Ari Armstrong, Education, Exclusives, Uncategorized

Armstrong: It’s parents who are most important for a child’s education

A great school teacher can play a pivotal role in a child’s life, inspiring someone to love a body of knowledge and pursue a career in science, the arts, journalism, or anther field. But no good teacher would deny the vital importance of parental involvement. Sure, my high school writing teacher spurred me to write my first serious paper, but my mom taught me to read and set me on the path to literacy.

Since my family made the conscious decision to homeschool in the Fall of 2019—coincidentally, just before the pandemic—we have learned that our child can excel academically without the help of a school-based teacher. Children can do without school teachers, especially at younger ages, and often do better. To succeed academically and more broadly, generally they cannot do without involved parents (and I mean the term broadly to encompass guardians), a child’s most important teachers.

Teachers actually are replaceable

Hence, I was surprised to read the following obviously false claim by Colorado Sun columnist Mario Nicolais: “As parents tried to create at-home learning environments, it became obvious that the special skill and experience of our teachers is critical to the learning achievement of our children. Most have spent years refining their classroom management expertise and tweaking curriculum. That turned out to be irreplaceable.”

This remark slights the thousands of Colorado families who successfully homeschool their children, who create vibrant “at-home learning environments,” who do without the alleged “special skill and experience” of school teachers just fine, thank you very much. For our family, school teachers were entirely replaceable, and our child is better off for us having replaced them.

Please distinguish what I am saying from what I am not saying. I am not saying that every family can easily quit traditional school in favor of homeschooling. Although I am aware of single parents who homeschool, obviously that is a lot harder to manage. When both parents of a two-parent household have very-demanding careers, they probably don’t have time to also homeschool. That’s fine. Perhaps what Nicolais meant is that, system wide, school teachers are not entirely replaceable; many families need to rely on them. That’s fair.

I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with school! Indeed, I toured and seriously considered several schools in my area before my family decided to homeschool. I was very impressed with some (but not all) of the teachers I met in those schools. Many school teachers are excellent, and teachers can become extremely important in a child’s education. I am simply saying that parents are radically more important and that, when families decide to homeschool, they don’t need school teachers at all.

I have heard some absolute horror stories about hybrid remote learning organized by public schools and run by teachers. That is not anything like typical homeschooling. So if your idea of homeschooling is that it’s like kids spending endless hours bored on disorganized Zoom calls and the like, please disabuse yourself of that notion. Homeschooling generally is not remote public schooling (although people use the term in different ways).

That said, I know a lot of homeschoolers who love remote classes through such platforms as Outschool. The difference is that parents and students choose their classes, and they can quit those classes if they’re not working well. So those classes tend to be fun and optimized for an online experience. And, in Colorado, some schools run (at taxpayer expense) one-day-per-week programs for homeschoolers. “Home” schooling often mixes in some teacher-led programs.

Teacher supplemented homeschooling

More generally, “homeschooling” is a misnomer in that often much of it takes place out of the home. That’s why I’ve previously suggested the term “world schooling” instead. All the time I hear homeschoolers ask about recommendations for classes (in person or remote) for music, foreign language, and so on. A great thing about “homeschooling” is that parents easily can supplement their own efforts with those of a wide variety of outside teachers, whether or not they are formally certified. Contrast this ability to choose teachers “a la carte” with getting stuck with a public-school teacher who does not mesh well with your child.

Nicolais is particularly concerned with “struggling” students. The right teacher can help such students enormously. So can targeted parental involvement. When my child needed help with reading, I boosted our phonics work. One book I purchased that worked well for us is “The Reading Lesson” by Michael Levin and Charan Langton. A nice thing about homeschooling is that families can try out different materials until they hit on what works for them. I was pleased when our child started picking books off the shelf to read to himself for fun.

Obviously in the case of learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, many parents will need outside help. Some families homeschool specifically because their special-needs children were not getting the help they needed in public schools. Again, homeschooling does not mean parents have to always go it alone; it means they have the freedom to seek out others best suited to help their particular children.

Nicolais takes the generally lousy late-pandemic test scores as proof that teachers are “irreplaceable.” I take a rather different lesson. Even before the pandemic, test scores showed that Colorado’s public schools failed many children. Whether we look at the 2019 or the 2022 results for English and math from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS), for not a single grade did most students “meet or exceed expectations.” In other words, scores mostly went from bad to worse—and at extraordinary expense to taxpayers. Results vary widely by school, and some schools did quite well, as you can see if you pull up the state’s huge detailed spreadsheet.

Standardized tests reveal only a slice of the picture, to be sure. For my family, homeschooling has let us balance focused academics with long hours of creative free play with friends.

Many children are blessed to have great school teachers. For my family, though, life outside of the public school system is even better.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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