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Why My Mum Chose Homeschooling

I was reminded today of the kind of nonsense that made my mother search out alternatives to the public school system here in the U.S.. My younger brother, Alex, was educated at home for the entire equivalent of the K-12 public system, while I only had to endure one year in “Pre-1st”, an experimental grade (at that time) intended for kindergarten-aged students who were more advanced than the standard program was intended for. The rest of my standard education was managed by my dear mum, and chatting with her today she mentioned one of the typical run-ins she had with a school official during my “Pre-1st” days.

About my mum

Allow me to fill you in on my mum a little before I go on: she has a degree in education from Cambridge University in England (she’s a native brit, and I’m lucky enough to share US and UK citizenship), approximately equivalent to a Masters degree here in the U.S. In addition, she spent a few years teaching in the UK before meeting and marrying my dad (now that is a fun tale I should get them to write down someday…), so she has practical experience to boot. When she arrived in the United States, she was informed quite bluntly that her education in education was not worth the paper it was so nicely printed on, and that was the first sign of the idiocy frequently displayed by the public school system in this country.

But the purpose of this little remembrance is not to bash the school system — I’m certain if teachers in the U.S. were paid more (and school administrators less) that would go a long way towards fixing some of the issues (perhaps excellent teachers would enter the public system rather than the private? Maybe people with star-teacher qualities would actually become teachers instead of entering other professions so they could pay the bills?), but I seriously digress.

Oh yes, the point

While chatting with mum about some similar difficulties she’s experiencing with parents of the children she provides care for these days, she was reminded of her conversation with the administrator responsible for health and nutrition at the public elementary school I used to attend. Her memory is of the administrator’s reaction when my mum enquired why ketchup was being counted as a vegetable in school lunches (never mind the obvious) — he acted as if his intelligence had been personally insulted, and told mum she had no right to question that sort of decision.

Many situations such as this occurred during my year at that school, and I’m glad they did, otherwise I might have spent 12 more years of my life in an institution that currently ranks 25th (Math), 12th (Reading) and 20th (Science) worldwide (source).

Have you had (as a parent or student) any similar experiences with the education system in your country?

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.


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23 comments on “Why My Mum Chose Homeschooling”

  1. Posted by Kevin Tamura on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    This reminds me of having to fight with my high school administration to allow me to take a college level Japanese class to fulfill my foreign language requirements. The school offered was Spanish, French and German only, and I really had no desire to learn them.

    Nowadays it seems you can’t listen to the news without someone trying to short change our education system (teachers), or throw it back 50 years (with regards to science).

  2. Posted by Robbert Broersma on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    Man, I love to see the Netherlands this high in such research results! That doesn’t mean I love the Dutch school system tough, but that’s because I really sucked badly at being a regular pupil. If small scaled alternatatives were given a chance here, I would at least have finished school, but in the Netherlands you *really* must either stop worrying and love mental torturing or be absurdly rich.

  3. Posted by Joost van der Borg on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    Hurray for the Netherlands! Although there are some problems with our system as well, at least I’ve never heard of any school trying to list ketchup as a vegetable here. But then there are no school-provided lunches either..

    Thanks for the source, I’ll remember to move to Finland if I ever have kids, and thanks for another reason to never move to the US ;)

  4. Posted by Brady J. Frey on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    I had many of these experiences — much of them pretty ironic.

    I remember as a kid my kindergarten through 1st grade was a Catholic school. My father, being the faithful catholic military man he was, loved it — however my mom, being a psych doctor with a good sense of the world on her shoulders, was a little taken back by some of the twists of that school — most notably, they had lead pipes in their water system (Kittery, Maine, USA).

