Sunday, February 21, 2010

Considering the Options: A Defense of Homeschooling

Imagine you are the parent of a newly school-age child, and that you are preparing this son or daughter for the first day of school. What would you tell him or her about school culture in anticipation of the first day, and of the next fourteen years of life?

Warnings for students preparing to attend traditional school for the first time often mimic those heard on the toughest streets of Boston:
- Don’t rock the boat. You never know who you’re sitting next to, so make sure to keep your opinions (meaning your personality) in check.
- Speak when spoken to. Teachers often ask for, but rarely ever actually want to hear, your perspective.
- Ask the right questions, or don’t ask any questions at all. In other words, if your classroom queries exhibit the slightest hint of controversy, watch your back.
- Remember, surviving and succeeding at school is decided, for the most part, by the law of averages. (So don’t knock on wood.)
These words are from the mother of a Kindergarten student at the Driscoll School, a public elementary school in Brookline. After listing the warnings, she laughed and added, “I might as well be telling my son to carry a razor blade in his sock. It sounds like I’m sending him to prison”.

If the warnings to six year old children read like those listed above, imagine the fear with which students enter high school.

Private schools in the Boston area offer a slight advantage over public schools to their students, with lower average class sizes, individual attention from faculty and, in some cases, better academic and human resources. But private schools and especially private Catholic schools are struggling in the aftermath of the economic downturn and controversy within the Catholic Church.

When asked about her most useful classroom resource in the aftermath of budget cuts, reduced spending and a pay-scale reduction at St. Mary of the Assumption Elementary School in Brookline, Kindergarten teacher Megan Drielak responded, “The parents, of course.” As private Catholic schools across the country, and especially in the Boston area, are facing reduced funding and lower enrollments, teachers have begun turning inward, to the parents of their students, for classroom help. Parents are often called upon to act as classroom aids, field trip chaperones, after-school tutors and project supervisors. Gone are the days when parents dropped off their kids on the school steps and returned seven hours later. Many are now spending time both in their children’s classrooms and stuffing envelopes in the office. In fact, one St. Mary student was heard in the halls saying, “Finally, my mom spends more time in the principal’s office than I do!” With all these added hours of parental participation and classroom work, is it worth spending the extra money to send children to private schools? One-income families are forced to add a second income to pay the high tuition fees associated with a private education. At least one parent, if not both, must deal with the pressure of taking time off from career to work in their children’s classrooms. The benefits of low student-teacher ratios and one-on-one attention are hardly worth the effort.

The solution is simple, though invariably overlooked: homeschooling. For parents who spend part of their day in a classroom, the leap from private school to homeschooling is quite simple. And since the costs of homeschooling are miniscule compared to a private school education, two-income homes are no longer necessary. This solution is particularly appropriate for Boston area families who are bombarded by a high cost of living, higher property tax, and other costs associated with living in a metropolis.

So why are most parents dismissing or ignoring the homeschooling option for their children? Many parents value the importance of socialization, and think that homeschooling will prevent their children from meeting friends and maintaining relationships with their peers. Others believe that the exposure to real world problems in traditional school will teach their kids the skills necessary to succeed in future careers. Some parents just enjoy their adult time, and take advantage of the six hour school day as a means to either advance their careers or maintain their households.

All of these are valid reasons to be cautious when considering schooling options. But no one reason is strong enough to override the sentiments of the parent quoted above. Any parent who is willing to make a direct comparison between the dangers of traditional school and the dangers of prison should seriously consider the homeschooling option.

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