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When Homeschool Goes Public

By Joyce Swann
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #16, 1997.

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Joyce Swann


Have you ever wondered what would happen if our public school system were operated like a homeschool? Recently a situation occurred which may provide part of the answer.

My eighteen-year-old son Benjamin has been the youth pastor at the First Baptist Church in our community for the past year. Although it is a paid position, he is allowed to have other employment so long as it does not interfere with his evening and weekend duties at the church.

In his quest for additional employment, Benjamin soon discovered that substitute teaching at our local elementary school provided the perfect schedule to allow him the freedom he needed for his ministry. Thus last year he kept busy filling in for absent teachers.

This year the elementary school where Benjamin subs became an ISS (in-school suspension) school. That simply means that children who are extreme discipline problems are put into isolation for a specified period of time as a disciplinary measure - even unruly children from other schools in the district are sent to the ISS school for disciplinary action. In ISS the students sit at a desk with their faces to the wall doing the same work as their classmates but with none of the privileges. The ISS teacher eats lunch with them so that they cannot interact with other students. They are not allowed to attend any of the class parties. Even P.E. is not allowed; the ISS teacher takes them out and walks them for 45 minutes a day.

Usually a child remains in ISS for no more than one or two days. However, the first day of this school year a ten-year-old boy was "sentenced" to ISS until January when he badly beat another child. At that time the principal decided that she needed to hire a "permanent" substitute who would sit in ISS every day with Bobby (not his real name) and any other students who should be sent to ISS. Benjamin was chosen for this job, and at the time of this writing, he is completing his fourth week as the ISS teacher.

Upon entering ISS, Benjamin was informed that although Bobby should be in the fourth grade, he is in the third grade and considerably behind his classmates. Bobby, he was told, is a problem child. He is living with his grandmother, and although he occasionally sees his mother, his father is absent. Because of his history of violence and failure to keep up with his peers academically, Bobby has been more or less written off by the system as unsalvageable. However, the principal told Benjamin that he should "try to catch him up."

The first few days Benjamin simply gave Bobby his assignments and made sure that he completed his work. However, he soon noticed that the method of instruction utilized by the school district was sadly lacking. For instance, when Bobby was given a list of division tables, he was told only to "memorize them" - there was no explanation about the basic concepts involved. At that point Benjamin decided to teach this public school curriculum incorporating the methods I had used in teaching him when he went to school at our kitchen table.

Benjamin began by telling Bobby that he already knew how to divide - he just did not know that he knew how. "If you can multiply," Benjamin assured him, "you can divide. Division is just backwards multiplication." Benjamin then explained the relationship between multiplication and division. At that point, Bobby started to make progress.

Furthermore, each time Bobby completed a reading assignment, Benjamin had him write a paragraph telling about the passage. Thus Benjamin required that Bobby not only satisfactorily complete his work but that he demonstrate that he actually understood what he was doing.

It quickly became apparent that Bobby could take on additional assignments, and Benjamin began giving him two days' work each day. Bobby not only completed double the amount of work as his classmates, he had time left over to read the books he brought from home - a special treat to be allowed only if Bobby behaved himself and completed his assignments.

Bobby actually became enthusiastic about school. On his new schedule, he passed his classmates. When Benjamin told him that if he continued to work at his current pace, he would finish the third grade before Christmas, Bobby beamed. "Do you think I could be through the fourth grade by the time school is out in May?" Bobby wanted to know. Benjamin assured him that it is entirely possible. "Wow!" Bobby exclaimed, "Next year I could go right into the fifth grade!"

What "magic" has turned Bobby around? It is certainly not an imaginative curriculum - Bobby has the same curriculum as the other public school children. It is not a creative approach - Bobby is required to sit facing a blank wall while he works. It is not an ingenious reward system - Bobby is not allowed to attend any of the special activities enjoyed by the other children. Bobby is, in effect, a "prisoner" from the moment he sets foot on the school grounds until the moment he leaves. His day consists of completing mostly uninteresting work in a "solitary confinement" atmosphere.

Bobby does, however, enjoy one privilege that no other child in that school system shares. He has by his side a caring teacher, devoted solely to him, who makes certain that he really understands his assignments. He has someone who answers his questions and helps him over the rough spots, someone who is genuinely glad when he does well and gets him back on track when he falters. In Bobby's case, homeschooling has gone public.

The next time you feel inadequate to teach your child, remember Bobby, and stop worrying about whether your homeschool is creative enough, or stimulating enough, or rewarding enough. The thing your child needs most is you - a loving, caring teacher who will help him do his best. For that there is no substitute.


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