Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Geek Culture

Like many people of my generation, I am surprised to find what was out is in. I was always the type to like what I liked, no matter who said what about it. This has always been obvious in my clothing choices, but it is not the only thing.

My personal geek has always been history. When I graduated from college with a B.A. in History I decided I could stop calling myself an ‘history nut’ to calling myself an ‘Historian’. I have never made the change.

But there is also books. I love to escape into a great story. My teachers used to have to slow me down. I was told that I would not have time to read all of Little Women in time to finish my fourth grade book report. In fact sometimes it is a book that gets me into history. Reading a book about King Tutankhamun’s tomb is what got me into studying Egypt for several years.

And then there is the clothes. Historical clothes, fantasy clothes, elegant clothes, funky clothes, kids dressed like grown-ups, grown-ups dressed like kids. Most anything that was not the norm was fair game. (That said, more recently there have been a lot of people pushing that same box in places I won’t even go.

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Like this rendition of a bubble dress)

When I was young I resisted a lot of ‘geek’ things. I had a personal ban on sci-fi, was wary of fantasy, knew nothing of Anime, and rejected Video Games. But I always felt a kinship with this type of geek. We were all outcasts, we knew what it was to be left out of the clique. But somewhere we had a feeling that some people, maybe even the ones who hassled us the most, did it because they were afraid to let anyone know they were like us.

Later on, with the re-birth of Goth, I found the first outcast clique I felt like I could fit in with. The fun clothes were just up my alley, and I did not keep to the ‘all black’ rule, as my Morticia Morticia dress might show. I remember one day I was wearing a lime green floor length dress that I had made with black lipstick and some friends started to debate whether people who saw me would assume I was a Goth or a Raver. I had a lot of fun with the fact that I could find makeup in totally wild colors, and I would spend the hour and a half morning bus ride designing elaborate Venetian style masks out of eyeliner.

By this point Lord of the Rings was out, and I was a big fan. I still had not seen Star Wars, but I was beginning to be exposed to Anime somewhat, and I was more computer savvy than most people my age, although by no means a computer geek. Compared to them I live in the stone ages. (And might prefer that). I was already in the SCA and was finally feeling like there were people with whom I could fit in, something that, outside of Madrid, I thought was impossible in elementary school.

It was not until an awesome college professor who specialized in Shakespeare had us analyze A New Hope that I finally got over my ‘no sci-fi’ rule, although I do still find a lot of it not to my taste. I still have trouble getting into video games just because they have a tenancy to eat so much time. That said, I have my weaknesses. I play Sims, Tetris, Bloons and Civilization far more than I should, and I play Minecraft (much to the amazement of my students when I was substitute teaching) on occasion. I love going to cons, of any sort. It is another place where I feel at home in my crazy costumes.

These days, with the popularity of geek I find that I feel almost disappointed, now that the people who would have been my bullies behave like they are my pals, I get a bit put off sometimes. As many people know it is easy to tell a true fan from those who embrace the geek because of the popularity. And sometimes, because I am a late-comer to some of the geek myself, I feel like I am either placed in that category or I am being deceptive to people who think I have been a lifelong fan. On the other hand, there are so many things that do play into my lifelong geeks, that I feel like finally the fad has joined me.

Steampunk is a perfect example. It is technology, albeit fictional, that I can understand on some level, it is history, sort-of, and it is clothes! Victorian is one of my favorite periods, and recently it has shown up in several places. In my own mind I make a distinction between

vic
true Victorian
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the idea of Victorian   (Dracula, Melodrama, etc.)

as well as

 

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Goth Victorian

and

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Steampunk

But I like all of them and I think that it is awesome that something so different from modern fashion is having its own ‘retro’.

 

Growing up where I did I have not really had much opportunity to go to conventions, but where I am living now is part of the nerve center for some of it, and I really want to go explore it more.

Society For Creative Anachronism

Ok, so today I am gonna plug for the SCA.

I made the black dress from a pattern. I now know that the princess seams are not period, but I still wear the dress. This picture is not mine, but since I hate putting pictures of people up without their permission, and this is the only SCA picture I can find that doesn’t include a lot of other faces, this is what you get.

What is it? – The SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. So what does that mean? It means a group of people (Society) who creatively are out of time and place (Anachronism). Ok, still a little literal. It is a medieval recreation society. We do our best to live as people lived in medieval times. (Without the plague, religious persecution, and lack of sanitation.)

I say medieval, but really any period prior to the 17th century is fair game. Most people stick to European history, but some do delve into the Stepps and even into Asia.

Who are These People? – All the funny clothes, strange names, and crowns can be a little intimidating. It can feel like another world, and that is the point. We take care to make our outfits, accessories, and sometimes even speech, our escape from the mundanity of everyday life. In fact, we refer to life outside the SCA as ‘Mundane Life’, imagine that. Most people choose a name that goes with a persona. They create a person who would have lived in a particular time and place. Then they live in those shoes. SCAers tend to get confused when they find out that I do not do this. I don’t because I cannot choose just one period or place. People can have several personas, but I find even that too restrictive. I will often go every day of an event in a different era. When I joined there were a lot of people whose SCA names were variations of my name. I don’t really see a point. I feel more at home at events anyway.

The crowns are a little different. SCA has our own royalty. The crowns are worn by people who are permitted to. Just to confuse you, the bigger the crown does not mean the higher the rank. The crowns are designed according to the wearer’s preference.

So What Do People Do? – If someone did it during the time period, someone in the SCA probably does it. If it is more obscure, you may have a hard time finding them, especially in a small group. At large events though, GAME ON!