    Obviously a bad thing for children, my mom, with a background in nursing, brought this to the attention of the school heads and many of the teachers and/or nuns at the location. In short, they told her she didn’t know what she was talking about, and that if she didn’t like how I was doing, I could go somewhere else. Much to my surprise, my mom told the nuns ‘where to put it’ in a not so nice manner, and that was the last time I went to catholic school:)

    Next came public, and mostly because we weren’t in the best position to put me in private financially. However, I graduated with straight A’s through my four years, with high honors in all of my tests, however:
    1) I received 5 days suspension for disregarding ‘playing games’ during study hall. That game would be chess.
    2) 3 days in school suspension for reading during english class — books that were not on the curriculum. I had taken a speed reading class, and noted that there was no reason for me to read the book over again in class, when I had already read it — and that we were in advanced english for christ sake, I should be able to enjoy Kurt Vonnegut. Didn’t matter.
    3) I received numerous meetings and punishment for not actively reading my books (marking your books with notations) — of which I received an F for that portion of the class. I received an A+ on all the tests and homework assignments, it averaged out to an A-. However, this did not stop the school from telling my parents that I was a ‘problem student’ not applying myself.

    In short, my senior year of private high school, I skipped 32 days of school, lost over 2 weeks to in and out school suspension, and had numerous detentions. Not one was for fighting, vandelism, failing — the standard issue stuff. I will take one detention I received for telling my teacher she was full of it, when she tried to stick a lame theme to a writing work.

    I don’t know — I wasn’t a perfect kid, or a perfect student by the text book; but I was constantly frustrated by the lack of common sense public schools seem to be driven toward. My mother, and I, agreed on many of the same issues you explained above — it was more politics, beauracracy and ego than education and advancing… when I think of my education, I think of the personal time I took to learn and explore on my own. Not the time I spent going through the motions.

  5. Posted by Jeremy Hubert on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    I can’t even begin to count the number of absurd issues that arose at my school in Sechelt, BC, Canada.

    – Grade 7: Four classmates and I were given detention for sitting on the “young kids side of the playing field.” 10 of us were sitting in the center of the field in a circle, and the TA came and pulled the 4 of us that were in the “primary” side away to the office.

    – Grade 10: After practically teaching the grade 11 computer science course (Turbo Pascal, hurrah!) and getting over 100% on all tests (including bonus points), my computer science teacher gave me a 92%. His reason: “Nobody is perfect.”

    – My parents were called and had to come into the office to talk to the principle. They were then told that I had been dealing drugs on school grounds. My mom laughed at him. My real crime? I gave vitamin C to my friends.

    There are a ton of them. I could go on for hours.

    I firmly beleive that all school is ineffective due to their attempt to reach “As broad a range of students as possible.” By doing so, they effectively restrict most student’s natural ability to learn. Schools should be broken into learning style, not age and residence.

    Teachers also need to start understanding that some kids are actually quite smart, and they should drop the ego and let the kids progress as fast as they can… even if it means the kid excells past the teacher’s own level of knowledge.

    Just my humble opinion. :)


  6. Posted by jordan on Thursday, March 31st, 2005.

    I’ve had a bit of an odd experience in regards to schooling…

    K-5: Private
    6-8: Homeschool
    9-12: Back to Private

    I much preferred going back to the private school. It was many times more expensive (over 3k$USD my last year, and still going up), but it was the first time in my life I actually made friends with more than two people at a time.

  7. Posted by Lanny Heidbreder on Friday, April 1st, 2005.

    I agree with a lot of what’s been said here, and I think that bashing the US ed system is perfectly fine. :) (I’m American, incidentally.)

    I disagree with this:

    Schools should be broken into learning style

    because the concept of “learning styles” is offspring of idiot psychologists, propagated by teachers who don’t accept that their crappy teaching is the reason students are abysmal. Real educational psychologists (of the behavior analysis variety) will tell you — and you’ll agree once you’ve heard it, and wonder why you never thought of it before — that a favored “learning style” is just a set of learning skills that that child has developed.

    Therefore, what you do is teach them how to learn all those other ways just as well. Then you can focus on high-quality, fast-paced instruction more than accommodating and reinforcing their learning skill deficiencies.

  8. Posted by Lanny Heidbreder on Friday, April 1st, 2005.

    And a fresh comment to relay my personal story:

    In 11th grade Chemistry, we were learning to do all the conversions back and forth among grams/moles/element IDs.

