Friday, January 20, 2006

Mr. Smucker Posts

I, Paul have been coerced into writing my first blog post. Please forgive me if you are one of my wife’s faithful readers and you find my post boring compared to hers.

The subject of teaching our children from a Christian perspective has always been close to my heart. I spent the first 8 years of my schooling in public schools, and my high school years in a Christian school. My four years of college were in a Christian college. I have taught 11 years in an individualized setting and 4 years in a classroom setting. I am currently in my seventh year as principal and part time teacher in an individualized setting. We have homeschooled all our children for first grade and one of our children for the seventh grade.

With this experience in mind, along with a lot of observation, let me make some statements about the three different types of Christian education: home, individualized, and classroom. Please realize that these are general statements. To every statement there are exceptions, both on the pro side and on the con side.

Under the complete control of the parents. The parents are able to tailor an education that is best for their child
Usually the least expensive
Gets parents the most involved

Works best for small schools
Gives children the opportunity to work at level and speed that fits them
Makes easy allowance for children of different skills and placement
Provides a good setting for children to interact across a broader range of ages

Children learn to be taught
Discussions and group leaning can be utilized
Teachers have a better opportunity to pass the knowledge they have in certain subject areas
Teachers can supplement and tailor classes to the students they have

Some home schooled children have socialization difficulties
Some home schooled children suffer academically
Sometimes the focus is on having school because the state requires it rather than for the sake of learning

The curriculum tends to be the focus and if the curriculum is lacking it takes a lot of effort to overcome it.
The student’s focus can become just completing the work and passing the test rather than learning the material
Listening, note-taking, and writing skills are all areas of weakness

Some students can just float along and get lost in the crowd
Slower students slow down the whole class
Faster students can get bored

I will stop with these pros and cons and make some more statements in general

Of the three, all can be wonderful or good or okay or poor or terrible. I don’t believe any is ordained by God as the best or the only. What makes a certain type of education wonderful is not the method, but the people who put it into practice. Some parents make wonderful home school parents. Some do very poorly. Some individualized teachers are wonderful, some are only mediocre.

The individualized schooling has suffered from the misconception that the teachers do not need to be very knowledgeable because the curriculum does the teaching. That is true to a certain degree, but I have encountered students who have one year really struggled with a subject, but the next year when they have a teacher who is competent in that subject have suddenly become proficient in that subject.

In recent years is seems many individualized schools have been changing to classroom. To me it seems they hope that changing systems will somehow let them overcome the problems their school has which are deeper than the type of teaching method used.

Some parents use Christian school as a way to absolve themselves of their teaching responsibility to their children

Some parents use homeschooling as a way to keep an unwholesome control.

I admire parents who are willing to realize that for some of their children homeschooling is best, for some individualized is best and for some classroom is best.

I believe that about 95% of children can learn well in either homeschooling, individualized, or classroom. Some in this 95% will have their preferences on which would be best for them, but they can still learn well in any of the three settings. Of the other 5% because of their learning styles or emotional make up or any of a host of other reasons, one of the three is about the only way they can really learn.

The curriculum is important in the learning experience, but of far more importance is the teacher. It is sad to see schools who spend a lot of time and effort to get good curriculum, but little effort to have good teachers.

I have lots more I could say, but this is too long already.


  1. Very good post, Paul! Having spent one and a half years in public school, and the rest of my time in a mostly individualized church school, where quite a few homeschoolers would attend occasionally, I was identifying with a lot of what you said for all!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Well sumarized and outlined.

    I have been shocked at times when someone around me has seemed to look for or imply there is "THE school solution". It seems God did pretty well at scattering among us a variety of personalities, cultures, environments, seasons, lanuguages, etc... that it is a narrow mind indeed that assumes there is a BEST education system or method.

    Two areas that immediately come to mind which you did not mention in the list of issues, are Culture and The Goal of Education. Living in the Mid East, we see a vastly different value toward learning and a different goal of education. As americans, maybe we naturally assume a Greek educational system/value is normal. But it is not universal.

