Common Questions & Concerns
Steps to an optimum self-teaching home school
I urge every parent to:
a) Remove your child or children from their group school - public or private.
b) Set aside a room in your home with a large desk for each child.
c) Remove all television sets from your home.
d) Remove all sugar and honey from the children's diet. At all meals, provide them with an unlimited amount of the most nutritious food that you can prepare. Avoid, if possible, the boxed and canned substitutes for good nutrition that are widely available. Since many of these substitutes contain sugar, they will not be on your list anyway.
e) Purchase a complete set of the Saxon math series of texts and answers.
f) Obtain the best library you can of literature, history, and introductory science books.
g) Give the children a large breakfast (We eat only two meals each day.), and then consign them to five hours of work as described above - six days per week at least ten months per year.
h) If possible, do your own work in or near the room in which the children are working. Don't talk to them. Just set an example by working hard yourself. This is probably especially important if there are only one or two children in the home. With six children, our school room has internal peer examples of studying that surround each student.
i) After their five hours is complete (no breaks except for the bathroom), go on about your personal lives.
j) When the oldest child is 15, obtain a set of SAT exams at your local bookstore and have the child take one of these tests every three or four months. This introduces test taking. (You may have noticed that our curriculum includes no examinations or tests.)
k) When each child finishes calculus, continue on with a college level physics text and a college level chemistry text on the same schedule as with the Saxon math. Be sure that these texts include lots of problems and an answer book for self-grading.
l) Children who have not yet learned to read require a brief period of special instruction. They must be taught to read by means of phonics. There are several good phonics programs. These consist of various procedures for teaching the sounds of letters and letter combinations and for gradually combining these into words and sentences.
Phonics is Essential
It is absolutely essential that reading be taught by phonics and not by the so-called "look-say" methods currently in vogue in the public schools. If the child is not taught to read correctly, then the entire school program which follows will be so difficult that the child will have a very great disadvantage.
This phonics instruction does require interaction with an instructor for a few weeks. The instructor can be a parent, an older brother or sister, or a hired teacher. After the child can read, then he or she should be encouraged to read several hours each day in books of gradually increasing difficulty in order to build reading skills and confidence. With no TV in the home, this reading will probably be spontaneous as it is in our home.
Without good reading skills, self-instruction is not possible. Moreover, progress in any educational pursuits will be very difficult.
1. Why not just regulate the TV?
Some questions that may be asked about this self-education procedure are:
1. Why not just regulate TV? After all, there are some good programs on TV, and it serves as a convenient babysitter for the toddlers. Moreover, the parents like to watch the evening news and occasional "specials."
a) Children learn by example. If you watch TV, then they will watch TV.
b) Children easily learn well reasoned and truthful absolutes. If TV is mentally harmful, then it is harmful and should be avoided always. How can it be harmful sometimes and not others? Why is it not good for the older children but all right for the younger children?
Children also easily understand that they are different from adults. While sugar and television are not good for adults, moderate amounts of these vices can be considerably less harmful to adults than to children in their formative years.
During a period of rapid brain development and general metabolic development and during a period when the brain is learning fundamental abilities, the diminution of its capabilities through TV and sugar is especially damaging.
c) TV is a passive medium that promotes a vicarious, non-interactive mental attitude. Nothing could be more destructive to the mental process that is required for academic achievement in a home school. The mind is awake and working 24 hours per day. Why spend part of the day teaching the brain good habits and then part of the day teaching it bad habits?
In a home with no TV, the effects of TV are especially easy to observe. Yesterday, for example, our family was visited by a large home school family that lives nearby and also has no TV. A previous visitor had given the children a Laurel and Hardy comedy video tape that they had not yet watched. (As I mentioned, our civil defense project was given a VCR and an old viewing screen with which we watch a video tape once every few months.)
All afternoon and into the evening our home was vibrating with dozens of games, piano playing, competitions, and conversations. The children were excitedly engaged in virtually everything including preparing dinner and doing the evening farm chores. Their brains were receiving exactly the sort of active recreation necessary to reinforce their academic studies.
Then Matthew, our five-year-old, remembered the video tape. He lobbied with everyone for viewing the tape. Finally, enough people succumbed that we turned on the tape. The party, of course, immediately died. No more active interaction - only passive laughing at the screen. Moreover, as Laurel and Hardy went through one of their routines, there was a short segment of can-can dancers that, while ridiculously prudish by 1990's standards, obviously made the mother of the visitors nervous and definitely should not have been shown to the kids.
