Purpose of education II

Recently, I read a book on writing fiction just after watching curriculum discussions on an email list.  As I read the author’s opinion on plotting, I made a connection to curriculum and to “education” in general: “You can package plot any number of ways, and the way you package it decides what number [of plots] you’ll end up with.  There is no magic number, one or one million.  … any enterprising person can find more, or find another way to package the concept and come out with a different number.”

That’s what I’ve been seeing on those email lists, I thought, a million ways of packaging.

No matter where we go, “education” is on people’s minds. You can’t get away from it. New homeschooling parents work to find the “best” program, while veteran homeschooling parents assemble next year’s schedule. Seriously-independent homeschooling parents keep a weather eye on government plans for “core” standards, while newspaper reporters and columnists write about test scores and their meaning, and the mystery of mastery.  We hear about meeting benchmarks, raising bars, and holding students and teachers accountable as politicians make their fingers wag.

But, in all those educational haystacks where is the needle we all worry about?  In my light-bulb moment while reading about plot, I scribbled a list of what I think “education” means in relation to teaching children.

Read full article here.

Copyright 2010, Valerie Bonham Moon


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

[2] Page 31, Survey of Army Families IV,

[3] “Through the Lens of Homeschooling:  A Response to Michael Apple and Rob Reich,” 2004, Nicky Hardenbergh

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

“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.

A risk/benefit chart

In making your decision as to whether or not to homeschool, a simple risk/benefit chart is one way to find out what you want to do. The chart will reflect the items you feel are important or unimportant, and the value you assign to the items will be the relative values you choose.

On a blank sheet of paper make a line down the middle. On one side label the top ‘Benefits of Public School.’ Label the other side ‘Drawbacks of Public School.’ On another sheet make the same layout but change the labels to the benefits and drawbacks of homeschooling. Now write in what you think and give a value to each entry on a scale of 1—10 or 1—100, whichever feels as if it would give you a more accurate picture.

Examples of items for each list:

Benefits of public schooling

  • easy
  • you’ve already paid for it
  • someone else thinks it up
  • comprehensive
  • possibility of good teachers
  • recognized by military and colleges
  • sports teams
  • source of friends for children

Drawbacks of public schooling

  • peer pressure
  • instruction isn’t individualized
  • possibility of poor teachers
  • bullying
  • gangs
  • drugs
  • cliques
  • disagreement with curriculum

Benefits of homeschooling

  • Family has choice of mode of instruction
  • choice of materials
  • child doesn’t have to ride bus
  • no violence
  • no daily rush
  • less cultural pollution affecting family
  • increased use of family library
  • integration of family vacations into learning

Drawbacks of homeschooling

  • Loss of mom’s daily freedom
  • give up job
  • cost (since public schooling taxes are still levied)
  • house doesn’t stay as clean
  • pets’ fur gets worn off from perpetual petting

Once you’ve entered all your pros and cons and you’ve valued them according to what is important to both mother and father, add each column and then compare the totals. Which category has the least ‘points?’ Which category has the most ‘points?’ Which category is overloaded with tens (important to you) or ones (ho-hum items)? Does your ‘inner voice’ agree with what the totals indicate?

This exercise will give you an idea of what you think and where your ideal education connects with your reality. From there you should find your path through the forest of ‘school trees’ is easier to find. The meadows and glens may take a little longer to discover, but the adventure should be worthwhile.


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

What are your expectations for your child?

Another question to ask yourself while making up your mind as to your preferred educational path is what do you expect your child to get out of schooling? Do you want academic excellence or academic freedom (not that the two are exclusive, by any means). Is the pursuit of a special interest or sport foremost? Do you want more time together as a family, or do you want to be able to take greater advantage of the military travel benefit? Because of bullying, or peer pressure to participate in dangerous activities, safety could be an issue.

It would be wrong to say that homeschooling ‘works’ because all children who were homeschooled by their parents attend college — they don’t. Not all children who were homeschooled start their own businesses. Not all children who were homeschooled travel the world. Not all children who were homeschooled marry and start families of their own. But children who were homeschooled by their parents have grown up to attend college, start businesses, travel the world, and have married and are now parents. Just like everyone else. Homeschooling is choose-able, do-able, and kids grow up just fine.


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

Does homeschooling really work?

