Reblogging Some Thoughts on Homeschooling

I heard about this family through a homeschooling friend and wrote about it for Literate Little One. Being a teacher myself, it is a constant occupational concern that my work remain current, new, enthusiastic, and all the other stuff that work generally isn’t once you’ve spent enough time doing it that you know what you’re doing. We can try so hard to keep the lesson materials all shiny and fresh, but the fact is that my twenty kids are sitting in one room for most of the time they are with me, and I have to use multiple different teaching methods to reach as many different learning styles as possible.

I wouldn't go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it's very easy for it to become so.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say classroom education is as bad as this, but it’s very easy for it to become so.

This means that, necessarily, the kids aren’t going to have their own personal optimal learning style catered to for the majority of the day (and that’s fine- they can certainly learn a lot from having to adjust to learning someone else’s way for a while). The reason this story struck a chord with me, though, is that this family seems to have removed that element from their kids’ education entirely. The kids stay motivated all day with learning as a way of life because their parents can afford to concentrate all their energy on them. There aren’t twenty other kids among whom they must divide their time and attention, and just look at the results:

From Literate Little One:

The Today Show featured an eye-catching story about the incredible success one family has had as homeschoolers. If you haven’t already seen this, you should really check out Bob Dotson’s coverage of it on NBC, but then come right back because we have things to discuss.

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Kip and Mona Lisa Harding pose with their children

Parents Kip and Mona Lisa have really showcased the benefits of one-on-one attention, haven’t they? The kids are starting college before they hit their teen years! The first one doing university level schoolwork, daughter Hannah, now holds a master’s in both mechanical engineering and math and has a job designing spacecraft. The others listed in this piece are doing equally auspicious things even though the last third of the article builds the case that, not only do the parents consider their children to have average intelligence levels, but their days are spent having fun. Somewhere along the way, work has to come into the mix- it just has to, but it certainly is an easier pill to swallow when your priorities are to find what a student is inclined to learn, what they enjoy, and encourage them to explore that, non? Quoting the father in the article,

“The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day,” Kip says, watching his children play. “Not that you’re going to come home with A’s.”

Seth Harding in the middle of a "lesson" about the Middle Ages

Seth Harding in the middle of a “lesson” about the Middle Ages

No mention of test anxiety here, no drudging through required typing courses, just find what you love and spend the day on that.

“By the time you get down to number five, number six, they just think learning seems normal. We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually,”

so says their mother. If, like me, your first thoughts were that “going to college” is not for twelve year olds, however grand it may sound, consider that the kids are living at home, and certainly not in dorms, and they aren’t launching into it with full courseloads in their first semester. Learning just seems normal for them. Considering the strain of attending a full class day, and the relief of finally stepping back out of the classroom, this is a refreshing perspective. It’s no wonder they’re seeing such brilliant results: learning isn’t the odious task of filling out papers and completing projects in a classroom, it’s just the way of life.

What do you think about this? If you were reared in a traditional classroom setting, do you think you would have gone farther, faster too if you had been able to study this way? If you were homeschooled, did you feel like you had an advantage in the flexibility of a more taylored educational program? How do you feel about starting kids in college work at such an early age? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!



  1. tomnochera Said:

    Great post Bethany! Very inspiring. You’ve got to love knowledge and learning to be able to pull that off as a parent. Those parents are amazing. And I agree with the idea of letting a child go as hard or soft as they want into a subject. They’ll find out what they love early on.

    And to the question of is this too much too soon? Achievement and the desire to learn are things that no one should ever have to apologize for.

    Those kids look to be happy and having fun, and for me, that ends the argument right there.

    • kirinjirafa Said:

      It is exciting to see their success isn’t it? I keep thinking now about ways I can encourage my kids individually to pursue the things they like and concentrate more on that than necessarily completing a checklist of requirements. As adults, we are told to find careers based on what we love- follow our inclinations, and we will be better workers and more able to enjoy our profession. Of course a student will learn the most when studying a subject he or she likes. Now, I am NOT trying to say that children should simply be allowed to choose their own curriculum and follow their own fancies in place of planned lessons or even objective evaluations, but this has really made me rethink the way I want to structure my daily lessons with my students. Thanks for commenting, Tom 🙂

      • Arleta Wiebe Said:

        So how do you deal with the testing issue? Do you have to prepare them for the scary tests?

      • kirinjirafa Said:

        i started a new comment thread to answer

  2. Arleta Wiebe Said:

    As a Christian school teacher (I teach 9-10 English at a Christian school in Kansas) I realize that I have biases about home schooling. Let me also clearly state that I am glad we live in a country in which parents can make choices for the good/better/best of their children. But everyone has a leaning or perspective, and this is one element we must take into account. It sounds like Kip and Mona Lisa are doing everything right! Wow! Everything!? And that success translates into “here is evidence that homeschooling is inherently better than group-schooling.” If you sense a dubious note in my response, you are correct.

    Scientists call the misconnection and incorrect conclusion between action and result a spurious correlation if the result cannot be replicated with the same results repeatedly. Note: with. the. same. results.

    Again–more power to Kip and Mona Lisa. They are doing many, many things right. They are devoting their lives to raising their children. I have absolutely NO criticism with what they are doing. More power to them! But I see them as an exception, rather than the rule.

