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.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Essential Qualities -- I

Today I begin the discussion of the Five Essential Qualities of Successful Homeschools. A full discussion of these qualities wlll last at least until summer, but don't be alarmed. We'll take numerous excursions, breaks to cover targets of opportunity, or answer questions, or deal with comments.

Although I'll be examining them primarily in reference to homeschooling, they apply to all learning situations, and more broadly to all sorts of motivational situations. Indeed, I have one application which examines them as the Five Essential Qualities of Leadership. So they have broad application.

Still, they were derived from observations of the scores of homeschool families. Although these homes had superficial differences, I could see that they had common factors below the surface, and it was these common factors that made them successful.

Over time I confirmed the observations and refined my description. So that's the provenance of the information I'm about to share with you.

Quality I: Learner Focused.

Some years ago, I hear Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of NPR's "Car Talk," discussing a brand of auto parts with a reputation for shoddy workmanship. According to their story, the motto on the side of the box read, "[Brand Name]: There's no substitute for quality." In their inimitable way, the brothers declared, "They [the company] ought to know. They've tried everything else."

This comes to mind because I find that it describes most schools, classrooms, and homeschools, when it comes to this first quality, focusing on the learner: They've tried everything else. And, with each wave of reform--always focused on "everything else," they confirm this once again. I can't even guess at the number of curriculum and regulatory committees--even a Governor's truancy panel-- that continually overlooks the central role of the learner.

For some reason, people forget that learning is volitional, that the learner has to want to. This causes them to make claims about studen behavior that are ludicrous. They continually claim that children/students will behave in outlandish ways, "Because it's good for them." Yeah, that's why kids line up when the spinach truck rolls around. Oops! No, it's the ice cream truck they go for. So that prompts the question, "Why do the kids want to. . ." eat spinach, do the problems, fill in the blanks. Because if they don't want to, it won't happen.

As Elbert Hubbard remarked, "You can lead a boy to college, but you cannot make him think." Yes, you can force a kid to do a workbook, but can you force him to retain anything? Of course not.

Now, does this mean that, when it comes to learning at home, the inmates should run the asylum? Do we let kids call all the shots? No. But it does mean that to be successful, we have to begin our understanding of learning with the learner.

This runs counter to every state law concerning education, and against conventional wisdom. But "conventional wisdom" is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

The next post will examine where the state, and nearly everyone else, thinks is the center of the process.

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