LAST EDITED ON 11-16-04 AT 08:44 AM (EST)
You have posed some very thoughtful questions and I will attempt to answer them to the best of my ability. I appreciate your civil tone. Many people would have disagreed with me in a much less congenial manner.
As for the Reimers family, I think that what was portrayed of their actual life was so limited that we can't form a reasonable judgment about either the socialization of their kids or the curriculum they use. The manner in which the show was edited surely was meant to display only the most extreme examples of the issues that created the necessary friction to be 'good television'. I doubt that the more mundane aspects of either family's lives would be considered interesting enough to include in their one hour. After all, you have 10 days of film from two different families that must be condensed into something like 47 minutes of actual programming. So, while we have our opinions based on what we saw, we should keep in mind (me included) that we saw an extremely limited amount of real life from either of these families, and what we did see was edited to demonstrate the highest degree of dramatic tension.
Now, onto homeschooling (hs'ing). Since my children are still quite young, I haven't had the experience of hs'ing high school students. I do, however, know many families that are doing just that. Here is the way it tends to work with the families I know: throughout any given year most of the families I know use a hodgepodge of different types of curriculum. We spend a lot of time evaluating texts and curriculums in the hopes of finding programs that incorporate accommodating the needs of different learning styles and that will teach well-rounded general knowledge in each subject beyond the early basic 3 R's. Most families who have hs'ed for more than 3 or 4 years have been through a number of different types of curriculums, thus exposing their children to an array of different approaches to science, social studies, geography, history, etc. Some families use unit studies that take basic subjects and use them like the hub of a wheel where all different manner of subjects are linked like spokes from that hub. I am currently using a unit study that begins with teaching about Ancient Egypt and through that my kids will explore history, geography, language arts, spelling, word roots (Latin and Greek), etc. I have to add in math myself (which I am doing using a program which teaches math by association which includes by-rote practice, instead of by-rote practice alone - it is called Miquon). When we finish our unit studies on Egypt, Greece, and ancient cultures, we will move into a unit study of the New World (western civilization) and will continue to learn all the different subjects from that platform.
Some curriculums are more traditional, similar to what a child would get at school. But many children struggle with boredom and frustration with excessive workbook-type work. The goal most homeschooling families share it to teach a love of learning and a desire to learn and research. A quote I love is "Education isn't so much filling a bucket with facts as it is lighting a fire." We still have to make sure our children know basic skills, but the way we go about it gives us tremendous freedoms to choose methods and subjects that interest our children and give them the desire to do more!
As for high school, this is not something I can answer with authority. I do know that there are enrichment facilities (we go to one every Friday) where certain higher math courses are offered (along with science and computer labs). These are becoming more and more popular. Also, these days, many schools, including colleges, allow high school students to come in for some classes, such as chemistry and trigonometry, without them having to be fully enrolled. Many parents have worked together to trade off teaching subjects when you have a group that has one parent who can teach higher math and another who can teach more advanced literature. But often, by the time a hs'ing child reaches these levels she is able to utilize home-learning software and other programs designed for homeschoolers. There are books on the subject of hs'ing a high school student. And if you look into college acceptance rates and standardized test scores for graduating hs'ed students you will find that somehow they are managing to excel FAR ABOVE the average of children who have grown up in the public school systems.
I realize that it is hard to conceptualize. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to teach my children in the beginning. It is an enormous responsibility and there are still many people who have decided that it is foolish of a parent to assume she could teach her children better than a certified teacher. But once you take into account the disciplinary issues faced by teachers in public schools, the necessity to teach to the lowest common denominator in many districts, and the student-to-teacher ratio, you can begin to understand how even large families might have a more ideal learning situation than the average public school.
The elementary school a block from me has scored D's two years in a row, with less than 50% of their third grade students able to pass the reading portion of the state standardized test. My oldest son started first grade reading on a third grade level because his father and I read to him and worked with phonics. We weren't structured about it. We weren't trying to program him to be some super-educated freak of a child (have you ever seen the movie Parenthood?). We just read to him and he sponged it up. There are some perfectly wonderful public schools in this country. I just don't happen to live near any of them. So hs'ing is the best option for my kids. I also have a child with ADHD and I can let him work while he walks around b/c if he has to sit still he can't concentrate because the sitting still takes every ounce of his energy. It just turns out that I'm in a better position to teach my kids than my local public school is.
I've never known any hs'ing mother to feel like she couldn't teach anything other than maybe the higher maths and sciences. And there are a lot of resources to help parents who homeschool face those particular challenges. I happen to know of a science store that sells everything from microscopes to telescopes and every kind of science material in between. The man opened the store specifically to market to homeschooling families. In many hs’ing homes you walk in and it feels like a regular classroom in some ways – with maps on the walls, white boards, the American flag, and books everywhere.
I could go on and on and on about it. If you are interested in discussing it further with me, I would be happy to. I could even point you in the direction of some websites that might help you understand better how mere parents are managing to educate their children all the way through high school and turn out extremely competitive and highly motivated and mature young men and women.
You said that you feel like children are being shortchanged in the area of history and exposure to diversity. I think that classrooms themselves are to blame for the lack of actual understanding of history, geography, and cultural diversity. While they may see the faces of different races, come lunchtime the kids inevitably split off into groups, and rarely do races mix it up socially. The US can't stack up to children from other industrialized nations in the hard academic subjects. So I would hypothesize that it is the public schools that are failing to teach kids. If you test children who are homeschooled against children who grow up in public schools you will find that homeschooled children are MUCH more consistently above the 70th percentile in their understandings of hard academics. And lastly, among my park group there are a number of families that are transplants from other nations (Australia, Great Britain, Italy, many Latin American countries, etc.) who can’t abide the public school system in the US. They have told me that they can’t trust the public schools to teach their children basic skills. And when you look at the way the US stacks up internationally, you have to admit they’ve got valid concerns. Again, I’m not saying every single public school is bad and that if your child goes to public school they won’t learn. But it is becoming more and more difficult to get the kind of education parents want for their kids here. If people didn’t think public education systems were a mess the politicians wouldn’t be vowing to do something about it.
The socialization issue is one that every homeschooling parent has to run up against. There is a very ingrained opinion of most of society that children must spend 8 hours a day with other children their same age to be socialized properly. I have very strong opinions about this as a misconception, but this is already so long I fear its run folks off! So we can continue this in email is you're really interested in understanding more about why more and more families are choosing to homeschool their kids. There is SO MUCH more I’d like to tell you, but it just would take forever! So email me and we can talk more.