    See, that stuff is really just math. It’s just simple multiplication and division, with the numbers given to you by the Periodic Table instead of a math book. So, once you had the concept, you could work out all the steps on your own.

    Well. Our teacher (whose field was Biology) was giving us all the steps to do the conversions. On one, though, he took an illegal shortcut. He skipped a step that just happened to usually result in the right answer.

    So I raised my hand and brought it up; big mistake.

    After failing to understand me, he sent the rest of the class to lab. I went up to his desk to explain what I meant. After several repetitions, he conceded, along with a comment about how much easier things would be if I “weren’t so obsessed with correcting everyone.”

    That’s the day I truly gave up on people. :P

  9. Posted by Robbert Broersma on Friday, April 1st, 2005.

    Just to explain why private schooling in the Netherlands isn’t really an option: they cost about 12.000 EUR, and that’s why there’s only a handful of ’em.

  10. Posted by Jeremy Hubert on Friday, April 1st, 2005.

    what you do is teach them how to learn all those other ways just as well

    I still stand by what I said before. If you break schools up into learning style, instead of just age and district, then you can provide much more direct education. I entirely agree that it’s important to teach people multiple styles of learning, but in today’s school system, there is no benchmark. All students are expected to perform with the lowest common denominator, and if they try to forge ahead, they get pulled back down or shunned.

    I agree that learning styles are favored skills, but a kid who can already speed read actively (with notes) doesn’t need to be taught how to read slowly with the rest of the group. They should be taught how to handle speaches and other forms of learning. If you group everyone together and disregard their talents, you are going to get a lot of kids who think that school is just wasting their time and will lose focus. It really slows down the learning process for everyone.

    Mind you, as a North American, I really think the education in our continent needs an overhaul. When I was 14 I went to spend 2 weeks in France. I couldn’t even understand the math in the grade 9 math class, and I was one of the best math students in my school back in Canada. North Americans are WAY behind on their education.

    Also, I personally think that schools spend too much time teaching how to be a good employee, and not enough time teaching kids how to survive or be a good manager / boss / entrepreneur. I think this may be getting better nowadays, but it sure was unbelievable back when I went to school.

  11. Posted by Jan Willem on Saturday, April 2nd, 2005.

    I can give you some insite into my own school experiences but I won´t.

    Over the last couple of years there has been een growing number of, still private, schools who have taken great inspiration from Sudbury Valley school in the states. From their website:

    At Sudbury Valley School, students learn to think for themselves, and learn to use Information Age tools to unearth the knowledge they need from multiple sources. They develop the ability to make clear logical arguments, and deal with complex ethical issues. Through self-initiated activities, they pick up the basics; as they direct their lives, they take responsibility for outcomes, set priorities, allocate resources, and work with others in a vibrant community. Children ages 4-19 explore the world freely, at their own pace and in their own unique ways. Trust and respect are the keys to the school’s success.

    Building on this the iederwijs schools are implementing this idea.

    My girlfriend and I have been struggeling with the dutch schoolsytem for about 7 years when we encountered Iederwijs and Sudbury. We got so inspired we set up our on school based on these principals in our hometown (Tiel).

    What I have seen happening with four of my kids (ages 4-11) now attending the school for about a year is that they needed some time to close the chapter of their former educational experience. Having done that they now are growing towards taken their own responsabiity for their lifes and learning.

    My point is that there are alternatives and they don´t have to be very expensive. Our school is EUR 1200,00 a year.

    I´m very happy with the fact we now are working on education with 100% input and inspiration from our kids.

    I could go on forever on this subject….

  12. Posted by Lanny Heidbreder on Saturday, April 2nd, 2005.


    Chalk one up to my “being an unreasonable zealot” tally. :) I’ve found that when “learning styles” are mentioned, a load of hogwash usually follows, and I didn’t stop to make sure this time wasn’t different.

    I’m still not sure what I think about your sentiment — I guess I think that ideally, it shouldn’t be necessary. But it might be a really good idea for the real world.

