having great success when many people are becoming very frustrated with traditional education. I personally think that it was the HR6 thing that finally did it. There are obviously more reporters per square inch in Washington than anywhere else in the world. And when the homeschoolers bombarded Washington with calls, letter, and telegrams, at a time when not a whole lot of interesting stuff was going on around the globe, the media gave us a lot of attention. First, our reaction told them that there were a lot of us homeschoolers, or at least a lot of people who were sympathetic to homeschooling enough to call Washington. But that wasn't the whole story. If they were going to report on us as a political movement, they should probably also report on use as an educational alternative. And so they sought out information and found out that we seemed to be doing a pretty good job turning out pretty good kids. So, the world became aware of the positives of homeschooling.

That is how I have seen things change. All of this hasn't really changed my life that much. After all, as a professor, I can get away with being a little weird (we call it eccentric). It does feel kind of strange to be on the forefront of something society sees as being "a growing trend." Usually I have only stood on the sidelines and watched these things. I guess the best part is that when people ask use where our kids go to school, I am no longer tempted to say something like "The Starmount Drive Christian Academy." I can honestly and proudly proclaim that we homeschool. Now, we're in vogue

Restaurant Games

May 2, 1994

With four small children, it is a challenge to keep them occupied when we are waiting in a restaurant or when we are in the car. We usually don't want to get something out so we have to come up with a game they can play with just their minds and their mouths. We have invented three. My guess is that somebody had already invented them but I had never heard of them and I just came up with them when we were sitting their going "will that pizza EVER get here." These all have educational benefits. Here they are.

THESAURUS (develops vocabulary and an understanding of synonyms and antonyms): A person gets to say a word. He or she also says "synonym" or "antonym." We take turns trying to come up with a synonym if the person giving the word said synonym or antonym if the person said antonym. The first person coming up with a proper word gets to be the next person to say a word synonym or antonym. Since we are in a restaurant, we don't let people yell out the answer. Rather, they must wait their turn. We base who gets to go first on who has had the longest time since getting a correct word (this is a way of evening things out for different ages). This doesn't sound that great when I write it down but it sure was fun when we went out for pizza tonight. Try it. I am thinking of adding a rule that you can always get it correct if you come up with a homonym.

IMAGINARY WORLD (develops creativity). We have done this one to food and the kids love it. My guess is that you could do it to other things like animals but I don't know. It works great with food, especially when you are hungry and waiting on food at a restaurant. In turns, somebody says "In my imaginary world, the _____ are _____." Then someone else says "In my imaginary world, the _____ are _____." You just keep going until the pizza arrives. My kids love it. So, for example, I might say "In my imaginary world, the trees are ice cream cones." The Alice might say "In my imaginary world, the car tires are doughnuts." Then Alonzo might say "In my imaginary world, the cars are loafs of bread." Then Alaina might say "Da Da" (she is our one year old).

OUR STORY (develops creativity and listening skills). Here, we make up a story as a family. I may start out with one or two sentences. Then, in the middle of a sentence, I will call on someone else to take the story from there. Thus, I might go "Once upon a time, there was a big blue house. And in this big blue house lived" and then I would turn to Alonzo and say "Alonzo." That means it is his turn. He would pick up from there by saying something like "a little boy and girl. The boy had a pretty white bicycle that he loved to ride. One day" and then look at Lisa (my wife) and say "Mommy". Lisa would then go with a couple of sentences and we would keep going writing a story as we go. The kids love it.

Now I realize in cyberspace, these games don't seem very exciting. But I know my kids love them, it is a good way to pass time, and they are learning. If someone else tries them out, let me know how they work in another family. These work well with Alonzo (age 6.5) and Alice (age 4.5). Allen (age 3) likes to listen but doesn't contribute much. Alaina (age 1) is happy as long as she is in someone's lap.

Understanding Christian Homeschoolers

June 2, 1994
And just knowing that our children really love the Lord is a faithful parents passion and reward

Jon Mohr

Perhaps no single line was ever written outside the Holy Scriptures which best describes the motivating power behind the Christian homeschooling movement. Many of the things that Christian parents do seem strange to people who don't understand the feelings conveyed in these words from the song "Children Are a Treasure from the Lord."

What comes to mind is a story told by well know Christian author Dr. James Dobson. Dr. Dobson suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital for almost two weeks. This gave him a long time to reflect on the things in life that were important to him. Not long after he was released from the hospital, he sat down and had a talk with his college-aged son Ryan. His words went something like this:

Ryan. I had a heart attack. I didn't die, but I sure could have. You didn't have to burry me this time. But, unless Lord returns soon or you suffer an untimely death, there will come a day when you will have to bury me. Chances are you will see me die. But this I know. When I die, I will be called up to be with my Lord on the other side. And Ryan, I will be waiting for you. I will be looking for you. Ryan, BE THERE!!! Nothing else matters. I hope you live a life of fulfillment as I have. I hope you find a wonderful wife and have beautiful children. I hope your life is filled with many blessings as mine has been. But all of this doesn't matter in comparison to being there on the other side. What ever it takes, what ever happens, BE THERE! Ryan, that's all that really matters. Please, BE THERE!!!
This is probably the same message that just about any Christian father would say to his child. This is the true heart felt-desire of every Christian mother I know. Unless one understands the depth in which a Christian parent feels a burden to see their children on the other side, then a lot of what Christian parents do seems somewhat bizarre.

But this desire goes way beyond simply seeing the child's name in the Book of Life. Christians who are totally committed to their faith receive an indescribable joy and meaning for life from this faith. It is, in a very real sense, the very reason for their existence. Many of them have tried to live a life apart from God; but, when they found God, they couldn't possibly imaging a fulfilled life without a walk with Christ. Indeed, to the Christian parents, their all encompassing passion and their greatest reward is knowing that their children find a fulfilling life walking with Christ and then having them there on the other side to enjoy eternity with them. If this happens, then life is a success. If this does not happen, there can be no greater tragedy or feeling of sadness in a Christian parent's life.

Put quite simply, this is the single overwhelming impetus behind the great number of Christians rushing into homeschooling. Overlook it and you can never understand why so many Christians homeschool.

