Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Homeschooling #SOL17

Sunday one of those "genius" quizzes popped up on my Facebook feed. This one baited vulnerable members of the FB community by saying, "No American Has Ever Scored A 20/20 On This Quiz Without Cheating." A former student challenged this claim and indicated she learned the facts from the quiz her senior year in government, for which she thanked her teacher.

Curious, I opened the quiz and soon realized the questions posed represented basic information about American history; the quiz even included a question about Mike Pence, our vice president, and one about what we call the first ten amendments to the constitution--The Bill of Rights. A question about Abraham Lincoln claimed he "had great taste in hats." 

Clearly, this quiz is one of those click-bait things, but the responses of former students to it as well as the questions themselves prompted me to think about how and when I learned this basic factual information. Except for the question about Vice President Pence, I learned the history necessary for answering the questions long before my senior year in high school, which is when my former students take government. Indeed, much of what I know about U.S. History and our government I learned in my eighth grade U. S. History class. 

The rest, particularly the history of each state, I learned at home. But my "homeschooling" did not exist within the confines of a designated "classroom" in our house. Homeschooling as we think about it these days did not exist during my childhood. My homeschool classroom occupied a small area of the dining room floor beside an old bookshelf. That shelf housed several sets of specialized encyclopedias purchased by my father. 

We had a set of medical encyclopedias designed for home use. I imagine they function the way Web MD does now. I sat for hours reading them to see if I had an undiagnosed illness. Driven by middle-child-syndrome, I learned about the skeletal, circulatory, and muscular systems in my quest for a disease to match my symptoms. 

We also had a set of state encyclopedias. That's how I learned Hawaii was the last state admitted to the union, a question on the FB quiz. But I also studied the state flags, each state's journey to statehood, their manufacturing and agricultural makeup, and the state flowers, birds, and mottos by reading those colorful books. 

Similarly, I read the Bible Story Books, another set of encyclopedias on the shelf, and they helped me understand the KJV version of the bible, which has informed my reading of Shakespeare over the years. They also cemented my understanding of faith

Sometimes I read things my conservative father preferred I not know. Such is the case with an article in Life Magazine about tribes in South America or Africa. I fixated on the pictures of painted and naked bodies. I didn't try to hide my curiosity as I read my way through a cultural awakening, but my father became angry when he caught me with the magazine. 

One of the biggest struggles I face as an educator is the absence of homeschooling among my students, particularly those in my Communication 1101 and speech classes, both of which require knowledge of current events and government policies for successful completion of the class. Sadly, most students have little prior knowledge about issues that impact their lives. Simply, most don't read the world. They only read what school mandates. 

They lack the homeschooling experiences I had as a child. Homeschooling lays the foundation for knowledge acquisition. Without homeschooling, the kind that promotes curiosity reading, most students are adrift.  

I filled my homeschooling time reading, and I had a particular lust for historical and scientific knowledge during my elementary years. Moreover, my father insisted I listen to the news, so I knew about the Vietnam War while it was happening, which doesn't mean I understood all the political and cultural implications of it, only that I had a foundation of knowledge. These days parents shield their children form bad news in a misguided attempt to protect them. Consequently, many students lack sufficient coping skills for dealing with complicated personal and world problems.

It's this knowledge foundation that a recent article in The New York Times extols as vital to students' reading progress. Reading well extends beyond the mere decoding of words. Students' "factual knowledge" informs their reading comprehension. Surface knowledge is one thing, but filling in the gaps when reading complex information necessitates knowledge of subtext. As Daniel T. Willingham explains, we can't expect writers to include ALL information necessary for understanding a text: "That would make prose long and tedious for readers who know the information." 

We expect to struggle when reading obscure texts, such as some of Shakespeare's plays and his archaic allusions. This is why glossing matters. But we can't expect every news report or essay to include glosses. As a nation we need some cultural narratives that unite us. At one time our founding documents offered this glue, but many students have little knowledge of these until they take government their senior year, which explains why my former students thanked their government teacher for lessons about the basic knowledge they acquired their senior year.

My takeaway from both the NYT article and the FB quiz is this: What we learn at home, our homeschooling, either establishes a foundation of knowledge on which we build additional knowledge and understanding or puts us at a life-long disadvantage that effects our reading comprehension, and by extension, our ability to think critically, for much of our lives. 

Daniel T. Willingham claims we should "blame ignorance" for poor reading habits and says, "turning the tide will require profound changes in how reading is taught, in standardized testing, and in school curriculums." 

I contend the real change must occur in the home because even when parents aren't teaching their kids in a designated room with a canned curriculum offered through a homeschool consortium, each child gets homeschooled, and passing a Facebook quiz designed to bait those naive enough to think only geniuses score 20/20 won't stem the tide of ignorance or improve reading habits. Only the homeschooling filled with curiosity and books will do that.
It's Tuesday, and that means Slice of Life
Story Challenge w/ the team at Two Writing Teachers. 


  1. Your thoughts are on point. I remember having encyclopedias at my arm's reach and loving learning. I also see so many students working to get the grade, to finish the semester, and not focus on the lessons we learn as we achieve these finish lines. You've offered me a lot to ponder, and I thank you.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I hold parents and cultural priorities--misplaced priorities--for students' focus on grades over knowledge.

  2. I read the NYT article too. A client sent it. As I read your post I recalled how the Young People’s Science Encyclopedias were one of my favorite collections to read. I am recalling at least 20 volumes and I poured over them as a kid. I loved making the experiments. Reading was common in my home and I learned to read easily. I think the ease with which we learn how to read often shapes reading habits.