  3. A drawback of the Christian schools is that they usually aren't equipped to handle children with significant disabilities, particuularly cognitive ones.

  4. Children with cognitive disabilities require much more intensive interaction with their teachers. The teachers also require more training. Because of this Christian schools on a limited buget have not been able to do very much with children in this condition. Unfortunately that leaves home schooling as the only option outside of public schools


  5. When I said "unfortunately that leaves home schooling..." I meant that in the sense of the options are limited more, not in the sense that the option of homeschooling is an unfortunate option.


  6. What about the other things that are involved in schooling now? Is a chance that a lack of socialization might effect your child better or the fact that they may be educated in things you will not want your child to even think about at 5 or 7 years old in public school.
    I loved going to school! I was homeschooled for the most part and attended some small Christian schools on occasion when it was available to us. The only time I attended a public school was to learn how to drive. I could see from that short experience that if I wanted to keep my children taught the way I believe, I do not know how I can in that setting.
    So, I think there is another variable, the Christian one.

  7. I have been doing a lot of thinking about your post, partly because this issue has been on my mind a lot recently. I teach in an individualized school. My husband and I have both taught in a conventional school. I love my students, and the parents are very supportive, but I am struggling with the curriculum. It is so based on getting through the material to earn privileges, honor roll etc. If I try to enhance what they are learning, I simply put them behind, so they won't have as much time to earn their privileges. On the other hand, we are so limited because of the size of our school. My daughter, who transferred from another school thinks it is too easy.

    Another can of worms, would be the theological perspective of the curriculum. We would all agree that it should be Bible-based. If our goal is to raise our children to be Christians in an anabaptist church, are we helping our objectives by the overt patriotism found in some of the curriculum choices out there.

    I guess your comments helped to balance me out a little. I was focusing on the disadvantages rather then the advantages of the curriculum.

    We are really trying to sort through all this--curriculum, homeschooling, etc. So it was great to hear your perspective.

  8. Whenever you see a weakness in the system you have (i.e. lack of socialization in homeschooling) it is your obligation to address that issue. Some home school families I have known have produced children who do well in social settings. Others have not. A lot of that is due to extra measures some parents took to place their homeschooled children in social situations.

    In an individualized setting there are the limitations to extras as mentioned by Dorcas. What to do? My suggestion is that you as the teacher have the opportunity to do extra things, but in doing them know how it affects their progress through the material. I have at times changed honor roll requirements for a student or two because they needed extra work in an area or sometihng else that took extra time, not giving them enough time to do the "requirements."
    YOu do have to be careful with changes to the system. The system works. But there are alternatives that also work. But, that being said, the majority of schools that change from the individualized to classroom do so because they have fallen into a pit of changes that have resulted in a school that no longer worked.

    What role should theology play? It is important. It should not be ignored. It should be considered carefully. There are some areas in social studies that I find other sources. There are some which I note to make sure I discuss with the student.

    In short, whatever your educational system, be aware of the drawbacks and work with them and around them and through them, don't ignore them, or let them be a heavy load.


  9. Many argue that socialization is a problem unique to everyone BUT homeschoolers. In the regular school setting children are playing and learning with kids in the same grade all day long. Real socialization comes about when children know how to get along with everyone. Homeschoolers by and large take great offense at the socialization issue.

    In many ways I can see what they're saying. Besides being socialized to play with only their peers the socialization at the public schools isnt really the kind of social life we want our kids to have anyway. To be socialized in the public school means you go with the flow. When my oldest daughter was in the fifth grade I wouldnt let her take sex ed. The school told me they feared for her socially and that the other kids would tease her and make fun of her. I stuck to my guns but I do think that we may be way off the mark when we say that one of the problems with homeschooling is socialization.

  10. A few questions: Why is it that I can pick out homeschoolers in a group of kids that I don't even know? They are the friendliest and interact the most!

    Why is it that more homeschoolers are winning the national contests? Why is it that colleges are actually seeking out homeschoolers?

    Actually most of the cons that you mentioned could be interchangeable in any of the three categories.