Throughout most of public education in America, Christians felt that the environment of the school reinforced their efforts to raise up Christian children. However, starting in the 1960's, public life in America began to dramatically change and many of those changes carried over into the schools. In the 1950's, public schools were leading their children in prayers and the recitation of Bible verses. By the mid 1960's such practices were declared unconstitutional. And other changes occurred. Curriculum evolved taking on more of a "secular humanist" philosophy. Discipline in the schools changed. Sex education entered the schools. The very intellectual, spiritual, and moral teachings that were so important to Christian parents were no longer being reinforced in the schools; to the contrary, many parents felt that the public schools were actually undermining what they were teaching with such great passion at home. In a period of about twenty years, the public schools had moved from being a place where parents could feel comfortable about sending their children to have the values they were teaching at home reinforced to being a place where the values that were teaching at home were being sabotaged.

This disillusionment with public education gave rise to two major educational movements within the Christian community. One was has been called the "Christian Schools Movement" and the other has been called the "Christian Homeschooling Movement." The number of Christian schools dramatically increased as did the number of Christian families who chose to educate their children at home. A certain synergy developed as publishers such as Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian Academy began to offer curriculum with the religious orientation these Christian schools and homeschoolers desired; as laws were changed to make states more homeschool and private school friendly; and as more and more people saw the product of these homeschools (that is the children) and decided to give it a try.

As the Christian homeschool movement has grown, there has become less of an emphasis on the negative aspects of the public schools and more of an emphasis on the positive aspects of homeschooling. Rather than seeing the home as a place to shelter children from the negative effects of public education, homeschooling is seen as an environment where Christian values can be taught, modeled, and reinforced. These are opposite sides of the same coin but the latter is a more positive way to view what Christian homeschoolers are doing. In addition, close family ties seem to be something that many Christians are drawn to. Homeschooling provides a way to maintain those close family ties. Christians are also enjoying the other benefits of homeschooling such as the individualized teaching, the flexibility in scheduling, the teaching through life experiences, the broader social interaction, etc., etc., etc.

Some Christian homeschoolers see the decline in American Education as God's providential way of moving us on to something better. Just as God used the tyranny of the Egyptians to get the Israelites moving on to a promised land much better than the land of Egypt, God has used the secularization of the public schools to move many of our children away from a system of education that is significantly limited by its very nature on to a system of education that we view as being vastly superior. If it had not been for the dramatic events of the last thirty-five years, we might still be back in Egypt making bricks. But instead, we are combining our passion for spiritual training with academic possibilities the public schools can only dream about. And more than anything else, our reward will be knowing that our children really love the Lord.

Reasonable Standards?

May 20, 1994

Many people express concern that homeschoolers may not be providing proper education for their children and therefore must be monitored. If their children aren't achieving a certain level proficiency on some measure (such as standardized tests), then the children should be forced to attend public or private schools. The argument is that we must hold homeschoolers to "reasonable standards."

OK. But "in theory" if you apply a law in one way to one group you should be consistent across groups. If you are going to hold the parents accountable for failure to educate their children, you ***MUST*** also hold the traditional school system accountable when they fail. If we are considering corrective action towards parents who fail in the teaching of their children, we must in the same way impose corrective action towards traditional schools when they fail in the teaching of the children at their schools. Why should CPS have the right to investigate a parent for educational neglect when the public schools are often subjecting children to spend twelve years of their lives in a traditional school and the end product of twelve years of forced attention is a person who can't read, write, or do a simple math problem.

Now, imagine this scenario. Let's say you entrust me with a child. For years, when the child gets up, I confine him or her to a three square foot area for most of the day. When the child wants to eat, play, go to the bathroom, etc., I don't let him. The child is small, uncoordinated, and unattractive. So, in the few times during the day when he or she is not confined to the small area, all that child is exposed to is mental abuse about being "ugly," "a nerd," "a spaz," etc. The child also lives in fear of physical attacks because he or she is not able to physically defend himself or herself. I am doing this because I say it is for the child's good. But at the end of these twelve years, the child can't read a newspaper even as simple as USA Today, the child cannot write a compete sentence and would not know a sentence fragment if he or she saw one, and the child couldn't even solve a simple math problem like 2 + X = 3.

Not only have I failed to educate this child in these twelve years, I have destroyed the child's self image, I have made the child paranoid, I have made the child miserable for the past twelve years, and it is unlikely if the child has the academic skills or the self-image to hold down a job. If I did that as a parent, I would undoubtedly be held liable for child abuse or neglect. However, this is the exact scene that is being played out in just about every public school across the country. There are some students who are not being educated, their self-esteem is being destroyed, they live in fear of the bullies, etc. Is CPS intervening there? The obvious answer is no. Why? Because the schools have the resources to defend themselves. Why are they going after the parents? Because they don't have the resources to protect themselves.

How could any CPS worker possibly, in good conscience, go after a homeschooling parent for educational neglect when there would be a high probability that the school system would fail that child too and would possibly destroy the child's self-esteem, feeling of security, etc. in the process. Perhaps after twelve years that child of "educational neglect" by the parent, the child does not know how to read and write but at least he or she has not been exposed to all of the negative aspects and cruelty that occurs in the public schools.

If you want to impose standards, make them apply to the public schools as well as the homeschoolers. Otherwise, don't go after the homeschool parents that you don't think are doing a good job just because they are easier to attack than the public schools and/or they don't have the resources to defend themselves.

Or, better yet, Leave the homeschoolers alone! Some of us will fail. I will even grant that premise to the opponents of homeschooling as a given. But much, much, much fewer of us will fail than do fail by sending their children to the public schools. There is not going to be a perfect system where everyone turns out smart, well educated, articulate, etc. But why spend your time looking for the relatively few failures in the homeschool system when their are so many failures in the public school system? By standing there with even the remote threat that, if you fail in educating your child as a homeschooler, the government with its big stick, you are having a major chilling effect on the homeschooling movement. Many, many people that I know would be excellent homeschoolers are hesitant to even try because they are not sure they could do it.

