My children are homeschooled. They also attend a fantastic “bricks-and-mortar” school during the standard school year, and prior to that they were in full-time daycare since they were infants. But when they are home with me, we read, count, explore science concepts, and look at the big map on the wall and talk about the world. I cut up little pieces of French toast and say, “How many do you have? If you eat one, how many will you have left?” This behavior does not make me special; my friends do this too. And they do it for the same reason I do—because this is what our mothers did for us.
I have some friends who officially homeschool their children. And in our demographic, the homeschooled kids are not just sitting around at home, as some people not familiar with modern homeschooling might imagine. They are exploring their world and experiencing an impressive array of enrichment activities that have cropped up to serve this growing market. OMSI, Trackers NW, and many others have programs now specifically geared towards homeschoolers, and there are dedicated support communities such as Village Home.
I view the private school that my sons attend as an incredible extended enrichment program. At their bricks-and-mortar school, they experience long, multi-discipline explorations that I personally wouldn’t have the time or creativity to put together, as well as music, art, foreign language, and the advantages of learning from other caring adults. From my perspective, the only difference between my family and an official homeschool family is the percentage of time allocated to parental teaching vs. paid enrichment—I get less homeschool time with my kids, but it is still crucial, valuable time.
I am a big fan of KIPP schools, which have shown some impressive results as compared to their alternatives. But a Washington Post article written a couple months ago by Richard Kahlenberg has given me reason to think more deeply about long-term results. Kahlenberg particularly points to less-than-impressive college graduation rates of KIPP alumni. But my concern is more mundane: Will KIPP alumni count French toast pieces with their children? Beyond that, will they have not only the money, but the desire, to send their children to music & language classes, or outdoor woodsman adventures?
Much has been said recently about the connection between poverty and poor educational outcomes (by the admirable Linda Darling-Hammond, for example, in the Washington Post) But in our focus on poor families, it is not enough to “ensure that all children have housing, health care, and food security” (Darling-Hammond). We also need to refocus on the role of parenting, and a parent’s fundamental responsibility in the educational cycle.
Neither more money to the existing school system, nor vouchers, (although I want both) can “fix” a problem that resides with a family that is unable or unwilling to support a child’s education. If we want better educational outcomes in this country, we need to refocus our efforts on creating homeschooling mothers (or fathers, or grandmothers, or all three.) And then, whether or not they chose to send their children to bricks-and-mortar school as well, we will have succeeded.