Can You Pass the Civics Test?

Newsweek gave 1000 Americans a basic civics test. Thirty-eight percent failed the test. Even liberal Newsweek acknowledges that this kind of ignorance imperils our nation’s future. I would say that it is this kind of ignorance that explains the election of our current President. If there is vast ignorance about our basic founding documents in this country, how would Americans know if the candidates running for office even believe in the Constitution?

Our children need to know the basics about our country and how it works, and civics or government classes have gone the way of logic and Latin. The schools have made way for comprehensive sex education, drug education, death education, multicultural education, anti-bullying education and so forth, but have failed to teach history and civics to American citizens. It’s a travesty.

Take the test and see how you score.

Home Education: A Viable Option

christmaseve-004This is the time of year when parents begin to think about the next school year for their children. For those who are displeased with their child’s educational setting, it’s usually the time when options for the following year are analyzed and plans begin to take shape.

Home education continues to be an option available to parents in America, and for that, we should be deeply thankful. In some European countries, like Germany, you can go to jail for attempting to keep your children out of official, government sanctioned schools. It is a precious privilege and hard-won freedom that we parents enjoy today to be able to school our children according to the dictates of our own consciences and our own beliefs. We are deeply grateful.

At various times in my children’s lives, we have had them in private Christian school, a public school, and in home school. Each year presented a new set of circumstances and set of needs and we have tried, year by year, to meet each child’s unique needs as they have arisen. I have home schooled using various means and methods as well. What works well for one student does not work well for another. It is a case of analyzing each child’s academic and spiritual needs and doing the best you can to address those as a mother.

I am not an ideological home schooler. By that I mean that I am not one of those who believes that God commands parents to teach children academics in a home setting and that any other choice is unbiblical. There are groups that teach that. Tom and I believe that we are allowed to delegate academic teaching to others, just as Jewish parents delegated the teaching of Hebrew to the synagogue for their young sons in Jesus’ day. Parents bear the ultimate responsibility for their choices, however, and we need to bear that in mind.

Not all parents are experts in all subjects, not all parents are financially able to have one parent home full time, and some mothers are not physically, emotionally or educationally equipped to educate their children at home. I am for good home schooling and opposed to  disorganized, careless and poor home schooling, just as I am for good schools and opposed to bad ones. It is a decision that parents need to make together with much prayer.

Let me tell you why I am home educating our youngest, Will. Last Spring, Tom and I talked about putting Will in a Christian school for junior high in preparation for high school. While Will attended school for 1st, 2nd and 4th grades, we thought that having him in a school setting for these junior high years would perhaps be a help to him as high school looms. I made an appointment to visit the Christian school nearest us. It has a solid academic reputation, is not large, and uses a good Christian curriculum. They have a uniform dress code, which I think is wise these days, and an award winning history program.

We sat in the 6th grade classroom that day with the 23 or so other students who would be in Will’s class for the next two years. The male teacher, who seemed like a very sincere young man, asked each student to stand up and give a name, an interest they had, and a reason they liked the school. This was for Will and my benefit as visitors.

The first boy stood up. At first I thought he was mentally disabled. Rather than obey the teacher, he began making bizarre noises with his mouth. As the class tittered around him, I realized that the boy was fooling around. The laughs of the class got louder and louder. Eventually he spit out his name and some incomprehensible gibberish and then sat down to the howls of approval from the class. The teacher remained silent at the podium with something of a vague smile on his face. That slight encouragement led to the rest of the class behaving in a disrespectful and foolish manner. Only a handful of the students obeyed the teacher. It was an embarrassing spectacle that was never stopped by the man in charge of the class. I was unimpressed.

I came away that day thinking, how can we send William into an environment like that? He loves to learn. He’s becoming a World War II expert from all of his reading. He loves history and math and science. Furthermore, he enjoys talking with older people, respects authority and knows how to obey. What becomes of a serious student when you place him in a setting where behaving like a fool and disobeying a teacher is the cool thing to do? Those children, as silly as it was, were showing disrespect not only for their teachers, but for us as visitors, and for themselves. The peer pack madness was in full evidence that day.

The child who is an individual thinker, who can concentrate for long periods of time on subjects of interest, who respects authority and likes communicating with adults because of what he can learn is a rare breed today. Home education is able to produce this kind of character largely because a child is socialized across generational lines, is removed from the tyranny of peer dynamics and is given the freedom to explore what he is interested in for more than chopped up little time increments.

Tom and I believe that character is primary. A child may possess a lot of knowledge, but if he has never been taught to honor the Lord, be respectful and to think of others first, of what use is all that knowledge?

A neighbor man of ours thinks a lot of Will. Will thinks a lot of  “Mr. John.” I saw them outside last week talking at length. Our neighbor is a golf lover, and Will likes to learn things from him. Did you catch that? A 12-year-old has learned the value of listening and learning from his elders. What a concept. Sadly, this whole idea has been lost in the idolatry of youth culture that teaches children that their world is the only one that matters. Marketers have a vested interested in convincing the young of this point, and it is to the children’s detriment.