I have a Ph.D. with fifteen years of college teaching experience and my wife graduated in the top 20% of her college class in the most difficult business major. Going into homeschooling, we were not sure if we could teach our first grader. But it didn't take us long to figure out that just about any loving parent could do so. Imagine the concerns of the loving parent who has a high school diploma and very little confidence in his or her academic skills. Research has shown that Lisa and I, with all of our education, would not on average turn out any better student in homeschooling than the high school graduate. But let that high school graduate read one story in the newspaper or hear one story from a friend about a person being investigated by CPS for educational neglect and I guarantee you that he or she will never homeschool. The threat is intimidating to me. It is bound to have a chilling effect on the most successful educational movement in America today.

So drop the idea of "reasonable standards." You have grown comfortable with the fact that public schools are going to fail a certain percent of the children. You don't like it but you accept it as "the way it is." Accept the fact that some homeschoolers will fail also. But by trying to make sure homeschoolers don't fail, you are unwittingly causing other children who would be homeschool successes to become public school failures.

Ten Reasons Not to Homeschool

January 12, 1995

Why send your kids to public schools rather than homeschool. Here are ten good reasons

10. Skill development: Public schools do a great job of teaching children to sit down and shut up while the teacher engages in crowd control and mindless administrative duties. The ability to put one's mind on hold, sit there and do nothing is a skill that will be in high demand in the competitive marketplace of the future.

9. Lack of ability: I couldn't teach my own child--I don't know how. After all, anything meaningful in life can only be taught by those properly trained and certified to do so.

8. Financial aspects: We can't financially afford to homeschool. Without the school based health clinics, how could we afford to keep our children supplied with condoms and birth control.

7. Goals 2000: I want my children to learn all the correct stuff. Given how fast history changes, I want to be sure they are up on the most recent version.

6. Scheduling benefits: Staying on the same schedule as everybody else has its benefits. That way, when we go to Orlando, we can make sure that we spend our time waiting in lines rather than wasting it on all those rides and attractions.

5. Close friendships: I like the fact that my children are spending so much of their time with people not in their family. I would much rather my children's closest friendships be outside the family rather than within.

4. Separation of church and state: As long as we keep church and state separate, then the more time I can keep my kids under the control of the state, the less time they can possible be under the harmful influence of the church.

3. Socialization: What possible better way could there be to give your children the social skills they will need as adults than to stick them with children their own age all day. Besides, the best influence on your child is the one randomly assigned to the seat behind him or her in home room.

2. Class size: Learning can't occur in groups of less than twenty students. There is nothing quite like being lock-stepped through material with thirty other students to really develop within a person that true love for learning.

1. Class pace: I want my child to know how to learn at the proper pace. If a child can't keep up with the class, then it serves that child right to be left behind in the dust. If the child is learning too fast, then he or she needs to learn to slow down. And besides, what gives any child the right to assume that he or she can learn things he or she wants to learn rather than what the board of education decides should be taught for any given grade level. Anything learned at the wrong time might just as well be left unlearned.

Birth Order: Satire From a Youngest Child

Only marginally related to homeschooling
January 14, 1995

My wife and I are both the youngest child. Combine that with our own experience as parents and we often satirically talk about how things change as you have more children:

Feeling the Baby Move

First Child: I placed my hand on my wives tummy every chance I could for two months waiting for that first time when I could feel the baby move. Hours upon hours I waited until that magic moment when, I felt this little movement. We called all of our relatives to tell them about the blessed experience.

Second Child: When it first happened, my wife called me at the office. I quickly ran home and felt the baby move. We included the experience in all of our letter to our family.

Third Child: She told me the baby moved. I told her I would check it our during the next commercial break. I missed out because her mother called on the telephone so I went on watching Monday night football. By the end of the third quarter, I finally felt the baby move.

Fourth Child: We were in bed and I was trying to sleep. I turned to her and said "Cant you make your tummy stay still? I'm trying to sleep." When it became clear that the baby would be jumping around for a while, we called the pizza man for a delivery.

The Trip to the Hospital

First Child: Every time we felt the slightest B&H contraction, we rushed to the hospital. I would carry my wife to the car and lay her down in the back seat surrounded by pillows.

Second Child: We timed the contractions. By the time she had three in thirty minutes, we rushed to the hospital. She sat in the front seat, with it leaned back and a pillow behind her head and another at her feet.

Third Child: I came home from the office as soon as she started having regular contractions. When they were five minutes apart and hard, we went to the hospital. I gave her a pillow to hold along the way.

Fourth Child: When she called me at the office and told me that she was having contractions hard and five minutes apart, I told her to drive to the hospital. I would meet her there as soon as I finished the set of correspondence I was working on. I reminded her not to forget the pillows.

The First Step

First Child: My wife grabbed the camera. I grabbed the Video Camera. My wife took four rolls of film. We immediately ran out to the one-hour developing place and had all four rolls developed with double prints. We had the best picture blown up to 24" X 36" and framed. We hung it up in the entry hall. I had a professional studio turn the four hours of video I taped into a one-hour documentary complete with voice-over by a local anchor-man.

Second Child: We took one roll of film and five minutes worth of video. The next day we took the film and had it developed by a twenty-four hour developing center. I took the best picture and put it into my wallet.

Third Child: We couldn't find the video-camera and we only had five shots left on the roll of film. We took all five shots but I don't remember if we ever got the roll developed.

Fourth Child: I quickly got up and grabbed the camera. I placed it up high so the child wouldn't grab it.

The First Time the Child Fell and Got a Cut

First Child: My wife and I frantically ran over to the child. We swept him up and rushed him to the emergency room. No stitches were needed but we spent the night with him in his room just in case the bleeding started again.

Second Child: We walked over to her, picked her up and quickly bandaged her up. We spent the next two hours rocking her in the living room to comfort the pain.

Third Child: I told my wife that if he was still crying in a couple of minutes, we should go over and make sure he isn't hurt too badly. When he didn't stop crying, we bandaged up the cut and laid him in his bed for a while but we went on about our business.

Fourth Child: We told the child that if she were still bleeding in a few minutes to come over here and we would see what we could do. When the child came walking up to the door, we told her to stay outside because we didn't want her bleeding on the carpet.

Pacifier Falls on Floor

First Child: Mother picks it up, runs to the kitchen and disinfects it by boiling in water for ten minutes. Then, after it cools down for ten minutes, she gives it back to the child.

Second Child: Mother picks it up, washes it off in hot water, blows on it to cool it down, and gives it back to the child

Third Child: Mother picks it up, licks it off, and gives it back to the child.

