Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thoughts on Homeschooling Means and Intentions

The other day while reorganizing and cleaning my house I listened to three lectures on tape from the MassHope homeschooling conference held in spring of 1999. These lectures were all given by Steve Lambert, father of homeschooled children and spouse of the author of the Five in a Row books (who runs their book business).

Steve Lambert stated that he had recently heard a radio interview with a man who was the head of personnel of AT&T. They asked what traits the company looks for and does not look for in candidates to hire to be employees.

They don’t consider:

1. GPA. The notion that past academic success predicts future job performance and success within the company is not correct. (We all know this is true as our GPA is not on our resume nor is it on job applications for entry-level, minimum-wage paying jobs.)

They want:
1. Ability to work well with others.
2. They can finish a project on time.
3. They can work and stay within a budget.
4. They can look at data and draw conclusions.
5. They know how to do research and can find answers.
6. Good problem solving skills; they can think outside the box to solve a problem.

In no way was Steve Lambert saying that homeschooled children should have a dumbed down curriculum or that actually learning academic things is not important. The point he was making was that within our homeschools it would benefit the child/student if the homeschooling parent made sure their homeschooling method and content covered the six points listed above.

One problem that he discussed was that some of the ways that people homeschool, some of the homeschooling curriculums are designed in a way to NOT achieve the six points above, just because the work required of them does not practice or accomplish those skills. Namely the methods that use the model of what is done in the classroom: reading a textbook, filling in the answers, cramming and using short term memory to take a test, then moving on to the next topic---fails to provide what is needed to accomplish at least five of the six things listed above by my estimation.

He was also talking of the huge commitment that homeschooling is for a family, the loss of the second income, the cost for books and materials, and of course the time and energy. (This could be a ‘homeschooling con’.) If a family is going to go through all of that he hopes that a couple of things are achieved. One is that the homeschooled student is really learning and mastering the skills and information, another is that they learn in such a way, with a method that keeps learning interesting and alive for them (probably not a textbook, school-in-a-box method).

The above list of skills is being addressed and taught in the homeschool. One other thing is that the information taught/covered is actually remembered. One point is that he felt that with unit studies and deep study of certain topics that is achieved, while other homeschooling methods may not achieve that (nor does classroom learning in schools and in college, even. (He spoke of a college who invited their May graduates back to campus in September and then surprised them by giving them tests on the material they had covered. 90-something percent of the content they have previously been tested on and ‘knew’ had been forgotten..)

I believe that many of the things in the list above can be taught and mastered by just altering the method the family uses to homeschool. It won’t cost any money to address the six things in that list. Some of those things can be achieved by simple conversations and discussions with our children. One example is that parents could discuss what a newspaper article says and what conclusion is drawn from it, then compare that to another article or more facts, that may change yet again what conclusion is drawn.

Communication skills within the family should be worked on achieves the ability to work well with others. The homeschooled child could be put onto competitive teams such as the First LEGO League to work on working with other students in a team environment.

Probably the only skill from that list that will be achieved by using a school in the box curriculum is the ‘finish project on time’ and that only would be in effect if the parent imposed a deadline for the child to meet (not everyone does that).

Over and over, we were encouraged to not overly focus on academics and short term measurements of ‘homeschooling success’. After facing burn out and boredom using various homeschooling methods they finally found their ideal method which was to use unit studies and to read lots of real books, along with some regular curriculums such as a math curriculum. He reminded us that as an adult they will not recall how many seconds their child did their timed math drill in, but they will remember the gorgeous day that you took off from homeschooling to go have an impromptu picnic in a nice place outdoors. He said they will remember the little, simple things, the things that they had fun spending the time with their parents doing, not a score earned on a homeschool curriculum test.

Steve Lambert was an excellent speaker and I found his lectures very interesting and easy to listen to. At the time of the taping he was 54 years old and had homeschooled his children for 17 years, all the way through their college admissions. One daughter was already graduated from college with a 3.95 GPA, and the other was currently in college. The older daughter, Becky, entered college just after her sixteenth birthday, and did just fine in her first classroom situation (but he said he’d probably not enter a sixteen year old into college again). He said Becky was now working for them writing more curriculum. She has authored “Beyond Five in a Row” and Above and “Beyond Five in a Row”.

Lastly I wanted to mention Steve Lambert’s marathon analogy. He cautioned homeschooling parents to not overload a child’s academic plate, and not to rush. He advocated for small steps done on a regular basis, and assured us that progress would be made. An example was the simple phonics lessons taught seemed to be silly, but at the end, his daughters did learn to read, so we should plug on and keep going. He said to not evaluate things prematurely, such as saying, “that phonics curriculum looks dumb and is probably ineffective”, that we should just plug along. He also shared that so many that they knew who were homeschooling with the rushing mentality and overloading themselves ended up burning out and placing their children in school. Those who were not so harsh on themselves and were not doing premature ‘self-checks’ on their progress stayed in the game and made it to the end with children who were smart and turned out just fine.

One funny thing was that he said a few times that he didn’t understand why they were taping this lecture. Well, for one reason, people like me are benefiting from it. In the spring of 1999 my older son was just a year and a half old and I was not attending homeschooling conferences located out of state. Actually on that exact weekend I was busy at a La Leche League conference being awarded my LLL Leadership status. But his recorded words that weekend found their way to me in 2006 and only now am I hearing his lectures and benefiting from them. And now you are reading about this and perhaps what he said will encourage or enlighten you.

My favorite thing to do when decluttering, organizing stuff, and cleaning while alone is to listen to lectures on tape. They inform me, inspire me, and help me not quit the task when it becomes mentally boring or physically tiring.

Thank you, Steve Lambert, you inspired me!

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