Monday, January 31, 2011

When Does Homeschool Start in the Morning?

One of my pet annoyances has to do with church. The church I attend now, as well as the last one I attended in MI before we moved to SC, had Sunday School hour at 10:00, followed by the Morning Worship at 11:00. My wife and children and I were (and are) generally early. Nevertheless, there would always be some who, despite being able the next day to get everyone to school/work/wherever by 8:00 a.m., could not seem to consistently arrive on time to Sunday School from week to week at 10:00.

Worse yet, some skipped Sunday School and still couldn't get to the 11:00 service on time.

I interpret this, in part, to the fact that such people do not deem Sunday School or church to be very important. We live in a culture where virtually all educated Americans understand that punctuality is a positive good. To be late habitually implies either a consistent lack of planning—an issue of concern in its own right—or a treatment of the event as not worthy of importance.

That, however, is not the focus of this post. My last post discussed the fact that "homeschooling in one's pajamas" is not a good thing. This is the sequel, with the following thesis: Homeschooling needs to follow a schedule, and it needs to start at a regular time.

When my wife and I (mostly my wife, of course) began homeschooling two of our children a few years ago, we decided that "school" would start at a regular time each morning, generally right after breakfast and the sending off of the other two children to their school. Essentially, this meant that homeschool started in the vicinity of 7:45 a.m. Because of my wife's efficiency, combined with two above-average little intellects sitting in front of her, her teaching was generally done by 11:00, and the kids had usually completed their work for the day before lunchtime. The advantages were obvious: The afternoon was free for planning, errands, and picking up the other two from their school at about 3:15.

In Year 1, this worked very well for us. In Year 2, I volunteered to assist my wife by teaching our eldest, then in seventh grade, her math and science lessons before I left for 7:45 or so (I also dropped off the younger two at school on my way). This meant she and I were in our little classroom, with breakfast already eaten, by 7:00.

Such a plan certainly isn't for everyone. Nor does it need to be. But it did teach everybody another lesson: The self-discipline to get one's self out of bed, into one's clothes, and breakfasted by a given time in the morning. This is a great lesson to learn!

Furthermore, before the first day of homeschooling each year, we drew up a calendar for the school year, delineating the first and last days of the year, and generally (but not always) observing the same holidays our other kids' school had. This gave some evidence that we had school on a set number of days—even though no such requirement existed in Michigan.

Many homeschoolers, in addition to bragging that they can "homeschool in their pajamas" (see my earlier post), also brag that they get started whenever they get out of bed in the morning—which might not be until 9:30 or 10:00. Some also brag that they begin and end the school year whenever the kids are "done with their lessons," not seeming to realize that this sounds highly ambiguous (or even suspect, to the cynical) to most other people. First, let's consider some reasons to begin the homeschool day at a set time every morning:

1. It teaches self-discipline. When your child gets a job, he'll be expected to consistently show up on time—or he will be relieved of said job. Teaching the child to "get up and at 'em" when young is invaluable to their character development.

2. It sends a message: This is important! Nobody cares when you show up at Wal-Mart. But walk into a wedding 23 minutes late, and you might be ashamed as you sit on the back row. [Or in church, it's reversed: Show up 23 minutes late, and you'll be ashamed as you sit at the front!] When the parent doesn't set the example of getting started, on time, every day, he or she is essentially telling the student that the "event" of homeschooling is not that important.

3. It supports a good reputation for the homeschool community. The average hard-working, law-abiding citizen of this country looks askance at homeschoolers who get their day started whenever it gets started. They perceive such adults (and children) as having a lack of self-discipline, and certainly far less than their own family, who are all at school/work/wherever consistently by a certain time each morning. By extension, they will perceive the homeschooling of that home to be, as I said in the last post, "the shoddy work of amateurs."

The same principle extends to the school year. A lot of us do the math in our heads when we are told that "We started, oh, around September 15 and the kids all finished their lessons by the middle of April," and realize that there seems to be a lot fewer days of school than "normal kids" have. Some of us are open-minded enough to realize that, yes, perhaps an entire year's worth of education was done in that interval (though we reserve skepticism), but many are going to look at such an endeavor as inadequate, below average, or worse. Is that really what the homeschool community wants?