Fourth child. Dog picks it up and licks it off. Mother gives it back to the child.

Becoming Comfortable With a Concept

February 4, 1995

There is an old adage in speaking (and sometimes in marketing) that says that the way you get someone to learn something is that you tell them what you are going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them what you told them.

There was a big debate in psychology as to whether learning abstract concepts occur all at once (the "ah-ha" phenomenon) or whether we learn them gradually. I see legitimacy on both sides of the debate. I personally adopt a point somewhere in between (for lack of a better term, I call it the "gradual ah-ha"). I feel that people first "get comfortable" with a concept before they learn it. Its a lot easier to learn something if you know the context in which it is found, the terminology surrounding it, etc. When people feel comfortable with the concept, then it is much easier to learn. Rather than it being this mysterious, difficult concept that is suddenly thrust upon me, it is something that I have heard about and thought about. Then, suddenly, I put all of the little pieces together and "ah-ha, I know what it means."

Let me give an example. My two older children (seven and five) love to ask math questions. "What is sixteen times eight?" "What is half of forty?" Not long ago, my seven year old asked a set of questions where the answers had decimal points in them. I just naturally give my answers in the natural way (e.g., "three point two," "eighty-six point three five," etc.). Today at breakfast, he asked "Dad, what does, 'point' mean." I gave him the simplest explanation possible but I still don't think he completely figured it out. I didn't press the point (no pun intended). I just left it at that. I know him well enough to think that his is pondering the answer and he will soon grasp the concept.

The point of this story (again, no pun intended) is that I don't worry that he doesn't always fully understand everything. In fact, I am intentionally exposing him to concepts that are beyond his current level so that he will be getting comfortable with them. Later, these concepts will be much easier to learn.

This extends much beyond just math. For example, except under certain limited circumstances, I make no effort to adjust my vocabulary when talking to my kids. They don't know all of the words I use but I feel that they are getting comfortable with them, seeing them in context, etc. As a result, it will be much easier for them to, at a later point, bring them into their vocabulary (there's some real interesting stuff on levels of a person's vocabulary that I don't have time to discuss now).

Now for my homeschooling pitch. It seems that this type of learning is much more natural in a "lax" homeschooling environment. With a few significant exceptions, we don't start our day with lesson plans. But we do make sure that we are discussing issues that are relevant to our educational goals. We don't necessarily cover them in a linear fashion but rather bring them in casually and then discuss them periodically (usually when the child initiates the discussion).

I am sure that much of what I am saying here falls well within the "unschooling" philosophy. If it weren't for the one to two hours of formal schooling we do each day, we could probably be considered unschoolers. For most subjects, we try to provide a rich, though sometimes advanced, learning environment and let the environment help the kids become comfortable with what they will need to learn.

Our Homeschool Experience

February 12, 1995

Steve Covey, in his national bestseller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lays out basic principles for success in life. The one that has had the greatest impact on my life he titled "Begin With the End In Mind." Put simply, he is saying that we should think about where we are going with anything before we start and should always keep that final goal mind. In looking at our homeschool experience, I am trying to do exactly that. I have spent a lot of time trying to answer the following question: What do I want our children to gain out of the untold hours we will spend together in this experience we call homeschooling? Let me explain my philosophy as it pertains to the future material success of my children.

In essence, that my major goal in the "academic" side of homeschooling is to prepare my kids for college because that is the path that has the highest chances for material success. This is my goal for the academic side of homeschooling because I think that it will be investing the most in their "human capital." In no way do I mean to equate capital or equity with intrinsic worth of a person. I know a lot of people who have the ability to acquire vast amounts of material goods and who have lives that are miserable and of little value to anyone outside of commerce. On the other hand, I know people who make very modest livings who are some of the greatest people on earth. But I must also recognize that certain decisions we make and courses of action we follow will lead to material prosperity and others will lead in the other direction.

Money does not buy happiness, but then again, neither does poverty. All other things being equal (though they seldom are), I would prefer more money to less money. I would assume that most people feel that way. I personally want to be a person that receives a greater financial return for my career contributions rather than one that receives a modest amount. I am also assuming that my kids will fall into the same category. It is not an obsession with me by any means but, since I must be doing something with my career, I might as well do something that pays well.

So how does one put himself or herself into such a position as to receive greater financial returns for their efforts? I personally believe that it is by investing in one's self--that is, increasing one's personal capital. There are many ways to do this. But I believe that it can best be done through acquiring what I will call the "three c's of personal capital": competence, credentials, and contacts.

The first and most basic element of human capital is competence. When I am given money for my time, it is generally because I can provide some service for that time. The higher the monetary value placed on my service, the more money I can command for it. What determine how much money I can command? It is determined by the basic laws of supply and demand. I need to be able to do something that is in high demand but not in high supply.

Some people believe that we should simply pursue our interests without consideration of the financial rewards this might bring. That is fine unless you are going to be upset that others won't pay you for doing what you like doing.

I love playing basketball. However, I gave up my basketball scholarship to attend a better university. Beyond college graduation, I didn't see much of a demand, and quite a large supply, of marginal, ex-college basketball player.

I chose to go to a school and get a series of degrees in something that interested me much less than basketball. But I didn't choose an area that I hated either. I am doing something I enjoy and something where there is enough of a demand so that I can earn a wage that allows me to do other things in my life (for example, it makes it relatively easy to homeschool our kids). But if I had enough money not to be doing it, I probably would be doing something else. It bothers me to no end to see people who moan and groan that no one wants to pay them for doing what interests them. If you want to purely pursue your interests, that's OK but realize that there will be financial consequences of doing so. If you want more money, then develop the ability to do something that others will pay you more money for doing. Few of us take our hard earned money and give it to others just so they can do something THEY enjoy or think is important. We shouldn't expect others to do the same for us. I believe a lot of people would be much better off if they would just expand their interests and develop the competence to do things that are in demand and not just what suits their fancy at a particular point in time.

I personally believe that this should be considered when choosing a college major. I am in a field where people can succeed without a degree in the area. However, there are certain core concepts they must understand and practice. There is also a vocabulary they must be able to use. Finally, there is a mind-set they must adopt. They don't have to major in my field to get these thing. In fact, I would bet that the majority of people working in my field DON'T have formal training in the field. However, a twenty-two year old who has a degree in my area is way ahead of the game in terms of having these needed competencies than the twenty-two year old who has been studying something else.

