As a graduate of home education, I often get two common reactions when people learn that I was homeschooled through 12th grade. "Wow, I would have never guessed - you don't act like a homeschooler!" I believe this is meant to be a compliment on my social skills and fun, outgoing personality... I think. Or, "How you did learn advanced math and science at home?!"
Actually, yes; I stand before you as proof that calculus and chemistry can be successfully mastered without a full-fledged laboratory and a professor with a specialized degree. (While my AP test scores will prove this, please don’t ask me to solve any differential equations right now. It’s been 8 years and I’m a little rusty.)
So when I came across Quinn Cumming’s article in the Wall Street Journal about her experience home-schooling her daughter, I resonated with what she shared about the evolving nature of homeschooling. It is becoming a more widespread and respected form of education. There are countless resources and opportunities available to amplify home education curricula and extra-curricular activities.
And just because a child spends normal school hours at home does not mean that he or she is deprived of all opportunity for socialization with peers. Church activities, neighborhood playmates, and competition in sports leagues afforded lots of interaction with other kids. I turned out fine, and so did my brother. (That's him on the right at his high school graduation in 2007. He's now a 2nd Lieutenant serving in the U.S. Air Force. Please humor my proud-big-sister bragging indulgence!)
But, what stood out to me in Ms. Cumming’s article was the role that her husband played in the decision to homeschool their middle school daughter and in the day-to-day responsibility of educating her. Together, the couple reviewed a variety of educational programs for their daughter, and after settling on home-schooling, the father plays a continued role in teaching. Ms. Cummings admitted that math is not her forte, so her daughter takes an online math class “with great lashings of help from her father.”
As a homeschool graduate, I am familiar with “great lashings of help from dad,” administered graciously and patiently to me and my siblings. While Mom was heavily invested in hands-on teaching during elementary school, Dad always said that Mom was the teacher and he was the principal. That was code for “If you give Mom a hard time with school, you’ll have to answer to me.”
Then, as we advanced to the more challenging aspects of school, Dad became more involved. It wasn’t that Mom couldn’t handle the advanced subjects, but with seven children, she and Dad took a “divide and conquer” approach. Dad has been our math tutor, proofread our papers, and coached the sports teams we played on (our “P.E. credit”). When the time came to look for a different form of education for another younger brother to meet his unique needs, my dad played a leading role along with my mom in determining that public school was the best option for this particular sibling.
Research clearly shows that there’s a father factor in education. Children who grow up with involved fathers are more likely to get A’s, less likely to repeat a grade, and more likely to be read aloud to as a child. I appreciate the investment my Dad made in my education and that he continues to make with my younger siblings, regardless of the format of the education. He is genuinely committed to helping us achieve the potential he sees in us.
But perhaps the most poignant father factor in homeschooling that Ms. Cumming’s article pointed out was the importance of dads in socializing boys into men.
“Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.”
As my younger brother has begun attending public school and enjoyed increased socialization with his peers, the change in his behavior has me sharing this uncertainty Ms. Cummings expressed in the last sentence. Boys learn what it means to be a man not from their mothers, teachers, or buddies at school. They learn this from their dads.
Home education is certainly not the only way to socialize children into adults and to provide a robust education, and countless students of all types benefit from dads who invest in their education. For my family, I can attest to the benefits of having a principal / teacher / coach whose name is also Dad.
Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse a week ago. Despite the verdict, important questions should continue to be asked. Why didn’t the assistant football coaches do something? Why didn’t the school administration do something? But the biggest, most pointed question is, “How in the world was Sandusky able to prey on so many young boys for so long?”
From our perspective, Sandusky would not have been able to do what he did had he not had access to so many boys growing up in father-absent homes.
Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Inquirer brings up this point in her column, Sandusky case underscores importance of fathers. She asks, "What if so many of Sandusky's victims hadn't needed father figures in the first place?" She answers her own question: “This never would've happened.”
Sandusky intentionally surrounded himself with children from homes that didn’t have involved fathers by starting a foundation, The Second Mile, dedicated to helping boys from “disadvantaged” homes.
Polanecksky writes, “I'd bet my own dad's hypertension meds that Sandusky never would've groomed those Second Milers for sex had the children had active fathers whose wrath Sandusky might've feared.”
