Monday, November 16, 2009

The Attentive Parent, and Homeschooling

In my Love Homeschooling list I mentioned "family closeness" as one of the Big Things that you sometimes forget you're enjoying when you hit the tougher homeschooling seasons. So it was timely to find this post on homeschooling and intimacy from Homeschooling Research Notes. The whole thing is well worth reading (and the whole blog is interesting) but I thought I would clip out a few of the main points about homeschooling in relation to other kinds of schooling.

Intimacy is a very important aspect of healthy human relationships, especially parent-child relationships. Intimate relationships are relationships characterized by affection, mutual knowledge, shared experiences, open communication, and trust. People who don’t have relationships like this tend toward “loneliness, increased stress and accelerated physical deterioration.” (p.366). But people who do have intimate relationships flourish, especially children, who feel secure and enjoy healthy social development.

Now this sort of parent-child relationship assumes knowledge of what is good for the child. Intimate relationships will be motivated by concern for the child’s well being, not by “unrestrained parental prerogatives or authoritarian parental control.” (367)

The main thesis of this paper, then, is that homeschooling tends to be a tool that will help foster just this sort of intimacy if the proper conditions are met. One condition is that the parent is the right sort of parent.

The study mentions five qualities of the "attentive parent" that, the writers argue, can contribute to making homeschooling a success.

1. Sensitivity to a child’s abilities, knowledge, beliefs, moods, etc., and a willingness to adapt parental expectations to these things.

2. Warmth, affection, and humor.

3. Clear articulation of parental expectations and justification of them so kids understand the rules and can apply them to novel situations.

4. Sincerity (by which they mean that parents don’t make kids do stuff they won’t do themselves–they’re not hypocrites).

5. Talent for helping kids think through their actions so they can learn how to make decisions and reason through the likely consequences of their actions.

Why do schools tend to detract from this intimacy?

Three ways: Failure, bullying, and risk-taking behaviors. In school a student may suffer a psychically damaging failure, be it academic, athletic, social, or whatever. While this could become a positive growing experience, often it leads to a child withdrawing inward in a downward spiral that isolates him or her from the parents who aren’t privy to what has gone on in school.

So with bullying. Merry and Howell cite empirical literature that “clearly indicates that bullying and harassment are widespread in public schools.” (371) Again, such experiences can lead to withdrawal in children and a downward spiral that decreases familial intimacy.

Finally, the peer setting of public schools can often tempt children into unhealthy behaviors like drug and alcohol use, early sexual activity, and so on that again drive a wedge between parent and child and lead to a downward “cycle of depression, failure, and hopelessness.” (372)

The article goes on:

But wait! Aren’t there good things about schools that may trump this good of parent-child intimacy? There are. The authors mention three. At least in theory, public education may foster

1. critical thinking and autonomy in kids,
2. equality of educational opportunity, and
3. public goods such as tolerance and mutual respect of people who are different.

However, in actual fact many schools do not do this as well as many homeschools may. It seems to me that attentive parenting would quite easily lend itself to fostering critical thinking, tolerance, respect and things of that kind. I don't see why not, anyway. (and I just found this post --- Acceptance is Not Taught in School -- that makes the point well)

It's also true that many kids go through school without experiencing the bitterness of failure, bullying or risk-taking behavior. I hope so, at least! I think probably kids have more chance of being successful in school when the home environment is reasonably attentive.

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