Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. What Could Schools Learn from Homeschools?

 

shutterstock_283575290Why does homeschooling work? Specifically, what could traditional schools — public and private — learn from homeschoolers?

This is a neglected debate. Many traditional educators, of course, feel threatened by homeschooling or reject my premise that it works; certainly they aren’t looking to learn from uncredentialed parents. And once homeschoolers find what works for them, they tend not to look back in the opposite direction.

Even education reformers favorable to homeschooling — who should be interested in this topic — never seem to ask this question (if they have, they’ve sure been quiet about it). They would probably give you some broad answers why homeschooling works: homeschooling parents tend to be well-educated, stable, and involved; they can give plenty of one-on-one attention; they’ve freedom to customize freely, without having to overcome bureaucratic inertia; they aren’t as subject to behavioral distractions; etc.

This is all true, and I wouldn’t suggest we can simply import a few things and replicate homeschooling’s success in traditional school systems. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing for traditional schools to learn, and I believe we could find some unexpected things that could apply to public debates about how to teach children, including some that could shake common assumptions.

In education, as in any other field, there’s a need to innovate and experiment, a need to challenge assumptions and try out what works. Public schools are bound by bureaucracy and politics, and private schools often have to contend with tradition and cultural assumptions. Homeschoolers have — and use — a unique flexibility: it’s the one segment of education where innovation and experimentation flourish. People who want to make a difference in schooling should research how homeschoolers use it. In searching out things that work for themselves, it’s likely that many homeschoolers simply find things that work, full stop.

Some of these ideas might be broadly applicable, but there are probably more that would benefit only certain populations or be practical only in some situations. There are old things the public schools have forgotten or rejected, and new, 21st century things that they’ve lacked the flexibility or imagination to put to innovative use. There’s undoubtedly some low-hanging fruit, but also, perhaps, some things outside the box that are less obvious.

We have some homeschool parents here, and some teachers, and some people who are simply informed and smart. What are some things you’ve seen in homeschooling, big or small, that might also work in traditional education?

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Leigh, great post! I think the innovation piece is huge. The emphasis on being able to do this at home develops both parents and children. I look forward to seeing how homeschool parents can encourage this approach in the schools. Everyone benefits: parents, teachers, children and the larger society!

    • #1
    • January 25, 2016, at 6:15 AM PST
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  2. Sheila S. Member
    Sheila S. Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    To allow teachers greater flexibility in choosing curriculum they like. One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is researching new curriculum. Even when I find something I like, I always watch for new things. And it’s something many home educators enjoy sharing with each other. In a school where the textbooks are chosen by a county/state/federal administrator, teachers have no incentive to get excited about what’s available.

    Also, home educators have the freedom to identify an area in which their child possesses a particular aptitude in order to provide greater opportunities for expanded study in that area. They can also identify areas of weakness and find ways to strengthen the student. The one-on-one nature of homeschooling alows for easier identification of strengths and weaknesses.

    • #2
    • January 25, 2016, at 6:27 AM PST
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  3. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Here’s one theory of mine.

    Yes, homeschoolers have more opportunity for one-on-one interaction, but here’s the reality beyond that: in many homeschool settings, Mom is teaching three or four different grade levels with a two-year-old in tow and dinner on the stove. She doesn’t prepare detailed lesson plans or spend a full period teaching her 8th-grade student history.

    That 8th-grader may well get some wonderful enrichment activities and have some very profitable in-depth discussions. But on a daily basis, he might very well be sitting down to a stack of work and tackling it mostly independently, with limited help as needed, and accountability. That would horrify some traditional educators — but it seems to mostly work, depending on the child and subject.

    Here’s what I’ve seen in homeschooling, very broadly speaking: an intensive input of one-on-one instruction in early literacy and very foundational math, followed by a gradual increase in autonomy until the child reaches almost complete independence with strict accountability. This process tends to promote, I speculate, precisely the reading comprehension and problem-solving skills schools struggle with. It also won’t work for every child. But nothing works for every child.

    This is just my theory. But if I were an educational researcher, it’s one I’d be trying to dig into — because it’s directly relevant to broader debates today.

    • #3
    • January 25, 2016, at 6:43 AM PST
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  4. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Sheila S.: One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is researching new curriculum… In a school where the textbooks are chosen by a county/state/federal administrator, teachers have no incentive to get excited about what’s available.

    Good point, and homeschoolers experiment with complete curricular approaches that aren’t really on the radar in traditional education. Some of those decisions do have to be made at least at the school level since you have to have a coherent big picture. But within that there’s room for much more flexibility.

