Whenever possible, I center my blog articles around a passage written by a classroom teacher who helps me tackle one of today’s major education issues. Our only chance to fix the real issues with education is if classroom teacher voices can be heard above the false mantra that “…bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers” are the cause of our failing education system.
(Another outstanding teacher story follows this introduction, as part of
our BeHEARD! initiative to let YOUR classroom voice be seen nationwide.
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Today the passage, after this introduction, is by homeschooler Scott Keen, and it arrived in an unusual way. A friend at one of my favorite websites, Women on Writing, (yes – they even let curmudgeonly old men like me benefit from their blogs and help for authors!) knew about my love for the fantasy and science fiction genre – Tolkien, TH White, Asimov, and so many others. She told me about a new book written by a homeschooler who was heavily influenced by watching the imagination and creativity of his children during homeschool classes. I was hooked, and asked for her to request an article from him.
I think it is important to show what homeschooling is today, because it is very different than just a few years ago. While I remain personally against it if there is a good traditional school available, my views have changed in the past couple years. For one, after all the research in the three years leading up to publication of my own book on education, I finally started to notice the huge “if” in that sentence. “If” available, then no single homeschooler could ever match the quality of education presented by 12-15 dedicated, experienced, specialized teachers. I respected the social and religious convictions that I assumed were at the heart of such decisions, but felt the education tradeoff did a huge disservice to the child.
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But that is changing. What “if” the local school is another of the failed urban high schools I covered where teachers were forced to dumb down education, teach to the test, where administrators routinely force promotion of children who need to fail, and where 30 children with diverse learning styles are crammed into a classroom designed for 20 and with a teacher who is forced to provide a plain-vanilla lesson plan? What if the homeschool offered some things all teachers treasure – providing the ultimate in small class size, the pinnacle in diversified and tailored learning, and avoids the mandates that suck an average of 35 minutes out of teaching the curricula in every class period? Suddenly, what I used to dismiss as a “C-minus” education looks pretty good when compared to the failing urban high schools I researched.
And the facts are stunning these days. Depending upon whose research you read, some 1,700,000 to 2,500,000 students are now homeschooled. NCES reports that the rise in homeschooling the past few years matches the rise in charter school enrollment. Education Week reported what probably is stunning news to anyone other than classroom teachers – homeschoolers are now outperforming traditional schools in standardized tests and in college admissions tests (ACT/SAT), and homeschoolers don’t suffer from achievement gaps for race, gender, and income. Homeschoolers are now doing so well in college that the nation’s top colleges are actively seeking out homeschool students to attract.
Here is Scott’s passage. Several things struck me about it. First, his reason for homeschooling was diversified learning tailored to his children’s needs. This was not the stereotypical set of reasons for not putting your children in public schools. Second was that he also has two children not in homeschooling – making it hard to dismiss him as “…just another hater.” And third, I am jealous – his joy of being fulltime in a small class tailoring the education to the needs of the students rather than to the demands of the mandates is obvious. Scott Keen grew up in Black River, NY, the youngest of three children. While in law school, he realized he didn’t want to be a lawyer. So he did the practical thing–he became a writer. Now, many years later with an MFA in script and screenwriting, he is married with four daughters, two of whom he homeschools. He blogs at www.scottkeenbooks.com.
The Decision to Homeschool
By Scott Keen
When my wife and I had our first child, we began to think very seriously about her education. My wife had worked with children quite a bit, both in the public school system (as an AmeriCorps volunteer) and in others ways, such tutoring at the Boys & Girls club, summer camp counselor, theater director, etc.. Her outlook, as well as my own personal experiences with both attending public school and substitute teaching there (and to some extent my college level teaching) definitely formed our opinions about the ways we wanted our own children to be educated.
