Thursday, August 28, 2014

Schooling: The Book Review

It's time for another book review! This time we're talking about two books and the different views of schooling they assert. If you've read my post To School or Unschool, you know that we here in the Henson household are going back and forth about how we're going to educate our kids.

I wanted to read Going Public because in the past couple of years I've heard about nothing but the dangers and inadequacies of the public school system from the Christian community.  My husband and I both attended public school and loved it. We both found that encountering a broad range of beliefs and opinions expanded our thinking and helped us to understand people who were different from us instead of stripping us of our faith.

The book was written by David and Kelli Pritchard who are parents to eight public school attending children and on staff with an organization called Younglife. I was attracted to this book because the authors are Christians, and they had positive things to say about their choice to enroll their children in the public school system.

I picked up The Year of Learning Dangerously while I was in the library with my kids after I'd finished reading Going Public. It follows a mother's decision to pull her child out of private school and try homeschooling for a year.

The author, Quinn Cumming, wrote the book as sort of a humorous memoir chronicling her decision and the aftermath. I was attracted to this book because it was written by a mother who pulled her child out of school for academic reasons.

Going Public

Going Public was a great read. I would recommend it to any parent regardless of their educational choices. The main thrust of the book is that public school can be an incredible training ground for your children IF will you take on the full responsibility of parenting by teaching and training them. The authors stress the fact that you shouldn't expect any school -- or any church for that matter -- to provide a complete education for your child.

Overall, the Pritchards have positive experiences with the school system, but they also encounter their fair share of trials. Real life can not always be customized to fit all your child's needs and strengths. The Pritchards choose to help their children navigate hardships and work through tough relationships in the hope that these experiences with bad teachers and bullies will help them one day deal with tough bosses and less than ideal life circumstances.

In all of these situations, the pressure of public-school life is not necessarily a bad thing. It can cause growth in us all. Both generations- parents and our children- can emerge stronger from the experience of wrestling with difficulties.

I appreciated that the authors did not suggest you send your children to public school in the hope that they would become some sort of 5 year old street preacher. They acknowledge that children are primarily in school to learn and to learn to love others without hidden agenda pushing.

The main job for a Christian child or teenager in public school is simply to be a good student, a good citizen, and a servant-leader- to model what Christianity actually is...we reinforce constantly to our kids that they need to deliver a basic level of performance that earns respect from both teachers and fellow students.

This is not to say that kids shouldn't open their mouths about their faith. The book is chock full of stories about how their family is able to love needy classmates, teachers, and parents that come across their paths and into their home.

The Pritchards did an excellent job of communicating the benefits of sending their children to public school without doing any homeschool bashing.

The Year of Learning Dangerously

Quinn Cummings, the book's author, has a daughter who is gifted in English, language, and history but averse to mathematics. Reading has always been easy for her; math is something that she has to work at, and she is not motivated. Cummings decides to home school when she realizes that her daughter's teachers are not able to properly motivate her to try in her math classes.

The book shows that homeschooling can be an intimidating but wonderful experience for both you and your child. The author is initially afraid to be with her child so many hours of the day: scared that she will somehow be known too much.

Throughout her first year as a homeschool mom, Cummings researches several different homeschooling philosophies. She attends two conferences: one aimed at Radical Unschoolers and a second for the Fundamental Christian crowd. She also explores classical education and online public school.

In the end, her daughter falls neatly into none of the above categories. That first year the author ends up teaching her daughter English and History, her partner tackles Science, and they hire tutors to cover Mathematics and French.

The main lesson I gleaned from reading about their adventures was that education is not one size fits all. Part of what it means to parent effectively is being willing to be flexible and figure out what your child needs in order to learn.

While I don't consider myself a Fundamentalist Christian, I did enjoy some of the observations she made at the conference. I think some of what she said could be applied to some of the Christian home school crowd I've encountered myself.

While taking a break at the conference she comments:
They were the reason homeschool even existed in the United States. In the early 1980's, a coalition of Christian conservatives started to lobby in each state for legislation that made homeschool legal in all fifty states, and by the middle of the 1990's they had succeeded. Yet they still didn't believe they had separated far enough from the tainted society they feared and so eagerly rejected... By the end of my first day as a pretend Fundamentalist, I realized that these people - burdened by the weight of their convictions not to mention their modest clothing- were even gloomier than I was.

Ouch! The Fundamentalist crowd was making their educational decisions based on fear of and despair about the world surrounding them.

At the end of the book, she writes a fascinating little assertion about the future of schooling. The school system is broken. With the new opportunities that technology has opened for us, she expects to see most kids engaging in some kind of hybrid between corporate schooling and virtual home studies-- making way for more flexible schedules and new learning environments.

What makes Cummings decide to continue homeschooling adventures beyond the initial test year is the effect homeschooling has had on their three person family unit. She loves the time she gets to spend with her daughter and the closeness that has become a distinctive of their family unit.

The Overlap
 There has never been a time when children could be successfully raised without sacrifice and discipline on the part of the parents. -- Elizabeth Eliot.

I'll admit it, I read these books in an attempt to make a more informed decision for my first born. After reading both books it struck me that there were several similarities. Both sets of parents care deeply for their children and make their schooling decisions not based on personal convenience, but on what they believe is best for their children.

I truly respect the thoughts and opinions of both these authors. It just goes to show you that there is no one size fits all solution for every child and every family.

Both families are tight-knit and actively involved in the educational process. Coming away from these readings, I am convinced that however we finally decide to school our babies we have to parent intentionally and trust the Lord with their little hearts and minds.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue of schooling your kids. Feel free to leave your comments below!