Many parents to whom I have spoken say they would not mind homeschooling their children if it were not the benefits of peer socialization gained in schools.  “How else are they to learn how to get along with others”?  seems to be the universal refrain.

There are many that think this is a misconception.  Socialization in schools may actually be the reason why society is trying to wrestle with the problem of delinquency and crime.   Maybe the words of early 18th century novelist, Henry Fielding, might be a bit strong when he wrote: “Public schools are the nurseries of all vice and immorality.”  However, it contains a great deal of truth.  Children learn many negative traits in schools.  The horror stories are endless and real; from simple bad habits to bullying, theft, extortion and rape …and this is just primary school.  My wife is a teacher at a rural school in north Trinidad, where most of the children come from poor families and it is sad to hear what transpires.  To some extent, I do agree with the Mighty Shadow’s comment that “Poverty is hell’.  This hell is of course not caused by the poverty itself, but by the attendant psychological issues which somehow always seems to imbue the poorer classes.

Anyway back to the point of socialization.  One parent who is a good friend of my friend, both of them having gone to Tunapuna Secondary in the mid-seventies, recently pointed out that how he made great and lasting friendships in school.  And that he would not want to take that away from his children.  To parents who agree let me quote myself from elsewhere on this site, “Sure you made some great friends. So do prisoners of war in an enemy prison. Their friends were all they had.  And in school, friends may be the only way our children can cope, because we, as parents, have ABANDONDED them”.   Is it any wonder then when our children begin to trust their friends more than us.  Rebellion to their parents it is not a truly ‘normal’ teenage thing.  We have been led to believe that it is and many psychologists have even developed strategies to help parents cope, but this is not how it is supposed to be or how it always was.  In many primitive tribes from the Bush People of the Kalahari to the Yanomami of the Amazon as well as among many South Pacific ‘primitives’ teenage rebelliousness is unknown.  I do not recommend that we harken back to ancient times as I am sure the closed-minded amongst us would criticise this line of thought, but am just making an observation.

To illustrate what school socialization can do to children, just take a maxi taxi down the Priority Bus Route between San Juan and Arima between the hours of 2:30 and 3:30 pm.  (If you don’t like rubbing shoulders with the masses  you can drive now.  Jack has legalized it just make sure you have at least three in the car and it’s between the correct times :) )  Look at how our secondary school children behave.  Look and think…

Below is a post that I had posted earlier in another homeschooling forum, but is worth repeating here:

The socialization thing bothered me a bit so I did some research, both third party and by direct observation. What has emerged is that children can experience negative socialization in schools. For instance, in public schools they can learn to push and compete in a negative and overly aggressive manner (I call this the Cafeteria Effect), while in the ‘upscale’ private schools they may assimilate false values (the We Have a Bigger Pool Than You All effect). I think sufficient positive socialization can be achieved by visiting the public playgrounds with your kids as well as arranging private gatherings such as BBQs where they can interact with other children, not necessarily all of the same age group.

Two weeks ago, while my wife was abroad, my two girls and I (4 and 6) spent a week-end at a beach house in Balandra with three other families. One family had two girls ages 9 and 12, and another had girl twins 8 years old. One couple had no kids. Their interaction was fantastic. The 12 year old assumed the role of mother; the 9 year old became the swimming instructor; and the twins, normally very reticent, became quite gregarious. My girls soaked it all up and had a great time. It was also great for the grown-ups – we had time off 

My girls also learnt about the Nintendo DSi console. I am normally an anti-computer gaming person, but when I saw the educational benefits of this device with it’s built in cameras and photo editing capabilites, I immediately got them one each. It’s been great. I plan to do a lot more of this. For those with older children, the best way your kids can learn is by trying to teach others. I know, I used to teach I.T. At UWI and it worked for me with adults there. It also worked for American innovativeness – think small town, one room schools in the Prairie States and you will understand. It’s where the innovators of today’s parents were raised.

Below are links  to some sites that have musch more to say on this topic:

This one is annectdotal,  a bit funny fand particularly instructive:

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Can I be a home schooler?

So you’re wondering if educating your child at home is right for you.  This depends on a lot of factors, some of which are: your relationship with your child; your relationship with the child’s other parent (married or otherwise); your type of job (self-employed or not); other support systems (like grand parents, aunts and uncles); but most importantly, who you are, i.e. your personality.

Some of these factors will be dealt with in later articles, and some of them might be easy for you to modify, but here, is this article, let us try to address that most important factor: the personality of the homeschooler (or ‘unschooler’, as the term is sometimes used).  We will start with a list of questions to ask yourself.  After each one, there is a ‘Frame of Reference’ so that the question can be placed in some sort of philosophical context.  These questions would be similar to those found in typical magazine-style personality tests.  . However, somewhere in there, are questions not even listed, but ones no doubt you will be drafting in your own mind.  And, by the end of it, you should be able to get the general picture.  If you think you have an easy personality match, then great.  You are a born home schooler!  If not, and you think that you still want to undertake ‘ce grand projet’, then you may need to alter your personality, and this mon amis, is a most interesting and rewarding task.  Make no mistake, you will come up against conflict both from within and without.  Stay focused to your goal and trust in that higher power.  Well, enough prologue, lets get onto the questions:

Question 1:  Do you like children?

