Wednesday, November 12, 2008

STOP Homeschooling!

As the Editor-in-Chief of Homeschooling Today magazine, I am often asked questions about getting started homeschooling.

I was recently asked this question by the father of a young lady who has been diagnosed with ADHD and is not doing well in the government education system.

After encouraging this loving dad to pray for wisdom and look up his state's homeschooling laws at HSLDA, I felt led to offer a paradigm shift in the way he might be looking at homeschooling. The rest of this post contains that recommendation.

Looking at it differently

Once you've done those two things [pray and contact HSLDA], take a step back and try (it's going to be hard, but it's worth it) to forget everything you know about institutional education models: classes, curriculums, schedules, credentials, grades, expectations, etc. The common term for what you're talking about doing is "homeschooling," but it's a misnomer: neither does your child learn only at home, nor is what you're doing schooling. Schooling is a completely different animal from learning, education, and discipleship. Those three things can happen in the midst of schooling, but they really aren't the same thing.

Like most parents, your goals for your daughter probably don't match up with the school system's goals for her. They want to her to be socialized, which means to be worked into her proper place in the social system. You want her to be a responsible caring adult who enjoys life, liberty, and happiness. Again, those two can go together, but not always.

Train up a child in the way he should go

Before mandatory high school after WWII, no one was diagnosed as ADHD. Not that no one should have been diagnosed, but today's classroom can exacerbate the symptoms, leading to more diagnoses. Ask yourself this question: "What is it that ADHD students are required to pay attention to that they show a deficiency in? And since hyper is a comparative prefix, "They're hyperactive compared to what?" Some of the activities your daughter is engaging may not be "normal," but the institutional environment she is in may be part of the problem. And if you think about it, no one is normal. Every single person is an individual and has inherent value for the way God created them.

The institutional setting—for all practical purposes—requires every person born within a one-year window to behave the same, learn the same subjects at the same rate, dress the same, enjoy the same things, etc. But the truth is that some children excel in math, some excel in language arts, others excel in art; some do well in athletics, some in chess, some in auto shop, and others in music; some excel in mercy, some in love, some in giving, others in administration, and still others in leadership and/or service. Each one has infinite worth as an individual, and yet each one also has his limitations. Above all else, your daughter needs your love, your exhortation, your discipline, and your caring. In addition to that, she needs to be able to balance a checkbook, understand chemical reactions in the kitchen, write a letter of complaint when a product or service is deficient, and take care of the things she has. Most of those things are useful and needful in our society. And only a few are taught through schooling.

Don't homeschool

Back to the homeschooling. A curriculum is only part of what you need, and it doesn't have to be purchased from anyone. Many that try to be "complete" and one-size-fits-all, are rather incomplete and one-size-fits-none. If you are in a state that enjoys freedom of schedule, my advice is to pull your daughter out of the institutional setting she is in and don't do any curriculum until you and your wife and your daughter have spent some time together just being a family. Define who you are as a family, but remove the stress of having to take "schooling" home.

The Founding Fathers of our nation are considered by most to be the most literate, well-read, and well-informed generation the world has ever known—before or since. (Thomas Jefferson conducted a survey which revealed a literacy percentage rate in the high 90s.) And most of them had very little formal schooling, if any. Those who did, didn't go to school until they were at around age nine or ten. If they went to "university," they did so at the age of fourteen-to-sixten. That's why you'll often hear that so-and-so had "no more than an eighth grade education." What they really had was only three or four years of schooling, and eighth grade was as high as it went. After that they were working, building a business, learning a trade, running the farm. They were not dunces who only completed the eighth grade and then dropped out.

So, all that to say, removing your daughter from that situation can be a major paradigm shift in the way you look at education. Their way may have (a) been the standard by which she was considered abnormal, and (b) exacerbated the manifestation of the problem. Don't pull her out of that just to keep her home to do it the same way. She may be acting out because she's bored with a subject she has already mastered. She may be acting out because she can't keep up with her classmates academically, so she tries to do it socially. It may be a combination of those two, or more.

But don't stress about her not getting enough schooling.

Baby steps toward a family culture of learning

If she has strong friendships, don't break those up right away (even if they're somewhat unhealthy) or she is likely to rebel against everything you are trying to do. The move to family discipleship needs to be the first step. When she knows that you care about her and love her and that is why you are doing what you are doing, then it will be easier to reason with her about further changes you want to make: whether that involves letting some friendships go, or accelerating some subjects she does well in, or stepping back a few steps to get back to her pace on other subjects, or spending less time on subjects and more on service or music or art or giving or a family business. Each step take together. You and your wife may have to adjust your strides a bit for all of you to stay together, but the rewards are worth it!

Don't do it alone

Back to my first suggestion. If you and your wife are not Christians, perhaps a lot of what I said is completely foreign to you or sounds impossible. I can tell you that in my home, were it not for Jesus Christ, all of what I mentioned above would be a shabby, weak façade that would not stand up against any kind of pressure. I would be glad to discuss that further, too, if you would like.
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