Home Spun Schools
This is an excerpt (Chapter one) of "Home-Spun" Schools by Raymond and Dorothy Moore
Meg Johnson, a New Jersey mother, tells it about as well as anyone we have heard. She says, "I can't see why I should give up my children at five or six to be reared by others just when they are the most fun. And when you add to that the support of research, and the risks in many of today's schools, it does not leave Doug and me any choice." She had just delivered her fourth child at this writing.
"For us," she adds, "home school is the perfect answer."
We surprise many people when we suggest that the home, not the school, was the original educational system. The school, not the home, is the substitute. Until the last century, most children who went to school started at twelve or later. Nor has mass education proven itself as much as many of us have hoped. In fact, it is being most seriously questioned. And, where possible, parents are more and more often opting for the home. So the home-spun school has become the fastest developing educational movement in America--now perhaps exceeding a quarter of a million students--and once again proving its worth as an original.
For most parents, like the Johnsons, family schools do not so much wage war against regular schools as they shelter little children from what Cornell's Urie Bronfenbrenner calls the "social contagion" of our age--the habits, manners, gestures, vulgarities, obscenities, deceptions, ridicule, and rivalry rampant among school children today. We do not recommend home schools for fainthearted mothers and fathers who are more concerned about social pressures than the future of their children. Rather, it is our goal to build wise, courageous parents who love their children, and strong institutions to which most youngsters will one day go.
To take little children unnecessarily out of the home and put them into institutions--preschool, kindergarten, formal school--before they are ready is perhaps our most pervasive form of child abuse today. As a number of leading psychologists and psychiatrists point out, the child who feels rejected is usually more damaged than the one who is physically bruised. And no matter how we rationalize--that "our children want to go to school" or "everybody is doing it"--the child usually senses rejection when put out of the nest before he is "ready to fly."
The attitude of parents is crucial in the home school. After that comes the question of ability to teach. History records the excellence of parents as teachers, and the genius of their pupils--Melanchthon, John Quincy Adams, William Penn, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, among thousands. The home school has produced far more than its share of these great leaders. If the mother and father are reasonably warm, responsive and consistent, it matters little whether they have a teaching certificate or college degree. Some of the most spectacular homeschool successes have come with parents who have no more than a high-school education.
"But suppose they don't know English or math?" a local schoolman asked my wife and me the other day.
"Most of them," we replied, "have at least enough to satisfy state standards." I had been a public school superintendent, too. And Dorothy is a very specialized remedial-reading teacher.
He shook his head wonderingly.
"How about us teachers?" we countered. "How much do we really know?" We referred to recent finding in Texas and elsewhere that fully half of the teacher applicants scored lower in math than the average high-school junior, and a third scored lower in English. And personality ratings were deplorable. We also recalled the statement of former University of Chicago professor Don Erickson that a teaching certificate does not guarantee good teaching.
This time he shook his head knowingly.
"We've lost a lot of ground," he groaned. "We have a rough road ahead."
He was a good educator, but an embarrassed one. We reflected for a while on the kind of reasoning by our state of Michigan that requires every normal child to be in school by age six, yet winks at the twelve-year-old handicapped child up the road whose Down's Syndrome demands much more knowledgeable effort than does any normal child. He stays home with impunity!
"It really is astonishing," he admitted, "that the State requires parents to give up the children which are the most easily taught." We all agreed that it was a slap in the parent's face to suggest that the State could out-parent most mothers and fathers.
There are many beautiful teachers, men and women alike--warm, thoughtful, very special models for our kids. But not even the best of them can do as much all day for a normal child in his class of twenty or thirty or forty peers, as a reasonably loving and consistent parent can do on a one-to-one basis in an hour and half to two hours at home.
Unless and until we give our children informal opportunities whenever possible to develop backgrounds for learning to which they can later attach formal school facts, until we give their learning tools time to be tempered, and until we allow time for their value systems to be stabilized--so as to avoid much of today's peer dependency--our schools will not be able to function efficiently, simply because their grist is not yet ripe and ready for the school mill.