But there is also another side of this coin too. Since few of us spend our whole professional career doing the same thing, we need to be continually updating our competencies. Otherwise we will be passed by those willing to update their competencies. We need to acquire competencies beyond our formal education. The person who thinks that he or she can get a college or even a graduate education and then coast for the rest of his or her career is sorely mistaken. The college degree is the start and not then end of developing the competencies we need in our careers.

After formal education, a person must have the ability to develop on their own. I can't help but feel that homeschooling does a better job of preparing kids to do than that the formal structured education. So as I work on educating my kids, I focus on those areas that will help them get through a rigorous college and graduate education but I also try to encourage the desire for lifelong learning. They will spend a life learning or else they will see their personal capital deteriorate to nothing in just a few years after college.

The second element of personal capital is "credentials." We are in a society where it is getting harder and harder to know whether people have the competence to do the things a job requires. For most jobs, however, analytical thinking, the ability to communicate, the ability to make decisions, etc. I personally believe that people think that a college education is necessary for people to have such skills. Even if they don't completely believe this, they often use a college degree as a way for screening applicants because it is the easiest "first pass." This is not necessarily always justified. It may even be as inaccurate to say that one needs a college education to have the proper skills as it is to say that people need to go to traditional skills to develop proper social skills. However, like it or not, it is the world in which we live. Without the credentials, we are shut out of many career opportunities.

Often when screening candidates, companies use educational achievement as the initial screening mechanism. Certain jobs and careers absolutely require certain educational achievements. I don't see this changing any time soon. I want my kids to do well in college because I know that it will give them the credentials needed to get past those people who, for whatever reason, can't see the person for the paperwork.

Finally, I believe that as we develop a network of contacts, we increase our personal capital. It amazes me how often that I can get something done or get a question answered easily because I know the right person. Someone from outside my particular "network" would have a hard time getting the same thing done. We live in a world that is so complex and fragmented that most people depend on others to help them do their own job in the most effective and efficient way possible. Without the ability to form networks, one's personal capital will be limited.

Again, here is an advantage of homeschooling. People who see us homeschooling instinctively ask us the "S" question (i.e., socialization). It is a legitimate question. Our kids must develop the social skills or else they will not do well in most careers. Developing social skills is probably MORE important than developing most of the academic skills we learn. We should be concerned about our kids socialization skills. What most people simply don't realize is than the typical homeschooling environments provide a superior setting for developing these skills, not an inferior one. That, by itself, is enough of a reason for me to homeschool.

I would say that I am much more sensitive to my children's social development than their intellectual development. Without social skills, their ability to increase their personal capital is limited.

So I continue to believe that the best way to provide my child with the maximum ability to receive greater financial reward for his or her professional services is to homeschool with particular emphasis on the following:

  1. developing the skills needed to get a good college education;
  2. developing the proper work ethic;
  3. encouraging a love for learning; and
  4. developing social skills.
We combine this with and emphasis on the spiritual values we believe are essential to living a joyful and fulfilled life and the close family ties that I long to maintain. These are the things that provides the clear direction for our homeschool experience.

Why Teach History

February 21, 1995

Why should I teach my children history? That sounds like a dumb question to even ask. But, as I hear different homeschoolers discuss history, I get the idea that there may be different reasons for teaching history. I learned a long time ago that why you teach something dramatically affects how you teach it. For example, every time I teach consumer behavior (a class I often teach at the university), I start out with two different basic reasons for studying CB and then explain what the reason will be in this class for studying CB. I do this so that students will know why we are discussion certain things the way we are discussing them.

Well, this seems to be ever so true in the study of history. I see people using the study of history for many different things. Let me briefly explain what I see are three "good" reasons for studying history and two "bad" reasons for studying history. I'm sure I've overlooked some on both sides. I'm also sure that some of what I am about to say will offend some. I'm not intentionally trying to start a flame war but I am putting on my flame-resistant shorts just the same.

Good Reasons:

The major reason I see for studying history is that we can learn from the past. We don't need to reinvent the wheel every time we face something new. I am convinced that the world would be a much better place if more people understood the successes and failures of the past and the things that made these successes and failures. However, as the unfortunately true statement goes "the one thing we seem to learn from history is that we don't seem to learn from history." Perhaps at least in teaching history to my children I can do a small part in changing this.

A second major reason for studying history is that it gives a better understanding of why things are the way they are. For example, it is hard to understand the current political climate in the absence of an understanding of its historical context. We cannot even understand why we are where we are without history, much less try to figure out where we are going or how we should get where we want to be.

A third major reason for studying history is that I can get inspiration for doing great things. We purchased a set of historical audio tapes for our children. My seven year old son listened to them over and over. It was my hope that he would become inspired by the accomplishments of people like the Wright brothers and Booker Washington to accomplish things for himself. I think that it is good that we celebrate the accomplishments of people like Martin Luther King if, in doing so, young men and women are inspired to stand for the principles that he stood for and accomplish what he accomplished. I also think that it is good to study people like Adolph Hitler if, in doing so, people are inspired to stand against what the things he is stood for.

Bad Reasons:

Now, let me discuss two "bad" reasons for studying history. Here is where I am sure I will get flamed.

First, I see that history is often taught as a means for making people feel guilty. I feel no guilt whatsoever about anything that Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus, or my United States government did about anything before 1955 (and probably before 1973--can anyone guess my age from this). I don't feel guilt about the dropping of the atomic bomb or about the slave trade. I don't feel guilty about anything that my ancestors did or my race did. Why? Don't I believe that what they did was wrong? Yes I do. But the key point is that THEY did it. I had no part of it. You can point out how terrible any number of historical figures were and I would probably agree with you. But I can't lay claim to any of their accomplishments and I certainly can't be blamed for any of their failures. The best I can do is use their lives as inspirations as to how I can achieve and how I can avoid doing harmful things similar to the things they did. But I cannot and will not accept any of the blame for their mistakes.

