By MARGARET W. BOYCE
I read with interest the recent article in The Sentinel about home-school families. I find it strange that we send our young men and women to help assure that children can go to school in Afghanistan, yet we allow parents in Michigan to keep their children at home.
I thought we were sending young men and women to Afghanistan to ensure freedom and give a children a chance for an education. And as a parent, I always resent when people presume to "let" me do anything with my children. It seems hypocritical to send people to fight for freedom in another country while taking away our freedom at home.
One of the best and brightest moves that our Founding Fathers made was to make it possible for all children in America, not just the rich, to be educated. Eventually, all children were expected to attend. If they did not, they were considered "truant" and parents were held responsible and could go to jail. This public education still is the very cornerstone of democracy.
Did I grow up in a different democracy? See, the founding Fathers believed in an educated populace, not that all children had to go to public school. And I thought freedom was the cornerstone of democracy. Freedom to choose how my family will live, freedom to choose how my children will be brought up, and the freedom to choose how to educate them.
This strange phenomenon called "home schooling" at best undermines these principles. For many children, it is far worse. Who is monitoring these families? Many a child of abusive parents has an observant teacher to thank for a rescue, some for their very lives. To whom can these children turn when they are kept at home? They are being denied a basic right, which has been fought for all the way to the Supreme Court -- the right to attend school.
"At best undermines these principles"? How? My children can't know about democracy unless they go to public school? Isn't that reaching just a bit? While it is true that some children may be saved from an abusive home because of a teacher, many abused children go unnoticed in public schools every day. But doctors, nurses, neighbors and friends also have a responsibility to protect and save children from abusive homes. My children have a right to an education, which can be given without public school. They are getting an education. Just a different one.
We don't allow people to play doctor or nurse without a license, nor can one play lawyer without passing some rather rigorous tests. But today, anyone who wants to "play school" can do so, regardless of their educational background. Recently, some parents have been jailed for withholding medical treatment for their children, yet we are almost making heroes of these parents who do the same with their children's education.
Wow, I can't even begin to tell you how offensive I find it that this woman would say that we're "playing school". I can't be a lawyer, because I don't know the law. I can't be a doctor, because I haven't had years of intensive medical training. Last time I checked I could read, write, formulate equations, think critically, understand Science, etc. etc.. I actually learned that in a public school. If public schools taught me to do those things, then why wouldn't I be able to teach them to my children? If I didn't learn them well enough there, why would I send my children for the same type of education? I am the first to say that I'm not qualified to teach in a classroom full of children who have their own needs and educational style, but why am I not qualified to teach my own children whom I know deeply? What was so magical about turning five for them, that while I once could teach them I no longer can? Oh, and I'm not "withholding an education" from my children, I've simply chosen a different education.
Some parents of home-schooled children speak glowingly of the "wonderful imaginations" developed by their lonely child, who, being surrounded always by adults, has little opportunities to develop friendships with real children. Others associate only with small groups of like-minded people. What happens when they enter the world and cannot control everything, as they do in their sheltered home environment?
What a ridiculous assumption, that my children are lonely, or unable to develop friendships with "real children". How would she know? That's such an ignorant statement I hardly know how to respond. I guess she doesn't know about the church, the playgroups, the outings, the errands, and all of the other places that my children meet people of all ages, including other children. We are never able to control everything. But along side of my husband and myself, our children are learning to deal with circumstances as they arise and with the help of their parents. I don't think that's a bad thing. My seven year old can go anywhere and strike up a conversation. He has a broad ability to interact with the larger world, rather than with just his peers. And he's learning everywhere we go!
What an ego trip for a parent -- to be all things to your children, to control every thought, every concept that enters their world. Is this education, or programming? To deny them the stimulation of working and playing with their peers is unfair. It's far better to send them out into the world for brief forays, such as the school day, and then discuss the day's adventure while they are still young enough to want to work out values with their parents.
An ego trip? Programming? Who is this woman? How does she get the right to judge every homeschooling parent? How is homeschooling "programing" and public school not? My children get the stimulation of working and playing with their family. I want the family to be the center of my child's world and not their peers. I don't think another seven year old can guide my child better than I can. But often I think that's what happens often in public schools. Children form opinions based on what other kids think and say. That's not so much of a problem for my kids. I think Ms. Boyce has a lot of nerve deciding what is "far better" for my kids.
There are other losses, such as never being "on the team," never cheering for "our school," never being in a class where the interaction of ideas is more important than the text, or doing any of the myriad of things that make up the process of "belonging," from the first day of school to the 50th class reunion. There is far more to an education than a curriculum -- it includes summer break, Friday nights and graduation.
