Homeschooling for the 21st century – Part Two

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Here is part two of a new article culled from my most recent webinar.  You can read part one at:

Part One of article

The locating of a student’s interest and potential is a strength of homeschooling, and homeschool families should capitalize on it.  I believe that the discovery of a student’s real interests and skills should rest at the very center of education.  Homeschool can accomplish this with far greater ease and focus than can any school.

Schools deal in numbers and classrooms.  They have set curricula and schedules because THEY HAVE TO.  They have no other way of dealing with the number of students they’ve been assigned.  So, schools pull toward the center, an imagined “average student” who can do “so much” math of a certain kind, “so much” history and science, in a certain school year.  Schools, public and private, are entirely structured to handle some imaginary “average” student, and to handle them in bulk , using a program that is set in stone.

But there IS no “average student”.  There are only “Not Average” students, each with unique potentials that are either being encouraged and empowered, or which are being ignored and left to atrophy.  So, even though schools have all this really cool “stuff” they can use to teach, their philosophy and approach to education guarantees failure, at least in so far as helping to build great and extraordinary human beings.

Why is this?  It’s because NO SCHOOL CAN EFFECTIVELY SERVICE A STUDENT WHOSE POTENTIALS HAVE AWAKENED.  This is important enough to repeat.  NO SCHOOL CAN EFFECTIVELY SERVICE A STUDENT WHOSE POTENTIALS HAVE AWAKENED  Why is this so?  Because a school can not and does not handle individuals as individuals.  The individual student’s unique interests are not covered in the school’s “standard curricula”.  And it’s also because potential awakened exceeds any possible “average”.

Schools are good at one thing, however, which will go a long way toward explaining where our Abe Lincolns have disappeared to.  Schools are terrific at limiting potential through “standardized” curricula, standard tests, testing, grading, through classrooms stuffed to the rafters with children who have nothing in common but their age, through completely ignoring the individual, and through a dozen other failed approaches.

But homeschool need suffer none of these failings.  In a homeschool situation, when a student starts to reveal interest, skill and potential in a given area, the educational world around him can be altered, moved, shaped and directed to support his ambitions.  And the tools available, even in and perhaps especially in our depressed and suppressed economy, are amazing. Let’s look at those resources. I’m going to focus for a few moments on America, as I understand the resources here best, but I ask that if you live outside the United States, you draw your own corollaries.

One resource available today to some homeschool families is flexible time.  In Lincoln’s day, the sun dictated when work was to be done.  Education had to wait for farm families until the sun set, and by that time, dinner and bed was not too far off as they had to be up and working with the setting sun.  Today, money is often tight, and often, both mother and father work.  But in many homeschool situations, at least one parent works around the house.  There are many businesses and jobs that center around the Internet, or which are executed out of a residence today.  And in some lucky families, one parent is free to be a full-time caregiver to the children.  The available time for education is expanded, of course, by electric light.  The available options for experience are vastly expanded by the family car.  The car brings municipal resources into line such as parks, zoos, museums and libraries that Lincoln would have no doubt have wept to have had the opportunity to use.  TV and DVD provides the resource of truly remarkable documentaries, of which there have been many made over the past decade.  Almost every subject has been illuminated in one or many documentaries, today.  I know – I’ve watched and researched documentaries for a decade, writing Steps, looking for good resources.  I found many.

By the way, the number of books available today is positively astronomical compared to Lincoln’s time.  In fact, one difficult task faced by the educator is to select which books and resources to use out of the ocean available.  There’s a nice problem to have.

And then, there’s the Internet, the most useful and at the same time, the most dangerous tool available to educators today.  Its potential for danger is, I hope, apparent to any parent or student working with it.  There are lots of creeps and liars and dangerous people who use the Internet for really vile purposes, and needless to say, the student must avoid these.  There is also a lot of misinformation available on the Internet under the guise of “information”.  After all, anyone can place a site or an article on the Internet.  So there are many “experts” out there who are far from expert, and who provide misleading garbage under the guide of expertise.