Second, I think it is bad that history is often used to divide people. We see this all around the world. One group of people hates another group of people because of how they wronged each other in the past. Sometimes, it is history that brings about war. Sometimes it is history that brings about inter-race hatred. Sometimes it is history that allows one person to dehumanize another human because of some wrong committed in the past. Any person who justifies hatred based on some historical event is wrong and would be well served by burying the past. There are parts of this world where never-ending circles of hatred exist that won't ever end until the people involved quit using history as a basis for (or at least a justification for) their hatred. Hatred is ALWAYS wrong and I would dare say that more hatred has evolved out of a study of history than just about any other source.

So, as a homeschooler, I want to use history to help my children learn from the achievements and failures of others. I want to use history to help my children understand why things are how they are so that they can hopefully make a better world. I will even use history to try and inspire my children to greatness. But I will not use history to make my children feel guilty for something that they did not do nor will I use history as a source of hatred. I think getting this clear in my mind will dramatically affect how I teach history.

Diversity in Home Education

March 1, 1995

Some people believe that one of the greatest inventions of the Twentieth Century is the VCR. With this wonderful device you can record all of your favorite TV programs and fast forward through the commercials. I am a marketing professor. One of the big disadvantages of not watching much TV is that I miss out on all of those commercials. We don't get cable and for that reason, I didn't get to watch the Super Bowl this year. Missing the football game didn't bother me. Missing all of those great "million dollar" commercials did bother me.

Fortunately, I am able to get tapes of the best commercials. But if I didn't, I would probably subscribe to cable and tape programs. But I would probably be fast-forwarding through the programs so I could get to the commercials.

OK, how does this relate to homeschooling. One thing I notice on this list is that one person's blessing is another person's curse. One group can't stand the long philosophical discussions and others must love them for there are many participants. To one family, "safe-sex" lessons are the problem and to another, they are the solution. To one family, structure is the key whereas to another family, the lack of structure is the key. One family wishes to minimize the effect of TV on their children while another family uses TV as a key part of their teaching experience. And on and on I could go.

How can a public school (or most private schools for that matter) make a one-size-fits-all education fit an incredibly diverse population. The answer is that they can't. The best they can do is to try and not inhibit the diversity. Usually what they do is much worse in that they actually try to eliminate such diversity.

There is great societal benefits associated with diversity (I will not get into this long philosophical discussion). Homeschooling is a means to maintain such diversity where as public schools tend to punish such diversity. I have recently come to the conclusion that one of the greatest societal benefits of homeschooling is that it encourages diversity within our society.

Now to take this a little lower than the philosophical level. Wen we first started homeschooling, our feeling was that we felt we had to find the "right" way to homeschool. We were most interested in identifying how others homeschooled so we could do it like them. When we would hear that someone else was doing something that we weren't doing, our immediate reaction would be "oh no, are we forgetting something."

Then, fortunately, I subscribed to home-ed. It didn't take long to figure out that there is no one way to homeschool. What we should be doing is not worrying about what is the best approach to homeschooling but what is the best approach for OUR homeschool. Our family is unique and our children are unique. We can do what we think is best for us regardless of what any other homeschooling family does or does not do.

Once we realized this, homeschooling went from being a nervous experience to one of the most interesting and fun challenges of my life. We stopped focusing on others and started focusing on our children. We stopped worrying about what we weren't doing and started enjoying what we were doing. We gained incredible freedom in knowing that our homeschool experience can be whatever we make it out to be (note to the "philosopher" types, don't read too much into this--I am not advocating relativism).

That doesn't mean that I ignored what others were doing. I have gained a lot from the experiences of others. But I can decide whether or not it is something we should be doing. I can keep what I think would be good for our family and throw away what I think would be bad. I can even modify a good suggestion so that it works even better in our home.

The most common response I get from people who like the fact that we are homeschooling but don't homeschool themselves is that "oh, I could never do that, I don't know how." I wish they could comprehend what I just said. Homeschooling is not that complicated. It is not like a problem in an accounting class where there is a right answer. Like parenting, homeschooling is exactly what you make of it. All you need to homeschool is a love for your children and a desire for what is best for them. Then watch them and let them (and your unique set of family dynamics) lead your experience. It is that simple. Forget about whether or not you can do it right. In the words of one of those famous commercials I love, Just Do It.

Reading Versus Television

March 1, 1995

We encourage our children to read and yet we discourage them from watching television. Some people have commented that this is inconsistent. "Why is the written word a superior way to get information than television?" That's an interesting point of view worth further exploration.

Reading is a skill that is in much greater demand than the demand for watching TV. I have seen few jobs that require a person to be able to watch TV but reading is an integral part of many jobs. Why?

The written word is an incredibly flexible and efficient way of communication. I can write something down and, in no time, it can be communicated to many different people. Not only that, I can assimilate vast amounts of information through reading in a very short time. I would argue that a good reader can acquire more information in reading for two hours than someone watching TV can acquire in a full day. I know some people predict the eventual downfall of the written or printed word. It will only be gone if a more efficient means of communicating large amounts of information is discovered.

I am able to gain a lot of information quickly because I am a fast reader with good comprehension skills. I want my children to have the same ability. It will save them massive amounts of time and they will be able to assimilate vast quantities of information. I don't see the same benefit if they acquire the ability to be great TV watchers.

So, if I have a choice of encouraging my child to read a book or watch a TV program, I would much rather him read a book. I have a seven year old who absolutely loves Archie comic books. We buy every one of them that we can find for him. Why? It would be much cheaper to let him watch free cartoons on TV than to buy these comics. And, after all, when he finishes reading an Archie comic book, he probably has no more knowledge than if he watched a cartoon or a TV program. But, in my humble opinion, he is much better off after reading the Archie comic because he has had a little more practice at something that will help him in the future.

We encourage Alonzo to read just about anything that interests him (within certain limits). Even if he doesn't get anything out of the content, he is accomplishing something in that he is practicing developing his reading skills.

On the other hand, our TV viewing is quite limited. So much of it is a waste of time and this time could be so much better spent, even if it is in just reading a useless Archie comic book.

Bicycling in the Morning

March 5, 1995

I don't want to revive the bicycling thread. I just thought I would share this with the list.

I am a professor and so I have a flexible schedule. I tend to work more at night and take mornings off so I can: 1) exercise, 2) take care of the kids so that my wife can exercise, and 3) spend time with the kids in the morning when they are at their best. Also, since I teach two nights a week, taking mornings off fits quite well into my schedule.

