Here in Missouri, Governor Parson has issued the quarantine order announcing that all public school students are expected to complete their school year, even though the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Different Missouri school districts are responding to this challenge in different ways. Some are using the Internet, by creating virtual classrooms. Others are sending out study-materials for students to complete on their own with the help of their parents, then mail back for grades. Some are using a combination of these. I imagine that Missouri’s Catholic bishops will likewise be issuing some kind of similar mandate for parochial school students. Protestant schools might follow suit as well. Missouri parents are learning, like parents all over the United States, that education must go on, even if there is no brick & mortar school to send children to at this time. This raises the obvious question, to which I’m sure many American parents are asking themselves right now. If school can be done this way during a quarantine, do we really need brick & mortar schools in the first place?
Speaking as a homeschooling dad, I can assure you the answer is no. You don’t need brick & mortar schools to get your child’s education done, and in many cases, you’re probably better off without them. I’ve been homeschooling my children for years, but this quarantine has opened up more possibilities for a lot more parents. One of the biggest deterrents to homeschooling for most parents has been the prospect of making study plans, coming up with assignments, and sometimes even the fear of teaching itself. This quarantine period has changed all that. One of the good things that could potentially come out of this is getting public schools set up for distance learning and virtual classrooms. What does that mean? It means that you, as a taxpayer, have a right to use public school materials, and listen in on public school lectures, even if your child does not physically attend a public school building. Many public schools have been doing this for decades — since the 1980s — for special needs children of various types. The technology has not only been present, but it’s become relatively inexpensive and commonplace now. All a parent needs now is an Internet connection, and access to a school website (or smart-phone application), that allows audio-visual interaction between teachers and students.
There’s two types of home education. There’s homeschooling, and then there is “schooling at home.” What’s the difference? Homeschooling is when the parents become the primary teachers, arranging lesson plans, assignments, overseeing work, administering tests and determining grades. “Schooling at home” is when students use some kind of distance learning program, wherein lesson plans, assignments, testing and grades are distributed by a school remotely. The student interacts with the school from home. Thus they are “schooling at home.” Is one better than the other? No. It all depends on the needs of the child and the resources of the parents.
For example; when my children were of elementary-school age, I felt very confident handling everything from lesson plans to grades. I did it all, and my wife helped. When my children entered middle-school age (grades 6-8) I began introducing them to a limited distance learning program, combined with my own instructions. Now that they’re high-school age (grades 9-12) we use a total distance learning program, and I just supplement with religion instruction and extra history lessons. My method of homeschooling gradually evolved to “school at home” mostly. This is what’s worked in my family. Other families do things differently. That’s okay. Each family is different and has different needs, strengths and abilities. I was able to find an affordable distance-learning program for my children through James Madison High School, which offers a real high school diploma recognized in all 50 states. There are other great programs out there too. Some are religion-based. Some are more secular-based. As a trained catechist, I really don’t need an organized religion program. I make my own and tailor it to each child’s need. My history supplements are designed to augment their regular history lessons with a Catholic perspective. Of course, other Catholic homeschoolers might do things differently, and that’s okay. Part of homeschooling or “schooling at home” is the freedom to do it the way that works best for you.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and this COVID-19 pandemic is necessitating that public schools be brought into the 21st century. If parochial schools want to compete, they will have to come up with some kind of comparable programs (at reduced tuition of course). What does this mean for parents of schoolchildren right now? It means you’re in a great position! You now have opportunities and resources available to you that parents of previous decades didn’t have. The national quarantine is proving that you don’t need to send your kids to a brick & mortar school to get a good education. In fact, it’s making it obvious. When the 2020/2021 school year rolls around in August/September, a good number of parents will likely opt to stick with the distance-learning program offered during quarantine, and in fact, public schools will likely be required to offer it, because we don’t know when COVID-19 will end, if there will be a seasonal rebound, how long it will last, and what other epidemic or pandemic might come our way next. As a homeschooling and “school at home” dad, I can tell you my children’s education was never interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. In fact, I used the time to teach my children how to be more self-motivated and independent in their school work. They’re still on track to finish their 2019/2020 school-year right on schedule with no missing assignments or adjusted curriculum. While public-school and parochial-school kids were getting an extended vacation due to lockdown, my kids just kept plodding along with their normal assignments day-after-day.
