The Comment Many of Us Have Been Waiting For

18 Mar

It seems that I ruffled a feather with one of my readers last week.  In my post titled, “Sign of a Full Homeschool Week” I listed a summary of the things my boys and I had achieved in the week.  One reader left this comment:

As a teacher I read your blog with some interest. I agree that you appear to have done a lot of work, but I don’t think a lot of it was very educational and I fail to see how you are achieving all areas of the curriculum. It appears to be very unbalanced.

All week long my other readers defended me (thanking you kindly) and expressed how incensed they were that someone would say such a critical thing on someone’s blog.  The comment was hurtful (actually it was my very first nasty comment  and it arrived on my birthday no less).  Regardless of intention and regardless of whether it arrived with clarification or not, it was just not kind to tell another what we think is wrong with them and their family.  God tells us, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prob 12:18).  Comments like these certainly do feel like the thrust of the sword so I’m going to try my best at a soft answer in reply.  Forgive me if my flesh peeks through.  It is struggling.

We waited all week for some clarification from my concerned commenter.  Today I was notified that a reply was written and I found it in my spam box.  Long time readers will know that my spam filter has a habit of doing this.  For the record I never delete comments….well not to date.  I haven’t had a need to.  Everyone has played kindly.

Now for those who didn’t catch it, here are the concerns that my commenter (a teacher) raised about the homeschool education I am providing:

hm well it seems I have written the wrong thing on your blog. I did not mean to be critical and resent being called a troll!!!
At the time of reading your blog I was waiting in the emergency section of the hospital for my son to emerge for theatre after an emergency operation and possibly could have worded my ‘criticism’ better.
Now that I am home from hospital and my son is resting quietly I will endeavor to address my concerns to put of your followers minds at rest.
Clearly your children are visual learners because most of your work is that style of learning. I would love to see more hands on activitivites being explored. More working as part of a small group to find solutions to problems, such as the ones about visible and non-visible light. An issue that I often have with students who have been home schooled and then enter the main stream for high school or university is that they tend to lack resilience because this has never been built up as a result of working with other people to find solutions to problems. They also lack team work. I noticed that your children are not part of any sporting teams which is sad for them not to learn to be part of a team.
I think the way you are encouring your children’s bible knowledge is outstanding and making it part of your school day is a brilliant way to ensure that valuable memory verses that they can reflect back on later in life are well learned.
In geography and history it is great that you are reading lots of appropriate material, but how are they learning research skills and in particular information literacy skills that will help them to continue to be lifelong learners. Also there appears to be little opportunity to check their understanding apart from verbal discussions about Auschwitz which while commendable may have been more beneficial if they completed some for of research project.
I assume that your children are brilliant readers, but I fear that their writing skills and processing of information would not come close to the same level.
I found it amusing that you listed the television shows that they watched for educational purposes. These are all shows that my children watch as they unwind from their day at school and view for entertainment, I guess I had never thought of them as helping them to achieve curriculum outcomes.
Anyway they are my ‘criticisms’ and I am sure that you and your many blogging friends will be able to justify your position and ‘put me in my place’ as being ignorant and homeschool bashing as that tends to be the response of most people I have encountered in your position.
Good luck with your educational endeavours and I hope that your children develop into adults that can see the view points of others and not just call them ‘Trolls’ because they don’t have the same viewpoint because that would mean we would live in a very sad narrow minded world.

Let me say firstly that I hope your son is doing much better now and I apologise on behalf of my commenters for any harsh words that were left.   Our tongues should be for building up people and not tearing them down.

Where do I start?  Okay, well no we don’t have the same viewpoint and I don’t intend to tear you down for that.   You are welcome to your view.  I was taught the same view in teacher’s college.  After trying it out for several years as a teacher myself, I abandoned it and choose to take a different educational path with my own children.   It’s only a narrow minded world if we all have to believe the same dominant view.  Or so I think.

Yes I do class educational tv programs as ‘educational’ but it isn’t necessarily scheduled in as ‘school’.  It’s what my boys love to watch and it does spark a lot of learning and continued interest.  They almost always try out the experiments they’ve seen on Science programs.  I also take some concepts that were introduced to them on Math programs and extend on them.   I don’t feel there is anything wrong (or amusing) with using television as a teaching tool.  Learning this way is perfectly valid (educators encourage the use of many and varied media), and as our school day doesn’t start at 8 and finish at 3 I can include it amongst the learning activities we enjoyed in our week, even though it was just as much entertainment as it was education.