If, by now, any people doubt that homeschooling is an effective means of educating people during childhood, then they haven’t been paying attention. The eldest son of David and Micki Colfax drew attention to the benefits of homeschooling by attending Harvard University in the early 1980s, causing headlines such as “Goat Boy Goes to Harvard.” Grant, the goat boy, was followed to Harvard by two of his younger brothers, Drew and Reed.1

Since then, homeschoolers have appeared as winners of national spelling and geographic bees. Alexandra Swann, who is now in the mortgage-loan business, earned her Master’s degree when she was sixteen.2 LeAnn Rimes is a popular singer. Jason Taylor is a defensive end for the Miami Dolphins. These gifted people have all benefited from the freedom of homeschooling.

But what about run-of-the-mill children? What about parents who aren’t certified teachers? What about parents who didn’t attend college? Don’t these conditions cause risky homeschooling situations? Are the parents jeopardizing their children’s futures by removing them from an environment developed, organized, and staffed by professional educators? How can ordinary people compete with a professional organization?

Every fall at the University of Iowa the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development conducts a talent search. Elementary students from around the country register to take the talent search test.

In 1998 Brian Sponcil, a network administrator with the Belin-Blank Center, was curious about one of the bubbles on the registration forms: the bubble in question asked if the child was homeschooled. Mr. Sponcil wanted to know how the homeschooled children fared compared to the other applicants. He found that,

“The EXPLORE tests scores for the home-schooled children are higher across-the-board than the test scores for private and public school students.3”

In the spring of 2001 he revisted the question of whether or not homeschooled children score well on their test4. They found the homeschoolers still outperformed the private and public school students.

Every day ordinary people homeschool their children and do it successfully. Patricia Lines, the Discovery Institute’s senior fellow who specializes in education concerns5, reports,

“Significantly, a handful of studies suggest that student achievement for homeschoolers has no relation to the educational attainment of the homeschooling parent. This is consistent with tutoring studies that indicate that the education level of a tutor has little to do with the achievement of the tutored child. One explanation might be that the advantages of one-to-one learning outweigh the advantages of professional training.”

Academically, homeschooling is a proven success.

But is this the whole story? Do all homeschooled children attend Harvard? Why don’t we see more chart-topping musicians who were homeschooled? Why aren’t major league sports teams inundated with players who were able to concentrate on their sport instead of diluting their time with other activities?

One answer to this questino could be that many homeschoolers have different objectives than public schoolers. Homeschooling parents may start out ‘schooling for success,’ but, during their homeschooling journey, the emphasis may shift from outcome to process. What began as a quest for ‘academic excellence’ turns into an appreciation of being together, sharing life, and developing deeper ties to each other than is commonly seen in contemporary families. What begins, perhaps, because of dissatisfaction with a teacher changes to an appreciation of how time spent together without competing requirements develops into an easy, warm friendship between parent and child. With friends one accepts them as they are and for who they are. Friendship does not have one party with an agenda out to mold and change the other. If the child does not have college as a goal, or fame and fortune, homeschooling parents often respect that choice. We aren’t all stage mothers.



1. David and Micki Colfax, Homeschooling for Excellence, 1988, Warner Books

2. Alexandra Swann, No Regrets, 1989, Cygnet Press

3. Brian Sponcil, “What a Difference a Bubble Makes,” Fall 1998, Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, University of Iowa

4. Brian Sponcil and Damien Ihrig, Home-Schooling: Research Revisited, Spring
2001, Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, University of Iowa

5. Patricia Lines


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

Is survival enough?

Another insidious doubt that screws itself into your mind may be that you attended public school and you survived so how bad can it be. Right? But is ‘survival’ what you want for your children?

For some parents the answer is, “Yes.” They do believe that having to struggle and fight for a place in the sun makes their children strong, and that strength is needed in order to make their way in the world. Struggle may engender some strength, but what is lost while the child attempts to maintain an equilibrium in that kind of world?  While the child uses daily energy to stay afloat in a sea of peers and pedagogues, for some there is not an equal amount of energy left for building a secure, confident self.

This question of whether or not mass-schooling (whether it was public or private) is to be used or not may be a question that parents with college degrees don’t want to tackle. It is hard to question whether or not all your hard work was worth it or not. Is choosing homeschooling a repudiation of all those irretrievable, expensive years?

The ‘outputs’ of homeschooling (adults who were homeschooled as children) give some comfort when we ask ourselves hard questions about homeschooling our own children. These people have not only survived, but have thrived. They have gone on to college, are employed, are married, are raising children. Just like everyone else.

