Friday, November 7, 2008

Strengths and weaknesses

What if one of the greatest strengths of homeschooling is also its greatest weakness?

I've been mulling this over all afternoon, thanks to a phone call from an acquaintance who had no idea that she was pouring boiling water on the wasp's nest that is my mind.

In a simple description of a situation she's facing with a new intern in her workplace, this bright, experienced professional rocked my world:

"It's been a lot of work getting her settled in because frankly, she's a homeschooler and everything has been so tailored to fit her learning style and needs that she's not really sure what to do when she has to just learn something point blank or soldier on through the boring stuff."


Take a minute to think that through. A young lady, aspiring to a particular profession, has taken the initiative and pursued an internship in a field that she thinks may be her calling. Clearly, she met the criteria set forth for the hiring of such interns and shows some promise in the field. However, her transition into the position has been rocky because her educational training has not challenged her to persevere through topics in which she has little interest, or to simply absorb information by rote repetition.

In other words, the creativity, inventiveness and customization of homeschooling has, in this instance, failed to produce a desirable employee. This young woman will have to garner those less-than-thrilling, but oh-so-vital skills called "real life" on the fly. With a potential future employer watching.

Pondering this has been very convicting for me. Like most homeschooling parents, I try to gear things towards the interests my children are displaying at any given time. I aim to make learning the hard stuff relatively painless. I strive to sprinkle success here and there when the light bulb is taking a bit longer to pop on. I listen carefully to my children and I make sure information is given to them in ways that fit their processing styles.

Is that so wrong?

I 've never thought that it was. After all, isn't the goal to raise children who love learning so much that they can be placed in a situation like this young intern is facing and take to the new environment like a duck to water? This is what I've told myself will happen. By the time my children graduate from our homeschool, I've always believed, they may not know everything, but they'll know how to find out about anything.

But what if I'm wrong? What if the educational professionals I've disregarded for the past seven years have theories that actually hold water? What if my brother-in-law, who is finishing his master's degree in school administration is right: if you change math curriculum every time you decide it "isn't a good fit," or if you plan out one course, then ditch it for another when you suddenly find an interest in a new area, then you're setting your children up for a lifetime of frustration when they realize that college, workplaces, etc., don't follow those same, "have it your way" rules.

This train is nowhere near the station. I'm not really sure where I'm going to land on this, so I'm throwing it out to my readers. What do you think? Is flexibility a strength in homeschooling? A weakness? Both? Let's discuss ...


Mama JJ said...

The strengths of homeschooling FAR outweigh the strengths of school. Period. (Yes, I'm rabid about homeschooling. No apologies.)

I think what you might be getting at is "discipline". If homeschoolers know how to be disciplined in their studies, in their work, in their lives, then the rest should fall in place.

But you're right. We can't KNOW, can we? Such is the great adventure of life.


Benny said...

Hmm... I agree with mama jj on.

And though I do not know the context around the conversation regarding this young lady, it's hard to say if the person speaking about her is even right. Maybe it's this girl's personality to be a little helpless and not capable of pushing through the boring stuff. Maybe it's a lack in parenting or a personal weakness. I say this only because it sounds like me, and I'm a product of the public education system. Heck, I was a 4.0 student and everything! But I lacked discipline, and the school certainly didn't make up for my weakness. Maybe the woman you spoke with just assumed that because the girl was homeschooled, that that was why she was weak in those areas. She might have just had a prejudice against homeschooling.

And for that matter, who's to say that the girl is even in the job that God created her to be in? Maybe it's really not the right work for her, and maybe God has other plans for her and she is meant to fail here so she can be directed towards the plans He does have for her.

Just some thoughts. But my gut is still that homeschooling's benefits will far outweigh the negatives, as mama jj said.

And if our kids do not fit in with the run-of-the-mill office jobs, well, maybe that's the point, right?


