Thursday, August 20, 2009

The first day of home.

Did I just say that?

Do you hear something?

Quiet for a second...

Sounds like someone... eating...?

Oh wait, that's Mark (i.e. me), eating my words after deriding, mocking, slandering, berating all things homeschool.

It's only fitting that I would eat my words on the first day of school (for Ames, that is).

Here's the history...

I have posted a few times in favor of public school over homeschool. My posts regarding homeschool have stirred up quite a bit of emotion-filled responses. Although I made some facetious remarks about homeschool kids ("trading Lord of the Rings cards and playing games that require dice that have more than 6 sides"), truth be told, my intent was not to bash homeschool, just the idea that it's the "biblical" option. That was the whole point of the first post on the topic, as I was responding to the following quote:

Christians should have no part in the government school system. However, I would challenge any Christian to give me a Scriptural basis for sending young children away from their parents for eight or more hours a day to be indoctrinated by a system which is anti-God. You can search the Scriptures high and low, but it isn't there

So taking my own advice, last year we sent our daughter to public school.

I don't have any regrets. Ava had a positive public school experience: A knowledgeable and hard working teacher, a school committed to excellence, and she made lots of friends. What I loved most about the public school experience: the recess scene, where Ava was forced to navigate challenging social environments.

Here's what I didn't love about the experience:

- The limited time we had with her.

We would send her off to school in the morning, and she would get home around 3:30, exhausted. Then, we would send her to bed around 6:30 and do it again for the next 4 days. There was very little time to supplement her learning. Most of our effort went into trying to get her to process social interactions from the day. That part I enjoyed. (i.e. "Dad, Shruti brought in one of her idols for show and tell..." (We live in a very diverse part of town with many international students, which we love.)

- The math curriculum.

I helped out every Wednesday for an hour with "Everyday Math." I was not a fan. I think some researchers had too much time on their hands with this one. Of course, in our world of socially constructing new reality and throwing out anything that reminds us of Modernity, and with government grants on the line, we need to come up with new ways to teach kids how to solve math problems. Each person should figure out their own way to get to an answer. Do what's best for them. Flash cards, of course, will not suffice. That's too narrow. Too 19th century. Something Newton might've done.

And so this is the convo that may have sealed it for me...

Leatha: "Ava, what's 3+2?"
Ava: "6"
Leatha: "Don't you memorize math facts in school."
Ava: "I don't know. We don't do that kind of math."

Leatha went on to show her the ones and tens columns and how to add. It was revolutionary.

Both Leatha and I loved math growing up. I think there's an appeal to the objective nature of basic math- there's a right answer and a way you can remember to get there.

I'm sure I have some readers who have taught the "everyday math" curriculum. I know there's something I'm missing- there probably is something legit to the curriculum. I'm only speaking based on what I saw last year while working with the students, and with my own daughter. I thought she would've been much better off just memorizing math facts. That's just me. But as I've heard almost EVERY teacher who is familiar with the curriculum say, "It's not for everyone" or "It's all about repetition- they'll catch on next year" or "It's a challenging curriculum to teach correctly" (which is not a concern here- Ava's teacher did an excellent job with it).

Moreover, I'm not just responding to the curriculum, but the worldview that got us that curriculum. To be sure, learning has taken a major turn in the last 100 years... or 50...or 25. There's a new approach to almost everything. Are Americans smarter or dumber than 100 years ago?

There are so many factors, I know that's not necessarily a fair statement (put one tally next to "straw man argument" for me).

But my point is that I always downplayed the superiority of homeschool education, until my kid came home from school struggling with basic math skills.

Notice I don't have any comments about my issues with reading. I think that's because Leatha taught Ava how to read and write in kindergarten. Ava devours books, mostly because of Leatha's hard work last year. (click here for the book Leatha used). Leatha says that Ava might have taken steps backward after first grade. Yikes.