  13. Posted by Henry Blackman on Tuesday, April 5th, 2005.

    I remember a particular teacher when I was 8 having an arguement with my mum, a few years ago, the memory surfaced and I asked my mum about it. She remembered that the teacher was actively having me re-read the same books, and do the same maths exercises over and over because I was going too fast, and the girls couldn’t keep up.

    What I remembered after that was that before I entered her class I was the furthest ahead in reading and maths, and leaving I was struggling to keep up. I never did recover, doing my “A” levels I found I’d never been taught long division (because I missed it – being so far behind) and because of that I missed matricies in the “A” levels, meaning I couldn’t cope with degree level Computer Science. Whilst it’s probably a bit unfair to blame this one teacher, my mum believes it was in fact her fault, because of some sort of jealousy that I didn’t struggle and was better than the girls at that age.

    Perhaps this was because my parents actually took an active role in my education and helped me learn more quickly. I didn’t have a childhood filled with games and play, but I’m so glad. Even now, I can’t thank my mum and dad enough for pushing me, when teachers held me back.

  14. Posted by jonas on Friday, April 8th, 2005.

    I went to a public school in a small sub-urban town; my graduating class was around 150, and the number of people in the school (from 7th to 12th) was below 1000 at that time.

    Classes were considered “crowded” anyway, but by and large the teachers (most of whom had been teaching for many years) recognized intelligence in students and did not try to perpetrate on me many of the braindead punishments many people describe.

    I don’t know why this is, but I have a feeling it was more related to school and class size (most of my classes were below 20 students) and teacher pay (many of my teachers being around for so long were making $80k plus) and *not* teaching methods.

    Still, I’ve noticed a MARKED difference between my outlook on life and my ability to communicate with others and that of those I have met who were home schooled. I had a roomate in college that was home schooled, and (although this wasn’t the only differentiating factor) he seemed to have an odd perceptions on responsibility (read: almost none).

    The fact of the matter remains, the US schooling system was designed to make factory workers, not academics. The academic’s rise to the top and get to go to college, where this is (was) more fostered than in high school. Public School in the US teaches you the “values” of timeliness and discipline; not mathematics and literature. If you don’t believe me (but you probably do), ask yourself how many detentions and suspencions are handed out because of some disciplenary issue (being late to class, skipping class, etc) and how many are due to an academic issue: even in my school, nobody cares if you get a C or a D, but when you don’t show up to class, you’re parents are called.

  15. Posted by yowanka on Saturday, April 9th, 2005.

    Hi!Can you please show me how to get phots on my blog?(I’m sorry my english is very weak:P)I’m very sad, cause I cant put my photos on my blog!help me(zaczarowaneciasteczko@wp.pl)

  16. Posted by blah blah on Wednesday, April 13th, 2005.

    Wow, a lot of whining from a lot of self-professed brilliant minds. Maybe the schools aren’t the problem, maybe you’re all just a bunch of spoiled pussies. Schools shouldn’t have to bend to accomodate every learning style, and taxes shouldn’t be wasted bussing kids from all over to “learning-style” themed schools. Get a grip, if you’re so brilliant that your teachers couldn’t even understand you, I’m certain an academic scholarship would have been available from a better school (in the event that your family couldn’t afford the tuition.)

    I think you all of have over-inflated egos and a distorted perception of your childhood. I bet everyone where you work is stupid too, and you’re smarter than your boss, and all the drivers around you suck, and…

    You are all ego-maniacs, the centers of your own little sad pathetic worlds. Learn how to interact, maybe you could have developed important skills by HELPING the students that weren’t as advanced as you. Alternatively, you could always test out of any grade in the US with parental consent and move on to the next grade.

  17. Posted by charmdolphins on Saturday, April 23rd, 2005.

    oh. my mum did not choose homeschooling for me. so was it fun????

  18. Posted by Lelia Katherine Thomas on Tuesday, April 26th, 2005.

    As a child, my family moved around quite a bit. Probably half, if not more, of my elementary/primary school life was done in homeschooling. I don’t regret it. Not one bit.