What about the other kind of kid? You know, the kind that isn't "on the team" and doesn't belong from the "first day of school to the 50th class reunion"? Public school doesn't work for every child. Children are diverse and complex, and many don't fit into the public school mold. I certainly didn't. I would have thrived in a homeschool environment, instead I stagnated in public school. Granted, that's anecdotal, but I don't think I was alone. Yes, there's more to an education than a curriculum. But I think it's misleading that she keeps referring to education only as part of the public school system. Education doesn't just happen in those four walls at a school. And there's more to homeschooling than a bunch of Wacked-out parents withdrawing from society and never letting their children leave the house.
I have met and talked with a variety of home-schoolers, both children and parents. Many have great gaps in their knowledge. Many are incredibly naive. Some do quite well -- they would have been superstars in school. Others can't wait to leave home, knowing full well that they have been cheated.
Wow, I'd love to know who she's been talking to. My children aren't being cheated, Ms. Boyce, they're being taught and loved. "Living, loving, learning, as a family" is the motto of our homeschool. It's what we do.
Parents often believe that they are protecting their children from the "evils" of life. However, children cannot be brought up in a bell jar. Remember that the school day is only six hours long, five days a week. That leaves many hours during the week and summer for the parent.
I do believe that I'm protecting my children from some things, but I'm not bringing them up in a "bell jar". Yes, the school day is six hours long or more. But then there's the homework, extracurricular activities, playing with friends, sleeping. Homeschooling allows us a great deal of flexibility and time to be a family. Call me crazy, but I prefer the simplicity of bringing my children up with the ideals and beliefs of this family which they learn every day right along side us. Less fighting the world is better for us.
Give your child the wings needed to grow outside of that jar. If parents wish to be involved in the education of their children, there are many opportunities to be part of the school day. Volunteer to be a lunch or recess monitor. Offer to tutor children in reading or math. Help the art teacher. Be a part of the process of building your community, not a member of the opposition.
I believe that I am giving my children wings to find a path "less traveled by". Ms. Boyce, how can I tutor them? According to you, I'm just their mom, you don't think I'm capable of teaching them. I did do the volunteer thing, when Reagan was in kindergarten, but I prefer teaching him at home. And since Ms. Boyce is so interested in Democracy, isn't one of those freedoms the founding Fathers fought to give us, the right to be part of the opposition? I think that is teaching my children something right there. They don't have to "follow the crowd" or do things like everyone else. They can be their own people. Is this the only way to teach kids that? No. But it's working for us.
A recent Harvard study following home-schooled children over many years found that these children did not do better at the college level than traditionally educated children. The real trip was for the mothers, who received the big emotional rewards. My response is: Mothers, get a life. How unfair it is for you to take away your own child's life in order to gratify yours? Is this what we must expect from the "me first" generation as it raises their families?
There are plenty of other studies. Studies that show homeschooled kids being more involved in church and the community than public schooled kids. Higher rates of college attendance and graduation, oh, and higher test scores. Oh, an Ms. Boyce? You're showing your complete lack of knowledge on this subject now. I'm taking away my children's lives? Don't you think it would be more convenient for me to drop my kids off in the morning and not think of them for six or seven hours? It is in fact, harder to keep them home and be responsible for their education.
The role of a parent is vital in a child's education. However, without all four of the pillars provided by home, school, church and community working together, we have a precarious foundation for the next generation. The public school system is the very cornerstone of democracy in America. We need to cherish it and nurture it.
Ms, Boyce, did you ever read "Little House on the Prarie"? I did. And I'm reading them to my children. People in this country put all of their belongings in covered wagons, and led their families West. Many became homesteaders. Often, the nearest neighbors lived miles away. Mothers often taught their children at home. Those one roomed schoolhouses weren't in every community. Yet, these children weren't lacking socialization. They socialized with their families. Let's remember that not all socialization is good. These children were adequately taught to read and write, sometimes with only the Bible as a guide. And they leaned Math, so that they could sell their crops and take care of their land. Were these Pioneers undemocratic? No. Nor are we, the pioneering homeschoolers, forging a new path in education.
Margaret W. "Peggy" Boyce is a resident of Saugatuck.
Anne Basso is a resident of Minnesota, and the child of two public school teachers who support her decision to homeschool.
And if you'd like to write her [Ms. Boyce]:
Attn: Margaret W. Boyce
54 W. 8th Street
Holland, MI 49423