If on the other hand this is not possible, because of physical or financial or psychological problems, and the school is the best environment, then send the child to school, but strive to keep the school program informal until at least 8 to 10. Sometimes a mother finds, for example, that she has a personality clash with one of her children. Still other parents simply don't have the will to cope with their youngsters; this is sad, but such children may be much better off in a school--depending, of course, on the school.
The main things to remember here are (1) that ideally the home is the first and finest educational nest (the school, at least until 8 to 10 or 12, is at best a substitute for the home); and (2) when we give our schools children whose minds and values are ready, they will usually turn out children who are academic, behavioral and social leaders. We need these leaders badly today.
The stories that follow in this book are typical of the thousands of home-school parents who have called, written or visited us. Nearly every one has proven to be an above-average teacher. Yet they were not selected so much because their children achieved so well, as to demonstrate that home schools work well under almost any kind of circumstance. They do well in city or country, among rich or poor, professional or blue collar, married or single parents, whether educated in high school or college, in the U.S. or overseas.
Recipe for home-school teaching. The requirements are not complex. Parents need only be loving, responsive, and reasonably consistent, and salt these qualities with a little imagination, common sense, and willingness to follow a few simple suggestions in this book (and in Home-Grown Kids). And don't worry about the opinions of neighbors who don't know or care about the real needs of children. Just be kind to them. Have your children be helpful in your home and in the neighborhood. Visit the old and infirm and ill. Do favors for others without asking any in return. Soon your "strange antics" will be forgotten . . . or admired.
In one sense you are teaching all your waking moments--as models to your offspring. Yet while some parents are more diligent than others, none need to formally teach a full school day. Seldom are more than two or three hours of formal academic instruction a day appropriate. Many mothers and fathers limit their formal teaching to little more than an hour. Some form family corporations and make, sell, and earn.
Much more important is your working with your children in physical work, helping them learn practical skills and the nobility of work--building character qualities of initiative, industry, neatness, order, responsibility, and dependability, which are hard to find in even one in ten children or young adults today.
Along with these grosser values you can by precept and example teach manners and graces which today are rare--kindness, thoughtfulness, tact, forgiveness, generosity, and a just plain kind of for-others love. This is seldom done in schools these days. Teach them how to walk tall, how to listen closely, how to speak graciously. Paul was not gesturing idly when he wrote Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; . . . think on these things." This is also a good guide to book selection.
With this kind of teaching, accompanied by well-regulated physical work in fellowship with you, comes also a moral tone which is not otherwise possible. A sound work-study program is a key to moral purity. It teaches self-worth, which in turn is the principal dynamic of positive sociability and is also crucial in fulfilling today's need for racial understanding. If you follow such a simple routine and use materials from any of a number of excellent sources (See Appendix A), your children will excel academically. But this is not all. Their behavior will be superior too! And socially they will generally be outstanding.
Typically today in schools, children are fed along with their studies a narcissistic, me-first mixture of busing, sports, amusements, and snacks--empty-calorie food mentally, physically and spiritually. Why shouldn't they instead learn an altruistic, my-neighbor-first mixture of work and service and joy of sharing? No matter the religion, from Christianity or Judaism to Confucianism and from Taoism or Islam to Zen, the golden rule threads through them all. And the home is its finest nest. It is the person who understands this well who is the most able creator of a family school.
In all this there are some simple child-development concepts which every home-school parent should understand. These ideas may seem new to some because they are so different from conventional practice. But they are actually quite old-fashioned and neatly blend research and common sense.
Our early childhood and home-school research grew out of experiences in the classroom with children who were misbehaving or not learning--largely because they were not ready for formal schooling. We set out to determine the best ages for school entrance, concerned first with academic achievement. Yet more important has become the socialization of young children--which also addresses senses, coordination, brain development, reason and social-emotional aspects of child development. These conclusions come from our Stanford, University of Colorado Medical School, Michigan State and Hewitt investigative teams who did basic research and analyzed more than seven thousand early childhood studies. We offer briefly here our conclusions which we would like to have you check against any sound research that you know. Note how sociality depends as much on the child's maturity as do his studies. And even more on his environment!