Liz said...

just remember that all forms of homeschooling are not equal. some homeschoolers turn out as GREAT mother's helper was homeschooled . she is doing mothers helper gigs while working her way through college. she is WONDERFUL, compitant, follows directions, has AMAZING initiative, and is a very interesting and friendly person.
i think it matters more your style of parenting. if you are extreamly permissive, ie child dosnt like cleaning room so so you say fine , it's your room-then you are certianly raising a child who will have problems in the real world. without the grounding of firm rules in school or at home, a child will not be prepared for the workplace. but, as long as you provided boundries, limitations, and high expectations (along with a great serving of love, attention to learning style ect ) i think you will produce a worker with drive, initiative, and a focused mind!

SmallWorld at Home said...

Well, today, for example, I MADE my son go to his geometry class for sort of this reason. He takes from a homeschooling dad in a small class of about 5. He said, "It is a waste of time for me to go to class today. I have no questions. I understood everything. The only thing we do in class is go over questions about the previous homework."

I told him that yes, he must go. I explained to them that, had he been in public school, this would have been much of his life--and that it wouldn't KILL him to experience a little of this. That sometimes, you just have to grin and bear it. That sometimes, you go just because you are committed to going.

I felt bad, sort of. But I really do think that it is important to learn how to be a team player, and in this case, his participation in class is being part of the team.

He went.

Mrs said...

Knowing I cannot possibly teach my children everything they need to know before they leave my home, my goal has always been to teach them how to LEARN. If I can do that, they can do anything.

My daughter was hired as an office assistant at a dental office specifically because she IS a homeschooler, is self-motivated, and sticks to her tasks. A woman from my church works for the dentist and when their first homeschooler graduated and went on to collage, they searched for another!

Tiffanie said...

I, too, worry about the outcomes of customizing education to your child's learning style and interests. I try to incorporate their interests whereever possible, but tend to leave that to self exploration rather than adding it to the curriculum for the year. My son is an auditory/kinesthetic learner but most curriculum of his is geared for visual learning. He does okay with this. We add supplements that target his learning style, rather than teaching in the learning style. I've always approached homeschooling with an eye to the future...I want him to be able to learn anything on his own and visual learning (reading etc.) is usually what you encounter in post-secondary and the workplace.

That said, I firmly believe, like others, that the benefits of homeschooling far outway any downsides. I think this situation with the young girl you were speaking of is probably not representative of the norm.

Mrs. C said...

Oh, well, there are lots of positives to public education. Like socialization and learning to get along with your peers.

We took my son out of school almost two years ago because the school was kind enough to try to teach my child that he simply MUST follow school rules. Being autistic and having difficulty functioning in a class of 27 students with no aide is not an excuse. For trying to run away and having other autism symptoms induced by this environment, he was locked in a closet to teach him that there are always consequences for his actions. Wasn't that nice?

I could have kept him there, you know, and maybe he'd have shaped up a little.

But I brought him home instead. He is learning academic material well, but doggone it if his autism is NOT any better despite my best training. No doubt some employer someday is going to wonder why those homeschooled kids turn out strange when my child enters the workforce, too.

Just my .02. I think employers are just looking for weirdness in homeschoolers. How many employers do you hear saying things like, the kids those *public schools* turn out are strange. They have to be entertained all the time or they don't learn...?

Oh, wait. I *have* heard such things on college professors' blogs LOL!

Craig and Heather said...

Interesting query.

I have a lot of thoughts on this subject. Most of them I will keep to myself at this time as I don't want to overtake your comment section.

My 3 sisters and I all spent time in both public and homeschool. I was the "nerdiest" and got pretty consistent good grades in most subjects. Our homeschooling was pretty typical textbook stuff as we did ABeka the first round and I graduated from the CLASS program, as it offered a diploma. Now, I'm a stay at home mom of 5. The sister directly under me never finished her senior year, got a GED and is in a high up management position in an office situation. Her learning style would probably have been more of a hands on "field trip" type, as she likes to travel around and take (excellent) photographs. She has sold several prints. My own snapshots are pathetic in comparison. We were both offered a place in my dad's photography business--I dabbled at it and quit but she did quite well even though she eventually moved on. I babysat often as a kid--she did a couple times when I was unavailable. I have never been interested in the sort of career she has and would probably end up fired if I tried.