Yes my boys are both very visual learners (and so am I) which is exactly why I tend towards strategies to focus on their strengths.  It makes no sense to present kinesthetic activities to learners who learn best through visual activities.   The reason teachers are encouraged to utilise varied learning modes is because, amongst their 30 students, they will have students who work best in different dominant modes…at least this was the thinking of the time.  Current research, which I like to keep up with out of general interest, indicates that learning styles seemingly aren’t as important as we once thought.

Although we do tend towards our preferred visual mode, it’s certainly not at the detriment of other styles.  Personally I think we’d have to be fairly talented to only teach in one style.  Every time we read aloud, listen to an audio story, discuss something or even talk (yes, without raising their hands) we are using our auditory skills and every time the boys do a Science activity, Technology task, write something or move around while learning (thank goodness they aren’t stuck in desks) they are engaged kinesthetically.  I really don’t lose any sleep over learning styles.

I also don’t fret over hands on activities as much as classroom teachers.  In a classroom I understand that it’s important to make it more like real life.  Sitting at a desk is problematic for learners.   It’s restrictive.  Schools, by their nature, hinder what children can naturally experience so they have to try and create artificial ways for students to engage in a topic.  A quick flick through a school resource catalogue will give you an idea of what I mean.  I don’t need a plush toy that turns from a caterpillar into a butterfly, a set of giant inflatable insects, life cycle puzzles or pretend money.   We just duck outside and find ourselves insects to put under the microscope.  We also like keeping them for a few days or breeding them to view their life cycle.  Every time we go to the shops or count out the money in our piggy banks we are learning about money.  This week we plan to use the trundle wheel and walk one kilometre to experience a 1000 clicks to know for certain that it is 1000 metres.  The bonus is, that as a homeschooler, I won’t need a note to take my students off school premises.   Also, with these kinds of experiences, as with other activities such as experiments, my boys never have to compete with 30 others for a turn.  They are always right there in the thick of it, never standing off at the edge of a large group watching someone else do the activity.

My complaint, regarding hands on activities is that, as curriculums reflect the needs of a classroom, hands on components become rather forced and artificial.  We don’t always have to have a manipulative to touch and explore to learn.    In fact they can often become a distraction and crutch because they aren’t being used correctly.  We don’t have to waste half an hour catching an insect to find out that it has six legs.  We don’t have to use non-standard measures, say a foot and a paperclip, to figure out that they are going to give varying measurement.  We don’t make glittery crowns when we are learning about kings or need to eat spaghetti when we are learning about Italy.  My boys are particularly sensitive to this type of time wasting.   I have to agree with them.  The majority of children do not need these experiences.  They just rob the children of time that could be better used.  So, no, I don’t plan a concrete activity for every topic we learn.

Plus, since there are only two students in my classroom, there are always enough hands on manipulatives to go around.  My boys can get up and pull out a manipulative anytime they desire the extra support, or even just to play with and explore it.   Sadly there just aren’t enough hands on manipulatives in school classrooms for every child to have, for example, a fraction circle set to help with their Math.  I know this as fact as I worked in both affluent and poor schools and never did we have enough to go around.  Inevitably, classroom teachers are forced to use their manipulatives as visuals and not kinesthically anyway.

No, I don’t need my boys to write a research paper or even to write anything at all for them to demonstrate their learning.  I know them intimately.  I talk with them.  I question them.  They share their learning with their father, extended family and friends.  I just don’t need a worksheet or project to prove they are learning, yet, be reassured that we still write and do plenty.  Did you see the silkworms we bred last year?  Or the silkworm book Ethan created?   Did you know that we are currently supplying several schools and family and friends with last year’s batch of silkworm eggs plus information on how to care for and breed them?   The difference between school and homeschool in this regard is that schools are required to regularly assess children to prove they are learning.  Sadly, a lot of time is taken up in this assessing, proving process.  I don’t have to waste as much time on it.  I can thankfully utilise our writing and research time for learning and teaching.