Of Sandusky's known victims, six had no father in their lives and three admitted to never having known their dads. On the witness stand, many of the boys said they thought of Sandusky as the father they'd never had.
One boy said, he (Sandusky) "treated me like a son in front of other people.” Another victim testified, "I looked at Jerry as kind of a father figure...I didn't want to lose somebody actually paying attention to me."
NFI understands children have an innate need for their fathers’ affirmation and attention. “Children have a hole in their soul the shape of their fathers,” says NFI President Roland Warren. And we know from decades of research that fathers matter. Whether a father is in the home and involved or not changes just about everything – for good or ill.
Sadly, folks like Sandusky know this and prey on children with absent fathers. Like drug dealers or gang leaders, they exploit what they recognize as a weakness or vulnerability in a child craving adult male attention.
To note, this is what DC sniper Lee Malvo said about how John Muhammad caught him up in his web: “Anything he asked me to do I'd do. He knew I didn't have a father. He knew my weaknesses and what was missing.”
We also know through social science research that children from father-absent homes are far more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse than those growing up in two-parent families.
Economics will not fix this problem. Needy children exist in wealthy homes, too. Only a society willing to educate and train up a generation on the importance of fatherhood can change this problem.
In other words, we need to get to the root by asking the most-pointed question more often: “Why were these kid’s victimized?” More often than not, the answer is going to be because their fathers weren’t there to protect them physically and emotionally.
Before I joined NFIs staff, I never heard of the term "father absence," but I was most certainly a product of it.
Raised by a single, African-American mother in a tough neighborhood, I had to navigate the dangers of my environment and still be a well-behaved student. My mother worked late five days a week, and I was left alone often. Naturally, I modeled my behavior after the tough guys in the neighborhood, carrying that attitude into school. I was in trouble frequently for insubordination and not following instructions. Mom attributed much of my actions to my father not being around to help guide me.
A national survey
conducted by the Department of Educations Office of Civil Rights
(OCR) points to a glaring gap between the discipline students of color faced compared to their white counterparts. The numbers showed that while the collected data counted for just 18 percent of African-American students, Black males were shown to have nearly twice as many suspensions and even higher numbers for expulsion.
According to recent reports
compiled using Census data and other sources, it was found that last year just 33 percent of Black children lived in a two-parent household compared to 85 percent of Asian children, 75 percent of White children and 60 percent of Hispanic children. Nearly all children living in single-parent homes lived with their mothers, with over half of those being Black children.
While the OCR survey is said to be expanding its research categories in the ongoing survey, it hasnt been said to include data regarding the number of parents in the home. Education Secretary Arne Duncan addressed reporters in an open call on Monday ahead of the release of the data, asserting that the numbers are not directly a result of discrimination. Educators, obviously invested in what the data means ultimately, wisely noted that race, poverty and struggling school districts plays a part in whats happening.
I scoured a lot of text while writing this blog entry, and not one person mentioned the family structure, at least in my searches. There is nothing said on whether these students of color are in two-parent homes or not. According to research, children from father-absent homes are more like to have behavioral problems. Why are commentators ignoring this reality?
In my own experiences, not having my father present in the home directly impacted how I behaved when I was not under my mothers care. Im not a statistician or researcher, but other numbers mesh with this report. 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, with two out of three Black children and one of three Hispanic children dealing with father absence.
That alone points to something Id like to see the OCR address in their further collection of data. While its not the Department of Educations aim to offer a counter to the problem of father absence, Im a living example of how the issue of academic failure could also be attributed to growing up in an unbalanced home environment.
Regardless of race and other societal factors, you cant always expect well-behaved children in the face of father absence. In fact, the more the gap widens between fathers and children, the more we can expect numbers like this to spike even higher, and thats truly a shame.
One of the first Bible precepts that I learned in Sunday School as a small boy was that it is better to give than to receive. Now, as a little guy, I wasnt a big fan of this concept, especially around my birthday and Christmas. In any case, a few days ago, I was thumbing through a recent copy of Forbes magazine and I came across an article by Michael Norton provocatively titled Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness
If you give it away.