My husband spent time in public/private and home school and has had several different types of job in his life. Some he did quite well, others not. It isn't because he isn't smart or doesn't know how to apply himself but some of them were not a good fit. He is now in a management position using many of the skills he learned while working the previous jobs that didn't suit him. He is regularly telling me of public school graduates that he oversees who have no work ethic and can't seem to think for themselves or expect to be spoon fed. Others he can see want to work but don't realize they would be better suited to a different position in the plant. They look lazy or incompetent simply because the job isn't suited to their abilities.

My point is that personality, natural ability and interest do play a huge role in whether a person succeeds in a chosen career.

It IS good to teach a child to be persistent and finish what he starts, even if he hates it--with a good attitude, in a timely manner, to the best of his ability. That is a basic character trait, though, not something one has to "go to school" to learn. Unfortunately, this is a weak area in my own life, so I need to work extra hard at it with my children as I am still learning myself.

I am a believer in "customized" education but have made mistakes in starting a program and not finishing or changing it if the child simply does not wish to apply himself. There is a difference in working with a child's learning style and simply letting him give up if he doesn't like the subject. Or quitting myself if the child wants to be stubborn about something I know he is perfectly capable of learning. It was a hard lesson and we are playing catch up in some areas.

I guess I'd best stop since I wasn't going to write a book here.

I expect if you keep asking, God will give you an answer--He has promised this to those who ask Him for wisdom and are willing to obey His direction.

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Lurker coming out.

I am an adult who was homeschooled, and I am *still* struggling with self-discipline and stick-to-it-iveness.

With a very disciplined mom and fairly structured childhood I didn't have any guesses why until recently.

My dad (who is a public school teacher) just took a continuing education class on "giftedness" and labeled me a textbook case.

(Stick with me, I'm not trying to brag.)

This filled in a lot of holes for me and has made me think about this sticking-with stuff:
When you are a good student (in any environment, but especially if you can pursue your own interests) you will only continue to get better in what you're good at. You're cross-country skiing on the perfect trail with the perfect wax, etc.

You barely have to work to fly.

So what happens when the temperature drops or the snow gets "sticky"? We think something must be "wrong."

This isn't how *it* works! we say, because we've seen *it* done right-- which up till now has meant done easy


I am probably 85-90% of what you want your hs kid to be when she grows up: I know how to communicate effectively, I can adapt and self-teach, I have a solid grasp of my strengths and weaknesses (working on the latter), but I am continually confounded by my lack of endurance.

In an effort to spare my children this issue I have a distinct goal:

My current (untested) plan is to make sure each child learns a foreign language and a musical instrument.

My reasoning is that you can *always* keep going, and as long as you keep going you will continue to be challenged.

Music and Languages have a beauty that makes them worth pursuing, and a basic repetition that requires endurance because (no matter how hard anyone tries) it can't always be "fun".

For what it's worth (since you asked) I think following the kid's interests in many things is fine, but I think there needs to be at least one repetitious, sequential project they do out of obedience, just because "it's part of the job."

Suzanne said...

Tis a valid concern. We are new to home-schooling so my opinion is probably not worth that much . . .

I MAKE my kids persevere all day, every day. When they whine it is too hard -- be it a chore or a school task -- I DON'T HELP. When they buckle down and try, I come give a helpful nudge and surreptitiously reassess the difficulty level. If it is too hard, I let them leave off at the nearest stopping point. But for all they know, we quit because I had something else on the schedule. But they HAVE to give it a good try before we move on. A real try.

That being said, my son is a natural keep-at-it kind of person; my daughter's first response is to seek help.

I am also a non-quitter, both my siblings self-declare themselves as early quitters. We were all educated the same.

