Homeschooling for continuity

Homeschooling for continuity

During a servicemember’s career, transfers between duty stations interfere in the schooling of his or her children if they are enrolled in public or private schools.  With home education, the children’s schooling is usually upset less by PCSes.  Although the total learning environment of homeschooled children changes after a PCS, just as it does for children enrolled in schools – the house is different, local ‘attractions’ change, the children are the new kids on the block – homeschooled children can pick up their studies more quickly than their schooled neighbors by continuing with their familiar books and methods of instruction.

‘Supporting children,’ in contrast to ‘Get used to it’

In the contexts of PCSing and schooling, military parents thinking about homeschooling may want to consider the different effects of continuing with the lessons the children already started, compared to the value of overcoming adversity.  Is it more important for children to have a stable learning continuum, or is the adjustment to a new learning environment the more part of coping with change?

Among the many outlooks that parents hold while their children are growing up may be either the choice of working to limit the stress of negative experiences, or the viewpoint that coddling children is counter-productive.  Some parents may work to minimize the ‘nails in the fence’[1] of childhood, while others believe that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

Years ago, I was in a passing-the-time kind of conversation that illustrates the difference of opinion.  When my children were infants and I changed their diapers on cold days, I’d sandwich a wet diaper wipe between my hands for a few moments to try to take away some of the room-temperature wet-chill before laying the wipe on the skin that was so recently damply warm under layers of diaper.  To me it was a kindness because I would not have enjoyed regular chillings.  Do unto others, and all that, although I did not formally state that during the mom-talk.  In the normal give and take of conversations, one of the other mothers replied, “I just slapped on the wipe.  Life’s tough, kid.  Get used to it.”  The mother was a nurse.  Her comment made me glad she had never been my nurse.

Military children and school adjustment

Children who move from school to school have the senior level ‘life’s tough’ lesson included in their unofficial course of study.  This applies whether the children’s parents are military, corporate, or just stricken with wanderlust.  Change is change regardless of why the change happens.

When I was in seventh grade, my Air Force dad transferred overseas, and the family went with him. My science class changed from featuring astronomy to a science class about vitamins.  Both subjects include interesting names – Betelgeuse and beri beri – but they hardly have much in common, other than both apparently being suitable for teaching to seventh graders.  I had to try to play catch-up in order to write a report on vitamins that the teacher had assigned to my new class.  Although the report was not a major trauma, maybe I earned a C on it?, the process did leave a recognizable memory with no warm or fuzzy overtones.  Time passed, I didn’t agonize about the report, about school, or about moving, but the experience roughly repeated itself three years later.  That time, my dad PCSed back to the States, and in my move from school to school, I found that writers of high school geometry texts did not all write the same way.  I went from a class using a book that had not yet presented theorems, to dropping into the middle a class whose students could already prove them.  I was lost. The rest of that year seemed to take longer than usual for me, and probably also for my geometry teacher.

The sum total of the geometry knowledge that stuck with me after the final exam is that, a triangle of three dots means “therefore,” and that A2 + B2 = C2.  The other important thing I learned from the vitamin episode is how to spell ‘pellagra.’  In personal comparative terms, geometry and vitamins are to PCSes, as dragons, and rain dripping off hoods, are to Bilbo, ponies and dwarves.

The Executive Summary of the 2001 Survey of Army Families IV[2] shows that these kinds of experiences still affect contemporary military children.

Q95. Spouses with high school-aged children who accompanied them on PCS moves reported their child(ren) experienced the following problems because of changing schools:

– Difficulty making social adjustments (make new friends, etc.) in the new school (44.0%)

– Timing of move had a negative effect on participation in school-sponsored activities  (29.1%)

– Fell behind in coursework because of moving (28.7%)

– Felt under-challenged because of quality of education at the new school (27.1%)

– Lost credit (no credit given) for a course completed (24.9%)

– Felt over-challenged because of quality of education at new school (17.1%)

– Lost credit because the course was not offered at the new school (and thus could not be completed) (15.1%)

This survey results show that, for some people, the effect of the ‘life’s tough, get used to it’ strategy can be setbacks that have a real effect other than just learning to cope.  Staying strong in the face of life’s problems can be admirable, but bouts of involuntary ‘catch up’ every two or three years can be trials for young people.

How does homeschooling smooth children’s paths?

Homeschooling is not a cure-all for the difficulties of PCSing with children.  The new kid situation attaches itself to a newcomer without regard to where, or even whether, you attend a group school, and homesickness may rise to the intensity of grief. Fitting in to a new community might go more smoothly if the new kid is not juggling neighborhood and school together, which might be why military parents often like moving over the summer.

For homeschooling families the benefits of homeschooling in relation to PCSing could be:

  • a flexible schedule for stopping or starting lessons so that the PCS interruption is not in the middle of a complicated piece of learning
  • less rush during travel in the hope of keeping ‘lost school days’ to a minimum
  • making the travel a part of the children’s studies with planned stops along the way (if Mom can get Dad to allow his foot to push on the brake pedal during the cross-country dash)
  • after they arrive at their new home, the children can keep learning the subjects ‘already in progress’ without the worry of missing an important part of the process
  • the children will keep learning using the methods and outlooks with which they are already familiar*

* Some education authorities are not in favor of homeschooling because of the lack they see in the variety of teachers and materials[3].  Even though learning about subjects from different viewpoints can broaden the mind, the time for changing viewpoints to show different perspectives is not in the middle of learning the first viewpoint.  I understand that the experts who object to homeschooling do not use moving from place to place as the way to provide the changes-in-viewpoint, but for military families the changes caused by moving are just part of the scenery that rolls by as one transfer succeeds another.  What can be helpful for some military children is more continuity in schooling to make up for the gaps caused by a nomadic type of life.

New cultures, new customs and new people broaden the minds of military children as they accompany their parents to various assignments, but children can miss important steps in learning if the family is dependent on schools with differing teaching schedules.  Homeschooling can minimize the gaps in learning caused by the differences in lesson schedules among the various school systems around the country and around the world.[4]


[1] “Nails in the fence” fable about anger, which can also apply to other psychic scars
http://www.google.com/search?q=%22nails+in+the+fence%22&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7TSHB_en

[2] Page 31, Survey of Army Families IV,
http://www.armymwr.com/corporate/docs/planning/SAFIVExecutiveSummary.pdf

[3] “Through the Lens of Homeschooling:  A Response to Michael Apple and Rob Reich,” 2004, Nicky Hardenbergh
http://otherwiseinstructed.com/docs/throughthelensSept2004.pdf

1st footnote:  Rob Reich’s article entitled “The Civic Perils of Homeschooling” (2002) contains his assertion that:  Customizing education may permit schooling to be tailored for each individual student, but total customization also threatens to insulate students from exposure to diverse ideas and people and thereby to shield them from the vibrancy of a pluralistic democracy. These risks are perhaps greatest for homeschoolers (p. 56)

[4] Identities Blur for ‘Third-Culture Kids,’ 9 May 2001, Darcia Harris Bowman, Education Week
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2001/05/09/34tck.h20.html

“Ms. Carmine said one teacher was concerned about Kent’s math skills, for example, because he was unfamiliar with feet, inches, and pounds. Kent had been taught the metric system.”

Copyright 2009 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and freely distributed as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

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