Homeschooling Badly: Kids Just Need to Know How to Learn

Homeschooling Badly: Kids Just Need to Know How to Learn August 28, 2017

WhenCowsKidsCollideby Mel cross posted from her blog When Cows and Kids Collide

As a licensed teacher, the thought of personally homeschooling my kids – or anyone’s kids – is frankly terrifying.  I could probably make a high school science curriculum that was solid and possibly a forgivable junior high science curriculum – but I have no idea what an appropriate curriculum for third-grade math looks like or fifth-grade language arts.  What if my kid wants to learn Swahili?  Oh, God – what if my kid has a talent for two-dimensional art?  I’m so bad at that!

I’m honestly sweating bullets right now at the thought of trying to teach drawing at home.

This is partially why I find homeschooling parents’ answers to how they are going to teach advanced subjects fascinating.  Each option is my summary of the blog post attached.

Option One: “I’m going to graduate my 16-year old from high school having completed badly flawed 10th grade Biology and 9th/10th grade Geometry using Khan Academy.  Education isn’t about getting a job, after all.”

Thanks to Amy from Raising Arrows for this plan.

  • Her son was completing Biology using Apologia Science.  I bought a copy of Apologia’s Biology textbook; the material is horrible.
    • The “evolution” section is a joke, but I expected that.  I didn’t expect the genetics section to be convoluted to the point of being incoherent. (The study of Mendelian genetics somehow fails to label the “Law of Independent Assortment” and “Law of Segregation” with those terms.  That was surreal.)
    • I didn’t expect the entire field of ecology to be ignored outside of biogeochemical cycles (and, no, that term was never used to describe those cycles).
    •  Honestly, most of the book is a study of animal and plant taxonomy without evolutionary grounding which is roughly 60 years outdated.
  • In Michigan, a student is expected to have covered either physics or chemistry before leaving high school.  I wouldn’t be opposed to a student doing some in-depth biological or earth science topic (think botany (with field section), astronomy, geology, etc.) in lieu of physics or chemistry – but doing two years of high school science is not considered adequate for a high school diploma.
  • In Michigan, the minimum high school graduation requirement in math is Algebra II.  Most students take Algebra I in eighth grade or ninth grade.  Geometry is the next class in the most common math sequence so most kids would take it between 9-10th grade.  It’s not considered a math capstone class.
  • I like Khan Academy as a resource for students who learn well from videos and I linked some of the videos on my old classroom website for students to use during and outside of class if they wanted.  Having said that, I have deep concerns about using it as a stand-alone curriculum.
    • All of the problems given by Khan Academy must be rapidly graded by a computer algorithm.   This limits the types of questions that can be asked severely.
    • I’ve been working through Algebra II, Trigonometry and Precalculus on Khan Academy for mental exercise.  So far, all problems that have addressed theoretical concepts have been marked as ‘challenge’ problems that required to reach mastery.
    • Khan Academy doesn’t provide either cumulative tests or projects to be completed.  I accept a wide variety of ways for students to demonstrate mastery – but they’ve gotta do it at some point.
    • I have no idea how a home-schooling parent would convert information from Khan Academy to a 4.0 point GPA.  Is completion worth an A?
  • Education is not about getting a job – but education is required to get certain jobs.  A weak STEM background in high school is expensive to remedy.  Remember, public schools cover whatever classes a student can take in K-12 for free.  Taking remedial classes or college classes that count for credit, but do not count for a major (which I had several friends who needed to do to reach the requirements for General Inorganic Chemistry) is more expensive.

Option Two: If we can’t teach it, the subject must not be that important.

This pearl of wisdom comes from Kimberly at Raising Olives.  The only redeeming value is that she seems not to have enforced that idea on her offspring.
She lists a series of “other” options instead having a parent actively teach their kids advanced subjects.

