Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: home-schooling

Misfits

School tends to be a one size fits all proposition, and some children are misfits.

Despite the best efforts of schools and teachers, some children just do not do well in a large classroom. Home schooling parents have more freedom to find ways to adapt the curriculum and environment to make learning work for their child.

Children are hard-wired to learn from their parents, and parents know their children better than anyone else. Parents do not need special skills or training to teach their children, they just need to be parents.

Standard achievement tests show that home-schooled children score well above their peers in public schools. Even children with cognitive  limitations do better when home-schooled.

Now this is just a personal observation, but the home-schooled children that I know have much better social skills than their peers in school. Think about it: at home a child has to get along with her siblings and her parents. She learns how to communicate clearly with them all and this prepares her to communicate freely with anyone else, of any age.

Learning to learn

It looks like parents will be teaching their children at home for awhile. Here is something to keep in mind:

Education is not about teaching, it is about learning.

And the great advantage that home-schooled children have is that they learn how to learn.

Matthew Effects in Learning

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Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who early learned how words are made up of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who were delayed in learning the letter to sound correlation fell farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but public schools are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. A large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else a child encounters in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of a statement I once read: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What children need is a flexible system focussed on results. In learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. The idea of teaching for mastery of the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages[First posted three years ago.]

Matthew Effects in Learning

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but our public school systems are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. This concept of teaching for mastery in the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages.

Don’t tell your Mom

The teacher told her class: “Your parents probably won’t understand what we’ve been talking about, so it would be better if you didn’t tell them about it.” One of the students in that class was the teenaged daughter of a co-worker. I could tell that her Mom was not impressed when she talked about it at work the next day. But what could she do? She was already doing one of the best things she could in such circumstances: the mother-daughter relationship was so strong that the daughter couldn’t imagine not talking to her Mom about things that troubled her at school.

That was more than 20 years ago. Nowadays we talk about “helicopter mothers” who hover around their children to protect them from bad things that might happen on the way to and from school, or on the playground. Others are convinced that the greatest danger is what goes on inside the classroom and have opted for other methods of teaching their children.

One alternative that is growing in popularity is for parents to teach their children at home. Many other parents are concerned about what their children are learning, and not learning, in school, but they can’t imagine that home-schooling would provide the education their children need. In addition, the time and effort that would be needed appear to be impossible for ordinary humans.

Would it be too strong to say that such parents have been brainwashed? From the beginning of the public schools, it has been the explicit goal of the educational establishment to convince parents that they are incompetent to teach their children. It took more than 100 years, but they have largely succeeded. And children are learning less and less all the time.

This quote from a study by the Fraser Institute blows the cover off the supposed superiority of public schools:

“Surprisingly, several studies have found that home education may help eliminate the potential negative effects of certain sociol-economic factors. Though children whose parents have university degrees score higher on tests of academic achievement than other home schooled children, home education appears to mitigate the harmful effects of low parental education levels. That is, public schools seem to educate children of poorly educated parents worse than do the poorly educated parents themselves. One study found that students taught at home by mothers who had never finished high school scored a full 55 percentile points higher than public school students from parents with comparable education levels.”1

Some exceptional teachers have inspired children from disadvantaged homes to accomplish great things. Such teachers do exist, but they are not the norm. The primary responsibility for instilling a desire to learn in children rests with their parents. They are also in the best position to teach proper conduct and respect for others.

Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, of which I am a member, have chosen to operate private schools for their children. The key to the successful functioning of these schools is for parents to be parents — to be actively involved in their children’s lives and be the primary teachers of moral, social and spiritual values.

The long and short of it is that, despite the noise from the public system, parents are more qualified to teach their children than any professional teacher. Whatever form of education parents choose for their children, if certain foundational principles have not been taught in the home, the teacher has little to build upon.

1 Home Schooling: From the Extreme to the Mainstream, published 2007 by the Fraser Institute,Vancouver, BC, Canada. The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization founded in 1974. The Fraser Institute does not accept grants from government or contracts for research.

School crisis in Québec

More than 50 congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in seven Canadian provinces are operating their own schools. These schools provide the foundational tools to enable their graduates to go on and continue learning whatever they need to make a living and be useful members of society. The schools are recognized as legal by their respective provincial governments, even though they do not follow the official curriculum or employ government certified teachers. Congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 37 states of the USA are doing the same.

