Today’s post is a guest post by my husband, Ben. He is sharing with us today about the different options in schooling (public, private, home) and his experiences with each. Here he is!
I’ve had the unique privilege of participating in all three major types of US primary schooling. At various points in my education, I attended private and public schools, as well as being homeschooled. Depending on the region, city, county, school district you live in, and income level of your family, your options and experience are going to be drastically different than mine; hopefully my story can at least open questions in your mind to help you choose the right path for your children.
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to evaluate every child separately. Each child is going to have their own learning process and based on their particular needs, they may require different teaching styles. Some children are analytical and learn by reading the material. Some are creative and are especially drawn to the arts. Some are hands-on and learn best by being in a “lab” environment. No matter what your child’s specific needs are, you can foster an educational experience that will help them reach their full potential.
Depending on your area, you could have excellent public school choices, or terrible ones. Unfortunately since public schools are funded via tax dollars, if you live in a more upscale neighborhood, you are much more likely to have better schools available. The area where Kate and I live has some of the best primary schools in the state (and some of the worst…). Hopefully you have quality options in your area.
No matter what the quality of the school is, you should consider the pros and cons depending on your child’s aptitude. For example, I was gifted in math and science; not surprisingly I am now a computer engineer. The public schools in my area were grossly under-equipped to handle any child outside of the “normal” range; exceptional or under par. The teacher needed to spend all of her time teaching to the 80% of the kids in the middle, while ignoring the child below and above normal. I spent most of my days reading at my desk since I finished before most of my classmates.
Public schools can especially have a lot of benefits for children who are gifted in sports. My best friend worked very hard in high school and got a full ride basketball scholarship to a local university, even though he wasn’t the best student. At the end of the day, if your child can get a free quality education because they excel at sports, they will have done well for themselves.
Arguably, private schools are almost always going to provide a better education experience than public schools. It’s simple math. If there is more money to pay for better teachers, books, and equipment; odds are the students are going to absorb the material better. That’s not to say that any private school will beat any public school bar none; the biggest factor is going to be the child’s desire to learn. In my case, I couldn’t get enough out of school. My two biggest pursuits outside of school were reading (mostly biographies, business, science, history) and tinkering with my computer (programming and repairing it).
Different private schools will focus on unique key areas of study. For example, there is a science academy near us that focuses on teaching children math and science disciplines. They still teach all the basic required for graduation, but put a focus on those two subjects. Others might focus on creative arts (we have arts schools locally too), or technical schools that focus on engineering and technology. If you live in an area that has these types of opportunities, and you can afford it, this might be a good option for your child.
The bulk of my primary schooling, I was taught at home by my mother, who had a teaching degree. While a teaching degree is certainly not required, it does help. The biggest benefit of homeschooling is that you can completely tailor the subject matter to your child’s interest and skills. If your sixth grader is at a fourth grade level in English, but an eighth grade level in Math, you can accommodate that. While is takes a lot of work to home school, I highly recommend it, because it can allow you to provide the best education for your child. How can I say that without reservation? Out of all the people in the world, who do you think cares most about your child? The government? Friends? Neighbors? The local school teacher? Or you and your spouse? You are going to go far beyond what anyone else can, because not only can you focus on just your child, instead of 30 children at once, you care more about them that anyone else will.
With our kids, Kate and I have decided to Unschool them. Unschooling is similar to homeschooling, in that both are parent driven at home, but differs in one key degree; unschooling is completely unstructured. Instead of having defined subject matter in textbooks, in unschooling you simply present real world material for your child to absorb if they are interested. For example, you take your child to the grocery store. You can explain how to count the cost of food, multiply that cost by the number of units you are purchasing, how to subtract coupons, or any number of mathematical principles. In my case, I was effectively unschooled in terms of computers. My parents provided me with my own at a very young age (12), books on programming and electronics, and helped me foster relationships with several older men who were electrical and computer engineers. While my primary education was important (in terms of knowing how to communicate through the written word, calculate and analyze numbers, etc…), in terms of my current job, nearly all the skills that I have were things I taught myself. Unschooling allows your child to focus on their passion (and any passion can become a career), instead of mind numbing repetition like, add together these 100 pairs of numbers so that you understand how to perform addition.
(Note from Kate: That unschooling is always completely ‘unstructured’ is a myth. You follow the child’s interests as the structure. If they want to do workbooks or flashcards, then you do it. But you don’t force these things on them if they do not learn well that way. Unschooling is really about following the child’s interests and learning styles more than adhering strictly to any philosophy or curriculum. Most homeschooling families probably do it to some extent, because they do tailor the experiences to their children’s needs.)
Our culture puts such a huge amount of pressure on children to be good at taking tests and doing well in school. Is that really what is important though? For example, I couldn’t repair a car to save my life. If your child tinkers with cars his whole life, attends a trade school to learn car repair after high school, and ends up to owning and operating run his own garage, is he a failure? According to The Millionaire Next Door, 90% of millionaires are first generation rich. That means that they didn’t inherit any money, but instead earned it all themselves. Furthermore, the vast majority of those millionaires gained wealth by having their own business, NOT by having a high earning degree like an MD or a law degree. Don’t pressure your child to get a degree just because it pays well. Studies have shown that men and women in careers that they are truly passionate about will nearly always earn more over their lifetimes, then people who have high paying jobs, but hate them. After all, do you think a lawyer would effectively argue his client’s case, and in turn earn his fee, if he hated his job? His lackluster attitude about his work will probably lead to losing a lot of cases, even if he is a smart individual. Whatever schooling choice you make for your child, the most important thing is that it is right for your child.
How do you school? What do you like and dislike about it?
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