I could write much about the various options in a home education setting. Technology has created an exploding array of high quality choices for parents. Each family has to determine what works best for each child. When you are home educating multiple children at different grade levels, this can be an enormous challenge. William has an auditory learning style and has done best with a structured, distance learning program. He has master teachers who lecture on DVD through the Abeka program in Florida. He uses the Saxon math program. His teacher has a doctorate in math and through the use of a CD-rom, turns Will’s computer screen into a white board where the math lessons are taught each day. He is in Algebra 1/2 this year and is doing very well with it. 

This home educational setup, while more costly than if I taught each subject, only costs us about $1100 a year. For this price, he is getting top flight teachers and academics at a fraction of the cost of a Christian school. (Schools in our area run $5,000-$6,000 a year.) I serve as coach and test grader. Will files his work away each day and records his grades. He’s learning to manage his own education, and it has helped instill discipline in him. He found out that if he gets up at 6:15 each day, he can be done with school largely by noon and still have a good portion for the day for his music practice and his own interests. The flexibility it affords him has been a real blessing.

Each child is different. Each of mine is different. One child does best in a highly structured formal school setting. One of our children needed English as a Second Language classes and special help to catch up. Each need requires thought and attention. Will’s home education program would not have worked at all for some of his siblings. With the Lord’s help, each parent can find out what works best for their children. But I continue to be grateful for the opportunity and privilege of home education. In a world that is increasingly spinning out of control, and with much of Christianity taking cues from the popular culture, sometimes home education can provide the best opportunity for spiritual and academic development.

If you would like more information on the subject, HSLDA.org has an info packet they can send you for free that will help you understand your own state’s legal requirements and introduce you to the multitudinous home education curriculum offerings available today. There are satellite services, CD-roms, DVD classes, correspondence courses, computer based schooling, and gorgeous educational materials of every description. Tomorrow (Thursday, April 23), I will be interviewing a lady on Crosstalk who will discuss the opportunities available in home education. If you have a chance, tune in live at 2pm Central or listen to the archived show any time, both at our website.)

Here’s a little WWII history on the Eastern Front with Will.  🙂

School Daze Return

It’s back to school today for our son, William, and a whole lot of other children in our state. Do you remember that first day of school feeling? I remember very clearly the first day of kindergarten, which was the most thrilling event imaginable. Every year, I never could sleep the night before that magical first day. Everything was laid out to wear, and the new school supplies were all packed away in our book bags, and our lunches were packed and waiting in the fridge.

It was of the utmost importance what one wore on the first day of school. A false step could ruin the whole year, I used to think. Back then, girls had to wear dresses at our Lutheran school, so much attention was paid to just the right dress and matching socks. Mom would also get new hair yarn for the end of my braids. Finally, my sister and brother and I would give our mother hugs and get out the door to walk the two blocks to school.

Walking into our new classrooms was about as exciting as things got. I was a neat freak and setting my new desk up was done with military precision. I once saw a teacher empty out a school desk by shaking it upside down because some messy kid finally pushed the limits. The sight of that humiliation always stayed with me, and I wasn’t about to have that happen to me. I relished the newness of the notebooks and folders, and the smell of the new crayons and markers. Then there were the new kids. It was always exciting to find out that some new students had arrived. I loved elementary school, every minute of it, and nothing beat that first day of school for excitement.

Not everybody goes off to school these days. Thanks to the proliferation of home education, some children don’t have to go far for school. Will started school this morning. I snapped a photo of my scholar in his school area. He is a distance student for Abeka Academy, and his teachers are on DVD on a laptop. His desk unit has everything he needs with his text books and test keys at the ready. He enjoys being in control of his education, so he gets up early and begins school before most kids are eating breakfast.

This method allows enormous flexibility both for Will and our family. If we want to take a week and travel somewhere, we can schedule it in.  He is also able to take music theory and performance classes at the conservatory one morning a week, work on his model ship building and do his piano practice, and still be able to get his work done.  He is especially looking forward to his first football practice tonight. A local home school league plays many of the middle schools in our area and he is raring to go.

Will, too, gets excited about first day of school, but I have to say it’s sure a different world than when I was a girl. Bricks and mortar schools no longer have the lock on an excellent education. Thanks to technology, I can bring a private school into our home, provide flexibility for our family and for a fraction of the cost of a traditional private education. It makes me grateful for the home education pioneers who fought for the right of parents to take control of their children’s education.

Will humored his mother and posed for a first-day-of-school photo for 7th grade.

Will humored his mother and posed for a first-day-of-school photo for 7th grade.

Will points to all the books he plans to read this year, including those blue Harvard Classics, ha!

Will points to all the books he plans to read this year, including those blue Harvard Classics, ha!

Mary's 1st Day of School at St. James Kindergarten 2001. She was so excited.

Mary's first day of Kindergarten at St. James. She was so excited! "Little" brother was seeing her off.