What are the advantages to homeschooling, or schooling at home?
- More time with your children. Whether you homeschool or school at home, you’ll quickly discover that you can get the same amount of work done in a public school, in about half the time. Children spend about 5 to 7 hours a day at a public school. That same amount of instructional time can easily be done in 3 to 4 hours at home. This is because brick & mortar schools spend a great deal of time just trying to get a 30-student classroom organized and all working together. This doesn’t even count recess, lunchtime, bathroom breaks and transition time between classes. These things just aren’t much of a factor in the home. This naturally makes your school time shorter, and gives you more quality time with your kids too.
- More control over what your children learn, how they learn it, and when! How much control is up to the parents. Homeschooling gives you more control. Schooling at home gives you less. Both are okay. It just depends on what the child needs, and what the parents can provide. Every family is different, and there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to education.
- Removal from bad influences. Many Christian parents, both Evangelicals and Catholics, worry about the bad influence of curriculum and teachers in public schools. However, that’s probably only about 10% of the problem. The other 90% of the problem is student peers. Most of the troubles that students get into involve other students, and if there’s going to be any lifelong damage (rebellion, parties, sex, alcohol, drugs, homosexuality, gender-bending, etc.) it usually comes from the influence of other students, not faculty or curriculum. When you send your child to a brick & mortar school, you’re sending them into a menagerie of rebellion, perversion and peer pressure. All the problems other kids have at home, come to school with them. Your son or daughter gets to navigate through them all. Remove them from the brick & mortar school, and you will have removed them from 90% of the problems facing youth today. You can figure out, on your own, how to handle the other 10% of the problems.
- Less illnesses in general, and relative safety from pandemics. This is undeniable. As every parent knows, the first few months of any school year are always spent battling illnesses. That’s because when you put all these kids together, in close proximity, one of the first things they begin to share is germs. Prior to quarantine from the COVID-19 pandemic, the worse we had to worry about was the flu, which is pretty bad when you think about it. Now we have a virus that’s, on global average, about 60 times more deadly than the flu. Surely, COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic we’ll be dealing with in our lifetime. Home education basically eliminates a very big chunk of this problem.
- Safety from school shootings. It’s every parent’s nightmare, and it’s real. Every time you send your child into a brick & mortar school, this is a real risk that cannot be denied. It’s rare, but it does happen. Obviously, home education eliminates this problem completely.
- Safety from bullying. Most children experience some form of bullying at brick & mortar schools, at some point in their childhood. Adults usually do whatever they can to try to mitigate the problem, but to no avail. It’s a real issue that causes real harm to children, and the primary place it happens is at brick & mortar schools. Religious and parochial schools are no exception. It happens there too. It even happens in private schools. You can’t buy your way out of this problem. You can only buy a richer version of it. Why should any child have to endure this when it’s completely preventable with home education?
- Teaching children how to be Independent. Home education, whether homeschooling or schooling at home, does this. It takes a little time and patience, but by the time your kids get into high-school level, they just want to get the work done so they can move on to more interesting things. Speaking from personal experience, I don’t need to do much more than remind my kids to get their work done and they’re on it. These are the type of students colleges are looking for, and employers want to hire. Home educated children generally become more independent-minded, tend to think for themselves, and tend to be self-motivators.
A common question I get is: What about socializing? To which I answer: Do you not go to church somewhere? Usually, there are plenty of children there. There are also homeschool cooperatives and academies that help too. We use one mainly for socializing, art, music, drama and physical education (PE). Our kids have made some pretty good friends there. Obviously, kids will make friends in a virtual classroom, but the neighborhood children tend to work just as well. Then there are the church friends, and the cooperative/academy friends, plus the siblings, cousins and relatives. It’s not nearly as big of a problem as people make it out to be. One of the things I’ve noticed about home educated children is they tend to have friends in a much wider age-group than children educated at brick & mortar schools. They also tend to converse with adults more easily.