Two days ago, we spent the whole morning fixing up the family's bicycles. I was so excited about going bicycling together as a family. Then, yesterday, it rained all morning. :-( I felt like a little child who had just had his candy stolen.

Well, today, I finished my workout and made it home by about 9:00 AM. It was cloudy but not raining. Lisa went and worked out and made it home by about 10:30 AM. Right as all of us got on our bicycles, the sun came out and stayed out. It was a beautiful morning. We then spent the next hour riding our bicycles around the neighborhood. I honestly can't remember the last time I had that much fun. We raced. We played Top Gun. We found a cull-da-sack (for those of you big on phonics, you can figure out what I am saying; my dictionary is not handy and, so, I'm not even going to attempt to spell that one correctly) and went in circles for at least fifteen minutes. It was so much fun. I hope it's nice tomorrow so we can do it again.

"What in the world does this have to do with homeschooling?" you ask. The most amazing part of this was that in the full hour we were on the streets of our neighborhood, not one single automobile passed us by. Not one!!!!! Why. Everybody else was at work and/or in school. Because we homeschool, combined with the fact that I have a flexible schedule, we basically had the neighborhood to ourselves. If our kids were in school, we may have missed out on this moment. Even if we did it after they got out of school, chances are the number of cars on the street would have made it less enjoyable. But, as it stands, because we homeschool, we basically had the whole neighborhood to ourselves for riding our bicycles.

As "the regulars" on the list know, I spend a lot of time thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling. To be certain, there are definite educational and socialization advantages. But I can't think of any better advantage than the fact that I had this wonderful, uninterrupted experience with my kids this morning. I hope they will remember it as one of those special family times. I know that it (and others like it) will be some of the very best memories I will have to look back on when I am old. And this memory was made a bit better because we were able to go bicycling on our time, when schools and jobs had the rest of the world occupied.

Don't Lose the Memories

May 15, 1995

I remember the first time Alonzo started walking. We were visiting friends in Dallas, Texas. He had been walking around tables, chairs, and anything else he could hold on to for several weeks. Though this was the only time I've seen these friend's living room, I remember everything about it--the way the furniture was situated, the exact look of the coffee table, even where everyone was sitting. We were just sitting around talking when Alonzo got to the edge of the coffee table. But rather than taking a turn like he usually did, he went straight--four steps straight for my wife's knee. Lisa and I went crazy. "Did you see that?" "Yes I did." "Good Alonzo..." I am sure that I will remember this until the day I die.

This is one of the many memories I have of seeing my children grow, learn, try new things, and stretch themselves. I have to admit that they are some of the best memories I have in my life--the first time Alice went riding her bicycle without training wheels, the first time Alaina said a prayer, the first time Allen used the computer... There are few greater joys that a parent can experience than seeing their children grow up.

I have only one chance to see my children grow up. To be quite honest, I don't want some school which is blocks away to have this joy. It should be mine. Further, I seriously doubt if some second grade teacher with thirty students in a class would enjoy seeing my children learn nearly as much as I do. I will not let schools rob me of experiences such as the one we had a couple of weeks ago when we were teaching place value in addition. I first taught the concept through using an abacus and then I was showing Alonzo how it worked "on paper." I gave him a particularly difficult problem and he solved it. Then I asked "are you sure?" He quickly ran over to the table, grabbed the abacus, "checked his math," and then said, "yea dad, I'm sure." That experience, and a thousand like them, are mine to watch, enjoy, remember, and cherish. I feel sad for the millions of parents who are giving these types of experiences away to the schoolhouses every day.

Getting Alonzo Interested in Basketball--Not

June 13, 1995

One thing I try to do is to direct my children's interests. Once they are interested in something, it is much easier to teach them in that area. So, my goal in teaching is to first create interest and then walk with the child in exploring that interest.

There is a limit to how much you can direct your kid's interests. I have done everything I can to get Alonzo's interested in basketball. I have tried the subtle approach--"Alonzo, I think I'll go play some basketball" to which he says, not even looking up from his book, "Have fun dad. See you later." So, I think, maybe I'll be a little less subtle--"Alonzo, do you want to go play basketball" to which he replies "Dad, you know basketball is not my game" and quickly returns to what he is reading. So, I think, maybe I can get his competitive spirit into it "Alonzo, I bet I can beat you in a game of basketball" to which he replies "Maybe Allen wants to play." Allen runs up and we go play basketball as Alonzo goes over, grabs the book Allen had been reading and starts reading it.

Maybe I could hook him first as a spectator. At least that's what I thought. I had Lisa bring him to my city league games but before the opening tip, he would be off playing under the bleachers. I wonder if he found a book under there or what. I did get him to watch some of the NBA playoffs with me. But, I did have to bribe him and as soon as the pop corn was gone so was he.

Then, I thought, you're a marketing professor. Attack it from a marketing perspective--subliminal perception. Knowing that one of the best players in the NBA is also named Alonzo, I kept my eye out for his posters. Then when I found the perfect one. The top part has, in real big letters "ALONZO" and then below, it shows a picture of him going in for a lay-up. I hung it up over Alonzo's bed in hopes of a little "subliminal persuasion." It didn't work. I don't think he even noticed anything but the name and the small print in the corner, of which he read every word.

Wait, typing this into the computer just gave me a great idea. Does anyone know of any good kids books on basketball? I'm getting desperate.

Lifelong Learning

June 22, 1995

I just had a real interesting essay come across my desk. It was written by John P. Kotter of the Harvard Business School and appeared in the Atlanta Constitution. The basic theme was that the world has changed and, when it comes to career development, the old rules don't apply anymore. The article ended with the following statement:

It's tempting to think at graduation time that your education is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. One hundred years ago people thought of work as a job. Fifty years ago, work became a career. In the future, work for the most successful among us will be an exercise in lifelong learning.
Buzz-words come and go in academia and in business. In business academia, this is even more true since we latch on to the buzz-words from both academia and business as well as create a few of our own. One of the most popular buzz-words of the day is "lifelong learning" (OK its two words). But at the core of the buzz-word is indeed an important concept. If you have a job that requires learning, knowledge, skills, etc., you must be committed to lifelong learning or else you will become obsolete very soon. If you can't stand to learn, the workplace of the future may not be very fun for you.

