Common Objections to Homeschooling
9. How are children going to learn what they need to know?
About this, a parent wrote:
... During his early years, my wife and I and a couple of friends taught him all he wanted to know, and if we didn't know it, which usually was the case, it was even better, for we all learned together. Example: at 7, he saw the periodic table of elements, wanted to learn atoms and chemistry and physics. I had forgotten how to balance an equation, but I went out and bought a college textbook on the subject, a history of discovery of the elements, and some model atoms, and in the next month we went off into a tangent of learning in which somehow we both learned college-level science. He has never returned to the subject, but to this day retains every bit of it because it came at a moment in development and fantasy that was meaningful to him. [author's emphasis]
Of course, a child may not know what he may need to know in ten years (who does?), but he knows, and much better than anyone else, what he wants and needs to know right now, what his mind is ready and hungry for. If we help him, or just allow him, to learn that, he will remember it, use it, build on it. If we try to make him learn something else that we think is more important, the chances are that he won't learn it, or will learn very little of it, that he will soon forget most of what he learned, and - what is worst of all - will before long lose most of his appetite for learning anything.
Other parents have asked me similar questions, and to one I wrote:
... With respect to your question, about how a parent could teach something like chemistry, there seem to be a number of possibilities, all of which people have actually done in one place or another. (1) The parent finds a textbook(s), materials, etc., and parent and child learn the stuff together. (2) The parent gets the above for the child, and the child learns it alone. (3) The parent or the child finds someone else who knows this material, perhaps a friend or neighbor, perhaps a teacher in some school or even college, and learns from them.
As for equipment, you say that your high school had a very extensive chem lab, but I'll bet that very few of the students ever used more than a small part of the materials in the lab. I have known kids who were interested in chemistry and did it in their own basements, who were able to do a great deal of work with, at today's prices, less than $200 or maybe $100 worth of equipment. The catalog of the Edmund Scientific Corp. (and many other companies) is full of such equipment. The same thing is true of physics. As for biology, except perhaps in the heart of the city, it is not difficult to find plants and animals for observation and classification, if that is what children want to do.
I won't say these are not problems, but people who want to solve them can solve them.
You ask "Would you expect a parent to purchase test tubes, chemicals, instruments, etc., that would perhaps only be used for one or two years, only to have the child become an artist or musician?" Well, why not? People purchase bicycles, sports equipment, musical instruments, without knowing that their children will ever become professional athletes, musicians, etc. None of this equipment (unless broken) loses any of its value - it could probably be sold later for at least a significant part of the purchase price. And, as time goes on, and more people are teaching their children at home, it will be easier to get these materials from other parents who have used them, or to arrange for swaps, etc.
I see no real need for "institutional" education at any age. There is in Michigan a man named Ovshinsky who stood solid-state physics on its ear by inventing a theory by which non-crystalline substances could be used to do things which, according to orthodox theory, only crystalline materials could do. For a number of years orthodox physicists dismissed Ovshinsky's ideas. But he was able to demonstrate them so clearly in laboratory experiments that they were finally obliged to admit that he was right. Ovshinsky never finished high school. There are probably more cases like this than we know, and there would be a great many more except for compulsory schooling laws. It is a kind of Catch-22 situation to say, first, that all children have to spend all that time in schools, and then to say that all kinds of things can only be learned in schools. How do we know? Where have we given people a chance to learn them somewhere else?
A very important function of institutions of so-called higher learning is not so much to teach people things as to limit access to certain kinds of learning and work. The function of law schools is much less to train lawyers than to keep down the supply of lawyers. Practically everything that is now only done by people with Ph.D.s was, not so very long ago, done by people with no graduate training or in some cases, even undergraduate training.
I hope you will not doubt your competence to help your children learn anything they want to learn, or indeed their competence to learn many things without your help.