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.

 

Happiness

They say that being happy comes from enjoying what you have and living in the moment. I believe that, and I try my best. Overall, I am very happy. But this is a lot easier when I ignore what is going on in the real world.

The problem is that ignoring bad things allows them to continue. Some people say that the problem is that I care too much. That may be true, but I know that if we allow bad things to happen, it will affect us down the line. If by acting now I can help prevent that, I will act now.

I keep running into the problem that so many bad things are going on in the world that I cannot really be active enough in any one thing. Especially since I am a parent and I work full-time. This frustration that I have is probably part of the reason that so much of what I post are merely rants. I know full well that I am not adding anything meaningful to the debates. I just feel the need to DO SOMETHING.

I sign petitions, but so many of them ask for money after you ‘sign’ that I don’t even know if it gets counted unless I donate. I am not a bottomless pit, and I cannot donate to every worthy cause I come across.

Donald Trump as President

At first I thought this post would say something like, ‘Ok, the joke is up, it’s not funny anymore.” But it is way past that point. I am truly terrified about this. At first it was just as an idle ‘what if,’ but the polling numbers make this a real possibility.

facebook page supporting Bernie Sanders posted a question, ‘What worries you about Donald Trump being president?’ I found that my answer was far too long for a response in the comments.

Entitlement – It started with Trump’s 1% attitude. He thinks that he got himself where he is today. As I have said before, I don’t really believe that is how capitalism works. Our economy does not get people where they belong based on work or ethics, but primarily on family wealth and/or unscrupulous behavior. This is shown with his ‘small $1 million dollar loan’. Little does he realize that this is more money than most Americans will even handle in their lifetime.

Trump feels that he is the best. His success has given him the idea that he can do whatever he wants. And the US legal system supports that. The fact that he has declared bankruptcy makes him feel that he has seen the worst. And the fact that he came back stronger makes him believe that he is even stronger than an ordinary millionaire. He thinks that he is so infallible that no matter what he does he will succeed.

As someone who already benefits from the elaborate protections the wealthy have on their money, Trump is likely to keep those and create more. All of these protections are damaging for those who cannot take advantage of them. For every penny that they keep is a penny out of circulation. Each penny is another one that will not be paid to the hard-working employees to buy food. In the end, each penny they hoard is a penny they don’t have to steal a second time.

Cruel – The television show, The Apprentice, is known for Trump’s coldhearted treatment of the contestants. While one could hope this was just for sensationalism, it is precisely that sensation that propelled him to where he is today. It is that attitude that has earned him fans. Having anyone in charge who thinks that people are disposable is a recipe for disaster. I doubt the people who work for him are treated very well. And these people we see on the show have been mentored by him, sometimes for several weeks. Even that does not help him to show any sympathy. What can we expect him to feel for people he has never even seen?

Bigot – Trump has gained his thunder through cruelty in general, but now he is directing it. He knows that he needs certain individuals to support him, and is directing their existing fears and prejudices to his advantage. His hate speech is terrifying to me. We forget that Hitler did not round up everyone he disliked at once, he started small and gradually worked his way up as fewer and fewer groups were there to protect one another. This is one of the reasons that we must protect other people’s freedoms as well as our own. American history that I grew up learning was a consistent progression of gaining equality and rights for the disenfranchised, but within my lifetime we have gone back centuries when it comes to this progress. Trump is even more overt about it than Bush.

Followers – The most terrifying thing to me is not that there is someone in the world like this. I know they exist. The fact that he has power is frightening, but what scares me the most is that people follow him. He has supporters who believe the outrageous claims. He is working them up to a fever pitch, allowing people who were considered ‘fringe’ before for their radical views to come into the limelight. This is the Tea Party, but perhaps even more extreme. This is dangerous.

 

Fear

I think that this will probably end up as a series instead of a single post. This will serve mainly as an introduction and outline.

What is fear? Fear is natural response to dangers. From an evolutionary perspective this means flight or fight. We evolved with a known danger with a predictable likelihood and outcome. These factors get calculated and we decide whether it would be in our best interest to flee the danger or to fight it. This decision also depends on other factors. Are you alone? Are there others that need your protection? Do you have backup if things go badly? How fast is your pursuer likely to be in comparison to you?

