This past weekend, I spoke at the Home Educators of New Brunswick convention in Sussex, New Brunswick (Canada). It was an intimate, well-organized conference with many wonderful people. I spoke a total of five times, once on Friday night and four times on Saturday. Even though they are in another country, Canadians face many of the same problems with their education system that we in the U.S. face with ours. In fact, three of the talks I gave at this convention were “Canadian versions” of the talks I give here at home. They cover the same issues, but they use Canadian statistics rather than U.S. statistics. Nevertheless, the conclusions are very similar.
For example, one of my favorite talks is the one I give about homeschool graduates and what they are doing now. This link is the handout for the U.S. version of the talk, while this link is the one for the Canadian version. Even though the Canadian version contains only Canadian statistics and mostly the stories of individual Canadian homeschool graduates (with a few from the U.S. and New Zealand thrown in for good measure), you can see that the conclusions are really the same: Homeschool graduates are doing wonderfully well and are really making a difference in the world.
Of course, one of the great things about speaking at a convention in another country is that it gives you a chance to do a bit of sightseeing as well. My wife traveled up to New Brunswick after the conference was over, so she and I are traveling around enjoying the lovely countryside. The picture at the top of this post, for example, was taken at Hopewell Cape in the Bay of Fundy. I will write more about that in my next blog post.
As always, I was asked several wonderful questions after my talks and while I was in the exhibit hall.
After my talk on Homeschooling: The Solution to Our Education Problem, a mother asked me, “How late is too late for pulling a student from public school and homeschooling him?” I told her that as far as I’m concerned, it is never too late. When my wife and I adopted our daughter, she was in the middle of high school. We pulled her out of public school and started homeschooling her, and she flourished! She didn’t really want to be homeschooled, and she didn’t particularly enjoy it, but in every way, she was better off at home. Now that she is an adult, she agrees.
She had a lot of friends from school, and we took great pains to make sure she stayed connected with them. However, there were a lot of other teens at school who were definitely not her friends, and they were an emotional strain on her. After a few months of being removed from their negative influence, I saw a remarkable improvement in her self esteem. Of course, academics were where she made her biggest gains. Right before we started homeschooling her, she had taken the PSAT and had scored in the 30th percentile in math and the 70th percentile in English. When she took the ACT after being homeschooled, she was in the 70th percentile in math and the 90th percentile in English. More importantly, by the time she graduated from homeschool, she knew how to learn independently and how to seriously research an issue on her own. She had no idea how to do either of those things when we pulled her out of school.
After another one of my talks, a homeschooling father asked me where I thought online education fits into homeschooling. I told him that I thought online classes are a great opportunity – they allow your student to be judged academically by someone other than you. However, I don’t think they should constitute the majority of a student’s courses. If they do, you are simply bringing school home – you are not homeschooling. Homeschooling is about learning independently and strengthening family ties. A high school filled with online classes is not the best way to encourage that.
Also, I told him that contrary to what most people think, I believe online courses are best used in the student’s areas of strength, not the student’s areas of weakness. Most people think that since an online course makes a teacher available, it should be used for those areas in which the student struggles. I disagree. A good online course moves at a fast pace and covers a lot of ground. If the student struggles, he or she is likely to be left behind. It is best to allow the struggling student to choose his or her own pace.
Why have a student take an online class in an area of strength? Because it would be nice to get an independent evaluation of the student in such an area. You think the student is strong in that area, but what does someone else think? Also, good online courses are staffed with teachers who know the subject well. In his or her area of strength, a student will be best able to utilize that expertise, asking questions that go well beyond the material. Of course, every student is different, so the parents (with input from the student) are the ones who need to make the final call on how to utilize online courses in their specific situation.