I have always said that I didn't want academics to be our overriding concern. I think one would be hard pressed to argue that a public school is a better education than homeschool ... but in this case I really want our kids to have a strong foundation with the basics... reading, writing, and math.

- The class size.

I felt bad for the teacher. As amazing as she was, it's just plain hard to teach 24 first graders all day in one small classroom. Two years ago Leatha sat down with Ava one on one everyday and with blood, sweat and tears, taught her how to read. I'm so proud of Leatha's investment. She deposited something into Ava that will be with her forever.

Even when the size of the groups gets broken down (in math, for example), I would still have a very capable kid getting pulled down by another kid who just wanted to squirm around in his chair and find excuses to get up (sharpen pencil, go to the bathroom, etc).

So here's where I'm at now...

Whatever side you're on with this, remember, I'm talking about my two school age kids, who are only 7 and 6. I'm not trying to make sweeping judgments about what's better. At this time, Leatha and I thought homeschool would be the best option.

I still love the public school environment for how it prepares kids for real world social environments. I also love the opportunities for our kids to reach out and show love to their peers. But for now, I think the focus for us needs to be building a solid foundation of "reading, writing, arithmetic." We're also doing a "Classical Conversations" class once a week to help with the education. More on that another time.

Anyone want to do a play date at our house? I just got the Lord of the Rings trading card game, and these dice to go with it...


clarkitect said...

Your questioning of curriculum and the constantly "evolving" methods found therein reminds me of a great World magazine article written by Joel Belz: I have also begun to hear rumors new history text books have more content on the 60's than World War II. I haven't been able to substantiate this however.

Finally, class size is important, but one of the troublesome debates is small schools are safer and better (socially, morally, academically) for my kids than big schools. Depravity knows no size and I have seen smaller schools suffer from a collective "peer pressure" mentality unseen from larger schools. Also, coming from a small agricultural community, sending your kids to a bedroom community on the outskirts of a larger metropolotan area does not equate to actually sending your kids to a school in the "sticks."

Mrs. Alsbury said...

bryan and i were just talking about the benefits of homeschooling and public schooling.
while i have tended to err on the opposite side of you (i.e. i would never not home-school my kids through elementary school) bryan , among other people, has really challenged me to think outside my own personal experience and opinions. (duh!)
we've really come to the conclusion that we don't know what we'll do with our own kids, and it's ok if we're not consistent with each kid.
there are clear benefits to both options, and different kids will undoubtedly respond in different ways to each.
i'm so encouraged by your example to consider what's best for your kids and your family-we hope to do the same someday!

Anonymous said...

Now this was a carefully and thoughtfully written post on homeschooling and public education. Thank you! I will be excited to see your future posts as you go the homeschool route and give your perspective from that point of view.

Something I have noticed is the changing "face" of home schoolers. I used to associate them with superfundamentalists and all of their female children wore long dresses and the mom wore a denim jumper. You should go the statewide homeschool conference next year and see that there is some diversity there--granted we're in Iowa so take that with a grain of salt. But it's not all people who are burying their heads in the sand and avoiding modernity--actually they are in the minority.

Your comments about the current math curriculum in our schools I think is right on. This is scary. You would think that time and cultural shifts wouldn't be able to touch the objective nature of math and the tried and true methods would continue because they work. Drilling math facts requires a lot of time and effort and concentration. Maybe our classroom culture and structure doesn't support that kind of diligent education anymore. And finally, I'm not a math major, but I'm wondering how anyone learns how to do higher math when they don't know the basics. How will these "Everyday Math" graduates fare in higher education or in the real world when the basics are used on a daily basis and they have to rely on technology (cash registers, calculators, computers) to tell them the answers? That's really scary.

Jed said...