    The politically correct, of course, are going to tell you that the public and private education systems can offer so much more, and perhaps–and that’s a big perhaps–that was the case “back in the day,” especially when class sizes were smaller and teachers were better. Now, though, there are so many methods and ways to teach children at home or in smaller groups, as you said, according to their level, not their age.

    Having experienced the public, private, and homeschool teaching styles in several states, I know which one was better for me personally. Being eighteen now and able to look back on the time I had at home under my mother’s teaching, I realize that I was a lot better off then and now. I moved at my pace, which was a faster pace than what the public or private education systems worked, and I was able to actually get the sleep and food that I needed as a child. I also have a much better personality in public. I thought I might mention that, considering so many who don’t know a thing about homeschooling are convinced we are all nerdy, uptight, and introverted people. At least I know how to act decently in public; public and private school certainly never tried to teach my formalities. Thank God my parents did.

    When I ended up going to public school in fifth and sixth grade, I was so bored. They couldn’t believe that I had had an eleventh grade reading level since I was eight-years-old (despite printed, physical proof of that with national standardized testing which put me in the top 2% of the nation when it came to reading and my age), so they immediately started me at the fourth-grade reading level. They were convinced that I could not possibly be even up to par with my peers, much less lightyears ahead. My peers were not much better, as they were sure that I couldn’t have possibly spent my time learning at home, when I could have lived deadbeat lifestyles, like many of them were.

    When I told my parents this, they spoke to the teachers and principal of my school. These books based on “reading level” were ones I was required to read and take tests on to “improve” my reading skills. Sadly, I was so bored with the childish content that I would only skim the books and then do poorly on the 10-question electronic tests.

    My parents, when contesting this absurd behavior, managed compromise; the school allowed me to read at one grade level above my own–grade six. When I had read all the books of interest in that grade, they began to let me move up, but only then.

    Like in your mother’s situation, this just goes to show how ignorant the public (and many private, in my experience) education institutions can be, even while maintaining their arrogance!

    I stayed in public education for middle school and my first two years of high school due to friendships more than anything. My last two years of high school, I opted to switch to independent study. Why? Because I got sick of the extracurricular B.S. that gets shoved down one’s throat in public schools (they sort of forget the objective of learning amongst all the football games). I also got sick of the baby daycare that existed in the school for all the unwed, teen mothers; also sickening was the fact that these knocked-up (usually more than once, at that) girls could go in an hour a day to see their children and get a full class credit. They could do this every year. This, while my 4.0 got knocked down by a psychology teacher who just didn’t like me. That’s not a huge issue to me, but there seems to be a problem in the balance there.

    I agree with you on the fact that the administrators should be paid less and the teachers paid more, but I also think, too, that the teachers should go through more rigorous training, especially those who teach upper grades and are supposed to have some general skill and focus to the specific classes they teach. In the state I reside in, teachers can teach up to three years without a license (it’s supposed to be for while they’re pursuing their license); this is because there is such a shortage in teachers vs. students. Classes are overcrowded; sex, drugs, and violence runs rampant.

    Naturally, it is unlikely, though not entirely impossible, that an unlicensed, poorly-skilled teacher is going to be able to handle a class of 30 students who want to act like animals. Moreover, how can people of that nature teach children well? And most assuredly, how can they try to tell us that more personalized learning institutions of small, more focused groups, be that at home or somewhere else, aren’t as good as what they can “provide?” It’s infuriating.

  19. Posted by William Stewart on Wednesday, April 27th, 2005.

    Due to the poor quality of schools and the negative environment, my parents chose to homeschool me. I started a graphics design business before I finished High School and haven’t looked back since.

    Overall, it was a pleasant experience.

  20. Posted by lizzy on Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005.

    First of all, sorry if my english isn’t very good.

    I opted for home schooling if my parents were able to provide everything needed. But my parents weren’t educated people and they don’t know what is home schooling is. For them, able to send me to school i.e public school is consider something very good enough because that is what they can afford.