It has been my experience that nothing kills people's desire to learn more than boring learning experiences. Yes indeed, there are times when all of us need to learn something that is much less than exciting. On the other hand, I would say that most of what people need to learn to stay ahead is fun and exciting. However, their spark for learning has long passed due to too many boring classes, trite textbooks, and mindless educational exercises.

We has home educators have the opportunity to make a difference, at least in the lives of our children. I believe that there are things that we must teach our children that, at the time, are not very fun for them. However, before we subject our children to such learning, I think we must critically ask ourselves some key questions: Do they really need to learn this? Do they really need to learn it now (what bores a kid when we throw it at them may be the same thing that really excites the child when he or she discovers it in his or her own time)? Is there a more exciting way to teach what this child needs to know? After answering these questions, we may find that a lot of what we are teaching our child is needlessly developing a distaste for learning that he or she must overcome to develop a love for lifelong learning.

I think we as home educators are also challenged to model lifelong learning to our kids. If we can't get excited about learning, how can we expect them to do so. But if we do, I think our excitement for learning is easily picked up by our kids.

Finally, I think we need to break away from the traditional paradigm of what is learning. Learning takes may forms. If we confine it to the traditional areas, we may be inhibiting our kids from developing a love for learning when their learning is in an area we typically don't associate with learning. For example, learning all of the facts about major league baseball or learning how to assort and dress dolls may not seem like important learning but, if it is a step in the developing the love for learning, it can be some of the most important learning a child can do (this is not intended to be another slam on baseball--my computer still hasn't cooled down from the flames from my last venture into sharing my opinion on the matter). A child must learn that learning can be fun and I am convinced that the child must experience this from learning about something of interest to the child.

Unschooling Unchristian?

February 15, 1997

Many homeschoolers are teaching their children through an approach called unschooling. As the name implies, it is opposite to all that traditional schools do. Some people believe that unschooling is unchristian. I don't think so. Let me explain why.

When people ask me what unschooling is, I tell them that it is where we "create a learning rich environment and then let the kids go." Kids are naturally curious. I believe God made them that way. Let them loose and they will rush headlong into learning.

We don't need to do anything to get children excited about learning. The only reason any child doesn't see learning as a pure joy is because we make it a miserable experience. We take a child who was made to be active and tell him or her to sit there for six hours in the name of learning. Then we wonder why they don't like to learn. Its like taking ice cream, pouring used motor oil on top of it, and wondering why a child doesn't like ice cream.

Around our home, our learning environment consists of three components. First, we have a compulsory component. We are not pure unschoolers because we do force our children to learn certain things. But this is the smallest part of our educational experience. We only do this in areas where the child might not see the educational value before the learning experience. Perhaps I am of little faith, but I can't see our children memorizing their multiplication tables "just for fun.

Second, there is an environmental component. We create a learning rich environment. Everything in our home has educational value. Some of what we have fosters creativity. Other material presents facts. There are shelves and shelves of books. We have many educational CDs for the computer. Our walls have posters and maps. Arts and crafts supplies abound (I know, I trip over then all the time). We have one whole closet that is nothing but supplies needed for science experiments. We don't need to lord over our children to get them to learn. Just let do whatever they can find to do. We know it will have educational value.

Third, we have a social component. We are active participants with our children in the educational experience. Education is what we do WITH our children and not what we do TO our children. Our children like to read because mom and dad like to read. Our children like math because mom and dad like math. Our children discuss geography because mom and dad discuss geography. Our children like science because mom and dad find science interesting. Kids love to be "part of the action" and, around our house, the action is learning.

Unschooling emphasizes the second and third of these components. We can argue about whether or not the compulsory component is necessary. I don't see a clear Biblical mandate that it either is or is not. But even if the compulsory component is important, the environmental and social components are clearly superior in helping our children learn. Children will keep their love for learning alive when they are having fun learning what they have chosen to learn. They will learn more when they are learning what interests them. As the ancient proverb states, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And, regardless of what our popular culture proclaims, loving parents are still the most influential people in children's lives. If we are excited about learning, our children will be excited too.

So, we have three components of a learning system. I acknowledge that all three components may be necessary. But I also recognize that two of the components are more important, more effective, and more fun that the other one. Put quite simply, there are two superior components and one inferior component. Is there Christian virtue in emphasizing the inferior component over the superior two? Are we doing what the Bible commands when we force our children to do something they hate when, with a little creativity, we could make it enjoyable to them?

Not long ago I went to the doctor for some tests. No treatment was needed, but lets say it was. One form of treatment meant drinking a glass of liquid that tasted much like a chocolate milkshake. A second form of treatment meant receiving a nice back massage from my wife. The third treatment would require surgery and weeks of painful recovery. Then my doctor tells me that he is prescribing the surgery. I ask why? Is it more effective? "No, actually it is less effective."

"Then why are you prescribing the surgery?" I demand.

"See, I am a Christian" he replies. "Even though the other two treatments are more effective, they are also more enjoyable. They won't provide you the opportunity to learn to deal with pain. So I am prescribing the painful surgery. You may not get well, but you will learn to deal with pain."

What would I do? I would quickly find another doctor. I would tell all my friends to avoid him too. "Don't go near him. He wants to me to do the most painful thing even when enjoyable treatments are more effective. And he says he is doing so because he is a Christian. He isn't a Christian. He's a madman."

I don't think parents who choose a structured learning environment are unchristian. I just hope they do so because they believe, mistakenly in my opinion, that they provide the most effective learning environment. I respect their Christian faith, even if we disagree on educational philosophy.

But if we subjects their child to an inferior pedagogy in the absence of a clear Biblical mandate simply because it is the Christian thing to do, then we need to rethink our concept of Christian parenting. It is not DESPITE being Christians that have incorporated many of the ideas of unschooling into our homeschooling experience. We do so because we believe that they are more consistent with Biblical parenting as we see it. It is not only possible to be a Christian unschooler. 

Christians homeschoolers should feel obligated to investigate the advantages of an unstructured learning environment and consider letting more and more of a Childs direction be determined by creating a learning rich environment and providing strong parental role models. The loving, therefore the Christian thing to do is to make coercion a last resort.

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