Congratulations Mark! your well on your way to a 15 passenger van and denim jumpers. But on a serious note, I think it's great that you were able to evaluate the results of Ava's education and determine if it was meeting her needs and your desires. Social issues aside (making friends, conflict resolution, what have you) it's pretty clear to see that the academic side of our government education system is quickly sliding downhill. There was a time in the recent past when Iowa was ranked #1 in the nation academically, now we are somewhere around #35. Things have changed in the way our children are taught reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic (with some school officials even stating that those things aren't what schools should be focusing on) And while home schooling may not be THE biblical way to educate, public school isn't either. Ava is a lucky girl to have two godly parents that are willing to do whatever is necessary to provide her with a solid spiritual and academic foundation, however it is laid.

Stephanie said...

Thanks for your post, Mark. It's a big undertaking for your family to make . . . and one that will be both a sacrifice and a blessing. We have been homeschooling Audrey (remember the girls when they were so little? :o) ) so far. We are starting Isaac in kindergarten this year. The first thing people ask is, "Will you homeschool through high school?" Our answer is that we'll take it kid by kid and year by year. One big blessing we have seen (and there have been many) is the relationship between our kids. They are friends and playmates. It's especially fun to see the relationship between the youngest and the oldest (and if Audrey was in school every day I don't think it would be the same or as strong). We also found out that Audrey is dyslexic. Most times this is picked up in public schools in 3rd grade (which is what Audrey is doing now). Because of homeschooling, I was able to pick up on her unique learning and sequencing problems much sooner and address them in a way that was less frustrating to her. I also found out the way that I want to teach her (workbooks, drills, etc) isn't the way she learns. She's much more of a hands on and audio learner. Because I know that I can pick curriculum that bests suits her. One thing I know for sure . . . Leatha will have good days and bad days. Some days I just want to have the bus stop at our house and send the kids on their way. But, for now, that's not what God is requiring of us (or is what we believe is best for our kids). God bless you guys and be sure to give Leatha lots of encouragement. Have a great year. I'm anxious to hear more about your experience as the year goes by. Each one is unique!

scheibe said...

There have already been some nicely though out comments. I simply have to say, Mark, your post made me laugh! I can't wait to see your Christmas family photo of you all in matching denim jumpers!

Anna said...

We have loved homeschooling these past 3years, and we are excited to embark on the 4th! I'll be looking forward to posts about the kids' days, as I think we'll be in a similar boat. We'll be homeschooling a 3rd, 1st and K'er this year with a nursing baby! I think it's great you and Leatha are analyzing what is best for YOUR kids at this time.

If you want a good solid math curriculum that drills the heck out of facts, check out Rod & Staff math. The reviews of nearly every math program can be found on The program can be found at Anyway, even in homeschool, we had started our Ava on a newer type of math, and found that she wasn't mastering math facts... so we switched to R&S with her. It is making a world of difference. Just a warning, it's a Mennonite curriculum, so ummm... yep, it is very, let's just say, farmy. Their phonics is so solid as are their Bible readers. I'm embarassed that I like it so much.

Give Leatha my best-

Anonymous said...

I think it's ironic that your pro-home schooling post is directly above a social awareness post. Good luck with that...

Brenda Rae said...

Mark I complement you on doing what is best for your family, but please look into the research that shows that the math curriculum that Ames is using is very good based on the research. Have your daughter memorize facts - she will be hurting later on - middle school, fractions, decimals. If she doesn't understand the meaning and process behind it she will struggle later. Memorizing math is not the way to go and we have tons of parents that can't multiply and divide or do fractions to prove it. Be careful on your homeschool math series - don't do what you did because it is what you did/know - look at the research and what is getting the highest learning (or test scores).

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I just have to weigh in on the comment about "please look into the research that shows that the math curriculum that Ames is using is very good based on the research." Why would someone need to look at the research when they are already seeing the bad fruit of the method? Mark experienced the method and its fruit first hand in the classroom every week. It's very disappointing that a parent would advocate falling in step with research rather than making an informed decision based on their own child's performance using the school's chosen method (which might be chosen because of any number of financial or political reasons--not meaning Democrats or Republicans of course, but corporate politics).

