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Good, Better, or Excellent?

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #36, 2000.

It's time to be better than the best.
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Mary Pride

In our society, homeschoolers have always had something to prove.

Over 20 years ago, when Bill and I began homeschooling our oldest son, homeschoolers were desperate to prove we were as good as the public schools. This was a matter of life and death, since our legal status at the time could best be described as precarious. Legislatures and judges needed convincing that homeschooling wasn't going to ruin children's lives, and the burden was on homeschool parents to prove that a homeschool education was at least no worse than a public school education.

We're Best at the Tests

The best way to prove this, of course, was to demonstrate that homeschooled children did better than public-school children.

As the standardized test results kept coming in, and the number of homeschoolers taking them became statistically significant, it became clear that academically homeschools did indeed score better than public schools. Homeschool graduates were admitted, amid much media fanfare, to Harvard and Yale; homeschooled children won local and national academic competitions; homeschooled teens began using online academies and other high-tech options not available to the majority of public-schooled students. A study was even done whose results proved that homeschool students have more self-esteem than their public-school counterparts!

We basked for a while in the light of these discoveries. After years of friends and neighbors questioning our sanity (for wanting to homeschool) and our ability to teach our children anything, it was wonderful to know that we were ahead of the public schools in everything but football. Some of us may have even become a little smug. It's understandable, when your standardized test results keep coming back with scores in the 90th percentiles, meaning that your kids are ahead of nine out of ten public-school kids!

We're #1, and #2, and #3!

And here we are again, this issue, celebrating yet another homeschool milestone. This year, homeschoolers took first, second, and third place in the most famous national academic competition of all - the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. Can anyone still doubt that homeschooling provides a superior education? (Apparently so: the winners and their parents still get asked, "What about socialization?" Sigh.)

. . . Now What?

I now would like to say that the time has come to stop thinking about being "as good as" or even "better than" the public schools.

First, it's not a fair competition. It's like running a mile against an opponent who is wearing concrete boots. The schools are so weighed down with nonacademic mandates and personnel imposed on them from the outside (usually, from Washington), and with impossible requirements to keep disruptive students in school, that it's amazing they have the energy to teach anyone anything! Teachers usually have little to no authority to choose their own curriculum, and little to no authority to control their classrooms. All this, and dozens of students per teacher, too.

If you cast your mind back to what the schools were like before federal and state judges unconstitutionally took control of them . . . when local parents and teachers actually ran them . . . those public schools could have given us a run for our money. Let's not kid ourselves that we're doing great just because today's federally-controlled public schools can no longer teach most kids to even read and write well.

Second, it's not fair to our kids. Who cares if they are "as good as" or "better than" some other kid? The point ought to be that our children are becoming the best they can be.

If your son is Don Knotts, and my son is Mark McGwire, should I be impressed with myself that my son turns out to be better at baseball? No. Should I be impressed with myself if my son is one of the best hitters on his Little League team? Again, no. We all know that Mark McGwire was born with the potential to be the best at swinging a baseball bat. If he had quit trying when he found he was better than the kids in his local town, he would never had reached his true potential.

Now, let's turn it around. What if Don Knotts is your son, and by ceaseless practice, careful diet, and weightlifting he builds himself up to be the second-best hitter on his team? Has he failed, since he is "not as good as" the best hitter on his team, let alone the best hitter in the league? No way! As much as I love Don Knotts' acting, I think we can all agree he was not built for power hitting. A child with Mr. Knotts' build would have to overcome tremendous obstacles to reach this level.

The Best We Can Be

My point is not about baseball. It's about life. It's time for us, as homeschoolers, to turn away from the siren song of "as good as" and "better than." These are not our goals; they move up and down depending on the quality of our competition. Decades ago, to be "as good as" the public schools our children would have had to learn to read Latin. Now, to be "better than" the public schools our children just have to learn to read. Surely this is not a standard by which we should measure ourselves.

I propose we begin to fly the flag of excellence. Just as each of us has his or her "best body" - the way we look and feel when we are strongly muscled, with no excess fat - we each also have our "best mind" and our "best spirit" - when we are learning at peak efficiency and following God's plan for our lives the best we know how.

In this new school year, and those that follow, it is our goal at PRACTICAL HOMESCHOOLING to help you meet these goals.

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