“I hate going to school,”my daughter confided to me one evening before going to bed.“I just don't look forward to it anymore.”I was taken aback: Teresa graduated from Fangcaodi Primary School last June, and had been very happy there. We sent her to Middle School 55 with high expectations, but for various reasons it wasn't going well.
We asked teachers for help, and encouraged her to make another effort. But several weeks passed, and she grew increasingly frustrated. I realized it would be counterproductive to force her to continue there, but what option did we have? International schools in Beijing are for the rich or those whose companies pay the fees, which range as high as ,000 a year. We had schooled our older daughter at home for two years; it wasn't a complete success, but my wife and I decided we could learn from our past mistakes and do a better job this time.
Home schooling is a growing phenomenon in the US,swheresan increasing number of parents have become disillusioned with the public school system. Some one million American students are now being educated at home, a number that is growing 11 percent annually. As a result, many companies now offer instructional programs for homeschooled children, including books, CD-Rom educational materials and internet learning and testing. Advisory teachers are just a phone call or an e-mail away.
The mistake we made with Annie, Teresa's sister, was that we tried to do all the teaching ourselves. Though my wife and I work at home, we soon realized that our jobs often made it impossible for us to go over lessons with her for one or more days. There were also subjects we couldn't help her with, such as advanced science and math.
We will enroll Teresa in the Calvert School, a distance learning program established over a century ago. However, our plan is to hire a Chinese tutor to continue the Chinese curriculum in mathematics and science. I will handle English and history.
Studies show that home-schooled children are more patient, better behaved and lessaggressive than their agemates. On the other hand, these children are somewhat isolated and appear to miss out on certain elements of childhood. To make up for this we have decided to send Teresa to a local Chinese middle school for Chinese literature, giving her an opportunity to mix with other children. We will also sign her up for such activities as ballet, music lessons and art. And we will rely on friends to share their special skills with Teresa. The whole of Beijing will be our open classroom, and we'll take advantage of the many cultural events the city has to offer: art exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, plays, etc.
My friends frown when they hear that we've pulled Teresa out of school, asking if we're not worried. Yes, we are concerned.However, we know that two years of home schooling did our older daughter no harm. She wound up being admitted to a highly competitive US university with a 30 percent acceptance rate.
We were also comforted by a cover story on home schooling in Time magazine last August that said homeschooling parents appeared to be doing a better job than the public schools at educating their kids. According to the report, the average SAT score for homeschooled children is 1,100, 81 points above the average. Major universities have shown a strong interest in homeschooled applicants; for instance, Harvard sends its admissions officers to home schooling conferences looking for prospective applicants.
While waiting for her materials to arrive from America, Teresa and I have been going through What Your 6th Grader Needs to Know, one in a series of seven books that cover the fundamentals of a sound primary-school education.
Teresa does assigned readings, and then at the end of each day we discuss what she's learned about such topics as the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the rise of Japan, the influence of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers on the founding fathers of America, the mistreatment of American Indians and the struggle of American women for equal rights.
I also have her read celebrated poems, essays and novels, prodding her with questions to see if she's understood what she's read. I'm pleased when she makes astute observations, and feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction when she smiles with understanding after grasping some profound concept.
To be sure, if I had the money to pay for Teresa to attend an international school, I probably would not have opted for such a time-consuming method. This experience, however, has taught me that parents can and should play a greater role in educating their children. Education is much too important to be left to schools.