I think, we can a) teach our kids how they can learn b) teach them the value of perseverance and c) let it go.

This is turning into a blogpost in my head. I may write it up, link to your query and come back and leave a link to my post here in your comments.

Jennifer Sr. said...

So what do you blame it on when a child educated in another setting displays the same behaviors? I don't know that her shortcomings can be blamed on "homeschooling", maybe "parenting". Maybe it is a maturity issue, Maybe it is just a weakness that the child would have had in any circumstance...

Jess said...

Ya know, I've thought of the same thing, but I think this is more of a risk with "unschooling" than any other form.

Because with any other method, our kids are going to learn stuff that's not their "forte"... and really, doesn't everyone hit that? I mean, at some point, if you're a parent who disciplines and trains at all, you end up saying something like, "yeah, we all have to do things we don't like to do". Right?

For example, our kids have to pick up whatever they're playing with to get to the fun of playing with the next set. Or we buckle down and get through a rough patch of history to get to the next exciting bit. I don't think this is necessarily a failing of homeschooling. If you do the original form of "unschooling", or ONLY follow what your children want to learn... then you could hit this, but otherwise, I don't think so.

We assign "read pages 8-23", or "do the even problems from 2-42" and they do it. That's the same as I remember it being done in public school. It's a good question, particularly if we might get to stages where we're being more child-led than not. But I don't know that it's an overwhelming risk of homeschooling. At least not from my perspective. Not any more than it's a risk of college (where students do have a self- and interest-led course of study). We all, in college, grit our teeth to get through certain aspects in order to get on into what we like to do. (For some, that's gritting through choir to get to advanced physics; for others, that's gritting through Intro Biology to get to Music theory.) I suspect some students do better with this than others, but isn't perseverance something we ALL (adults and college grads included) have to work on?


Kerry said...

Great questions in this post and excellent comments.

A couple thoughts - the larger culture often blames homeschooling for anything that doesn't seem "normal" in a homeschooled person or family.

Regardless if whether or not this boss was prejudiced against this girl due to homeschooling (and thus "seeing" problems with her) or not, there is still the issue of "coddling" our kids. But this goes for homeschool and other-school. Learning styles are awesome and very helpful...and there is no reason we shouldn't be teaching our kids about their own learning style...and training them to adapt material to their learning style. How awesome would her boss think she was if she could identify the issue and say, "You know, I learn better this way, to you mind if I give it a try?" We also need to teach our kids to use their learning style in a way that is appropriate in various settings. (ie. my kid may love to read while hanging upside down off the couch, but that won't fly in the library. So, I need to teach her another way to read that meets her needs, but is appropriate to the situation.) And we do need to teach them to just learn to deal with it when their needs can't be adapted to...and learn how to persever through that and do the best they can. That is mental discipline.

My thought are awfully disjointed - I apologize...time for coffee.

Valerie -Canadagurl said...

Our goal is not to raise good employees like the school system is designed to do. If we live outside that system then we can't be surprised when they don't fit into it again.

We need to help them find work which fits - to follow a unique path, we should both prepare them job/entrapenuer ideas, or address the 'soldier on/employee' needs as part of their education.

There is also a place to simply do it (discipline) not love it (emotion) which leads to good character and in turn helps in 'real life' in any path!

Jamie said...

I think it isn’t clear whether the issue is:

The homeschooler’s ego strength
The homeschooler’s discipline, or
The supervisor’s biased opinion.

Whatever the case it’s a valid concern, and one among many that drive me to my knees on a regular basis. The responsibility that I have taken on in homeschooling my children at times makes my head swim. However, I think the same could and should be said of parenting in general. The parents of public-schooled children shouldn’t be lulled into denial by thinking that they are handing over the responsibility of education to someone else…but I digress.

My children will be expanded/limited by what I offer/don’t offer them. ‘Tis true. If I am unaware of the aspect of a “meta-level” of education happening in addition to what they are getting out a book, then I may not be able to guide them in that. That is a great reason to continue cultivating the education of the homeschooling population as a whole, parents included. I think the weaknesses are easily remedied, though, by providing them with other teachers, classes, and outside experiences to broaden their education.