    In my country, during my school time, i.e. + – 20 years back so as today, eventhough there are many private school, school was 100% managed by goverment and half of the cost was by government. This makes the fees cheaper than private school & perhaps home schooling. So, that’s the only option my parents have to enabling their daughter educated. That’s the reason why I ended up in public school.

    Though I not condemn public school, like I said earlier, if my parents are able to home schooling me, I will choose that.

    As bad experience is school, I am sure everyone will have one. As for my self, during 5th grade, I was being slapped by my teacher because I am not finishing my homework. It is Maths subject. But as an 11 years old girl and just moving to that school for 5 months, I don’t know anyone much and I don’t even close to any teacher.

    I admit that I am not very bright in Maths but what makes me regrets & dissapointed with that incident is that not because I get slap because I don’t do my homework. But for some other reason . The teacher said it is the reason but another teacher and some other classmate said the teacher got angry with me because I was slapping one of my classmate.

    Nah.. dont get excited… I know maybe you people would think I am a bad girl or bullying. But NO! the fact is that the classmate is the one who disturb me 1st. He is consider as a clever student by that teacher though everyone knows that he is very naughty. Because of that, none of the teacher will stop what he is doing. Being a new girl, I dont know that fact & because I cannot stand him who always bullying me & disturb me, one day I slap him back after he pull my ponytail (I had a long hair those days). If comparing our size that time, I am the smallest in the class.

    I guess he’s complaining about that incident to that teacher & guess what, the incident that I got slap by the teacher is not immediately after the incident I fight back the boy. But, it is during that teacher class i.e Maths class.

    Being naive & new & also no one I can tell the incident, I just keep quiet. I don’t even tell my parents. But the scar from that incident makes me hated Maths subject & also that school. I was determine to go to boarding school doesn’t matter if it is a good or not as long as it is a boarding school. It is beacuse those days, boarding school is a hot things & anyone who are able to entered will be consider a clever student.

    Gosh! I really can’t forget that teacher & that incident though I don’t know where is she about now. It is because it makes me feel very down & I became an introvert & no self confidence for a very long time.

  21. Posted by Taryn on Monday, May 9th, 2005.

    I was homeschooled 7 years. I’m back in public school because my mom had to get a job. It really sucks. But, I’m happy I was homeschooled for the time I was. It was the happiest days of my life so far.

  22. Posted by Frank McClung on Friday, May 13th, 2005.

    Here’s a pop quiz for everyone. Please pick out the word that has not changed over time from the list below (think of them in a sort of historical order from oldest to newest):

    a. Public School
    b. Private School
    c. Religious School
    d. Home School

    Stumped? Here’s a hint: the word is only 150 years old in the United States (can’t speak for other countries). School as we know it today is a product of the Prussian military state and was really designed to dumb people down into following orders (if you work in a corporate environment, you might recognize this feeling).

    I think that school robs us of the most valuable creative resource on earth, time.

  23. Posted by Chad Small on Friday, May 27th, 2005.

    My father was a teacher for 30 years (died in his 30th year trying to make sure he could retire with full pension…should have quit). We would discuss the education issue constantly, but he felt the biggest reason for the fall of educational standards was the lack of parental interest. He could not get parents to do their part to make sure their children did their work, kept in line, and were good students, since teachers no longer have any authority in the classroom due to the threat of lawsuits. I also think the best thing for all children, white, hispanic, black, etc. would be to have school choice. I live in Arizona where we have charter schools and I can send my kids to the school of my choice wether it be public or charter. With this availability the public schools have had to “step up to the plate” and implement harder ciriculum. I grew up, however, in Las Vegas and there was no school choice, you went to the school you were zoned for or went to private on your own dime. This meant if I was zoned for a crappy school (and their were many) I had no other choice but to attend the run down school I was “zoned” for. I was never challenged and if it wasn’t for my father always having NOVA and other PBS science shows on I would never have grown in knowledge as much as I have. I commend those who home school, it gets a bad rap, and the NEA hates it! When you have no choice available to you it’s really the only alternative.