It has been in the news this week that this will not fly in the province of Québec. The school operated by the congregation at Roxton Falls, Québec is considered an illegal school and will be forced to close. Many attempts have been made to find an accommodation with the government; at times it has seemed that a way had been found, but the news this week appears to be final.

This leaves our brethren in Québec with three options: send their children to public school, home school their children, or leave the province. The families who live there would not consider public school to be an option, so in reality there are only two choices. I’m afraid that some will choose to leave.

Personally, I believe home schooling is the most attractive choice. After all, the education of children is the responsibility of parents, why would we think it essential to bring them all together into one building and have someone else teach them?

The forces behind the public education system have done their work well. When we look at the origins of public schools in North America, we read that the proponents openly stated their intention to remove children from their parents’ influence and to counter the religious influence of the home. They planted the thought that children needed to be together with children their own age in order to learn how to behave. That thought is still believed by many who want their children to be educated in a Christian setting. Why don’t we stop and think a bit? If there was any truth to the statement, then the children in the largest schools should be the best behaved children in our society. Has it worked out that way?

I hear people saying that home-schooled children aren’t learning much. That may be true in a few instances, there are variations in every educational setting. Yet extensive studies have been done of home-schooled children in both Canada and the USA and the results show that on average at every age level home-schooled children are far ahead of their peers in public schools.

Most parents who home school give two reasons for their choice: they want their children to learn more than what the public schools are achieving; and they don’t want their children to learn the attitudes and behaviour problems that are rampant in the public schools.

My observation of home-schooled children is that they will play in an uninhibited way with other children their own age, and are able to visit with children and adults of any age level. They are far more articulate than most children who learn in a classroom setting. Again there are differences from home to home, and child to child, this is normal, but on balance home schooled children learn more social skills than children learning in a classroom.

Many parents fear to even try home schooling, imagining that the work load would be too much. While home schooling families need to have a schedule and maintain order, they do not have to duplicate a classroom setting. And the children need to take up a good share of the household chores. This is a bonus.

We had supper in the home of a home schooling family who have five boys and two girls, the girls being the youngest. After supper the boys started playing around. After a few minutes, the father said, “Boys, what is it that you do every day when we don’t have company?” That was all he needed to say, the boys came and cleared off the table, put things away, washed the dishes, and did it cheerfully.

Consider all the time and money that can be saved by home schooling: no need for school buses or vans, no time wasted travelling to and from school, no school lunches to prepare ahead of time (the children should help prepare meals at home), no special clothes just for school, no need to try and pry out of your children just what happened at school today.

The studies of home schooled children also show that the education level of the parents doesn’t matter. Parents got better results than the public schools, whether they had a Grade VIII education or a Bachelor of Education degree. And yes, there are parents with a B. Ed. degree who do not trust their children to the public education system.

Parents don’t need to be experts in the subjects their children study. There are excellent textbooks available for home schooling families that will guide the children into learning on their own with some parental supervision. Universities now are competing for children who have been home-schooled through to a high school level. They have found that these students have learned how to learn and do far better in university.

My perspective on all this is that our independent congregational schools do serve a useful purpose. Not every family dynamic is compatible with home schooling; for instance there are single parent households and households where the parents are not united in the faith. However, we should not be looking for direction to the public school system. They have nothing useful to offer as far as textbooks and teaching methods are concerned. We will find more helpful examples in the textbooks and teaching methods used by home schoolers.

Where is Ottawa?

Judith Adler teaches a course on families and the cultural traditions of families the world over at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  A few years ago she began to suspect that her students had no idea where some of the places she was talking about actually were. So she gave them  a quiz.

The quiz consisted of a blank map and a series of questions. Questions like: label South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Label the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Three quarters of the students failed the test. Memorial University is located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the students could not correctly identify the location of that ocean.

Ms. Adler gives this test every year now. She says the students are not dumb; when faced with the reality of their ignorance they get to work. When given a second opportunity to do the test they never flunk it the second time. They simply have never been taught the simplest elements of geography.

Classrooms used to have large maps that could be rolled down over the chalk board like a blind. There were probably large globes or atlases in every room. The world has become much smaller today. We are linked to the whole world via the internet and hear news from every corner of the globe. How are these students going to comprehend what is going on if they don’t even know where these places are?

My wife was only 17 when we married and had just finished Grade 11. She started Grade 12 that fall, but she was the only married lady on the bus or in the classroom, plus she had responsibilities at home, so she dropped out after a week or two. A few years ago she enrolled in a course to prepare for the GED exam. One evening the teacher began the class by giveing each student a list of 20 capital cities with a space beside them to write the name of the country. Chris thought there was probably a time limit so quickly ran through the list and wrote in the countries.