Readiness for learning. Despite early excitement for school, most early entrants (ages four, five, six, etc.) are tired from school pressures before they are out of the third or fourth grades--at about the ages and levels we found that they should be starting. Noted Piagetian psychologist David Elkind says these youngsters are "burned out." They would have been far better off wherever possible waiting until ages eight to ten or later to start formal studies (at home or school) in the second, third, fourth or fifth grade. They would then quickly pass early entrants in learning, behavior and sociability. Their vision, hearing and other senses are not ready for continuing formal programs of learning until age eight or nine. (Maturity may vary three or four years during this preteen period.) When earlier care is absolutely necessary, it sould be informal, warm and responsive--like a good home--with a low adult-to-child ratio. Some top psychologists suggest that age twelve to fourteen would be ideal.
The eyes of most children are permanently damaged by too much close work before age twelve. Neither the maturity of their delicate central nervous systems nor the "balancing" of the hemispheres of their brains, nor yet the insulation of their nerve pathways provide a basis for thoughtful learning before eight or nine. They have little understanding of certain basic concepts which are part and parcel of thoughtful formal learning--such as time, speed, weight, space, distance, and direction. And their reacti0n time is much slower than most adults expect. The integration of these maturity levels (IML)--brain, reason, hearing, vision, taste, touch, smell, coordination, etc., comes for most between eight and ten or twelve.
Our findings coincide with the well-established conclusions of Jean Piaget and others that children cannot handle cause-and-effect reasoning in any consistent way before late sevens to middle elevens. They have a hard time answering "Why?" and "How?" They are unable to correctly and consistently judge motives. The fives and sixes are usually subjected to dull Dick and Jane rote learning which tires, frustrates and ruins motivation, requires little thought, stimulates few "hows" and "whys." Net results: frequent learning failure, delinquency, and mental illness. For example, little boys trail little girls about a year in maturity, yet are unfairly under the same school entrance laws. So HEW figures show that learning failure and delinquency hits three or four boys for every girl, and boys are at least four times more likely to be acutely hyperactive. So unknowing teachers far more often tag little boys as "naughty" or "dumb." These labels frequently follow them through school. And the bright child is no exception; in fact, because of his native "quickness" he may go much faster in the wrong direction.
Socialization. We later found that little children are not only better taught at home than at school, but are also better socialized by parental example and sharing than by other little children. This idea was fed by many researchers. Among the more prominent were Dr. Bronfenbrenner who found that up to the sixth grade at least, children who spend more of their elective time with their peers than their parents tend to become peer dependent; and Stanford's Albert Bandura and others who noted that this tendency has in recent years moved down to preschool levels--which should be avoided whenever good parenting is possible. Contrary to common beliefs, then, little children are not best socialized by other kids, and socialization is not neutral. It is either positive or negative.
(1) Positive, or altruistic and principled, sociability is firmly linked with the family--with the quantity and quality of self-worth. This is in turn dependent largely on the track of values and experience provided by the family at least until the child can reason consistently. In other words, the child who works and eats and plays and has his rest and is read to daily, more with his parents than with his peers, senses that he is part of the family corporation--needed, wanted, depended upon. He is the one who has a sense of self-worth. And when he does enter school, preferably not before eight to ten, he usually becomes a social leader. He knows where he is going, is self-directed and independent in values and skills. He largely avoids the dismal pitfalls and social cancer of peer dependency. He is the productive citizen our nation badly needs.
Thus, home-school youngsters are not in social straitjackets. They generally are outgoing, well-socialized examples of modern youth. Visit Brigid Horbinski's girls in Marietta, Georgia--well-poised examples of preteen hostesses. Or call on Donna Brinkle's boys in Oveido, Florida. Donna has home-taught them through high school, and the results are impressive. Watch Mark Schaefer as he helps in the pediatric ward of a local California medical center. Or visit the Virgil Longs in West Point, Nebraska or the Darrell Ownbys of Rolla, Missouri, and revel in beautiful, thoughtful children. The NEA should take a look!
