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Monday, February 7, 2011

Cultural Shifts in Home Education

Homeschooling looked very different twenty-plus years ago. Sonlight pioneered the literature-rich homeschool curriculum movement. All that existed before were textbook based curricula. In fact, Sonlight's model was such a radical departure from accepted educational models, my mom wasn't even sure anyone else would be willing to try it.

So what are the cultural shifts I've noticed recently?

1. Suppliers
Today, there are many startup companies trying to capitalize on Sonlight's wildly successful approach to homeschooling. But it's not just literature-based programs anymore. You can now find suppliers of other varied approaches to education. This has allowed niches to form. More than that, it allows homeschoolers to find "their approach" within homeschooling.

2. Success
Homeschooling used to be counter-cultural. Homeschoolers had to fight to make homeschooling legal. Today, especially with the flood of anti-public school documentaries saturating the silver screen, homeschooling is seen by many as a far superior option. And a great option it is!

This incredible success has lead to a relaxing of the homeschool culture. Sure, we still wonder if our children are learning "enough," but given the other options, we begin to feel we needn't worry. I consider the rise of unschooling to be one of many indications of this.

3. Studies
Sonlight broke from traditional school environments by rejecting textbooks. The "living books" movement has had incredible success. The trend I see now, however, is a further break from educational models. It seems that homeschoolers are moving away from even a literature-based model toward programs with even less reading. "You don't need all those books," I hear. "Instead, just read these few, carefully selected ones."

4. Simplified
And so parents, it appears, want things even more simplified. While Sonlight's homeschool curriculum offers many of these benefits--more instruction and opportunities with less parental preparation--I think the pendulum is swigging back. Textbooks are dull and uninspiring because of how their information is presented. The life and reality of historical events is replaced with a more quickly covered paragraph summary. Worse, textbooks do not inspire conversation and discussion. Stories provide a spectrum of human experience to consider, talk about and apply. As the homeschool world shifts toward a more simplified and focused experience, I fear that depth will again be lost.

Sonlight's literature-based approach does more than just make information memorable and enjoyable. As you spend time reading with your children, you draw closer to them and they to you. You get to experience the joy of learning with them. Your whole family gets to revel in the beauty of a well-told story, and you build bounds through the shared experiences of the worlds you visit within your books.

The cultural shifts of more curriculum suppliers taking advantage of homeschooling's success has created a demand for more study options and a more simplified approach to education.

Where does that leave Sonlight? Where we've always been: Seeking to offer you the very best homeschool curriculum so you are able to love learning with your students through great literature and resources.

What do you think of my summary? Have I totally missed it? What shifts have you noticed in the culture homeschooling?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester


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Tiffani said...

Interesting thoughts that I hadn't really personally observed or considered, but now that you've mentioned it, will have to think about! I've been thinking about my own approach and what's gone well or been well done, and what hasn't, and this added some tidbits to that thought process.

se7en said...

What I love about Sonlught is they use really great classic books that families will want to read... We have built a fabulous library over the past few years.

I think folks might think that the biggest threat to a company like Sonlight would be electronic readers... but lets face it if you love reading then own a kindle and we do and it gets packed with books and books and more books... but if you love books then buy the book... and I wouldn't replace our Sonlight library of real books for all the world!!!

One of the most often asked question I get is: "How can we simplify school so that we can get it done quickly?" I always think that's a consequence of an instant culture, but we like lingering and learning and schooling all day. I have no desire for my children to log into school and get their "education" in twenty minutes a day. Homeschooling is a way of life that requires piles of great books and hours of reading together...

The Hibbard Family said...

I think you're right on with your assessment.

When I was helping my mom teach my younger siblings with Sonlight in the early days of the program (all the while very jealous that it hadn't been around for me!!), I picked up on something critical. The goal of Sonlight seemed to be to instill a love for learning. Learning itself seemed secondary. If learning is the goal, we will grow tired of it. If a love for learning is the goal, the learning will happen naturally.

I think that's something some of the other homeschool approaches are missing. They aim to make learning itself fun, but when that is the aim, there always has to be something new and attention grabbing to keep the excitement going. And, when learning isn't fun (and, inevitably, there are times when it won't be), attention is lost. We can't make learning itself fun, but we can instill in our children a hunger, passion, and almost addiction to learning and growing. That drive is what will carry them through all aspects of their learning.

But, our cultural shift supports the idea of entertainment. It is at the core of the American culture, and it has infiltrated our education, our religion, and our daily lives. We want to be entertained in everything, including education.

Luke Holzmann said...

You're welcome, Ali <smile>.

May this next year of homeschooling be even better than your previous years, Tiffani!

"Homeschooling is a way of life that requires piles of great books and hours of reading together..." That is so good, Se7en. Love it!

Oh my, Ann, that is so profound: "If learning is the goal, we will grow tired of it. If a love for learning is the goal, the learning will happen naturally." Wow. Thanks for sharing!


Jamie Jo said...

I wish you were wrong, but I suspect you are not. Living outside the U.S. I see none of the trends you mention.

What I do see is luggage restrictions on flights and ever increasing shipping rates overseas and the possible need to go with electronic IGs and books on Kindle....

My SL years are coming to a close and I already have almost all I need to finish teaching the youngest. The big question will be how to divide up all the great books. All the kids want them.

Luke Holzmann said...

Jamie, I am very excited about the possibility of electronic resources making it easier for those outside the US to get their materials. But, as I've mentioned before, there are many hurdles to overcome with that still.

As for divvying out the books... I know many families can relate to that problem. Such a good problem to have though <smile>.



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