    Teachers may have more or less flexibility to use or not use the textbooks, though, depending on where you are, and there is a good deal of sharing and experimenting with materials. But it’s all within certain bounds that homeschoolers can break through.

    Sheila S.: Also, home educators have the freedom to identify an area in which their child possesses a particular aptitude in order to provide greater opportunities for expanded study in that area. They can also identify areas of weakness and find ways to strengthen the student. The one-on-one nature of homeschooling alows for easier identification of strengths and weaknesses.

    Trying to think outside the box: If we could break down all the bureaucratic and political barriers, schools still couldn’t do this as well as homeschooling. But couldn’t we do it better? And how?

    • #4
    • January 25, 2016, at 6:53 AM PST
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  5. Matty Van Member

    What could schools learn from homeschoolers? They could learn to combine school-schooling and home schooling. That is, in essence, what many East Asians do, and we all know how well that works out.

    I remember reading, several decades ago, about a public school in an area that had a number of new Japanese students every year, as dads posted at the local Japanese company would bring their families for their two year stints abroad. The school was puzzled because every student, almost without exception, would order two of every textbook. Later they figured it out. One was for the student, the other was for mom. Mom and child would do all the work for all the classes together. The kids came in knowing no English. Half a year or so later they were often at the top of the class, thanks to all that “home schooling” with mom after “real” school let out.

    I suspect that teachers are left with the strong impression from their courses in teaching that they, the experts, and not the parents, should be doing the real teaching. Personally I think that exploration of learning with a parent is, for many reasons, much more effective.

    • #5
    • January 25, 2016, at 7:01 AM PST
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  6. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Matty Van:

    Interesting, and good points.

    But here, even involved parents struggle to get what homework Americans do assign completed, too — the problem isn’t just teacher attitudes — and tend not to go beyond what’s required. From the context I’d take it the moms in question didn’t work, if the dad was on a short-term assignment?

    And… children need time to play, to explore freely, to exercise, to do chores, to sleep. And they’re already away from home seven or so hours a day (unless they’re in day care too, in which case it’s longer).

    But maybe, rather than pushing for longer school days, some schools could consider shorter ones, balanced out by rethinking and increasing homework, and rethinking plenty of other things too. You’d need families who would make it work, but it could be a home run for them.

    • #6
    • January 25, 2016, at 7:17 AM PST
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  7. Vice-Potentate Member

    The number one impediment to learning at a public school is improper pacing for the students. The general drag on pace while everyone internalizes a concept is simply time lost. Hopefully targeted curriculums, i.e. personalized work on a tablet, can tackle the standardized cohort problem.

    • #7
    • January 25, 2016, at 7:30 AM PST
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  8. Mate De Inactive

    I am not a homeschooler but not because I am against it, it is mainly because I do not have the patience to do it with my children. I am a huge advocate for school choice, homeschooling is a great alternative but it may not work for all kids or all families, which is why I’m for blowing the doors off of the old educational system.

    Are there any possibilities for part homeschooling/ part classroom learning in a group setting outside the family? Not necessarily for the socialization but for the opening up of ideas outside that of the family and homeschooling group, also to give mom a break a couple days a week.

    Also for high school age homeschoolers. Maybe apprenticeships, or internships, or other kind of work/study kind of program?

    Education is so unbelievably static in this country it makes me crazy. We are stuck in this post WWII mindset for our economy and education, and for some reason people think that because that is how they did it, their kids should do the same. Why? The same people accept changes in technology and other innovation, why not education?

    • #8
    • January 25, 2016, at 7:47 AM PST
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  9. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Mate De: Why? The same people accept changes in technology and other innovation, why not education?

    I just finished a whole book on this. (Education Unbound, by Rick Hess — a must-read if one is interested in this kind of thing, but very much into gritty detail). In part, that’s what sparked this post — in talking about how to try to break through them, he goes into great detail about all the political and structural and cultural barriers to innovation in the broader system. And I thought: except homeschooling. Homeschooling has its own limits in experimentation, of course, but they don’t face most of the same ones schools do. People like Hess should look, because they might find inspiration.

    One problem is simply cultural. People aren’t willing to take risks with children — and unfortunately that means taking the bigger risk of staying in a rut.

    I watched yesterday a Project Veritas video “stinging” an employee at one of the big textbook firms. I disliked the way it was done for various reasons. This was one: at some point she compares something in the publishing industry to selling t-shirts. They presented this as scandalous — she’s comparing our children’s education to shirts!