  11. I'm a homeschooling (home nuturing) Mom of 26 years sitting here with a big smile on my face. Let the criticism come. I love it!


  12. I realize that in actuality many of the pros and cons are interchangable, only in different issues. There is a big socializtion problem when children only interact with children of their own age. There are socialization problems in individualized schools where all grades are in one classroom. I will agree that some home school children are very friendly and have done amazing things academically. But I am still convinced that some home schooled children have a very poor educational experience. And I could say the same thing about both types of Christians school I mentioned. I could tell you my personal preference based on my personality and what I enjoy, but I won't. I would like to point out that several have come to the conclusion that I was somehow denigating homeschooling. I tried hard not too. But I do wonder why any discussion of the drawbacks of home school brings such a strong defensive reflex. I have known children who were homeschooled and have developed in wonderful men and women of God. But unfortunately just like other educational options that is not always the case.


  13. Could this be one answer to your question of why discussion of the drawbacks of homeschooling brings such a strong defensive reflex? A good majority of homeschoolers do so out of conviction, not convenience. Therefore they have something worth defending!

    But did you notice that the seasoned MLK not only welcomes but enjoys criticism?


  14. In response to Meri's comment--that may be the very reason that educators in a more conventional classroom tend to be a bit resistant to the homeschooling movement. Too many times, when I get a student in the classroom that has been homeschooled, they are way behind, and their study skills are atrocious. The fact that their parents felt so strongly they should homeschool, made them wait way toooooo long before they gave up and said they couldn't do this afterall. That is one of the sides we have seen.

    The goal for education is to prepare our children for life. How can we best do that with the resources that are available to us? When we feel so strongly that it can only be done one way, we limit ourselves to lots of options that may be better then what we see as the "perfect" option.

    That said, I have seen many people homeschool their children and have done it very well. I actually envy them. Maybe some day we will be able to do it as well. The time has not been right yet.

  15. I usually don't try to leave anonymous comments, unless I am trying to protect someone else. I thought I had signed my name to the last comment.

  16. I realize that some parents homeschool because they feel a conviction to do so. I have never felt that conviction for myself. I can only encourage parents who feel that conviction. In my experience, the majority of parents have homeschooled for things other than conviction. But even if a parent has a conviction to do a certain thing, that does not require them to defend their conviction and try to make others feel like they are not listening to God if they try any other kind of education. And even if they have a conviction to homeschool that does not free them from the responsibility to address the weakness of their system so their children do not bear the mark throughout there life which sadly has been the case for some homeschooled young people. I hope you are understanding I have no bone to pick with homeschooling. I think it is an excellent way to educate children if done properly. I have known homeschooled families that have excelled and were an example I want my family to strive for. But I have also known families who refused to even think that their program had problems and I know young people who are really struggling because of the education they did not have. Which leads me back to my original premise which is that there is no magic way of educating our children that is the only right way for everyone. Each way has its own difficulties and we must be aware of that fact and do what we can to address the difficulties as they arise.


  17. Actually, this was a pretty balanced perspective. I think one of the weaknesses of the homeschooling movement is the inability/ refusal of its leaders to be able to take constructive criticism and improve what they are doing.
    I think they feel like they are on the ropes all the time, in a defensive posture, and to admit a weakness would make them more vulnerable. Which may be the case.

    I am all for the freedom to homeschool. But I would like to see the leaders encourage more accountability within their own system.

  18. I concur with almost everything that's been said. I've taught in a conventional classroom; I've homeshooled through high school; right now I teach in an individualized high school and also teach some conventional classes there. My central tenet on educational approaches is that the Bible always gives to parents the directive to train children. Whether they do it themselves directly or delegate it to others who will do what they themselves may not be able to do (notice "able," not "willing")may rightly vary. But every educational approach suffers if there is a weak view of parental responsibility. Miriam Iwashige

  19. I'm reading this blog for the first time tonight after my sister, Dorcas Byler, gave me the address at Christmas. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Miriam Iwashige