All of these situations need a lot of adrenaline to assist in either path, so the body produces more. This is why we sweat,  get tense, and other thought processes fade into the background. In the natural world, these threats arrive, and are dealt with, and we move on.

Today there are a lot more things that cause us fear. As humans we are living in a world completely foreign to our ancestors. Our fears vary according to where we live, but many of them we cannot solve as quickly as a situation in the wild would be. We are afraid to lose our jobs, our homes, our families. We fear disease, economic hardship, terrorism, rape, kidnapping. We fear police, politics, the poor, the rich, other races, our families, each other, and even ourselves.

What does that mean for us? As individuals it creates a state of constant stress and anxiety that is so common in our society. It leads to increased use of anti-anxiety medications. It also can lead to a feeling of despair, which explains our epidemic of depression. Our bodies were not built to deal with constant stress, and that may lead to the type of chemical imbalances that we are finding.

As a group, humans are drawing more lines between themselves and others. We do this in our daily lives. We refuse to make eye contact with strangers as we hurry through crowded streets wary that anyone we pass could be a pickpocket, or worse. On a larger scale we do it with entire cultures. America has broken all ties with Islamic nations because we are terrified that they are out to get us. Extremists of all types rationalize their actions using fear. Homegrown terrorists are afraid of the government, religious zealots are afraid for the continuation of their way of life, politicians are afraid of the people. In order to make themselves feel safer, people will resort to making others afraid. This is the source of the threat, including the demonstration of power.

Why are we so afraid today? Many people will tell you that it is because of our human ability to anticipate, but that leaves out the distinction between our ancestors’ fears and our own. I do not believe that we would ever have begun building permanent settlements if people obsessed over fears of wild animals in the same way we obsess over our fears today. Others will say that it is because of our global society. This is also part of the story. We are able to see the horrors going on in far flung parts of the globe. The images of 9/11 that are scarred into the minds, certainly of anyone who remembers the event, are mostly those images that were shown on television. People can describe this scene even though they may never have been to New York.

I believe that while these points contribute to our societal fears, the main cause is fear mongering. People who gain by the public’s fear do everything they can to manipulate our fears. This includes not only those who use violence to make others fear them, but also those who use the violence of another to create a solidarity between victims. What does that mean? It means that scared people are easier to control. It means that through manipulation of our fears people become predictable. It means that by convincing people to be afraid of one thing, they can be forced to overlook other things. It means that when people are afraid they make alliances with others who are also afraid. Politics took this to a whole new level when the color coded terror threat level system was created. This is used as a way to tell the people exactly how frightened they should be on a given day. I was reading about yesterday’s attacks in Paris, when I came across an interesting juxtaposition. In two back to back sentences we were told that there is currently no indication of an attack on the U.S., and then told that none of our prediction methods saw the Paris attacks coming. They know that at this moment our fear is already heightened so much that if they told us to be afraid they could lose that carefully crafted control.

Fear is a great way to get people to give things up. If you are afraid of attacks on your home, keeping your protection is important. This is why the same people who garner fear of people outside of the country attacking are the same people who create the fear of having guns taken away. If you are afraid that you will not be able to protect your family, your personal privacy is less important. If you are afraid that a certain type of person is out to get you it makes you less likely to protect their rights. If you are afraid that your child will be hurt by a stranger it makes you less likely to let them be alone.

What can you do? Recognize when someone is using fear to control. Look behind the words to figure out what the speaker gains by having you believe them. The less self-interest, the more likely the story is true. The more they have to gain, the more they will stretch the truth. The more followers they have, the more credence the story gains, and the more it can be bent without breaking.

People in America today have given up a lot of freedoms in the name of safety, many of which we still take for granted. We need to learn to take a step back and figure out why people tell us certain things so that we can truly protect ourselves.

 

Racism

I was reading I Owe You Nothing’s blog about racism, and it brought up something that I have noticed. The stereotype is that white people are racist, as the Yahoo question they referred to implies. This assumption is in itself racist. As I Owe You Nothing points out, people are racist, no matter the color or creed.

I grew up in a town that is mostly white. Madrid was very unusual for New Mexico in this way. As such, there may be racism there that I am unaware of, but as far as I can tell, Madroids have a very “Don’t bother me and I won’t bother you” attitude. Because the town was so small, I went to school in Santa Fe, which is more diverse, just because of the higher numbers of people. It is predominantly Hispanic. I was always a little out of place, but I never really got that it was because of my ethnicity. I am weird, and that scares people.