    Now she had some really repellent opinions, but that wasn’t one of them. Here’s even a “conservative” organization attacking someone for drawing comparisons to other industries — no wonder it’s hard to draw new ideas from other sectors and innovate in education.

    • #9
    • January 25, 2016, at 8:04 AM PST
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  10. jmelvin Member

    Mate De:Are there any possibilities for part homeschooling/ part classroom learning in a group setting outside the family? Not necessarily for the socialization but for the opening up of ideas outside that of the family and homeschooling group, also to give mom a break a couple days a week.

    Also for high school age homeschoolers. Maybe apprenticeships, or internships, or other kind of work/study kind of program?

    Homeschoolers actually already use classroom sessions outside of the at-home / family setting. Many families at my church homeschool, but they tend to go about it in different ways depending on the family or even depending upon the child. Homeschool co-ops are one option that allow for homeschoolers to bring the kids together in classroom like settings to be taught perhaps by one in their midst, or even by an outsider, a private independent teacher hired just for this job. This allows for parents to still be able to homeschool, but join in on group education in subjects that may be beyond or outside of their bailiwick.

    In the case of some homeschoolers I know, the older kids also spend their time volunteering at hospitals, shelters, or with other charitable organizations or take on internships at companies so that they also develop good work and social habits. Homeschooling allows for the flexibility of direct teaching through curriculum, but also allows for participation in society outside of the confines of a classroom where the students will learn at a young age how life really goes on, while under the guidance of their parents or other mentors.

    • #10
    • January 25, 2016, at 8:14 AM PST
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  11. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    jmelvin:Homeschool co-ops are one option…

    Some schools allow homeschoolers to sign up for certain classes individually, too.

    • #11
    • January 25, 2016, at 8:24 AM PST
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  12. Liz Member
    Liz

    Mate De: Are there any possibilities for part homeschooling/ part classroom learning in a group setting outside the family? Not necessarily for the socialization but for the opening up of ideas outside that of the family and homeschooling group, also to give mom a break a couple days a week.

    There are University Model schools, and other hybrid versions, too. Classical Conversations is mostly homeschooling with some classroom time. Co-ops, large and small, abound in the U.S..

    Here in Italy, though, home-schooling is rather a lonely endeavor.

    • #12
    • January 25, 2016, at 8:28 AM PST
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  13. Qoumidan Coolidge

    This may a perception problem on my part, but it seems that many people view public school as government sponsored babysitting, with the possibility of an education on the side. The sad meme of the parents dancing gleefully at the bustop on the the first day of school supports this.
    I don’t know how widespread it really is but I think it would be really hard to break this idea. Since even great teachers need the parental involvement at home for their kids to succeed, how do you get past home apathy?
    Somebody else mentioned the thing I want which is shorter school days. You could split the days like they do kindergarten (used to, here ) and then you could have smaller classes with more directed teaching, as well as allowing time for kids to be kids. But, of course, then you have the babysitting issue.
    I’m not willing to cram my young boys into a full day of boredom, one of my reasons for homeschooling is that they need time to play. I quite dislike homeschooling and can’t say that I’m successful at it but the only alternative I have is much worse.
    I think one of the most important changes that could be made right now would be raising and maintaining high standards, both academic and behavioral, and consistantly enforcing those. This is probably too vague to be of any use.

    • #13
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:07 AM PST
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  14. I Walton Member

    What struck me with my daughter’s homeschooling was the limited amount of time,compared to regular school, dedicated to each subject and hence each child. If they finished their assignments, which didn’t take long at all, they read, but by choice. The girls anyway. The boys just want to kill, bomb, stab, shoot, build things to kill, shoot or stab. The casualness of it all really bothered me. However, no TV or computer allowed unless it was a computer based subject. When they moved from Chicago they sent 4 of them to a normal Catholic school, although they all did very well they were not all happy. Two are homeschooling again, the older two transferred to the most demanding catholic school in the region and they love it. I didn’t have the kind of reading list the 14 year old has until undergraduate school. Kids are easily bored. School is too long and too slow and too much home work was just busy work. Develop the reading habit early and it seems to take care of itself. I never open my mouth any more. I don’t know what you do with boys if you don’t live on a farm.

    • #14
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:16 AM PST
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  15. Merina Smith Inactive

    I have seen homeschooling succeed and seen it fail rather spectacularly. I myself would never home school, though I am sympathetic to the reasons people do it. If I had it to do over, I’d try to find a parochial school for my kids. We actually had some pretty good experiences with public education with our older kids, but curriculum has become far more radicalized than when they were in school. The youngest one got the worst of it and we are still trying to deprogram him…. He’s a good kid, but they sure do work to entrench some lefty ideas.

