by Mark Davis by Mark Davis
The overwhelming response from readers two years ago this spring to my personal rant titled Slow Learner indicated that I struck a common chord with many frustrated parents in this country. A large number of well-wishers asked that I write a follow-up so they could know how it turned out. I feared leaving the security of the herd and was not sure that I could handle taking on the responsibility of educating my son. Further, I did not wish to lead others down this difficult path until I was comfortable with my own decision. After completing one and a half years of homeschooling (or personal tutoring) for my son (13 to 15 years old), I can honestly say that my only regret is not starting at least two years earlier. Better late than never because he has blossomed beyond my expectations and I have found it to be one of the most fulfilling endeavors I have ever taken on.
I finally reached a breaking point where I could no longer tolerate the government school system and seriously looked at alternatives. My son was not being educated and the focus of his teachers was not to impart methods that develop individual thinking, problem solving or even the learning of basic useful knowledge. The purpose of these taxpayer-supported bureaucratic temples has nothing to do with educating children to be dependent on their own skills or abilities. The mission of government educators is to provide an environment that fosters dependency on the herd. The focus is obedience. Why else is it compulsory?
The danger of the herd mentality being foisted upon the impressionable minds of our youth threatened my family. The expressed good intentions of the people trained and accredited by the government in the art of manipulating the intellectual, physical and spiritual growth of my child was no longer a strong enough mitigating factor to further put off taking personal responsibility. I too had been indoctrinated to trust the official experts and not my own skills and abilities. My fears were finally overwhelmed by my determination to save my child from being assimilated into the virtual purgatory of "public education." I could feel him drifting away as his primary social unit was becoming the herd and not the family. After being fed up for years with the centralizing dictates, incompetence and inefficiency of the socialist school system, it was recognizing the imminent danger that my son faced of losing his chance for vibrant intellectual and spiritual growth that slapped me out of the fog I was in.
Granted the alternatives for educating children are broader for my family than many. The government school district I live in is as good as any in the State of Florida (no pun intended), which is a major reason I built our house in the neighborhood that we live in. I considered, checked out and visited several private or "prep" schools as well. The incremental cost (a lot vs. free) was not the deciding factor of rejecting this alternative, although it was a significant consideration. If I thought that a private school offered the best alternative for my son, I could and would pay whatever tuition was required. But the model was the same. The curriculums, facilities, teacher training and bureaucratic tendencies of private schools mirrored that of the government schools. The shepherds, livestock and pasture were sometimes of better quality, but the herd mentality prevailed nevertheless. Private schools have been regulated into surrogate government schools. Wait till vouchers catch on.
In studying various alternatives I essentially kept trying to find someone else to take on the necessary burden of time, although I would bear the burden of cost. Most people I've talked to who tell me that they would like to homeschool their children but "can't," state as their reason that they just don't have enough time. I believed this too until I finally reasoned that if I could find the time every day to feed my child, then I could also find the time to educate him; as I feel education is of primary importance among parental responsibilities. It also became clear to me that he was doing most of his learning via "homework" that I was already helping him with as well as supplemental reading assignments that I provided. The day was being spent learning obedience and the evenings being educated. The child had little time remaining for a real life. I had to give homeschooling a chance for the good of my son. In For A New Liberty, Murray Rothbard better expresses my enlightenment:
A crucial fallacy of the middle-class school worshippers is confusion between formal schooling and education in general. Education is a lifelong process of learning, and learning takes place not only in school, but in all areas of life. When the child plays, or listens to parents or friends, or reads a newspaper, or works at a job, he or she is becoming educated. Formal schooling is only a small part of the educational process, and is really only suitable for formal subjects of instruction, particularly in the more advanced and systematic subjects. The elementary subjects, reading, writing, arithmetic and their corollaries, can easily be learned at home and outside the school.
An unexpected thing happened in this process of seceding from the system, although what happened was typical of the joys one receives when giving and sacrificing for others. It made me a better person. My son blossomed almost immediately and he has excelled in his studies. The focus on and desire for learning has increased dramatically and he has learned to seek out knowledge and truth by his own initiative. I have emphasized a self-learning curriculum tailored to both classical education standards of reading, writing and math as well as his personal interests. This has certainly been fulfilling to watch and implement, as was the feeling of genuine freedom I got from leaving the system. The joys of freedom and self-responsibility are significant indeed, but the overwhelming joy returned to me is the time that we have spent growing together. Just the discussions we have commuting and having lunch together every day make the sacrifices worthwhile.
I do not want to give the impression that it has been easy, though it has been easier than I had originally feared. I have had to change and adapt to circumstances as I learned more about teaching, learning and instilling intellectual discipline. For instance, in the first few weeks of his first year I would go over his lessons in the morning and then leave for work. My wife works out of the house and was generally supervising his activities. In the evenings I would come home and check over his work and discuss any problems that he may have and discuss topics that I felt needed to be emphasized. This worked well at first, but his concentration began to wane and he wasn't getting as much work completed. When he wouldn't get his assigned work done, the next day I would take him to my office where I set up desk in the corner for him to work at in order to directly supervise him. I originally thought that he would prefer to work from the desk in his room at home, but then he asked if he could come to my office every day.
The education of being exposed to a professional atmosphere, observing the work ethic required of productive adults and learning entry level job skills in addition to his assignments has led to my son becoming somewhat of an apprentice. The purpose of education is no longer a mystical abstraction to him: it is part of life. Further he feels productive and wants to be productive. Math now has a purpose. Reading has a purpose. Writing has a purpose. Education is fulfilling to him. Is there a better lesson to learn?
Schooling is the process of learning to submit to and please authority figures while education is how we learn to understand, adapt to and find success in the real world. Parents taking on the responsibility of educating their children is rewarding to child and parent alike. The time that you the parent can give to your child enhances your life experience as well as theirs. Time is the most precious gift of all. It does not matter if the time is given at home, in an office, a store, a construction site, a factory or under a shade tree. Giving the time is what makes it work. It proves to your child not only that you care about education, but that you also care about them.
Fear not that you will fail to be an adequate teacher of subject's that you may have forgotten much of because you are already teaching your children more important lessons and have been for years. There is a wealth of information, studies and books available on the Internet, at Borders and the local library for formal studies. The number of support groups is fantastic. The transition from authoritative schooling to the joys of education can give your children, and you, a new sense of purpose in life.
Mark Davis [send him mail] is a commercial real estate appraiser and market analyst in the Orlando area.