Why Some Kids Aren't Heading to School Today
My wife is a Montessori teacher, with several years of combat experience in Detroit’s corrupt, bankrupt schools, where her impoverished students routinely blew away standardized test-score averages. Between us we have more degrees than a thermometer. What’s more, unlike too many public school systems, we aren’t content with mediocrity. There’s many things we stink at, like dusting, and lawn care, and filing our taxes in a timely manner. But we are good teachers.
The secret of home-schooling, however, is that you don’t have to be a master teacher to do it well. Energy, dedication, and good materials are what you need. Your competition, meanwhile, is a system that by design and necessity seeks the median. Public (and many private) school students have to move along in all subjects at a similar pace, and in the same order. Outliers -- the talkative, the energetic, the gifted, the struggling -- are labeled and interventions (counseling, special classrooms, tutoring, medication) prescribed. The goal is not a full realization of the child’s potential, but rather the system’s smooth functioning.
Saying that we home-school sometimes elicits troubled responses. Though conditions have improved since the 1970s, when public school officials routinely sicced child welfare officers on parents teaching their children at home, home-schooling is still odd to most people. That’s just the price we radicals pay. Thanks to organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association, though state authorities and teacher’s unions don’t like what we’re up to, they mostly leave us alone. Power to the people, baby.
While it’s nice to imagine ourselves living a counter-cultural lifestyle, the reality is that in Wichita, Kansas, home-schooling is widespread. Home-schoolers have baseball teams and soccer leagues. Teaching support groups. There’s even a Boy-Scout troop. Local private schools, meanwhile, offer science and other equipment-intensive courses. Churches provide facilities for home-school association meetings, and even study halls so home-school parents can join Bible studies. If a home-schooling mother falls ill or dies, there is often another home-schooling family who takes on responsibility for teaching her children.
Folks in our neck of the woods embrace the proper goal, which is not supporting public schools, but supporting public education -- the education of the public, which is only ever you and me and our neighbors. The goal is educated children, after all, not allegiance to some institution or ideology.
This includes, by the way, a willingness to walk away from home-schooling itself if a better alternative emerges, like our local classical schools founded by groups of home-schooling families. There’s a lot of talk around election time about reforming schools, which always leads to top-down solutions. For many people we know, the best school reform they’ve found is forming their own.