My advice is twofold. First, plan to begin each homeschool day at a set time. Make sure your kids are out of bed, dressed, and fed before that time. Tell your friends not to call you between that time and whatever time you anticipate finishing a normal day of schooling. Let your children know that this time is fixed, and barring an unusual circumstance, will be the starting time each day. Furthermore, I suggest a start time before 9:00 and preferably closer to 8:00, although this must be chosen in light of your family's specific needs.

Second, set the school year in advance. Some will have no choice in the matter if, for example, they have some sort of cyber-school arrangement and have to follow its schedule, or if local regulations dictate this. Have a "first day" of the year. Plan a "last day"—contingent on the children finishing their courses of study. If the children finish ahead of that date, continue to educate them! Furthermore, unless an emergency occurs, don't take "days off" from the calendar. Plan ahead so that you can have school each day it is scheduled.

Don't revel in (what appears to many) your lack of self-discipline. Impress us with your dedication and consistency.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Homeschooling in Your PJ's? A Bad Idea

One of the things many homeschoolers—parents and children alike—say that they like about homeschooling is that they never have to get dressed up: They can have school in their pajamas if they choose. While I have no objection to wearing comfortable clothing, my thesis is that wearing your pajamas (and similar clothing that most decent people wouldn't wear out in public) to teach/learn in the homeschooling environment is a bad idea. And here's why:

1. Clothes send a message. Why do we dress up for certain formal occasions? Why do we look better to go to a wedding than we typically do to go to Wal-Mart? Because dressing up sends a clear message of the importance of the event. By allowing the children to wear pajamas or other clothing normal kids couldn't wear to school sends a message that "homeschooling isn't all that terribly important." The parents are probably speaking the opposite message to their kids; why would they wish to undermine it?

2. The parents are setting an example. Mom (or Dad), if you look like you just rolled out of bed when you are teaching your children, you're communicating that same message: "Homeschooling isn't all that terribly important to me." Get dressed, look presentable, and then get to work. Look the part of a teacher.

3. It's a bad habit. You want your child to be successful and get a good job, right? One where pajamas probably aren't the daily wardrobe? Your children need to understand, both by precept and practice, that "getting dressed" and looking presentable to go out in public are positive things that they need to do. They need to be in the habit of doing this every day...even if they aren't going out in public.

4. It is bad for the reputation of the homeschool community. I think homeschooling can be great if it is done right. I certainly believe that every parent has the right to choose the best educational options for their children. I cringe when I hear people clamoring for the government to step in and "regulate" homeschooling. But as long as there are those in the public who think of homeschoolers, "They really don't do anything. They just sit around in their pajamas and do whatever they want, and claim that going to the grocery store is 'math class,' yada, yada,..." the homeschoolers of our land are going to have to be on the lookout for government intrusion.

I'm afraid that many homeschoolers don't realize that a whole lot of normal, civil, law-abiding fellowcitizens do not take them seriously as educators. And when those fellowcitizens hear, from child or parent, that "school" is done in pajamas [and, just as bad, that they don't start until 9:45 a.m. or whenever they roll out of bed], they, despite their civil demeanor, are thinking to themselves that homeschooling endeavors are nothing more than the shoddy work of amateurs. In many cases, they will paint all homeschoolers with that same brush.

I would encourage every homeschool family to have a "dress code" for both the parent and children. It doesn't have to be their "Sunday best" clothes—Mom may not feel the need to wear nylons, for example—and it should be comfortable. But not slovenly, bummy, or grungy. It needs to be nice enough, though, that it sends a message to the student (and to anyone who may stop by the house during the day) that "school time" is important and worthy of getting dressed for. It should be enforced, too.

And perhaps in my next post, I will discuss why starting the homeschooling day at 9:45 a.m. is just as bad.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Abortion is Murder

I was already reminded this morning that today is the 38th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Since that day, more than 50,000,000 people have been killed while in their mother's wombs--roughly one-fourth of every single pregnancy in America since that time.

Human life begins at conception. Some question that, but the clear teaching of the Bible, the facts of science, and the inevitability of logic point unmistakably to this conclusion. Others have written, more eloquently than I, from biblical, scientific, and logical perspectives, that abortion is nothing but the snuffing out of a human life.