Then she looked up and realized the other students were completely at sea. The teacher then told them they could work together to find the answers. They came to Berlin, decided it was in China and proceeded to find equally astute answers for the other cities. Then they came to Ottawwa and were totally stumped. The teacher told them they could use the atlas. They found Ottawa and saw that it was in Ontario.

“But Ontario isn’t a country,” Chris protested.

“Well what country is it in then?”

“Ottawa is mentioned in the news every day,” hinted my wife.

“Oh, we never pay any attention to the news.”

These people were not immigrants, nor were they fresh off the northern trap lines, they were normal city folks, the product of our fine public education system. They had dropped out before finishing high school, but a Grade 6 student from years ago would have found that test a snap.

This is one of the reasons why we did not send our daughter to public school, and why our daughter does not send her children to public school.

Discovery learning

The Province of Alberta recently announced a complete transformation of their teaching methods. The new model is based on the wonderfully naive expectation that a classroom of 30 children of the same age will learn much better if the teacher is relegated to the background and not allowed to teach.

Where does this dewy-eyed credulity come from? Certainly not from any investigation into how such a classroom actually behaves. One has to wonder if the educational “experts”, having succeeded in excluding parents from the picture, are not finding too many teachers who actually want to teach some realistic values to their pupils.

Study after study has shown that children learn best from direct instruction, that the modern alternatives have resulted in a continuous decline in actual learning. The province of Quebec, for example, has resisted the move towards newer methods of teaching math. In Quebec they still teach the basics, like memorizing the times tables. The result is that Quebec students place 6th on the OECD comparison of learning outcomes, on a par with Japan.

Students from the rest of Canada are already far behind, discovery learning will put them even further behind. An article published in Educational Psychologist a few years ago, based on more than 100 studies over 50 years, stated that none of the research supported discovery learning.

Pardon my cynicism, but to me this just looks like the latest attempt of the “progressives” to seize control of our children’s minds and train them in their collectivist philosophy. I applaud all those parents who have removed their children from the abyss of public education. All the studies show that children who get their learning at home or in small private schools are far ahead in both learning and in responsible conduct.

 

 

Public Schools: mediocrity is the goal

There was a time, about 120 years ago, when almost everyone in Canada could read and write well, could do the math calculations needed in their daily life and work, often without pencil and paper, knew a good bit about world history and understood how governments worked.  It is not that way today.  It is said that a student finishing Grade 5 then knew as much, or more, than a student finishing Grade 8  today; a Grade 8 graduate then knew as much as a high school graduate today and a high school graduate then as much as a university graduate today.  How did this happen?

When I started school 65 years ago, the schools had already made the switch from teaching phonics to teaching sight reading – the Dick and Jane books.  i had been reading for a couple of years already, so this didn’t hold me back, but many others struggled.  My first few years were in a one room school, where a young single lady taught a group of 30 children in 8 grades – and she taught us well; those were the best years of my school life.

We moved to a larger town and now there were two grades to a classroom.  The teachers, most of them at least, were still very capable and maintained order in the classroom.  There was very thorough teaching in math, spelling and grammar, we were exposed to samples of the great English literature of the past, both prose and poetry.  I had skipped forward a grade at the beginning and could have gone faster, but my parents didn’t think that was wise.  So I read every book in the school library.

My parents were from an earlier era and believed that education meant that I should actually learn something.  My mother was always involved, helping me memorize math facts and encouraging me in any way she could.  She always got to know my teachers and invited each one over for at least one meal during the school term.   I understood that she wanted the teacher to feel free to talk to her if I was having any trouble in school – or making trouble!

The idea was already being circulated back then that parents didn’t know how to properly teach their children and should just leave education to the experts: the teachers.  It appeared to me that my mother was pretty much immune to that kind of thinking.

In the ensuing years, textbooks and teaching methods have been changed many times, following each new wind of doctrine about how children learn.  None of this works as well as the old-fashioned methods, but it has the great advantage, from the school’s vantage point, of cutting parents out of the picture.  They just don’t understand the new methods of teaching.  The children don’t either, but that’s beside the point.

Schools have become bigger and bigger and children have to travel further and further to get to school.   Many parents have little idea who is teaching their children.  This also serves to insulate the schools from parental influence.

