Homeschool Success
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Homeschool Success

What constitutes success for homeschoolers?

A colleague of mine, describing a presenter at a homeschool conference said, "She did O.K. for someone who homeschooled two kids for two years."

I often wondered, when I first got started homeschooling, how people with children no older than my own, and no in-depth exposure to others homeschool families, could speak with such certainty about matters that my training and experience told me were wrong. Now I know.

They spoke with certainty, but without knowledge, like mapamakers in the sixteenth century, coloring in the blank spaces with their own fancies, whether romantic or frightening.

You'll find a lot of that today. Many books, some contradicting each other, all telling you how to homeschool. Some seem to indicate that any method you use will work just fine, populating the blank parchment with cities of golden opportunity. Others indicate only their approach has any hope of success, guiding you past the dragons and sea monsters of their imaginations. Most people make the journey only once, and, as the Donner party could testify, conditions can vary greatly from one trip to another.

Since this blog sports a title that includes the word "essential," you probably expect that I intend to map out your journey in some detail. And you have every right to wonder how I fill in the disputed areas, whether with dragons or treasure.

First of all, I can point to the success of own three children, all educated exclusively at home, in accordance with the principles I describe on this website, until college entry. More to the point, scores of other young adults and their families have demonstrated the value of what I'm sharing. The qualities I share here arise out of experience with hundreds of homeschool families.

I'm not talking here about people who've written me letters or talked to me at conferences. No, I'm talking about families who invited me into their homes, week by week, month by month. Some families I have worked with for nearly twenty years, watching one child after another go from reading their first word, to getting their first job after college. Like an experienced frontier guide, I have made the journey many times, with many families. I can tell you where the water may be found, and whether rain clouds herald salvation or calamity.

Of even more value are the two seriously failed homeschools I was privileged to observe. Their failures threw the essential qualitites of success into sharp relief, just as the dark shadows on a sunlit landscape reveal both the depths and the heights. As in the case of all learning, we often benefit more from our mistakes than from our successes. Autopsies reveal disease mechanisms that weaken and kill, making it possible to identify symptoms of the illness in its early stages. Doing a post mortem on those sad failed homeschools permits me to recognize problems long before they become fatal. It also enables me to prescribe remedies that prevent or alleviate problems. Had any doubt remained about the essential qualities of success, these failures eliminated it.

But enough of failure. What about success? Like one of my longtime homeschool friends, your initial definition of success may be "Better than public school." But if you didn't think you could do that, you wouldn't start in the first place. No, my definition of success requires more than that. Here’s my definition of success, a success which is within the reach of every child. A truly successful homeschool produces individuals who possess:
* Clear and positive identity
* Clear goals
* Positive Outlook on Life
* Initiative
* Responsibility
* Enthusiasm
* Creativity
* Ability to think clearly
* Academic tools to reach their goals

I want for your child, for every child, the very best. I set such a high goal, not so that I can label those who fall short as failures, but so that we can attain as much as possible. Browning wrote the famous lines:

A man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for?

But what I'm advocating is within your grasp. I've seen many families reach it. You can, too.

By ordinary standards, almost every homeschool succeeds. The failed homeschools I mention make up a tiny percentage. Out of the more than 600 homeschools I've closely worked with (I quit counting after that) only two could be considered significantly failed. Even they produced results similar to many schooled children. But, limiting the total sample to 600, and counting those two as seriously failed, they still make up one third of one percent. So, in one sense, the books that say any method will produce success have a point.

Take Daisy(not her real name), for example. At eighteen, she finished a formal homeschool career with high test scores, and played the violin beautifully.

Attractive, healthy, and bright, she entered college, and quickly became totally lost. Although academically well-prepared, she had no sense of personal identity or purpose. Offered a job in her preferred field, she couldn’t convert that opportunity into a career, because, although she had worked hard growing up under her parents supervision, she lacked the motivation to work diligently on her own. As her work performance flagged, she lost self-esteem. Her appearance suffered, and then she missed work. What might have been a leg up in her chosen field now became a disaster.

She’s a productive member of society, but instead of a fulfilling career in a field that matched her talents, she moves from one job to another at the lower rungs of employment. Several years later, she still doesn’t know what her life is about. In terms of strictly academic performance, Daisy is a star. Give her information to remember and reproduce on a test, and she shines. But so far, the sterner course of Life 101, gives her no better than a C+. She’s not pregnant, and not on drugs. Nor is she happy, or living up to her potential. If she were my child, I would not consider her education truly successful.

On the other hand, compared to many other young women in her generation, she is doing well. The parents worked hard, and were successful, at duplicating the school environment. She even scored well on standardized tests, often the state's preferred mode of measurement. But the really important things were missing.

One mother, highly competitive and quite certain of herself, though she had neither experience nor training as a teacher, discounted my approach. "We're not people who feel that as long as you get character right, academics don't matter." As though that were the choice. But experience repeatedly demonstrates that if you get character wrong, academics truly don't matter. Get character right, and you get all the academic achievement that child can produce.