I have spent a lot of time in different cities across the states and, maybe I was sheltered in some way, but I never really had an experience where people really seemed prejudiced. (That said, going to London during the Bush administration meant apologizing a lot.) Some people do make ethnic jokes, but recognize that it is racist and do not treat people differently.

I always knew that racism is still an issue in many places. I know people who have not been promoted and attributed that to a racial prejudice, which is quite possibly the case. The first time when I have ever really noticed that people actually believe racial stereotypes is the town where I now live. Ironically, it is the most diverse place I have ever been. Periodically I have people at the front desk ask me if someone that they have not seen is of a specific race or not based on the person’s actions. I refuse to answer these questions. I do not believe that it matters. The person always gives me some excuse about how they are not being racist, they are just going off of their experience or what someone told them. The people who make these statements are not all of one race, but many different races.

I choose not to try to figure out what my experience means. When I am confronted with this type of issue I try to deal with it in the best way I can. Usually I just get confused, and the person gets defensive. I just hope that when they leave they think about it and realize that their judgment can be at the least offensive, and possibly cause larger issues.

I totally realize that a white girl talking about racism and especially about not having seen it will result in a lot of “White Privilege” talk. I recognize that I may have been sheltered, and am thankful for it. I am thankful that I did not grow up hearing hate speech and fighting my way through the ranks. I believe that not being exposed to racism ideas makes it so that I recognize it better. I believe that living without that negative impact is a good thing, and I will continue to try to bring that to others.

All that said, in reference to my previous post, Feminism,  about how a fight for equality can be pushed too far, I do have to say that although minorities are underrepresented in the mainstream media, fixing that would be better than creating different channels for everyone. The Black Entertainment Channel is a perfect example. If we were to create a White Entertainment Channel there would be boycotts. How about instead of re-instituting segregation, we continue the fight for equality?

Update – The area where I work is not the greatest place, there are a lot of hotels on this street, and there are many undesirable activities and people here too. Since I have been working here I have been criticized by my bosses for letting bad people stay. I have taken the re-active action of creating a list of people not to rent to – people who have caused problems in the past. However this does nothing to prevent problems in the first place, and I am constantly encouraged to ‘use my own judgement’ about who to rent to. If we don’t really want someone here, we boost the rate, and add a deposit. Officially we require it of everyone, but in reality it would drive all of our customers away, so it is a judgement call. I hate doing this, and I do count on my gut instincts. I try very hard to make sure that those judgements are not directly related to race, but I am sure that is how it may seem to some, and I feel terrible about it. I feel like this place is making me a person that I do not want to be.

 

Feminism

There are two very different associations with the word feminism. Both versions come from reality. One is the idea of equality; women receive equal pay for equal work, receive promotions based on ability on an equal playing field, and have all the same rights as men. The other interpretation of feminism is women trying to take power from men.

When I first understood this distinction, I was surprised. It had never really occurred to me, but after I thought about it for a bit, I realized that a lot of the press that feminism gets is about ‘women power’ and ‘women first.’ There is also the connection that people make with Matriarchal societies.

The original meaning of the word comes from a time when women’s status came from their attachment to men, first as a daughter, then as a wife and mother. All the women at that time were asking is equality; the ability to vote, buy land, and be able to make a living without a man. We have made a lot of progress since then, but there is still work to be done.

Today the meaning of the word has really been hijacked. When people think that people are trying to take power from them, of course there will be resistance. This idea is really damaging to the cause. In many ways, women do have the equality we have striven for. As we move about in society, for the most part women can do everything that men can do. The inequality is really more hidden now than it was. This means that it is easier to believe that the power struggle is the point.

I believe that equality is still the goal of those in the movement. Any gender-based power system is damaging. I encourage everyone to educate themselves to find out what issues are still being combated. I also have to acknowledge that there may actually be some people who are interested in taking power, but please do not let them ruin the battle for everyone else. We cannot afford to be taken back, and we do not want to push too far.

As a side note, all of these issues can also apply to other equality battles like racism and LGBTQ rights.

We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.