Now, I can hear a few of you thinking “that’s why we need to go back to books”.  First of all, I don’t believe books should have ever been “given up” in favor of the Internet, or any other resource.  Books have been the principle means of communicating information by our species for a very long time.  A recent investigation discovered that families with over 500 books in their house were far more likely to have their children go to college than families with few if any books in their house.  Not that college is necessarily a great goal for any and all students, but this is a measure of the importance of the availability of books as a part of education.

And I know some are thinking that books are more likely to be accurate in the info that they carry.  This just isn’t so, folks, not anymore.  While writing our science courses, I read 4 textbooks about each science subject, and I found a massive number of errors and contradictions in even the most basic information.  A book is only as good as its author and its editor, and I have seen both be horribly wrong.  I’ve also seen Internet sites that masquerade as “experts” offer complete trash and self-serving promotion in lieu of useful information.

The bottom line – ANY potential source of information is suspect until proven consistently accurate and useful.  The good news – today there are FAR more possible sources of educational use then at any time in history.  The bad news – you’ll need to keep your eyes and ears working, and your mind evaluating those sources.  When you find useless or incorrect sources, block them and warn others.  When you find useful sources, hang on to them and share them broadly.  In that way, everyone wins.

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!


2 comments on “Homeschooling for the 21st century – Part Two”

  1. You are right, Steven, when you explain that one of the struggles today is the vast array of materials available today to teach with! The sheer quantity of books, web sites, and teaching tools is overwhelming to wade through, and finding the best books and sites is a task that takes hours and hours of time.

    I also find that many parents glorify “classics” and eschew using anything newer than a hundred years old when educating their children, which of course is perfectly OK if that is what you lean toward. However, I have to ask…what was considered “drivel” back in the day? What makes something “old” good? If your child is not engaged by, say, Moby Dick, does it mean they are intellectually lazy or merely selective? Age does not always equal quality, and this idea that anything Lincoln…or Jefferson…or Washington would have read makes the perfect tool for our children today is interesting to me, and a little short sighted.

    I am not saying that a classical education is wrong, and the challenge of reading some of the classics, learning Latin, etc. is admirable and worthy of some attention. But our children do not live in the world that Lincoln or Jefferson lived in, they are interacting with technology in ways that could never have even been dreamed of back in Lincoln’s day. By taking years to educate our children in a style reminiscent of our country forefathers, what time is being taken away from teaching them in a way that interacts more with the world they will actually be living in? How important is spending years learning Latin going to be to a child today, unless they plan on entering medicine or the priesthood? How much of a focus should be spent on handwriting…which many families spend years trying to perfect in their children…when the tool for communicating in the 21st century is keyboarding?

    These are questions every home educating family today must consider, just as Lincoln’s family had to question the value of a “book” education at all for their children versus an education that was hands on and geared towards farming.

    Frankly, there is a need for both…academic and hands on. But I think keeping in mind that we live in today’s world is important when debating the value of educating with more modern tools or not. Lincoln would be helpless in many ways in our world today, and knowing his thirst for knowledge I’d bet he’d abandon the coal and board he wrote lessons on for a keyboard quicker than you could spit out the word “internet”. Would he still read classics? Sure, as everyone should get a dose of it, but he’d also be reading “Wired” magazine and might surprise you with a little does of “National Enquirer” as well, just to remain current on modern pop culture.

    Educational snobbery is just that…snobbery. And a well educated person uses as many tools around them as is possible to become knowledgeable.

    Now, I am off to check out the results of American Idol! 😉

  2. I agree with your comment, as usual.

    I certainly agree re handwriting! I think it’s an almost useless study today, past the ability to write clearly enough to read one’s own words. There is something to be said for a classical education (in the Lincoln-sense of classical), we must educate well enough that culture and history are understood and can be used by the student, and are comprehended when he encounters them referenced in literature. Surely, this at the very least. But we must also prepare children to work and live in this time. That is no small assignment, and there are only so many study hours in each day. Education consists (or should consist) largely of a series of choices of subjects and materials made by the student and teacher, based around the student’s interests. There will always be people interested in classical literature, music, dead languages, ancient civilizations, you name it. For those students, a classical education would be a joy and a must. Education should be designed uniquely to service each unique student.

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