Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Thursday, December 16, 2004


I'm always fascinated by those who think an emphasis on character is somehow "softer," or "less rigorous" than an emphasis on academics. From secular people this doesn't surprise me too much, but I've received the same message from a number of religious families.

It becomes all the more interesting when you observe that government schools* have revived their interest in character after nearly a quarter century experiment with "value-free" classrooms. Since I was studying character education in grad school when the movement to value free classrooms began, I've watched it with interest. My original position, largely vindicated by history, held that it is impossible to have a value-free classroom. The very fact that you require students to be there, and expose them to certain ideas, communicates a set of values. To put it another way, if you didn't value certain ideas and information, you wouldn't bother teaching them.

Having said that, I must confess that they came much closer to establishing a value-free classroom than I expected. We see that in surveys of now young college-age students who say things like, "Yes, I think the Nazis were evil. But who are we to criticize someone else's beliefs?"

Apparently horrified by things like the Columbine High School shootings and other indications of morally and ethically illiteracy among students, and hoping to quell the appearance of increasing violence in schools, we're seeing a new emphasis on character.

Dr. Thomas Lickona is a proponent of what he calls character education. You can see my review of his book "Character Matters," and recommendations for books on this topic, on my main web page, here. I won't duplicate that on this site.

Let me close with two points. Number one: Character Matters.

Diligence, integrity, fortitude-- you name the positive character quality -- and it makes a student a better student. It not only boosts academic achievement, it gives them a foundation for a successful life beyond the classroom. A child who doesn't master an academic skill may need help in that area later in life-- but which of us excels at every academic area? Geniuses in one area often know little about other areas. My mechanic doesn't understanc computers. But many software engineers don't understand cars.

A child with an academic gap may cause us an inconvenience in later life, but a child without character can give us heartbreaks that never go away. Good friends of mine did a good job with academics. But one daughter had several children by different fathers, some out of wedlock. Her continuing difficulties are an unending burden for her parents. Ask them if they'd trade a few points on the SAT for more character.

The second point is this. It really doesn't matter what government schools tackle, you can count on them making a mess of it.

In 1848, when the government school program got its start, America had a high rate of literacy. After more than 50 years of reading instruction in government schools, literacy rates continue to drop.

Or take "sex education." When this movement took off in government schools, relatively few children were born out of wedlock. Now the rates are nearly 70% in black families, and approaching 30% among whites.

So look out, now they want to take on "character."

* I know that many in the government school system resent calling them "government schools." "Public" schools are schools which accept the public, just as restaurants and stadiums, which accept the public, are regulated as "public places." The court house, federal office buildings, and so forth, are "government buildgings," because they're paid for with tax monies and staffed with employees paid from tax revenues. That describes the so-called "public school" system perfectly-- buildings and employees paid from tax revenues. Not only that, they are run by elected boards who serve as government officials, and their curriculum is determined by elected bodies as well.


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