What if both spouses need to work? Yes, this is a tough one, but would you be surprised to learn that both my wife and I work? We alternate our schedules. I work primarily on weekends. She works primarily during the week. Between the two of us, we get the home educating thing done. Plus, there is no rule that says education must be done Monday through Friday from 8 to 3. On the contrary, if my kids need to do their work in the evening, then they do that. If they need to do some on the weekend, they do that too. As I said, on average, they’re usually only putting in 3 to 4 hours a day. Sometimes they do that six days a week. Sometimes they do it only five. We also educate our children year round, with occasional vacations. My point here is this. If there’s a will, there’s a way. If both spouses are living in the same home, it’s very possible, even if they both work. If you’re a single parent, maybe there is a grandparent or sibling who can help you.
What about the law? Is it legal to home educate in my state or country? How do I navigate the system? It is true that some countries (like Germany for example) are downright tyrannical against home education. However, English-speaking countries tend to be a bit more reasonable about it. In the United States, home education is legal in all 50 states. The rules vary from state to state, but it’s legal everywhere. I can’t give you advice on that here, because what works in my state may not work in yours. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is the go-to place for answers on this. If you decide to home educate, I highly recommend getting a membership with this organization. They will provide not only information and legal advice, but even legally defend you if somebody tries to give you a hard time. Here’s a Quick Guide of what to legally expect in your state.
What if I don’t have a college degree or don’t know how to teach? Let me open your eyes to something. If you’re a parent, you know how to teach. Who taught your child to talk? Who taught your child his ABCs? Who taught your child to sing? Who taught your child the names of colors, animals, plants, etc.? Let me guess. That was probably you, right? You’re the parent. That means you’re a teacher, as well as a nurse and a cook, right? So I guess you do know how to teach, and how to do a lot of other things too, I imagine. Would it shock you to know that some studies show that parents without college degrees actually do better at home education than parents with college degrees? Sociologists don’t agree on why this is the case. Regardless, your education level shouldn’t stop you. It’s not your responsibility to give your kids a college education, just get them up through high school and let them figure the rest out for themselves. If you’ve got a high-school diploma, that means you’re capable of doing this. Besides, as I said above, there are some reasonably-priced online high-school programs you can access with teachers, advisors and tutors. Also, in the wake of this pandemic quarantine, public schools are sure to be offering more access to these things at no cost at all.
Now, let me give you a little word of advice. If you decide to home educate, don’t overdo it. A lot of parents think that home education needs to be a strict environment. It doesn’t. Obviously, you do need to teach your children not to be afraid of a little work. But you don’t need to be an expert on everything, and you don’t need to create an education environment that’s uncomfortable or difficult to maintain. My kids do most of their school work while lounging on the sofa. That’s okay. Sometimes they even take long breaks in between and watch some SpongeBob cartoons. It’s refreshing to see a high school and middle school student still watching SpongeBob. That’s a lot more wholesome than what other kids their age are watching. (By the way, my kids love the Brady Bunch and The Monkeys too.) This usually happens after school time, but occasionally as a break in-between studies. With all this extra time, not having to deal with a brick & mortar school, my daughter has learned how to play the harp and the piano. My son has become quite the expert on World War I and World War II. He also learned how to fence (swordplay). The point I’m making here is to chill out, and try to make your home education environment as relaxed as possible — disciplined but relaxed… and… well… “normal.”
Let’s face it, if you’ve got school-age children, you’re probably already doing some variation of this right now. If not, maybe now is a good time to start. Do we really need brick & mortar schools? No. Not really. This is the 21st century. It’s possible to do everything you need at home now, and with far less effort than previous generations. Just imagine what it was like in American colonial times, when virtually all education was home education, and they didn’t even have a postal service, let alone a telephone or the Internet. Somehow these pioneers, and later Americans, managed to produce the likes of John Adams, John Quincy Adams, James Garfield, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Polk, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and George Washington. All of these American presidents were educated at home as children. You can find a list of some famous home educated people here. As for school-age children today, they won’t be going back to school this school-year. As for next school-year, that’s still uncertain. There is no better time than now for parents, all over America, to make the decision to just pull out of the brick & mortar schools entirely, and continue to educate at home. Speaking as one who has done it, I can testify it’s totally worth it. I’ve spent far more time with my kids than most fathers, and I think that something I’ll never regret.