Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Home Schooling or Public School?

I was born in Germany. My family came to Canada when I was three years old. Because we kept moving from place to place while my father was looking for work, I missed Kindergarten. I was the sort of kid who was desperate to learn, but had little opportunity to do so, until my older sister started attending night school to learn English. Suddenly, I had a focus. The text books she brought home had lots of captioned pictures. As she learned English, so did I. I didn't necessarily learn how to pronounce the words, but I knew that 'cat' described a furry creature with whiskers, four legs and a tail. Heretofore, I had known such creatures, in German, as 'Katze.'

When I started school at grade one, I was able to read English as well as my older sister. I mispronounced words though, because I had no example to model myself after. Although my sister let me learn from her text books, she didn't have the time or inclination to teach me. I remember, for example, a teacher correcting my pronunciation of 'laughter.' I had pronounced it as 'lotter,' probably using words like 'caught' or 'fraught' as pronunciation models.

One of the first things we learned in grade one was phonics. That was all it took for me. Once I learned that letters, singly or grouped, had associated sounds and followed a fairly predictable system, there was no stopping me. I read everything I could get my hands on. I still read a lot.

My son is a bright kid. Several years ago, I had him read aloud to me one of the 'Dear Zachary' letters that I write to him on occasion. I was appalled that he stumbled over some of the longer words. Having no patience for teaching phonics myself, I called a retired teacher in my neighbourhood and asked her if she would teach him phonics if I supplied the teaching resources. She didn't need the materials I had. She had her own. One week later, there wasn't a word that my son couldn't pronounce. Parse the word, break it down into syllables, apply the appropriate phonic sounds and... presto, perfect pronunciation.

Why aren't kids learning this stuff in school? What is it with the morons in the educational system and their 'whole language' approach? It doesn't work! Guessing at the pronunciation of polysyllabic words is guaranteed to have a less than perfect success rate. To use my personal example at the beginning of this post, I used the whole language approach with my sister's text books, but didn't really 'get it' until I learned phonics in school.

I have written here before that I am generally satisfied with my son's schooling at a French immersion public school. If I were not, I would seriously consider home schooling. I am appalled at behavioural problems of epidemic proportions in many North American schools. I am amazed that many kids can't read, write, spell, or add a column of numbers. Is it reasonable that high school graduates can't pronounce words properly, can't spell, and have a severely limited vocabulary? Is it reasonable that they don't know the difference between 'your' and 'you're,' or that they don't know when to use 'there,' 'their' or 'they're.' Is it possible that they really don't know that there is no such word as 'alot?'

Teachers' unions and various government agencies don't want us to home school our children. Why not, when there is considerable evidence that academic results are much better? The usual canard is that children taught at home are deprived of social interaction with their peers and won't be able to 'fit in' and become well-adjusted members of society.

Sure. I believe that, don't you? After all, there are no misfits in our public school system, are there?

I have mentioned before the book called Hold On To Your Kids, why Parents Matter by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté. Here are a couple of paragraphs that address the 'socialization' argument used by anti-homeschoolers:

"Most parents and educators are of the view that school serves a critical socialization function in rendering a child fit for society. Children who don't go to school are generally considered to be disadvantaged socially. The less children are able to get along and fit in, the more likely it is that interaction with their peers is prescribed to fix the problem. Commonly in our society parents and teachers go out of their way to enable their children and students to socialize with each other.

The belief that socializing begets socialization persists in the absence of any evidence to support it. Despite its popularity, this assumption cannot stand up to even the most cursory examination. If socializing with peers led to getting along and to becoming responsible members of society, the more time a child spent with her peers, the better the relationship would tend to be. In actual fact, the more time children spend with each other, the less likely they are to get along and the less likely they are to fit into civil society. If we take the socialization assumption to the extreme--to orphanage children, street children, children involved in gangs--the flaw in thinking becomes obvious. If socializing were the key to socialization, gangs and street kids would be model citizens."

Makes you think, doesn't it? There is much more on this topic in the book.

I guess what it all boils down to, is that we all want the best for our children. It is important for us not to accept the opinions of the myriad 'experts' out there, who tell us how and where to educate our children, as gospel. We need to research the facts and determine the possibilities ourselves. Our ultimate choice could have dramatic consequences for our children.

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