Norton is a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and he has been researching how changes in income impact well-being. For example, he recently asked 315 Americans to rank their happiness on a 100 point scale and predict how happy they would be if they made ten different incomes, ranging from $5,000 up to $1,000,000. So, for example, he found that those who made $25,000 a year predicted that their happiness would double if they made $55,000. But when he measured their actual happiness, the change was about 7%. Moreover, he found that once people reached the US median income (about $60,000), the happiness return on additional income was very small.
Ironically, he did discover one way to buy more happiness with your money: Give it away. He hypothesized that although making more money helps us accumulate more material things, it does little to give us what the research shows makes us happierquality relationships with others.
To test his theory, he and his team did a little experiment. They approached strangers on the street and gave them different sums of money ($5 or $20) and told them that they had to spend the money by the end of the day. But half were instructed to spend the money on themselves while the others were told to spend it on someone else. At the end of the day, Nortons team learned that those who had to spend the money on themselves bought stuff like coffee and food. However, those who had to spend the money on others did things like donate to the homeless or buy a gift for a loved one.
So, who was happier? Yep, those who gave the money away. Interestingly, there was no difference in reported happiness between those who had to give $5 away verses those who gave $20 away. I guess when it comes to giving, it truly is the thought that counts.
So, why I am sharing all this? Maybe because its fundraising season and NFI needs you to give to us until you are in a state of joyous glee. Good guess, but nope. (Although, we certainly need the support and you can donate here
. And, no gift is too large. :-))
Well, it is because I vividly recall that one of the early words that each of my kids uttered was mine. I seems that children are genetically wired to be self-focused and its a dads job to model and teach their children the joy that can be received from giving. And, you dont need to wait until Sunday to start teaching. That is, if you can spare $5 bucks.
CNN.com published an opinion piece
by NFI president, Roland C. Warren, on the new documentary Waiting for "Superman."
His argument -- dads are the supermen kids need right now to succeed in school. The system will take time to sort itself out, but moms and dads can start today
to build successful students.
So far, over 1,100 people have recommended the article on CNN.com, and there are nearly 200 comments.Join the discussion at CNN.com!
By now, you have probably heard about the new documentary, Waiting for "Superman"
. If you haven't, take a look at the trailer here.
We at NFI had the privilege of seeing the film at its D.C. premiere last week, and we recommend it highly to dads and families. (it is out in LA and NYC now, with a wider release scheduled for October 8).
The film takes a close look at the types of students that our public school system is producing, and the results are not pretty. The United States ranks near the very bottom in reading and math in the industrialized world. Up until the 1970's, we were producing the best students in the world. What happened?
The film tries to answer that question and provides some strategies to turn things around. We are not experts on how to fix a large, complex educational system, but we do know one thing: dads can make an immediate impact on how well their children do in school. Today. They don't have to "wait" for the system to improve.
Without a single new program or additional dollar spent, children's academic performance can improve when dads read to them, help them with homework, talk to them about school, and encourage them.
We know from research that when dads do these things, children do better. When dads don't, children struggle. Education is not just mom's territory. Dads have to be engaged, too.
We want to challenge dads to contribute to school reform by starting with their own kids - today. We have created a discussion guide
for Waiting for "Superman"
and some other advice to help dads get involved
. The film's official website also has some ideas.
So, dads, let's stop waiting for Superman to come save our kids. Let's be supermen!
, from yesterday's Washington Post, Making the Grade Isn't About Race. It's About Parents
, is one of the more powerful pieces I have read in a while. Written by an English teacher from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA, it bravely confronts some of the most thorny issues around why some students do well in school and others don't.
The most fascinating thing about the conclusions he reaches about the "achievement gap" in education is that his students themselves - not the "experts" - are helping him see what the real
When he asked his students, mostly black, about why they don't study as hard as students from Africa, a student replied, "It's because they have fathers who kick their butts and make them study."
Another student said, "You ask the class, just ask how many of us have our fathers living with us."
When he did, not one hand went up.
Furthermore, when empirical evidence meets real world experience, you know you are onto something. Several studies, including a landmark study
from the U.S. Department of Education, reflect the reality that this teacher is recognizing in his classroom - children with fathers in the home get better grades, are less likely to drop out, and enjoy school more.
Hopefully this article will help the "experts" - who like to focus on less important demographic data - rethink the solutions for helping our children do better in school. They, like this wise teacher, should start listening to the children they seek to serve.