I can’t provide every skill set they will ever need their whole lives anyway. This also brings up my whole tendency to make myself the Head Mother in Charge of All Things Pertaining to “My” Children rather than as the humble vessel through which God will teach, inspire and love His children. I love Winnicott’s phrase “good enough mothering.” I’m aiming for a “good enough” foundation.

My question is how the young lady has risen to the occasion. To me that is more telling. I can’t anticipate every obstacle my children will face, but if I can teach them the basics of how to deal with challenges in general, then I think I will have succeeded.

Jamie R.

Robin's Reports said...

What a wonderful thing to challenge in one's choice to homeschool. Be thankful that God has given you this insight early-on and so that you may adjust where needed.

I do see it as a discipline issue, which is why I don't do unschooling. Structure or relaxed (allowances) homeschooling is a better choice, I think. Also, this is why I have specially picked folks who are mentors to my children. This is my way of making sure my children are socialized and prepared to serve others or fit into society.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a danger of homeschooling. I tend to be a "mean" mom. We stick with one math curriculum, since it is working, even if it's not fascinating every day.

I allow my dd to pick what science she would like to study, and make her keep at it even when bugs are boring.

And I made her memorize the list of prepositions, even though she saw no point to it. Hopefully she will later, when we get into stickier grammar.

I agree with those who say this may be more of a danger with unschooling. I tend to put a lot of thought and planning into where we should go next, then stick to that plan even when it's not "fun."


Luke said...

Great discussion point! But rather than ramble all over the place here, I think I'll blog about this today. [smile]


Renee said...

Fascinating topic MG!

I was speaking with my brother the other day about the changes technology has brought to the college classroom (He is an instructor at the University of FL where we both attended).

Keep in mind we were not talking about hsers at ALL; just students in general. He said by far his greatest challenge is students who expect him to cater to their learning style. He said he uses power point and he does not hand out an outline to go with it. He expects the students to GASP..take notes. He says many throw fits as they claim they are auditory learners and can't listen and take notes simultaneously.

Then others get mad because his tests are not what's in the book but how to apply what they have read. He said so many students have only been taught to test (because of standardized testing requirements in schools) that they literally can't think outside the box.

I think it is key for hsers to teach their children how to learn in all environments and not artificially perfect ones.

Some things are children are going to have to just buckle down and do. Every aspect of school and life can not be enjoyable and fun. A lot of it is hard work. As hsers we can make aspects fun and cause them to desire to learn, but sometimes you just have to buckle down and learn those prepositions ;o)

FULL OF JOY said...

Maybe it had absolutely NOTHING to do with the schooling method! If she was the same worker, and had gone to public school, would that employer have assumed it was the public school system, or would it just have been her personality.

I hope my children are taught to be better workers, no 'Is this for extra credit?' slacking like I did. I mean if it was for no grade I did not do it. (you need to say that period that followed that sentence:) you know what I mean? There is a lot to a first job, partly, no matter the schooling, learning the procedures and following instruction. If we teach them to love to learn, and to work hard, I think they will work it out. I have, and I was in a system that taught me to get by with the bare minimum.

Great things to ponder.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with many of the other commenters here.

This is why I don't unschool. I think it's critically important for my kids to learn that everything is not always going to go their way, and to learn how to learn from whatever sources are available (even if it's not their first choice or doesn't "fit their learning style").

I do make adjustments when something seems to really be a horrible fit for my child - when my older daughter cries over language arts every day for 15 weeks, for example, or when my younger daughter isn't learning to read after several months in a given method. But while I watch my kids and listen to their feedback, I don't let them make the decisions about what they will study or whether they will use this or that book.

I do think it's easy, with homeschoolers, to blame the schooling method, when the problem may be a character issue or even a personality issue. There are many public and private schoolers who don't come out equipped to handle the "real world," either. (There's a reason why there are so many "boomerang kids," back home with their parents long after college graduation, you know?)