    I’d really like to see education localized and vouchers introduced, so that there is competition and far more parent involvement in how local schools are run. I’ve read that this has been tried with great success in New Zealand. In the meantime, I hope somebody is studying the successful cases of homeschooling to figure out what those parents did right. From up close observation, I could easily tell you the problems with the unsuccessful ones. I do like the idea of shorter school hours so that parents can do more with educating their own kids. And some students definitely need individualized attention so they retain interest in school. If they are fascinated by a subject, give them school time to pursue that! Certainly education is badly in need of reform.

    • #15
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:20 AM PST
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  16. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Qoumidan: I think one of the most important changes that could be made right now would be raising and maintaining high standards, both academic and behavioral, and consistantly enforcing those. This is probably too vague to be of any use.

    Yes, that’s basically what they were trying to do with Common Core…

    As to the rest of your comment there are two related but separate problems in public education — what happens at school itself and what happens at home. Or, in both cases, what doesn’t happen. When the parents are involved it’s much easier to come up with ways to fix the school problems. But then again, home life does not excuse the absolute disaster of public education in our cities…

    • #16
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:27 AM PST
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  17. Brandon Phelps Inactive

    Public education can learn nothing from homeschoolers. Here’s why:

    • The SJWs are too firmly entrenched, and they are already confident they know what’s best for the American child. They aren’t swayed by results.
    • The teachers unions are too firmly entrenched
    • Common Core discourages experimentation

    There are probably some states where the above aren’t as much a factor, but the first item is universal.

    • #17
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:27 AM PST
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  18. Casey Inactive

    Leigh: Why does homeschooling work?

    Homeschooling works for a certain kind of kid with a certain kind of parent. It is such a particular thing that I don’t think we can learn much from it at all.

    It’s like studying the way the woman in the next cubicle cares for her Devil’s Ivy plant and trying to apply her techniques to your garden.

    • #18
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:29 AM PST
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  19. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    I Walton: If they finished their assignments, which didn’t take long at all, they read, but by choice.

    The casualness of it all might be exactly what made it work. They were motivated because they had a choice. They weren’t stuck in a classroom waiting for a bell to ring.

    Merina Smith: And some students definitely need individualized attention so they retain interest in school. If they are fascinated by a subject, give them school time to pursue that!

    Thing is, this is easy to say and hard to do. I think it can be done — but it requires some substantial rethinking.

    • #19
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:32 AM PST
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  20. Casey Inactive

    I Walton: I don’t know what you do with boys if you don’t live on a farm.

    Give them a dustpan and tell them to clean up whatever they just broke.

    • #20
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:33 AM PST
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  21. PsychLynne Inactive

    I fully support home-schooling as an option. In grad school, I learned how to give IQ/Achievement/Neuropsych tests by recruiting families from the local home schooling association. On the whole, the kids were at or above grade level or having special learning needs addressed. Later I worked with kids with developmental disabilities and found many of those families homeschooled for a variety of reasons related to difficulty working with the local school systems.

    Oddly enough, I think the power of home-schooling (individuality and graduated autonomy) is difficult to scale in a larger system and that is part of it. Researchers don’t dig into it because trying to set up a valid quantitative design would be incredibly difficult.

    • #21
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:36 AM PST
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  22. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Brandon Phelps:Public education can learn nothing from homeschoolers. Here’s why:

    • The SJWs are too firmly entrenched, and they are already confident they know what’s best for the American child. They aren’t swayed by results.
    • The teachers unions are too firmly entrenched
    • Common Core discourages experimentation

    There are probably some states where the above aren’t as much a factor, but the first item is universal.

    In the first place I’m talking about private schools too. And charters. I am not suggesting any silver bullet to turn around American education.

    But there are differences between states, and between districts in states. And honestly, there’s a lot more opportunity than we realize, if conservatives were more involved. Being defeatist about it creates a vicious cycle where the unions run the show by default.

    • #22
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:37 AM PST
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  23. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Casey:Homeschooling works for a certain kind of kid with a certain kind of parent. It is such a particular thing that I don’t think we can learn much from it at all.

    It’s like studying the way the woman in the next cubicle cares for her Devil’s Ivy plant and trying to apply her techniques to your garden.

    But what we actually have is thousands of people caring for their own individual plants often with great success, and a garden full of actually rather similar plants that are wilting.

