Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wilson on Homeschool

In an earlier post, I defended the concept of classical Christian education. A question remains whether that kind of education is best achieved in the classroom or at home.

Of course, this is a relative question since it depends so much on one’s circumstances. In England, for example, there are no schools that offer a classical Christian approach to learning. However, in a situation where parents do have a choice, which method is best suited for attaining the educational ideal?

In chapter 24 of Douglas Wilson’s book The Case For Classical Christian Education, Wilson attempts “to defend the Christian classroom as a normal and appropriate way to teach children, one that has been used for millennia by covenant parents and that should not be rejected for modern ideological reasons.” Wilson’s points should be taken seriously by Christian home-educators, because he outlines some of the pitfalls when trying to do classical education in the home.

While acknowledging that “the classroom can (and often should) be rejected for practical reasons,” Wilson argues that this is another thing altogether from rejecting the classroom on ideological grounds. Yet that is the position taken by many Christian homeschoolers, who believe the method of teaching (i.e., doing it at home) is more important than the content of what is being taught.

Wilson is sympathetic with the concerns of many homeschoolers, but outlines some typical problems they can run into.

Some homeschoolers have not allotted a sufficient amount of time for the process of classical education. Despite what many claim, it is not possible to do in two or three hours what it takes people in a classroom eight hours to do. Then, too, the resources of time and energy are sometimes not given to the work. It is not possible to get a classical education ‘to go.’ Parents who do not have prep time can sometimes expect the texts to do all the teaching. But one of the glories of education is the opportunity to hear the truth come out of a human being with blood in the veins and air in the lungs and not just off a printed page.

"Sometimes homeschooled children who have learned to read are turned loose on all the books in the house and the local library. They are fierce readers, and by the time they are fourteen, they have read everything. But the danger is that their education can become little more than reading. When they come to take their SATs, they discover that their verbal scores are stratospheric, and their math scores give the impression that the test was taken by a rock that was having trouble holding the pencil.

"A second problem is familism. Many homeschooling families are quite large. In this setting, sometimes a tight familism takes over, and the families seek to become self-sufficient in all things. As a result they may become detached from the larger community. Pretty soon everything is being done at home – medicine, church, college education, and so on. But we are not called to a hermitage of the family.

"Sometimes practical problems can be created by larger families. The younger children are short-changed in their education because the parents are just plain weary by the time their turn comes, or parents are too busy trying to keep up with the older children. This problem might be called the snapshot phenomenon. The firstborn child often has multitudes of photographs taken of him, but the fifth child might have a hard time figuring out what he looked like when he was a kid. There are homeschooling parents who excelled with their older children, but the younger kids do not receive nearly the same mount of educational attention.

"A different problem can also occur in larger families, particularly when some of the older children are girls. As the family grows, mother needs more and more help, and sometimes the older girls become surrogate mothers. These girls have to forego their studies in order to help with the little ones. This situation can be justified by saying the girls are learning to be domestic, which they are. But they ought not to learn domesticity at the expense of the rest of their education.

"The third problem is related to the sex of the child. Girls who are being homeschooled are growing up in an environment for which they are suited and being prepared. But boys are called by God to go out into the world. A wise father needs to watch his daughters closely if they are enrolled in a school – girls can become detached from their homes in an unfortunate way. But, as I stated in Future Men, a wise father should also watch a homeschooled son. He can become attached to the home in an unfortunate way- one boy among sisters, taught by Mom.

"With all this said, homeschooling can generally work better prior to third grade with one or two kids. In many situations, parents of such children can outperform a good school. But as age and numbers of children increase, the schools do have the advantage of the division of labour and generally can do a better job."

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