If you wanted to compare my children’s current writing skills to their schooled peers writing skills there would certainly be a difference.  My chosen teaching sequence is vastly different to that of schools.  Schools have young children writing a whole page of stuff very early on, phonetically spelled, with little punctuation or structure.  The goal is just to write, and the quality and content is not the focus.  That’s fine but it’s not my approach to teaching.  I first teach a child to read.  I can’t fathom how a child can write well when they can’t even read.   Once my children are reading chapter books we change our focus and formal writing lessons start.  By this stage they have spent time learning phonics, spelling, grammar, handwriting, content to write about, and have listened to a lot of quality texts read aloud, are developing a good vocabulary and are learning to order their thoughts when narrating what they have heard.  When they put pencil to paper they are taught to write well and they progress quickly.  Although my students still write less than their schooled peers, my eldest is beginning to write better quality texts than his peers.  This compliment coming from teachers outside of our family.  I have no concerns that my boys will not catch up, and exceed the quality and quantity of their schooled peers in writing.   This too is the experience of many homeschoolers.  Schools outdo (in quantity) our children in writing in the early years, but homeschoolers quickly overtake them in quality, which is vastly more important.

I also don’t place the same value on group learning that schools do.   I never learned anything in a school group learning situation, aside from the fact that you had to do the work for the lazy and unskilled if you wanted to get a decent mark.   If the purpose is to the level the playing field by dragging down the intelligent and helping up the stragglers, then group work certainly does that.  Perhaps a little harsh but it’s certainly how I always felt as a student.  Of course, I understand that the basic notion of group learning is to give students opportunities to learn how to interact and work with others towards a common goal.  Yet, there are still plenty of opportunities for real life team work in homeschooling, where competitiveness doesn’t reign.  Homeschooled children are very adept at interacting with all different sorts of people.  Two weeks ago my boys (aged 8 and 10) spent several hours at the park playing with their five year old friend and several unknown 3 years who wanted to join in the fun.    Last week the boys were playing with some other friends and one of them stopped to say, “Let’s hear what Damien has to say”.   Everyday while playing with their sibling they have to negotiate their plans.  Today I overheard them discussing whether their game should include rival companies or just a big corporation.   A compromise was reached and play continued harmoniously.  When solving real problems, for example, why the computer isn’t acting as it should, Ethan is eager to suggest his thoughts about possible solutions and engage in discussions with the adults regarding their course of action towards fixing the problem.  I’ve even seen my boys working with friends to create ‘clubs’, delegating the tasks to be completed and even holding club meetings, complete with the recording of minutes and suggestions for club improvements.    No I’m not concerned in the slightest about artificial group learning opportunities.  Life is offering them plenty of real experiences.

No I also don’t agree that team sports fosters the type of team work that I would see as valuable in life.   Even for physical activity we prefer fitness pursuits rather than team sports.  Activity where the goal is to remain active and healthy rather than in a competitive group where  beating the opposition reigns and fitness is a by product.   It’s my conviction that my family spends its time building others up rather than annihilating them.  Team sports just don’t sit well with me at all.  To each their own.

Something else which wasn’t mentioned is our lack of critical thinking skills and our primary focus on content, which I will include anyway as I know it’s a common complaint of teachers.    Schools pride themselves on the fact that they focus primarily on critical thinking skills.  I think this is to their detriment.  Imagine a violinist, who prides themselves on learning how to compose music but yet had never learned to play the music of others first.   That would be some awful caterwauling.   Schools do something similar when they put the cart before the horse, and often the cart without the horse, by teaching critical thinking skills to students who know very little about anything.  I’m not denouncing the value of critical thinking skills, but I’m pointing out that their value is lost if the children don’t have a basic knowledge of the world around them first.   Jumping wholeheartedly on one carriage of thinking is a common problem in education.  Look at the whole language debacle.   Educationalists embraced the notion of reading great books but stopped teaching phonics.   The same is happening with this critical thinking wave.  One carriage has been embraced and the rest of the train sits neglected.  It seems obvious why the passengers aren’t going anyway.

Ah but that’s just my point of view.  I’m not out to change the education system.  I think it’s foundations make it a shaky structure at best and I can’t see it ever working for all of the students it hopes to educate, at best it can limp along, which is why I got off their train and never put my children on it.  Within the classroom I would have to teach as the governing body sees fit and my children would be taught according to the most popular thinking at the time.  Thankfully these governing bodies have no jurisdiction in my homeschool.  I don’t make these statements as someone who views and judges the system from the outside, which is what I feel my commenter has done to me.  I have taught in schools, and my husband still teaches there, and our beliefs and homeschooling path are based on what we have learned about school.  We have seen how schools work.  We have seen the products of school.  If we wanted the same experience and product, we would teach in the same way.  We want neither so it makes perfect sense that our homeschool would seem alien to a school teacher.