Most American children are addicted to TV. Their brains spend four hours or more each day learning bad, passive habits from the TV and another few hours (if they are fortunate to have good activities,too) unlearning the bad habits. Then, if there are any hours left, they can make positive progress.
Moreover, when TV is used as a tranquilizer, it can mask other problems that should be solved early in life. Children need to work out the ways in which they interact with other people. Even though their behavior while doing so may be more distracting than their behavior when pacified by a television set, the TV may be retarding this aspect of development which is then undesirably transferred to the classroom instead.
A developing mind deserves the very best possible environment that can be provided to it. Since TV is a negative influence on that environment, no home with children under the age of 18 should have a television set.
d) If there is no TV in the home, it will not be missed and a discipline problem will not arise over its use.
2. Cutting out sugar seems impossible.
2. Cutting out sugar is almost impossible. Why can't we regulate that, too?
a) Sugar, especially when consumed by children with developing minds and bodies, has several deleterious effects - the least of which is tooth decay.
Sugar alters the metabolism in such a way as to increase the probability of diabetes, hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, and immune deficiencies that can lead to cancer and other fatal illnesses at a later age. Most importantly to a home school, sugar diminishes mental function and increases irritability and mental instability. Most children are able to learn regardless of these effects, but why burden them with this disadvantage?
These points about sugar have been expanded upon in several texts that may be available in your library. I recommend the books: Sweet and Dangerous by John Yudkin, Peter D. Wyden, Inc., 750 Third Ave, New York, NY 10017 (1972); Sugar Blues by William Dufty, Chilton Book Company, Radnor, PA (1975); and Food, Teens & Behavior by Barbara Reed, Natural Press, PO Box 2107, Manitowoc, WI (1983). These books contain a substantial number of appropriate references to the scientific literature.
b) Moreover, how are you going to teach the child that sugar is bad for him on some occasions and not on others?
This argument may sound good to a parent who wants to rationalize his or her own sugar addiction or who cannot face the possibility that past gifts of sugar to children may not have been wise, but it is unlikely to fool the kids.
c) Remember that we are not talking about naturally occurring amounts of sugar such as those present in fruits, vegetables, and virtually all foods.
In fact, if the children do not eat sugar, their taste receptors will adapt until they find the natural sweetness of food to be just as pleasurable as do the jaded taste receptors of a sugar addict when eating candy or honey.
Joshua (our 11 year old cook) makes his whole wheat bread from flour that he grinds from whole wheat kernels. He makes it entirely without sugar or other sweeteners. He does occasionally add some raisins. Even if, however, he adds no raisins or other fruits, his bread tastes sweet to us.
The problem with sugar is not that it is "refined" or in some other way an unnatural product. The problem is that modern technology has made it inexpensively available in enormous amounts.
The average American child gets about 20% of his or her calories from sugar - a feat that was almost impossible until the advent of modern technology. Honey and molasses are just as harmful as refined sugar, since they are just alternate ways of eating much larger amounts of sugar than human metabolisms and minds were designed to encounter.
Sugar is entirely a natural product. When it is consumed only in the process of eating whole foods in their natural state, it is difficult to overdose. When it is concentrated by refining or when certain whole foods that contain huge amounts are eaten (such as honey or large amounts of concentrated orange juice or grape juice), it is possible to overdose.
3. I don't want my children to appear "different"
3. I don't want my children to be embarrassed by appearing "different" to other children who do eat candy and watch television.
a) On the contrary, we want our children not only to "appear" different but also to "be" different. The TV and cookie rules are a good place to reinforce this.
When you go out to a restaurant to eat, do you offer a prayer before that meal? Although Jesus clearly warned against prayer in public places for the purpose of pious appearance and approbation, we certainly should not avoid prayer because others are present. Moreover, a discreet prayer followed by a family dinner including quiet and well-behaved children (more likely if they are sugar-free) is a Christian testimony in public. In this event, the children do appear "different."
We want our children to be different. We want them to be different spiritually, academically, socially, mentally and physically from the norms that are currently established in the secular world.
We want them to know that their way is superior to the current way of the world.
The ban on sugar and TV is not only good for the children, it is also a good way of teaching them the virtues of their "differences."
This past Friday, 16-year-old Zachary took a practice SAT test here at home [1994 - Ed.]. His score was 800 (a perfect score) in math and 775 in verbal. While he is unlikely to do that well under the pressures of an actual exam in a room full of public school kids, I complemented him greatly - precisely because this was the most "different" score that he has achieved.
