Monday, October 22, 2007

Homeschool Centres and mom's breast milk

Just recently a learning centre asked for my permission to reproduce an article I wrote regarding our conviction to homeschool. My wife Sook Ching and I teach our own children, and our sons (now 17 and 15) know no other form of education except the one they receive at home. I was pleasantly surprised not only because the rather lengthy article came out in a Christian magazine in 2004, but also because few people actually think to ask the author or publisher permission to reprint published material.

Regrettably, I had to say no after finding out what it would be used for. I could not see how our experiences as parents who teach our own children at home could be used to promote institutions where children are taught by strangers. Particularly the type that is mushrooming in Malaysia, which is really nothing more than private schools, without glamourous facilities and faculty to boast about (and therefore very affordable).

More perplexing was this learning centre's misquoting Christopher Klicka's Homeschooling, The Right Choice as saying that schooling in a centre/institution and homeschool are the 'same.'

Let me say at the outset that I did not turn the request down on the relative merits of one or the other form of education. I fervently subscribe to education in all its modes traditional and alternative, whether it takes place at home or elsewhere in learning centres. In fact I also believe that when either mode of education is done well, our children benefit. What is necessary however is to help the public distinguish one from the other.

Homeschooling is the education of children usually by their own parents in their own home. When a child is primarily educated by tutors who are not her own parents in an institution that is not her own home, that is NOT homeschool. Whether "homeschool" or "international" curricula is used is beside the point.

At an education forum I participated in early this year, an executive from the Ministry of Education spoke up to say they were not 'against' homeschool in principle; what upset tthem were learning centres that passed themselves as homeschool. Well. Nice that the MOE has people who know more than we give them credit for.

Put bluntly, the current mix-up is akin to equating mom's breast milk at home with powdered milk in a nursery. Not-Mom's Mom's Breast Milk Center, anyone? I feel compelled to say this because there has been so much confusion over the concept of homeschool with the proliferation of learning centres all over the country, most of which have been touted as "homeschooling centres."

It does not help that arguments in favour of learning centers sometimes go like this:

"Public schools are seriously flawed. The merits of homeschool where parents teach their own children at home are well-supported by research. Our homeschool curricula from the US are also excellent in every way compared to the ones used in Malaysian public schools. Since you are unable to homeschool at home, we can homeschool your child at our "homeschool centre" using homeschool curriculum. It's a good alternative, offering the same if not better benefits."
Notice how 'homeschool' has been inexplicably expropriated midstream? There's probably no ill-intent but can we NOT say or suggest that a learning centre is homeschool or a version of homeschool, or even its alternative? To my mind a learning center is better described as an alternative to traditional public schools and tuition centres. Since these learning centers are presently almost always church-based it is all the more reason to be careful with definitions.

Perhaps I'm a stick-in-the-mud pedant, but I do believe it matters what we say and what we really mean. There are learning centres and there are homeschools. They are both legitimate modes of education, but different in form and function. I must admit my little objection isn't going to make a dent in the "homeschool centre" boom but there's my stand. Words have meaning, and everyone benefits when we make ourselves clear.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

Then again, we do not chide restaurants who claim they serve "home cooked" meals because we know it refers to *how* it's made, not *where* it's made.

Likewise, "homeschool" centers, although not actually at home, offers a mode of education that might be different in form (and location, obviously) but is similar in spirit.

But of course, the spirit of homeschooling is about parent-child bonding, no? :P