Thursday, February 20, 2014

Home Schooling

I've thought a lot about home schooling during my career as an educator, and as my wife and I talk about having kids at some point. One of the first times I considered it from a professional lens was when I was traveling in Kenya in 2007 and I stayed with a missionary family in Kisumu, a small city on Lake Victoria. They had two sons aged eight and ten, and while they had enrolled them in an international school, it struck me how richly educational the experience of just living in another country can be for young kids, provided they have adults in their lives who would support their inquiry of authentic questions that emerge from the experience of travel.

For anyone who knows the history of education, and who follows many of the trends that are popular today in education, the narrative of the "industrial model" of schooling should be very familiar. As we talk about the information age, flipped classrooms, mobile learning, personalized learning, and project based learning, parent choice and accountability, it surprises me that there is not more of a discussion of the right place for home schooling in the education of every child. I imagine that we could provide great value to every student if, as a system, we encouraged a certain kind of home schooling.

Take Logan Laplante, the 13-year old who gave the popular TED talk last year about "hack-schooling." Setting aside any analysis of the content of his talk and what his story suggests about privilege, his performance and skill is evidence of the incredible value that can be built in a nurturing environment where individualized attention supports interest-driven learning.

What kind of changes could we make to traditional schools to foster this level of passion, drive, and exceptional development for all kids? What do these kinds of results suggest should be the role of parents in supporting education when their kids are enrolled in a traditional school? When does it makes sense for a kid like Logan to go back to school? What's the right balance? 

As I wrote a year ago, I think we'll make a lot of progress in providing for all students when we figure out a new model of financing and school choice that prioritizes strong community schools and a competitive ecosystem of private providers of specialized services. Let's add to that recipe a clear and purposeful place for home schooling. Perhaps we budget for training parents to be the kind of coaches and teachers that the best home school parents are; perhaps our public school system should be equipped with social workers who are tasked with visiting homes and helping to set up libraries, work spaces and virtual learning environments. I like the idea of encouraging small collaborative learning groups among families, so that home schooling responsibilities could be shared by several working parents and kids could benefit from group learning. Finally, we might make some real progress in considering the questions of time in school alongside the notion of homeschooling. 

For those of us who are serious about learning and like to talk about what future school should look like, let's seriously open up the exploration to how learning time at home is utilized, whether it's a radical re-imagination, or it's just evenings, weekends, vacation breaks, and… snow days.

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