The other thing to remember is that learning and growing up doesn't stop when a kid graduates from high school. You don't mention how old the young lady is, but let's assume she is 18. Have you taken a look at 18-year-olds these days?! They are just kids - they still have a lot of growing up to do. And part of that process involves learning that real life doesn't always center around their little world, whether it's a home school or a public school. Most college freshmen have a similar adjustment.

When possible, though, I do think it's helpful for homeschoolers to participate in some sort of outside learning situation, especially during the high school years. That might be a co-op class or day, or taking a class at the local school or community college, or even just joining a team or musical group. Kids need to learn to adjust when things don't fit them perfectly, and outside situations (especially classroom situations like co-op or college classes) can encourage that.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Charley said...

No one noticed the point you brought out in italics: "...failed to produce a desirable employee."

That is EXACTLY what the government schools are designed to do: create employees!

As home educators, we tend to cause our children to grow in a manner that doesn't always fit well with the "work in a cube" mentality, but rather in a manner that encourages individuality and entrepreneurism. Any wonder why so many home educated children move into some sort of entrepreneurial field?

If you want your child to be a cog in the wheel, then by all means push them in a "school at home" fashion. If you would rather they think on their own, outside of the box, that they pursue something that interests them to the nth degree, that they have a self-motivated and self-starting personality...then don't imitate the schools!

If you haven't read John Taylor so! You will find out about the reason the government schools exist: to turn out docile employees.

I'd rather not have my children be "docile employees!!!"

HomeDiscipling Dad Blog

Amy said...

After reading this I couldn't help but wonder what kind of parenting the girl had. I don't think it is a schooling issue, more than a parenting issue. There are just some things that we as parents have to let our kids push through, and if they don't and we caudal too much, than it's a severe handicap to that child.

Hope this helps!

Leah said...

Or perhaps everyone could just consider the possibility that you get both homeschooled AND public schooled kids who are motivated, disciplined, and good learners, and those who are easily distracted, can't concentrate and ill-disciplined?

Mrs C- Just consider for a moment that you get public schooled kids who end up as presidents and high-paid CEOs. It's not their schooling which creates the type of person who "needs to be entertained all the time"; if you paid attention to public schools outside of the bad treatment your son got, you'd find out that public schooling is often some of the LEAST entertaining times a teenager will have. It's parents who create kids who "need to be entertained all the time"; when a kid says "I'm bored", their parents bend over backwards to provide them with some form of entertainment instead of telling them to go read a book or go outside.

Charley- you said that public schools are designed to create employees. Yes and No. All education should, to a certain degree, be geared towards making a child employable. At the same time it should give them a good rounded knowledge of the world around them and how to exist in it. Spend some time in a public school and you'll see a lot of stuff gets taught that is completely useless to becoming employable. I'm quite sure that learning all the countries and their capitals of south america in grade 9 has nothing to do with my employability. I'm also quite sure that learning standard chord progressions of jazz blues in grade ten music has nothing to do with my employability, or that learning how Ancient Romans ran their government in grade eleven had anything to do with it either.

Three quarters of what kids learn in public school will not directly contribute to their employability. It will simply teach them how to learn and give them a better understanding of the world around them.

So many homeschoolers here were so quick to say "maybe it's not the schooling method that made her like that" (which I agree with) but were also so quick to say "that's what the public school system does to kids".... how about you keep in mind the first attitude, "maybe it's not the schooling method".

Hopewell said...

Very good post. This is one of the reason I have included some boring workbook stuff, some books I know aren't going to thrill the socks off my daughter and why we still have things that have to be done "because I say so." I've worked with several homeschool grads in the last few years and have not seen this problem though. I think too much "child-centered" anything can bring this about. Example: public school parents who do their kids homework or re-do project to get the kid a better grade. I DO think it's important to pick a style or curriculum and stay with it for a few years.