What can we learn from homeschooling

My blog post for my Educational Psychology class that I'm taking to become certified to teach:

I love and respect teachers. I have many family members who are teachers, friends who are teachers, I myself am in school to become a teacher. And yet, teachers must spend a good percentage of the classroom time on tasks unrelated to teaching or getting to know their students. In the Department of Education 2013 Diary Survey, “Only about 1/3 of teacher time is spent teaching. Around a 1/3 is on planning, preparation and marking. The rest is management, paperwork, and working with pupils or parents.” How is this teacher able to make sure each child is succeeding, not being bullied, is being challenged, and so much more? How do we create a classroom where children's self-esteem and sense of self are not diminished when we have so many other responsibilities? I believe that sense of self is imperative to success in the classroom and believe we, as traditional school teachers, have much to learn from the homeschool community.

I have personally not seen the dip in self-esteem and sense of self in homeschooled children that it often seen in schooled children when they transition from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school. My own daughter started attending a public charter school this year in her sixth grade year. Her teacher more than once commented on her strong sense of self and ability to stand up to her classmates, most of whom had been together since fourth grade. I can provide numerous anecdotes from other families to this affect, though as we know, the plural of anecdote is not data. I do believe that this bears research. What about the traditional schooling model leads to a dip in self-esteem and sense of self?

Three factors are listed in the text as influencing sense of self (Chapter 3, pgs 63-64). The first, succeeding at challenges, is something that is likely to happen for every homeschooled student. The parents are going to create an environment that is challenging without setting the child up for failure. In addition, they have inherent knowledge of the background knowledge of the child as well as what the child needs to be successful in meeting that challenge. As a teacher with a classroom, or several classrooms, of students, it is imperative that we have the same knowledge of each and every child in the class. We then need to create challenges that are appropriate for the child, making sure that every child has the same chance to succeed as the homeschooled child.

The second factor influencing the child's sense of self is other people's behavior. Students are comparing themselves to how other students are doing in the class. The could be doing above average work, but if there are those ahead of them, the student could feel they aren't strong in that subject. There is also the other student's behavior towards them. A child could be ridiculed for myriad reasons, from doing too well in school to not wearing the correct brand of shoes to tripping in the hallway. A homeschooled child does not have many to compare themselves to, and in all honesty, they often will not compare themselves. This child will meet up with peers and talk about what they know about science, for instance. If the other children don't know about that, the child will explain it. The peers are not thought of as less intelligent for their lack of knowledge, only as people who had not yet been exposed to the topic. And if the peers do know about the topic, a discussion surrounding the issue will start. There is no pressure associated with clothing styles, no negative association with physical differences. In that way, socialization of mixed age groups in homeschooling leads to more tolerance of personal differences.
How do we create this in the classroom? Being aware of biases and talking about them is a good start. Follow that with fostering a sense of community within the classroom where collaboration, not competition, is valued. Finally, get the students excited about the material and sharing it with their peers. They are now all one team, working together.

The final factor is membership in a successful group. I believe this is easily accomplished in school or at home. There are sports, 4H, religious groups, just to name a few, that are available regardless of where or how your child schools. Encourage your students to get involved. If they aren't interested in what is offered through the school, be ready with some community opportunities that you know would appeal to them. Get them in touch with another student who is involved with that project, someone who could mentor them or at the very least, share enthusiasm.

But, what about socialization? Teachers often think they have the homeschooled child beat in socialization. Are there actual advantages the traditionally schooled child has over a homeschooled child in terms of socialization? Let's look at the four functions of peers in personal and social development (p 69).

First there are the variety of social skills such as cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Are these available to a homeschooled child? Most certainly. Homeschooling, despite its name, does not typically occur only in the home. There are many group activities and enrichment opportunities where homeschooled students meet up with their peers. Some are academic, such as LEGO Robotics teams or trips to the museum. Others are more social such as park days and potlucks. In all cases, students must work on social skills with their peers and others of different ages. I would argue this is more like the real world than a traditional school where students tend to interact with a more narrow age range of people.

The next two functions, students helping each other and providing companionship and support are again widely present in homeschooling. Homeschooled students often do not think of adults as the only ones with knowledge and therefore will seek out the person who knows about a subject for assistance. There is rarely a time when a student cannot find a competent individual to help them with something they wish to know. Companionship and support are available almost more so than in school because it is likely they can speak with, text, or facetime with their friends at any given time. If they need peer support, it is as close as their phone.

Lastly, directing ways of behaving through peer pressure or peer contagion, I would argue is better handled through homeschooling than through traditional school. It is highly unlikely that a homeschooled child is going to be pressured to adopt behaviors they themselves do not wish to simply because some other students have decided that is how things are done. We are all aware of drugs, unprotected sex, and other risky behaviors that are engaged in by adolescents. While these are certainly not absent in the homeschool community, they are generally lessened. And the positive pressures that peers can put on each other for things such as working hard, treating people kindly, and community service are things that are constantly in a homeschooler's life.

So what is a traditional school teacher to do when they want increase positive peer interactions while minimizing negative ones? Once again, provide opportunities. Students need to work together so they can learn how to negotiate with peers and help each other. They need to find a group to belong to so they can form friendships which will provide support.

And peer contagion? That needs to be minimized through bullying awareness programs for both teachers and students. Awareness that even seemingly neutral behaviors such as hair styles, can be sources of bullying for those who don't conform. Or that obtaining a certain brand of shoes is not possible for all students and can lead to bullying. Knowledge can be very powerful when dealing with issues surrounding sex, drugs, or other risky behaviors. Get your school involved in programs that provide factual, complete knowledge about these topics. When peer contagion is positive, it needs to be encouraged. Getting your class involved in a community service activity so they can bond together and have that group sense of pride, is but one way to make this happen.

I mention all these things, not because I believe everyone should homeschool. That is not practical, nor do most people wish to do that. What we do need is a change the way our schools operate. We as teachers need to learn from the homeschooling community and take what can work in the classroom and integrate it into our schools.  


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