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Homeschooling Thoughts


14 responses to “The Comment Many of Us Have Been Waiting For

  1. Jen

    March 19, 2012 at 1:11 am

    *Like* 😀

  2. Heidi

    March 19, 2012 at 4:45 am

    AWESOME!! Very thoughtful and well written response!!

  3. Erin

    March 19, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Extremely well articulated!! Thank you:){{}}
    Happy belated ‘B’day

  4. Elsa

    March 19, 2012 at 8:32 am

    I think the interesting thing to note here, is that you and your dh DO know the system. That’s what makes this interesting!You are very qualified to reply and I applaud your thorough response. I have no doubt that those ‘research’ papers will be in your future anyway, afterall, your boys are still young. Happy belated!

  5. April

    March 19, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Outstanding post Tracey! You have perfectly summed up the differences between school and homeschool. I’m often bamboozled why those affiliated with mainstream schooling can’t understand the amazing benefits that home education provides… Your words are truly inspiring, please keep the posts coming 🙂 Happy belated Birthday!!!

  6. Mandy

    March 19, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    loved your explanation/reply. What I’m taking away from recent discussions, is its all about choice. I love we are all so varied and that those choices have been well thought out, what ever path we take! Love your blog Blessings Mandy

  7. Megan

    March 19, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Wow! i have been amazed by your wonderful responses, Tracey. I’m not sure i could have been as neutral as you have been. Well done!
    I must admit though i am eager to hear a response to this post :p

  8. Bernadette

    March 19, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Glad to hear your son is resting up Cathy.
    I would like to clarify, since it touched a nerve with you. I didn’t call you a “troll” i was merely suggesting that, since i had noticed a rise in the “troll” commenting lately in my blogging travels, that perhaps it may have come Tracey’s way also.
    I apologise if you took it to heart.

    Happy Belated Birthday Tracey, I do hope your little (and big) men spoiled you as much as you needed 😉

  9. ReneeK

    March 19, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    You did a beautiful job explaining the joy and love of homeschooling your children.

  10. Kirsji

    March 20, 2012 at 2:00 am

    Well said, Tracey!

    I am sorry that the commenter decided to post a comment when she was stressed, though. Maybe that ought to be a lesson to others … wait until you feel better before posting comments.

    I am in no way bashing Cathy here, but I have seen it way too often where people decide to post a comment when they are stressed, angry, sad, whatever, and then realise later that they may not have worded it in an appropriate way.

    I’m glad your son is resting well, Cathy. I’m sorry we all jumped on you like that.

    Happy Birthday, Tracey!

    ~ Kirsji ~

  11. Jen in NSW

    March 26, 2012 at 9:35 am


    I do have a question for you as an extension to this discussion.

    I have always thought that part of the working as a team bit was also about learning about other’s strengths and weaknesses and working together as a group to get the most of each person based on their individuality. I know from working in teams myself at school that this ideal is not the reality, just as you also seemed to have experienced at school.

    What are your ideas on how we can create situations for our kids to learn these skills? Do you create them, or do you just teach them skills in communication and compassion for others and then allow natural situations to arise that use those skills?

    Sorry for the long question,

    Best wishes
    Jen in NSW

  12. Tracey

    March 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    To be honest I don’t fuss too much over it. Life brings plenty of opportunities to learn the required skills. We know that we didn’t learn our group skills at schools and yet we did very well in the workforce. If you look at family life, interactions with the community and especially play with other children, you’ll see plenty of occasions where these skills are being learned and practised. Homeschooled children particularly are better positioned to learn these skills as they are often interacting with all sorts of people, even in group class situations. Nah, I’m not worried at all about it.

  13. Christine

    April 2, 2012 at 7:12 am

    I think that in all honesty, a PS teacher and a HS parent are at near polar opposites on world view of education. I am sure in some ways, we do not even speak the same language. I have had people ask me if my kids are ‘keeping up’ and I have to ask, “to what?” I do not follow the same sequence as PS does that says I HAVE to teach a certain thing at a certain time. I always wait until my kids are ready to learn it. Why needlessly hammer away at said topic for years in a row until they are finally able to comprehend it? I can wait, and do it once. They ‘get it’ and we are off to the next thing. We speak different languages and have completely different goals.

  14. Tracey

    April 2, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I agree. Which makes it really hard to live with myself – both a teacher (ex but hard to shake) and homeschooler all in one. Hehehe.


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