Knowing math facts quickly is the skill that makes more difficult problems easier to solve. If you don't know 10 divided by 5 is 2 off the top of your head your only choice is to draw the problem out in pictures or use objects and manually sort them out to solve the problem--or use technology to do the thinking for you. Math facts are essential. They are building blocks that show how numbers relate to each other. It is part of understanding the process of solving problems--I agree with you that kids must understand the process, not just the quick rule to get to the answer, but they must know both.

We have to require more of our kids than just skating through school enough that they can pass the standardized tests of the day. What is the fruit from that? We have to teach them to think--critically, logically, deeply--so that they will be educated citizens for the good of society and for the glory of God as they represent Him.

Anonymous said...

It looks like all the reasons you gave for switching to homeschooling are obvious and didn't need the experience of the previous year to back them up. Did you just want to have that experiential proof or did you not understand/appreciate the significance of those obvious reasons before last year?

erinmeschke said...

i've been waiting for this post since you mentioned it a few weeks (?) back. good for you for being willing to change your opinion (strong opinion!) for the benefit of your children. there will still be lots of opportunities for them to interact with kids from the community...

as for all the comments of math, i will give you a little piece of our story with that. when we first got "official" with school i went to the homeschool store and bought a math workbook for kirby...not because i WANTED a math cirriculum but because i was doing what i thought my extended family would expect me to do. to my surprise, my mom, the 24-year public school veteran kindergarten teacher, encouraged me to not do ANY math workbooks with my kids for a good long while. instead, she steered me to a great book "young children reinvent math" by constance kamii. there is a companion vhs tape she loaned me (but i had to go get a vcr to watch it!) that is called "1st graders divide 52 by 7" (or something like that) which shows how the learning principles work and how young children put the concepts they are learning into practice. memorizing math facts at a young age, like some of your commentors stated, will hurt their overall long-term grasp of math concepts. having math conversations and incorporating (more like pointing out) math into everyday life is much more productive. kirby (ava's age, doing3rd grade-ish work this year)is doing math at a 4th or 5th grade level because of this, and jeremiah (1st grade-ish)is doing math at a 2nd or 3rd grade level. they do all their figuring in their heads and are able to sort through abstract math problems, so i'm happy with how our "math program" is going. beyond that they play math games, some spatial reasoning, etc...mostly from a company called "thinkfun". you can even get your special dice there, too!

tell leatha if she would like any other information i may have to feel free to email/call. she has a great resource in ranelle and i'm sure you are in contact with erin burmeister as well. :) good luck on your new adventure!

Anna said...

loving the math conversations! one more little tidbit from me. our 6 yr old son is doing a "math lab" called Miquon, which has him multiplying by fractions right now because it is a discovery program. he has his facts down cold... only because it is natural to him and he loves math. our daughter, Ava, 8ys, totally bombed on that program. we did another thinking math program with her, but she was frustrated by math because the facts just weren't there. we decided to start drilling her math facts because those are so necessary to maneuvering through upper level math. we will have her doing exploratory math again when SHE is ready. we have learned that kids are so different, and what works for one doesn't always work for the other. (by the way, our Ava taught herself to read at 3yrs, and our son is not catching on to reading like I'd hoped!!) you and Leatha totally have the ability to figure out what your kids need.

Donnie said...

Don't ever let anyone tell you that memorizing math facts is not the way to go. As a high school math teacher, I have seen way too many students come through my door who don't know their multiplication facts. How can you do math if you can't figure out what 6 times 5 is?

erinmeschke said...

i don't think any of us are saying that you shouldn't make sure your kids know their math facts. but having them memorize them at a young age without understanding what quantity means does not help their long-term math development. a kid who has a good understanding of how numbers go/grow together will have their math facts down, given enough practice and opportunity to use them.