    You can’t say there’s no way any of what they’re doing is relevant until you’ve looked closely at what they’re doing. They’re all customizing, of course. But are there patterns in the customization? It seems to me that there are, and likely to be more patterns than I can scout out from where I sit. And considering the state of education today, it would seem foolish to dismiss that possibility without even examining what it is they’re doing right.

    Again, it’s not simply because the parents have fewer children to focus on. (Don’t know if there’s any research on whether family size has any effect on homeschooler performance). Here’s what I’m getting at: education is filled with assumptions, and homeschoolers poke holes in lots of those assumptions. People who care should take a closer look.

    • #23
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:51 AM PST
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  24. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    PsychLynne: Oddly enough, I think the power of home-schooling (individuality and graduated autonomy) is difficult to scale in a larger system and that is part of it.

    But is that the only power of home-schooling? That’s the assumption I’m trying to challenge. We don’t know that.

    The autonomy, for one, could actually be re-created to a much greater extent than exists today, if we threw out enough assumptions. And what if that’s actually a key? What if that was actually a strength of the one-room schoolhouse too? Why can’t that be taken to scale — in a private school? Or in a school district with the nerve to do it?

    I have the odd perspective of having been on multiple sides of all these things. I’m a classroom teacher, myself, and my own homeschooling background makes me rethink certain things all the time. I want to challenge others to do the same, and to maybe point out things I might have missed.

    EDIT: A big part of it is curriculum. The debates among homeschoolers over what materials to use and what to prioritize and what approach to take are much, much broader than those in public schools. I don’t think we can possibly dismiss all that as just irrelevant.

    • #24
    • January 25, 2016, at 9:56 AM PST
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  25. Merina Smith Inactive

    Things change all the time. Is school the same as when you were in school? Nope–they have changed. For the worse, but they have changed. I think programs that introduce new ideas into schooling, borrowed from charter and home school models could be introduced in more conservative states that aren’t in thrall to the teacher’s unions and that are sympathetic to charter and home schooling options.

    • #25
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:10 AM PST
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  26. Casey Inactive

    Leigh: But what we actually have is thousands of people caring for their own individual plants often with great success

    But the Golden Pothos, or Devil’s Ivy, thrives in most any condition. So her talking to the plant every day may or may not have something to do with its thriving. Impossible to say.

    Certainly won’t help with our sunflowers.

    • #26
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:12 AM PST
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  27. Casey Inactive

    Secretariat was born with giant lungs. He needed to be well-trained to become a champion. But one can’t surmise that those training techniques will work for Gluestick. In fact, they may harm him if they are only beneficial for the giant-lunged.

    • #27
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:19 AM PST
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  28. Leigh Member
    Leigh

    Casey:

    Leigh: But what we actually have is thousands of people caring for their own individual plants often with great success

    But the Golden Pothos, or Devil’s Ivy, thrives in most any condition. So her talking to the plant every day may or may not have something to do with its thriving. Impossible to say.

    Certainly won’t help with our sunflowers.

    But you’re making an assumption that they are entirely different plants. They’re not. I know kids in public school, and private school, and public school. They’re not so different as all that. They’re kids!

    And I’m not suggesting generalizing from one source. I’m suggesting research. Do a little digging, come up with few ideas, research and find out if there’s really a pattern. For example: how autonomous are homeschooled kids? Beginning at what ages? How do parents transition them? How do they hold them accountable? What kinds of students struggle more?

    Could some of what we might learn from that have a direct bearing on discussions about class sizes, flipped learning, problem-solving skills, use of technology, and ongoing shortages of teachers for certain subjects at certain grades? Absolutely.

    What about reading instruction? Does what homeschool parents do reflect what is assumed to be “best practice”– doing what the schools do, only better — or not? Again, I have some pretty strong impressions, without hard data to back them up — and they’re relevant.

    • #28
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:26 AM PST
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  29. Qoumidan Coolidge

    I would like to add the homeschooling tends to allow kids of different ages to regularly interact and also encourages socializing with adults of all ages. This results in people better trained for social and work life, tho obviously personality also will play a part. Again, tho, I don’t know how to put that into a public school setting since it seems to be a side effect of homeschooling more than a specific goal.

    • #29
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:29 AM PST
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  30. Ross C Member
    Ross C Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think the problem with our schools is complicated but can be simplified into one over-general statement. EVERYONE IN A POSITION OF AUTHORITY in the public schools and many rank in file are 100% invested in the status quo, at least where it counts.

    To change things is to admit that what you are doing is not working. Until they are ready for that there is nothing else to do.

    I work for a utility and we have many of the same problems with innovation being seen as threatening.

    • #30
    • January 25, 2016, at 10:31 AM PST
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