(2) Negative, me-first sociability, on the other hand, is born from too great a proportion of peer-group association and too few meaningful parental contacts and responsibility experiences in the home during the first eight to twelve years. The early peer influence generally brings an indifference to family values which defy parent correction. The child does not yet consistently understand the "why" of parental demands when his peers replace his parents as his models because he is with them more. So he does what comes naturally: he adapts to the ways of his agemates because "everybody's doing it," and gives his parent's values the back of his little hand. And . . . he has few sound values to pass on to the next generation. He is seldom truly practical, productive, self-directed, or patriotic.
Here are the makings of the rebels of the sixties, the drug and sex culture of the seventies and the perverse society of the eighties. On the other hand, we have never yet found a drug fix in a home school. Home schoolers usually have a keen sense of direction and are social leaders in their neighborhoods. Their homes are often social centers for the kids who instinctively know which parents care.
So home, wherever possible, is by far the best nest until at least eight to ten. Where there is any reasonable doubt about the influence of schools on our children (morality, ridicule, rivalry, denial of religious values, etc.) Home schools are usually a highly desirable alternative. At least 34 states permit them by law under various conditions. Other states permit them through court decisions. Yet some which do not permit them by law are actually more lenient than some of those who do.
Most educators still are more concerned for the welfare of children than the letter of the law. And they should be. Home schools nearly always excel regular schools in achievement. And although most parents don't know it, they are clearly the best teachers of their own children at least through ages ten to twelve. And if they don't do this, their children usually suffer.
To the credit of many legislatures and public school educators, many state policies are often understanding of the child's needs and alert to the parents' constitutional rights. Often, however, these policies are not adequately communicated to the county and local school districts. As a result, we have had many parents called to account in such states as Maryland, Missouri and California where state policies are lenient. We had three such cases from Missouri in one week. When we referred them to the chief state attendance officer, he quickly called the school district and interceded for the parents.
In some states, such as Colorado and New York, present school officials interpret otherwise rigid laws in favor of parents. In Nebraska and Illinois, among others, the courts have liberally led the way in actually changing the laws to provide for parental priorities. State legislator Louis "Woody" Jenkins wrote a model for the nation in his Louisiana law. And he credits one mother Hazel Anderson, for keeping at him until he carried it through.
Often our phone rings with calls from parents who badly want to start home schools but have little confidence in their ability to teach. We educators have done a colossal job of brainwashing them into thinking we can out-parent them. Even the University of Chicago's Benjamin Bloom, whose research helped make early schooling a popular trend in this country, now admits that parents are the best teachers, and that they can be educated as teachers in the home. With a little help, a mother or father can relax and quickly get used to the program, shaping it around their family.
Yet there are some ideas which apply generally to all home school beginners. We might call them "The Ten Little Commandments for Home Schools" They come from the personal experiences of men and women, from such home-school specialists as John Holt of Boston; Patty Blankenship of Atlanta; the Roland Morrows of Central City, Nebraska; Meg Johnson and Nancy Plent of New Jersey; Donna Brinkle of Florida; the Bergmans of Smithton, Missouri; Ed Nagel of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and from our experiences with thousands of home-school families. Supporters vary from such constitutional experts as Leo Pfeffer of New York City and such leading defense lawyers as William Ball of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; John Whitehead of Washington, D.C.; and David Gibbs, Charles Craze and Milt Schulman of Cleveland, Ohio; to such prosecutors as Dale Ruohomaki of Marquette, Michigan; and John Cooley of Napa, California.
1. Be sure of your beliefs and goals as parents; decide if the needs of your children are more important to you than social pressures and bad laws, and if you can be a compassionate neighbor when others think you strange. The more you know about your children, the more likely you will cope.
2. Examine your willingness to be a patient, warm, responsive and consistent parent. If you can't handle your children, learn how, like the parents in this book have done. Otherwise put them in a good school or farm them out to someone who can guide them.
3. Learn how your children develop so that you can talk knowledgeably and with assurance to your school officials. We have prepared such books as Home Grown Kids, Better Late Than Early and School Can Wait to help you.