Martin L Gross, in The Conspiracy of Ignorance – The Failure of American Public Schools, explains that a Bachelor of Education degree is the easiest of all degrees to obtain.  It consists of nothing but a bunch of pop psychology courses.  Aspiring teachers are  taught nothing about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them.

When one studies the origins of public schools, it becomes evident that the present situation is what was envisioned from the beginning.  The goal is not to educate children to think for themselves, but to indoctrinate them in the anti-family, anti-Christian agenda of those who consider themselves the elite thinkers.  Back in the days when most parents thought like mine did, they had to advance their program very slowly behind the scenes.  It is all much more open today.

I will return to this topic in future posts, but I want to mention two anti-family teachings that have become pretty much ingrained in the national culture.

One is that parents aren’t competent to teach.  Yet a national study a few years ago showed that home-schooled children scored much higher on standardized tests than children in public schools.  And it didn’t make any difference if the parents hadn’t completed high school or if they had a university degree or two.

The other is that children have to go to school with children their own age to learn how to get along with others.  Can’t parents see the evidence all around them that this is not working?  Children in years past had much better social skills when they learned them from their parents.

Problematic behaviours in children and adolescents – Our family’s experience

I listened with bemused interest as my daughter described racing the Moose Jaw city bus to the end of the block.  There was a bus stop in front of the second house on our block and she would wait there on the sidewalk with her trike until the bus left the stop and then pump those pedals for all she was worth to try to beat it to the end of the block.  She was creating her own fun and I didn’t have much to offer as an alternative in this setting.

What did the future hold for this little girl?  What did it hold for our family?  My wife and I were Christians and wanted to provide a supportive setting for our daughter.  Racing the bus with her trike was fairly innocent, as long as she knew enough to stop at the end of the block, and at least for now she did.  But sometimes she would disappear into a house down the street to watch TV with the children there and listen to the conversations of the adults.  We didn’t want her going there, but she needed friends somewhere.

We had found a church where we felt at home, but it was three hours away.  And it was in a rural area where I could see no hope of finding work, considering my allergies.

After months of searching and prayer, the thought came to me to move to Ontario.  I knew where there was a congregation of the same church and surely there would be jobs available.  Was this a shot in the dark?  Or the first glimmer of a light at the end of the tunnel?  It was the only hint of light we had, so at the beginning of June in 1978 we crammed as much of our stuff as possible into our 1974 Toyota Corolla and I headed east.

After three days, I arrived near my intended destination, found a motel room and asked myself “What on earth am I doing here?”  I didn’t know anyone, or anything about what lay before me.

The next day, I forced myself to go out and meet someone from the congregation.  That broke the ice.  In another day or two I had a job in an auto parts factory and in another week I had rented a house.  By the end of June we were settled down in Ontario.  We spent 15 years in that congregation, I worked in the same place all that time and our little girl blossomed out into a fine young Christian lady.

I believe that Mme. Ambert hit the nail on the head when she listed the underlying causes of aggressive and antisocial behaviour in children and adolescents, but the solution will not come from government initiatives.

We didn’t see everything so clearly 35 years ago, but looking back now, I can see that this one decision answered most of the points raised by Mme. Ambert.  The congregation became our home community, we worshipped together at least once a week, the parents of our daughter’s friends were our friends.  The congregation operates a school for their children; the parents, the school board and the teachers were all on the same page as to the best interests of our children.  Parents were all on the same page when it came to media and entertainment as well.  Our children did not need such things, neither did we as parents.

None of our church community lived within walking distance.  Our daughter had other friends; we knew their parents, too.  Any negative influence they might have had was counterbalanced by the predominant influence of her friends from the congregation.  She has grown up to be someone who can relate to anyone, but who knows where her heart finds home and rest.

Home-schooling was not an option 35 years ago, at least not an option that we were aware of.  It would be today.  It appears that parents have a natural head start in teaching and training their own children; our daughter learned to read at home, before she started school.

I believe that home schooling is quite workable when parents are part of a community that shares their convictions.  Parents do not need special training or extensive knowledge of every subject.  There is a wealth of resources available to home schooling parents today and a group of parents can help each other by sharing in areas of expertise.  Studies have shown that home-schooled children fare much better academically and socially than children educated in the public schools.

However, in the setting where we found ourselves 35 years ago, home-schooling would not have been enough to supply our daughter’s need for a caring community.  I have observed some tragic situations in which well-meaning parents have raised their children according to their own convictions while remaining in a church fellowship that did not share those convictions.  The results have not been as the parents wished.

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