Should I have rather said, "Zachary you will need to miss a few more problems, so that you will not appear different." Or should I let him watch a little selective TV and munch a couple of candy bars before his next exam to make sure that his score is more "normal?"
4. I want to interact with the children in their studies.
4. I want to interact with the children in their studies. Perhaps they could learn alone if their parent could not spare time for them, but I am sure they will be better off with my help. Moreover this is "quality" time that we spend together.
It is hard to imagine a Christian home, with children present 24 hours per day and no time sinks such as television, where there is not as much or more quality child-adult interaction than the family members want or need. This interaction is an important part of learning. Books are certainly not the sole source of knowledge.
That brain must learn by itself, function by itself, have confidence in itself, and achieve by itself.
However, just as you cannot insert a calculator into a child's brain so that he or she can think quantitatively, you cannot insert yourself into the child's brain as a life-long crutch. That brain must learn by itself, function by itself, have confidence in itself alone, and achieve by itself. You will not always be there to help with the academic answers. Also, if the child learns to depend upon you as a social and spiritual protective peer group, whom will he choose for that purpose when he enters the secular world? The possibilities in today's world are chilling indeed.
If a child receives too much individual attention, he can develop a dependency upon his teacher that is difficult to break. In this case, it is necessary to just let the child spend many unhappy hours alone at his desk. In time he will gradually start to work effectively on his own.
This may seem harsh and unfeeling to say, but you may well be harming a child when you go out of your way to help him with his studies, reward him with candy and TV, and build his self-esteem by not punishing him for misbehavior.
5. My child does not enjoy math and science.
5. My child is not likely to go into science or engineering, so he will not require a lot of mathematics. He does not enjoy math and science.
Our society is now entirely based upon the products of science and engineering. An individual who lacks an understanding of these disciplines is dependent upon those who do. Moreover, at the precollege level, these disciplines are the best way to learn logic and honest thought. An individual who cannot appreciate truth and logical deduction on the basis of first-hand experience is likely to become a drone who can do little else than parrot the statements of those around him. If math and science are learned correctly, they are enjoyable to most people. If they are not learned or are learned incorrectly, then they are not enjoyable.
6. My child is already partly through public schools
6. This all sounds utopian, but what about my child who is already partly through the public schools and needs remedial help? He cannot work on his own and is unwilling to learn in a rigorous environment. I must give him a simplified math program and things that "interest" him to do.
We must never become our children's worst enemy by catering to their problems.
I have never forgotten an experience that I had at the University of California at San Diego, UCSD, concerning the teaching of so-called "disadvantaged" minority students. At the time I was teaching introductory chemistry to a class of 300 first year students. I had selected the best text I could find - one which, if mastered by the student, gave an excellent and complete knowledge of all aspects of this subject. While there had been some complaints that the text was too difficult, the senior faculty had encouraged me to proceed without watering down the course.
One evening I was eating dinner with some graduate students at a restaurant in La Jolla when the door opened and a tough-looking character in a black leather jacket sauntered in and looked critically about the room. Much to my astonishment this fellow walked straight to our table and pulled up a chair. He knew the graduate students. He was a faculty member in the new college for minority students that had recently been formed at UCSD.
This unlikely successor to the traditions of Booker T. Washington then proceeded to treat us to a non-stop "black power" and "third world" extravaganza of rhetoric that left even the students a little restive in their chairs. As you might imagine, I was very quiet.
Finally, however, the discussion turned to academics and I ventured a comment. I stated that I made no distinctions between students in my chemistry course on any basis. I believed that every student must master the same material, so that he would be properly prepared in the subject. If the student, for any reason, was unable to master the material, the student should know that he had failed to do so. The course was always there for a second try.
At this point our new arrival (who was so different from me in every way) turned to me and said, "That's right! I am tutoring two students who are taking your course. It's a tough course, but you are right. Our worst enemies are these white liberal professors that teach watered down courses to our people and turn them into permanent second class citizens."
I doubt that any professor holding to my attitude (or perhaps even to his) would survive long in the academic world of today. In our home schools, however, this must be the way. We must never become our children's worst enemy by catering to their problems.
A public school student, who encounters a high quality, self-teaching home school curriculum for the first time, may sit for weeks staring at material that he or she is convinced is impossible or unreasonable. Let the student sit there. Eventually he will respond. If he does not, then at least you showed him the way to excellence - rather than showing him the way to mediocrity while dishonestly fooling him into thinking otherwise for the transient benefits of false hope and domestic tranquility.