4. Learn your rights as parents. You will find considerable information in this book. More will be gleaned from such books as Home-Grown Kids or from home school centers. (See Appendix A)
5. Seek the best counsel available, usually through your center. But if necessary, reach out to national specialists and don't go into court without experienced counsel and witnesses.
6. Settle on a curriculum compatible with your ability and beliefs (Appendix A). Many parents later find that they can build their own courses of study without helper schools, but experienced suppliers are a good bet when you begin.
7. Keep a balance in your program. Don't tie yourself down to books all day. An hour and a half to two hours is ample time for formal education in a typical home school. No formal education at all is needed before age eight or ten. But work, read, sing, play, rest, eat and go places with your children. If you have more than one child, use the older to teach the younger and the stronger to help the weaker. Home school should be less perplexity than fun. You are teaching by example every moment. Respond warmly. Use your imagination. Everything within sight, sound, touch, taste and smell is a learning tool.
8. Don't make a big thing out of being different, but don't be ashamed either. Name your home school, so that when asked, your children can say, like Corinne Johnson (Chapter 3), "Yes, I go to "Sunrise," or like Leslie Sue Rice (Chapter 5), "I go to the Rice Christian Academy." It may be wise to consider yourself a branch of your supplier school (Appendix A), or set up as a satellite of a local public, private or parochial school, or you may arrange for supervision by a certified teacher if you must have the confidence of local school officials. Remember, no two home schools will be exactly alike, If you are determined to meet the needs of your child, you will do very well.
9. Most school officials seem to prefer that you move ahead quietly, although in states like California you usually file an affidavit with your state or county school office. If officials challenge you or threaten arrest, be calm, offer evidence of the rightness of your doings, as if in face of your evidence they have any better ideas. (Many parents have used Home Grown Kids or School Can Wait or Better Late Than Early by the authors). If they are persistent, seek specialists' help. There are usually many recourses short of court, such as injunction, hearings with boards of education, and reasoning by specialists on your behalf with officials--which often quickly settles the case. For parents of faith this also means prayer.
10. Keep your cool. If your children do not learn as fast you you think they should, take counsel. Be patient. Note Marge Schaefer's fears in Chapter 2--about her middle son reading little at age nine, but reading like an adult six months later--when he was ready. It is seldom good to rush music lessons or gymnastics or other popular skills. Most music teachers say it is best not to start lessons before age eleven. When lessons are begun too early, children often want to shift expensively from instrument to instrument or tire of music lessons altogether. A child's excitement for early music lessons is seldom mature. And parental pressures on an unready child can lead to calamity. A potential prodigy need not also be a neurotic.
It is dangerously past time for parents to learn of their astonishing privileges of rearing children, and also to know their rights--which are constitutionally guaranteed. Our citizenship privileges will not long be worth the paper they are written on if we do not support those parents who are principled enough to put their children ahead of the selfish pressures of vested interests. We must challenge reckless states and their local agents--the few social workers and schoolmen who still persecute conscientious, capable mothers and fathers.
Remember, when you surrender your parental authority and responsibility to the state, you are still accountable for your children, but you never fully retrieve your authority. Be careful, thoughtful and fully informed before you give away your own, lest you like others pay a price in damaged children.
If we are to believe such eminent sociologists as Frederick Le Play, J. D. Unwin or Carle Zimmerman, we must spend more time with our children in the home and protect them from decadent pressures and laws lest our society collapse like that of Greece or Rome, when their societies' conditions were virtually identical to ours.
Let's have more warmth and consistent firmness, less indulgence; more work with you, more tools, sticks, nails than fancy toys; more service for others--the old, the young, the poor, the infirm--and less sports and amusements; more self-control, patriotism, productiveness and responsibility--which lead to, and follow, self-worth as noble citizens. Parents and home, undiluted, usually do this best.
Then help other parents. Form or join a home-school support group if possible. Associate actively with your local or state home school groups, and keep up to date by reading such papers as the Hewitt Family Report (see Appendix A). Watch your state legislation closely. Ask your local legislator to keep you informed. Your voice has power only when it is heard with full information.