But if you are still considering the question of whether or not to homeschool the ‘quasi-answers’ so far may not be adequate. You may want a yes or no answer, not paragraph upon paragraph of weasel-words timidly couched in ‘may, would, might or could.’ Unfortunately, even staunch homeschool advocates can’t provide that answer. Still there are ways of narrowing the information field so that you can not only see the forest and the trees, but you can see the groves, clearings and meadows as well. Homeschooling works, just as well as everything else.


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

Homeschool, or not?

One way to approach making your decision as to whether or not to homeschool is to think about what you want to look back on when your kids are grown:

  • What are the memories you want to have?
  • What experiences do you want to have had?
  • What challenges do you want to have overcome?
  • What ‘mental furniture’ do you think would be useful to your child?

While it may be easy for you to think of what you, the parent, would like to look back on, the exercise will be a guess concerning your children.  It’s a guess that all parents make either purposefully or by default, because the time between birth and adulthood must be filled, and choices must be made.

While we were children none of us knew what our outlooks would be after we became adults. We all went through phases, we acquired and shed interests as snakes do their skins, and our parents may have tried to stay one jump ahead of us, just as we try with our own children.

It is very easy for a person with grown children to look back and say, “Don’t worry, just do your best.” Getting up every morning and facing those bright, shiny faces is a different story. What will be best for each and every little one?


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

What schooling is best for the children?

And what is best for children in terms of schooling? That depends on more things than can be addressed in one book. Schools across America do not have identical curriculums, neither public schools nor private schools. Schools in different countries around the world concern themselves with different areas of learning than their neighbors. There is no one set body of knowledge that people must learn as children so that they grow up to be successful adults. For that matter, there is no set definition of Success. What is engaging and rewarding for one person is torture to another.

Just for fun, my children and I once played a thought-game where we tried assigning the favorite activities of one child to another. The thought-experiment was a hilarious failure as the children got into the spirit of things and started thinking up things each one loved to do that they knew one of their siblings despised. This morphed into the game of “Would you rather . . .” with both of the two choices given being things the other player disliked.  Punking out of the game when faced with two dire choices is apparently against the house rules.

Since ‘best’ is impossible to determine, what’s a parent to do?

Do ‘good enough.’

By playing the ‘best’ game you may, at worst, push yourself into a corner you find it difficult to get out of.  At ‘best,’ you paralyze yourself and choose by not choosing. There is no way to make a choice, pursue that path, and then un-make the choice. It is true that a family can choose a different educational method each year but I don’t know many people who would think that is the ‘best’ way of raising a child, especially not in the military where there are already many changes that families must adjust to.

So what is part of a ‘good enough’ schooling choice?

  • No tears are shed by anyone. No one, parent or child, is hung out to dry.
  • There should be time for living in addition to the schooling. No one should have his or her life consumed by ‘school.’
  • There should be laughter and enjoyment. Hard work may be necessary at times, but hard work is not the end all and be all. Even though one might need to double-dig a garden plot, one still gets to smell the roses or eat the berries.
  • There should be joy in each other’s presence — you are happy you’re living the way you are, and you are grateful to the others for being in your life.
  • No regrets. You may not be doing Other Things but if you were doing Those things you wouldn’t be doing These things. No one can do everything, so do what you can and enjoy it.
  • Realize that nothing is perfect. No matter how hard you search you will never find a ‘perfect’ course of study. Enjoy what you have and don’t worry about what the Joneses are studying.
  • “He who dies with the most workbooks” isn’t a great goal.

Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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

Who is the decider?

For some parents the decision to homeschool is easy and is perhaps a choice made at or before the child’s birth. But for others it isn’t so simple. There may be concern about the wisdom of homeschooling, about the loss of social experiences, or about the lack of parental training to teach certain subjects. Parents may worry about ‘getting it all right.’ Parents may even disagree with each other about whether homeschooling is the right way to go about educating their children. Extended family members may express their opinions as well, and try to get one of the parents onto their ‘side.’ All of this may be done with one goal in mind, that which is best for the children.

So what is best? And who should make the decision?

The second question is easiest, the parents make the decision.

And what is best? That depends on more things than can be addressed in one book. Schools across America do not have identical curriculums, neither public schools nor private schools. Schools in different countries around the world concern themselves with different areas of learning than their neighbors. There is no one set body of knowledge that people must learn as children so that they grow up to be successful adults. For that matter, there is no set definition of Success. What is engaging and rewarding for one person is torture to another.


Copyright 2006, Valerie Bonham Moon

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