The Biggest Examples –

  • Fighting – Most people who know something about the SCA know about the Fighting, so I will start there. We have two main fight styles. What we call ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’. All of our martial activities have strict safety measures regarding the weapons, and the armor used. We rely on the honor system to count hits. In the SCA, unless specified in a particular event, if an arm is hit, you ‘lose’ that arm and must fight without it, the same goes for a leg. Fighters will kneel at this point, although I have never seen it, I do not think there are rules again hopping around. If a fighter looses both arms, they will admit defeat, although once again, I don’t think there are rules against going all Black Knight.

Heavy fighting is a recreation of broadsword melee mostly. However many people choose to use axes, maces, or even pole arms instead. We are not a live steel group, which means that when we fight, we are not using real weapons. Most are built by members out of Ratan which is like a heavy bamboo. Usually they are wrapped in duct tape. Because Duct Tape.

Light fighting is a recreation of fencing. We use heavier swords than that used in the Olympics, but use similar face masks. These swords are tipped so that no-one gets run through for real. Beginners usually use only one sword, but more advanced fighters can choose an off-hand weapon as well. I have seen a dagger, a buckler, a cloak, even a rubber chicken.

  • Other Martial Stuff – The main categories here are Archery and Thrown Weapons. These are essentially target-based activities, since we don’t actually try to kill each other. In some large-scale battles, archers are invited, provided they wear armor that meets the regulations of the battle, and use special ammunition.

I do archery, but I use a Cherokee Flat bow, so it’s not quite period. I do have to shoot a little bit differently than most people who shoot long bow. Other people use the later re-curve style. I have also seen people shoot crossbow, although they are more expensive, and therefore rarer.

I have also done some thrown weapons. I usually use knives, but have dabbled in axe throwing as well. The principles are the same. This is the least popular of the martial activities, although in many ways it is the simplest to get involved in.

  • Performance – There are also bards musicians and dancers in the SCA. People study instruments that most people have never heard of. Sometimes we can even get musicians to play for dancers. Usually this is drummers around the campfire at night while some budding belly dancer shows her moves. Occasionally we will have a formal ball, with court dances that are taught during the day for those daring enough. Bards often travel between camps singing their tales of faraway places. At my son’s first event, it was a bard that finally managed to get him to sleep.

As with everything, there are experts and there are novices. People are not deterred from doing something they are not good at, but rather recruited as someone to pass knowledge on to.

  • Arts & Sciences – In the SCA this mostly means arts, or stuff you create. As an activity, this is not the most obvious, but it’s effects are evident the moment you see a gathering. While some things are purchased outside of the organization, most things that people wear or use at events are made within the group. Some people take pride in making everything themselves, while others contribute to the SCA economy. We use modern currency, but I consider the SCA to have its own sub-economy. Some merchants are able to earn their livelihood by traveling and selling their wares at events, although many include Renaissance Faires as well. We have our own supply and demand trends, sometimes fueled by the fads. Yes, even though we are re-creating the past, certain periods go in and out fashion.

Once again, if someone made it then, someone probably makes it now. I know blacksmiths, weavers, leather-workers, seamstresses, and jewelers. Some people focus on period re-creations. Many SCA members carry knives and even swords on their person, even though they are not allowed in combat. Other artisans focus on SCA-specific crafts like creating the regulation weapons that are used in combat.

I always say that I do not like shopping, and I take great pride in breaking the female stereotype in that. But I have to admit, I lie. I love shopping. I just cannot stand the places that most people shop. I love thrift stores. I will have to write more about that another day. I also love Merchants Row. At most large events there is a designated area for craftspeople to set up stores. This is my weakness. These people sell the types of things I like. People sell period clothing, weapons, armor and jewelry. Others do intricate hair braiding (When you are at a week-long camping event and the showers are full of sweaty fighters most of the time, a braid can be a big help.) or henna. Some people sell modern paraphernalia like t-shirts. Period games are always interesting. Real root beer is always a classic. This is one of the only places that you can find period fabrics and trims to make stuff yourself. Many of the merchants accept not only cash but also barter. More recently, with the help of technologies like square, most can now accept Master Card and Lady Visa as well. I only include that because I find it amusing.

Where is it? – The SCA is an international organization, but mostly exists in the United States. There are local groups in most large cities, and even smaller ones, although it really depends on the town. The city I just moved from had, at its height, more than twenty. Then a lot of people everyone moved away around the same time, leaving around eight active members. A larger city that I lived in had its branch nearly dissolved because no-one was participating. A few years later it has grown and it thriving. Check out your area.

So Why Do I Play? – I got into SCA because I am a history nut, okay, so since I now have a bachelors in History I have decided that I can say Historian instead. But I stay in because the people are awesome. In general the people are far more accepting of others. This is the place where people who feel alienated by society at large find a home. I have made friends of different religions, political parties, and gender identities. People who have been outside the norm for their hobbies, or the way that they look, walk or talk fit in just fine in the SCA. There are some people who will point out historical inaccuracies. Usually that is done in fun, and with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is a merchant trying to sell their wares.

How Much Time and Money Does This Take? – As much as you want to put into it. Some people camp in extravagant period tents, I use a cheap two-man tent I found at Wal-Mart. Some people build elegant Elizabethan gowns, while others wear simple Viking T-tunics. (Some people build those in a period way, while others use modern techniques.) You can spend as much or as little as you want, but if you are like me, you will always want to spend more than you should.