    My point is this: Just because they are doing so much right, does not mean that teachers in group settings are doing so much wrong. This would be a spurious correlation. I know many teachers in both public and private schools who are doing things right. And furthermore, just because Kip and Mona Lisa are doing most things right does not mean that ALL home schooling parents do things right.

    There are benefits to group schooling which home schooling proponents do not admit. [When one boils down the perspective into simplistic images–as in this original post–one brings to the table unreliable biases which are . . .well . . .unreliable.] I do not think it is necessary to defend, defend, defend group schooling. Suffice it to say, that when one wants to take a certain path, one will defend that path. We live in a country which affords parents the freedom to choose. Why do we have to get defensive about our personal choices? Why do we have to criticize the choices of others so our own choices become more “right”?

    When Kip says, “The expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day . . . not that you’re going to come home with A’s” he is making a judgment that only kids who are home schooled have fun, and only kids who are group-schooled operate under the pressure to perform. And then some other home schooling parents jump on that and say, “Yeah. See. OUR children think learning is FUN and group-schooled children do NOT have fun. So there.” Spurious correlation.

    If we compared the best-of-the-best home-schoolers to the best-of-the-best group-schoolers we would see that kids, who like learning and who are capable, learn. Keeping that turned ON is the responsibility of all parents (first) and teachers (second). I say “keeping that turned on” because kids are born curious. The good teachers–whether they are group teachers or one-on-one teachers–make it happen.

    • kirinjirafa Said:

      Arleta, thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts. You’re totally right about one thing, and I neglected to think of it as I was writing this: one size definitely doesn’t fit all in education. I’m sure there are plenty of individuals out there who would accomplish far less if they attempted to mimick the Harding family’s methods, and as I mentioned above, there is certainly a lot to be gained by not having your personal learning style catered to every minute at school. As a teacher myself, though, I felt very challenged by the entire story. It’s my nine-to-five job, and as you probably have experienced as well, it’s all too easy for me to come into work feeling like that- I’m coming in to work, rather than revving up the Magic Schoolbus. There again, kids will get out of their education what they put into it, so I know that neither a great teacher nor a great homeschool setup can compensate for a child who doesn’t want to learn, and anm incapable teacher will not achieve these results no matter what the student body constellation looks like.

      It’s easy to get into a rut, and the idea of making a more concerted effort on allowing the students to pursue what they love was so appealing to me that I’m actually brainstorming methods to incorporate that into my lessons for next year. Thanks for commenting.

      • Arleta Wiebe Said:

        You’re a thoughtful teacher, Bethany. Kudos. Even if we as teachers were successful yesterday, there is always today. There are always more and different brains-wrapped-in-emotions-wrapped-in-muscles-and-skin walking into our classrooms. And then we have the same going on. Getting through all those layers is a task. It’s a wonder connections are made!

  3. kirinjirafa Said:

    Arleta, regarding tests, I just feel that all the emphasis on getting right answers hurts their feelings and squelches their free little spirits whenever they get answers wrong, and I try to avoid ever placing my angels in a situation where they have to feel bad.

    (I’m totally kidding, of course.)

    Actually, for all the preaching I’m doing right now about letting them learn by exploring, I’m a huge proponent of offering evaluations based on objective, quantifiable results. There are a dozen reasons why I feel this way, but the most relevant one in this context is that having each member of a group perform the same task gives me an opportunity to gauge my own effectiveness at reaching the diverse group. Since I necessarily can’t plant myself beside each child, one-on-one for more than a few minutes at a time, I can estimate how I’m communicating to them if I have them synthesize the data. Aside from the test questions themselves, I can tell by looking at the papers they hand me if a student is happy, frustrated, intimidated, or whether or not he is emotionally invested in my class. I do try to prepare kids, which means (and will continue to mean) having review games and projects in class and all that good stuff, but if I had only my own sons or daughters to teach, I don’t know that this would be nearly as big an issue, and I believe that the scariness of testing would be minimized for them. My one major concern would be to ensure that they were capable of performing the tasks expected of other children.

    • Arleta Wiebe Said:

      I’m curious: what level do you teach?

      • kirinjirafa Said:

        Preschoolers, who do not have paper tests, and then in the afternoons I teach 3rd-6th grade Spanish and 1st grade Computer.

  4. zebranay Said:

    Loved this article. If I could do it all over, I would definitely home school my children. So much has changed since my kids were little. I truly believe that the Christian schooling they received was better than public schooling but only because of the God element. They missed out on many academic and athletic choices for growth. My consolation is that they have kept the Lord in their lives to this day and have achieved so much because of Him, regardless of my lack of training for them! Let me add that I know a number of public school teachers who are wonderful educators, but our government, I feel, has tied their “hands” so to speak in many ways and limited what they are able to do. Also, there is a certain constrainment to teaching 25 children at a time as opposed to 3-5 children who are related to you.

    • kirinjirafa Said:

      In my opinion, a major elemant restraining teachers is the fact they are simply not the students’ parents, living with them, and interacting the way people do in a home environment. This can be a strength, because I see a side of a child that the parents at home do not see, but sometimes it means that I can overlook things that I would notice in a person I knew much better. I can try my best to get to know my kids, but that will never make up for the fact that people change when they walk into a classroom as a student. It’s a whole different social environment.

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