One of the main reasons we initially homeschooled was because we thought that 5 years old was too young to be in a structured environment all day. I personally remember hating going to school in the early grades (I had to wake up early, ride the bus, be around people all day, etc.). We wanted our children to have as much time as possible to explore, imagine, and play outside. Consequently, our kindergarten, first, and second grade schooling is very informal. We use A Beka curriculum, which is actually pretty rigorous, but has quite a bit of repetition built into the lesson plans, which lends itself to a more laid back approach to school – 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, with plenty of down time in between.
This way, our children can take the time they need to really work out their creative muscles. I find that our children (and I’m sure they are not unique in this) need a lot of down time to get into a good imaginative groove. When I was young, even if my brother and I had been playing for hours on a weekend, I always felt like things were just getting good when dinner would be ready, or we’d have to go in for bath time or bedtime or something like that. Even last week, my older daughters were playing with their Legos in their room for a long time, but still complained “Oh Mom, we were just getting to the exciting part!” when she called them to dinner. (I think she let them stay and finish playing for a while longer.)
Being able to spend this much time in “imaginings” is truly a luxury. If a child is at school all day, being constantly interrupted by the teacher, other children, or the school bell, where do they get this practice at focusing on one thing for a long period of time, and get to the place of deep creativity? Yes, it can happen after school, but not when there’s an hour or more of homework. Besides, what if the child is in little league or ballet classes or something of that nature? Team sports and extracurricular activities can be great, but not at the expense of downtime or creative playing, in my opinion. After all, that is where my first forays into storytelling began – it was in playtime with my siblings.
I find that as a writer, I also need to give myself time to get into my creative groove. I often have to go out somewhere (like Starbucks or Panera) after my wife gets off work to write so that I can more quickly “get to the exciting part” of the writing process, where ideas are flowing and the story starts to come to life. When I was first started writing Scar of the Downers, I would wait until everyone was asleep. Then, I would completely immerse myself in that world for hours at a time, and found that as I did so, the scenes would visually play out in my head, enabling me to more clearly describe the action. This was incredibly helpful when I was trying to write out action sequences, which require an accurate description of a lot of things sometimes all happening simultaneously.
Writing fiction is all about the imagination. Watching my children daily tap into theirs was inspiring to me and showed me that to fully imagine my story, I just needed to do what they did – fully immerse myself into the story and stay there long enough to capture it and write it down.
But if I were to send my children away to school, I would have missed this part of their lives – their innocence, their inquisitiveness, their imagination. In one sense, to write fantasy, you have to look at the world with the same wonder a child does, and ask yourself, “What if?” What if this burning log was the body of a phantom? What if these pine needles were really creatures’ fingers? What if the ground could come alive? What if? What if? What if?
Children ask these questions. And they are answered with imagination. That is what being around them, and homeschooling them, has done. It enabled me to remember myself as a child. It enabled me to ask those same questions. What if?
In my opinion, it is the beginning of all fantasy.
Our career DoE bureaucrats, far from any classroom knowledge could learn from these homeschoolers! They preach diversity, yet force students into a dumbed-down plain-vanilla teaching system that prevents teachers from teaching effectively. They could learn a lot from Scott Keen and all the homeschoolers out there. Perhaps they will listen to the homeschoolers, since they clearly do not listen to the classroom teachers.
We need to fix this.
(BTW – Here is some info about Scott’s book – Scar of the Downers)
Branded on the slaves in the Northern Reaches beyond Ungstah, the scar marks each one as a Downer. It is who they are. There is no escaping this world. Still, strange things are stirring. Two foreigners ride through the Northern Reaches on a secret mission. An unknown cloaked figure wanders the streets of the dark city of Ungstah. What they want no one can be sure, but it all centers around a Downer named Crik.
Crik, too scared to seek freedom, spends his days working in his master’s store, avoiding the spirit-eating Ash Kings while scavenging food for himself and his best friend, Jak. Until he steals from the wrong person. When Jak is sold to satisfy the debt, Crik burns down his master’s house and is sentenced to death.
To survive, Crik and his friends must leave behind their life of slavery to do what no other Downer has ever done before–escape from the city of Ungstah.
You can learn more about Scott at www.scottkeenbooks.com.