  • Pick a good curriculum and a teenager who knows how to learn should be able to teach themselves!.
    •  I know how to pick out a good curriculum in high school science courses because I have enough college level classes in science to do that.  I would struggle to do that in History or music or a foreign language; I just don’t have the background to figure out if a given curriculum covers US government or Economics well.
    • How much time is it worth to have a student struggle on a concept within a good curriculum that could be cleared up by a trained teacher in the area in 5-10 minutes?  I get the benefit of wrestling with a hard concept – but often a student isn’t wrestling with a hard concept; they are spinning their wheels because of a minor misunderstanding.  Other times, students need more scaffolding (education jargon for “break it into smaller steps”) than the text provides.  Some people advocate simply sending the student off to find different resources until they learn it, but that has its own issues.
      • KimC at InAShoe wrote a blog post about how she used progressively finding different textbooks to teach herself math up and including calculus.  That’s genuinely impressive and deserves kudos.  The part that broke my heart: she remembers crying over functions before she got how to do them.  For people who aren’t math geeks – functions shouldn’t be hard for a kid with as much raw talent as KimC had.  I suspect she got stuck on the notations of functions which a teacher would have straightened out for her in….oh…. 30 seconds maximum.
  • Have a sibling who is talented in that subject help them out!
    • That’s not much help for the first kid to cover the subject, is it now?
    • Ever notice how worked up homeschool bloggers get over the theoretical idea that advanced public school kids will be expected to help other students instead of getting more advanced work?  Ironically, that indignation completely evaporates when siblings are involved.  I find that irritating since I worked hard at making advanced materials for my students who needed a challenge and I never pretended that all advanced students made good tutors.
  • Take high level subjects from subject area experts in your church without passing off educating your kids to them!
    • There is some weird, hair-splitting, angels-dancing-on-a-pin semantics going on in that section.  I doubt God’s going to smite a family who chooses to let a subject-area expert teach an advanced class because the parents have abdicated their duty to educate their children.  On the other hand, I did teach in the public system so I might be terminally warped.
    • There is a very important reason that I didn’t assume that advanced students made good tutors: a sizable subset are horrible at teaching.  Being good at a topic does not mean you can teach a topic well.  I have an overwhelming sense of pity for the scientist at a CP/QF church who went into research because he still has nightmares about being a TA while getting his Ph.D.  Being told he has a moral duty to teach the congregation’s teenagers chemistry and physics is going to suck for him.
    • I can’t imagine that every homeschool friendly church has a math and science career guy who is willing and able to teach physics, chemistry and all math above geometry while supporting his massive family.  Oddly enough, the subject of paying for his time is completely ignored because he’s a church member. I guess that’s an issue for men as well as women!
  • We’ve never used them, but online options and co-ops exist!
    • See all of my earlier objections for picking subject area texts for online options.  When does a homeschooling mom have time to look at the major online options for Calculus?
    • I refer to co-ops as “unregulated private schools who hire unlicensed teachers”.   There are some excellent parent-teachers in the world and there are some really bad ones.
      • How does a co-op deal with a well-meaning parent-teacher who is a weak teacher?  In school systems, new teachers get a mentor teacher plus the help of plenty of other experienced teachers in their building and system. Can a co-op do that?
      •  How about a parent-teacher who is well-liked by the students, but creates classes that are academically below expectations?  Would anyone ever know?  (That second question caused me to break out in a cold sweat.)
      • Can a co-op remove a parent-teacher without causing the entire co-op to shatter into factions?  Is it worth the risk of shutting down a co-op to remove a subpar teacher?  Who makes those kinds of decisions?

Well, this post has gotten long and I’m sweating bullets at the thought of kids being taught chemistry badly by a dad who was guilt-tripped into teaching by his local congregation because he’s an agricultural engineer.  *shudders*

Please teach your kids.  If you pull them out of a school system, you take on the responsibility of their academic future. If doing that gets to be too much, put them back in the system.

moreRead more by Mel

Mel is a science teacher who works with at-risk teens and lives on a dairy farm with her husband. She blogs at When Cows and Kids Collide She is also an very valuable source of scientific information for us here at NLQ. Mel is also blessed with the ability to look at the issues of Quiverfull with a rational mind and break them down to their most basic of elements.

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