If the life of somebody "outside the womb" is snuffed out by another human being, we call it murder. If the life of somebody "inside the womb" is snuffed out by another human being, it should still be called murder. Abortion, truly, is just a euphemism for murder.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your Happy Thought For Today

Pittsburgh 31

Baltimore 24

Baltimore is one of my least favorite cities on the earth, partly because of its crime, partly because I have found the people to be generally unfriendly, partly because it's so heavily liberal politically, partly because of its arrogance, and even partly because of what happened to the Cleveland Browns.

And my memories of the city aren't real pretty either. My wife and I still remember, back in late 1995, as we drove through Maryland, hearing radio yak-yaks bitterly talk about how Jacksonville got the team that Baltimore deserved (I missed their rationale for that). I remember hearing people bitterly say, many years later, how the Colts "snuck out of town." This is the city that embraced Art Modell and still wants to kill Robert Irsay. That tells you something. Baltimore even threatened to seize the Colts back in 1984 to prevent them from moving.

And furthermore, many of the Baltimore Ravens players are the absolute antithesis of role models. Though every team has a few character-deficient players, the Ravens seem to have a lot more than average...and historically have.

So in closing, I am happy to report that the Steelers defeated the Ravens by a score of 31-24. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Why Are You in Algebra 2?

The title is a thought I have had a number of times lately. I do some tutoring online, and the largest number of my sessions come from students who are seeking an Algebra 2 tutor. [I also tutor Algebra 1, Geometry, Trigonometry, and Statistics.] Sadly, many students' sessions begin with something like this:

Student: I need to solve this equation [student shares an equation containing a logarithm].
Me: Have you ever done an equation like this one before?
Student: No.
Me: OK...have you ever worked with logarithms before?
Student: What's a logarithm?
Although it's not the focus of my concern while I'm tutoring, there are several possible explanations for such ignorance:
  • The student is goofing around, either presently, or in class earlier in the day(s).
  • The student is taking an online course and has no teacher to whom to ask questions; consequently, the student is totally lost.
  • The student has been passed from one math course to the next over time, has learned virtually nothing, and is now hopelessly puzzled.
  • The student is actually at the college level and probably hasn't taken a math class in years, if not decades.
The last two options seem to be depressingly common. I am led to the following thesis:
Students should not be permitted to take Algebra 2 until they have demonstrated a firm level of competency in Algebra 1. This applies both in high school and at the college level (regardless of what these courses may be named in college).
This became a big issue in Michigan a couple years ago (see my thoughts here) when the legislature, in a perhaps-well-meaning-but-totally-void-of-reality move made Algebra 2 part of the general graduation requirements for all public school students. Among other problems, this pressures teachers in the earlier grades to pass students along so that they can "get to Algebra 2 and pass it" before completing high school. This is neither wise nor fair.

But that's not my main point here. Parents and teachers in the upper high school grades (and professors, academic advisers, and students in colleges) must recognize that if the student is not ready for Algebra 2, the student should not be taking Algebra 2. The student should instead be sent to Algebra 1 (or, if necessary, something more basic) in order to master the requisite skills needed.

Self-esteem is not an issue here, either. It is no more psychologically beneficial to struggle with, cheat through, or fail one course than it is to step back and take a remedial one that will, in the long run, help the student to succeed.

Furthermore, a competent teacher with a class full of competent Algebra 2 students will be able to make more progress than if that teacher has to try to get all the incompetent students caught up at the same time. In other words, those students who have succeeded up to this point won't be held back by all the students who (for whatever reason) have not.

Finally, let us note that the blame for this phenomenon can be shared all around. Sure, some kids are slackers and are lost in Algebra 2 for reasons of their own creation. Yes, some teachers are inept [they should be removed, but discussing teacher unions and their prerogatives is not the point of this post]. Certainly, some parents pay no attention to their children's educational progress. And, contemptibly, some school administrators don't really care.

If you are a parent of an Algebra 2 student (or one yourself, at whatever age or level), consider this: Make sure your student is ready to take that class. If not, get them ready...first.