Frame of Reference: This may seem like a dumb question, but it is critical to your success as a homeschooler.  Young children can be entertaining, but incredibly annoying with their noise, their interminable questions, their antics and their disregard for hygiene or your effort at doing the laundry.  Teenagers can be moody, rebellious and… well just think back a little, you’ll get the picture :)

Before I had children I did not really like them and to an extent, I still don’t. Let me clarify my point. Sure I’d play with my niece, nephew and kids who belonged to others for a short while; work them into a frenzy and let their parents handle the outcome.  I was sort of like a devil’s advocate for misbehaviour.  Did I like children enough to spend extended periods with them? No, not really.  However, with parenthood, as with marriage, comes responsibility and commitment.  You could choose to endure it or enjoy it; let it get the better of you or even run away from it; but I believe a change in perspective can go a long way.  Take some advice from the ole Cat Stevens and “…learn to brighten up your ways; kick out your dull padded life. There’s much to know and no doors in space.  They were only mirrors you imagined in your mind”.  As I tell friends of mine, ‘Daddy’ is at once the most beautiful word as well as the most irritating.

Question 2: How would prefer to spend your free time (as if you had any) watching a sitcom on TV; or do something creative with your child?

Frame of Reference:  After a long hard day, it’s easy to just plop down on the sofa, switch on the the idiot box and just be bombarded with trivia.  You’d hope the kids would stay quiet long enough for you to at least see the end of the show.  STOP IT! Learn to see.  It takes effort, at first, and will always, at least a bit, but your response to this question – deep inside – will definitely help you determine what direction you will take.

Question 3:  How open minded are you?

Frame of Reference: Is it easy to admit to yourself that the things that you believed in all your life may not be right after all; that your child may actually have a better appreciation for the world than you do; or that their is no good or bad person i.e. the same person that can do good can do a great deal of bad?  In other words can you (as Gandhi put it) hate the sin, but love the sinner?

Question 4:  Are you a Control Freak?

Frame of Reference: Must things always go your way?  Are you willing to let your child use the wrong grammar without immediately correcting it, but correct it by speaking better yourself and he /she will learn eventually without feeling put down i.e. you know everything and he /she does not?

Question 5: Do you live with double standards?

Frame of Reference:Do you believe that children should not do certain things, but it’s OK for adults? Do you believe that you should be able to question your children, but your children should not be able to question you; that they must not shout, but you can; or that you can watch porn and have extramarital sex (with or without their knowing), but they should not?

Question 6: Can you perceive what the average person can not?

Frame of Reference: There are many situations and happenings around us that few people assimilate.  This is best understood by an illustration.   For example, there are many people of lower and middle income who like to criticise the Syrians of Trinidad and Tobago as drug dealers, envying their wealth.  The funny thing is this biased critiquing is often done while ‘liming’ at bars or get-togethers where the individuals doing the criticizing are holding either a Carib or a Stag beer in their hands.  They fail to see that the reason that ‘Sabga’  (a well known Syrian businessman) is rich and they are not is that he is producing the beer that they are drinking while they are idyling.  Now, this observation is not meant to praise or demean either party, but just to illustrate a point.   To be a homeschooler who will nurture children who will add to the world, your mind must not only be open, but be able to dicern sense from nonsense and fact from fiction.

Question 7:  Can you sit still?

Frame of Reference: Can you sit still in a quiet place without any radio, television or facebook?  I don’t mean sitting quiet in order to study or finish paperwork, but sit quiet and contemplate; contemplate the meaning of life and the fragility of it and the fact that while we sit still, we at the equator are spinning around with the earth at a speed of 24,000 miles per hour, while those reserachers in Antartica are barely moving.  You know, stuff like that, real ridiculous draft that you would be afraid to let others know what you thinking, because they’d look at you as… well, in a word: weird ;) .

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The Truth about Curricula

The truth about school curricula is that the experts on education have no real idea what should or should not be on any particular curriculum.  Educators are really guessing when they include and exclude subject matter; when they change the style of examinations; or when they modify syllabus content.  This can be seen by anyone who has observed the changes in our standardized examinations by the Ministry of Education from Common Entrance to SEA; from O’ and A’Levels to CXC and CAPE.  This is not only a Tn’T problem, but exists worldwide.  Now this is not to berate the individuals on the numerous panels or committees that spend many diligent hours drafting and re-drafting these pieces of paper.  It’s not their fault and to give them their due, I know many of them try their best, but theirs is an impossible task.

A case in point: when I wrote the Common Entrance Examination way back in 1975, it was purely a multiple choice examination with the examinee’s selections to each question shaded A to D on an answer sheet which was electronically marked.  There was no written component.  Personally, I find no problem with this as there can be no subjectivity creeping in on the part of the marker as with written exams.  Also, the exam was basically Maths and English (Verbal Ability, Comprehension and Syntax); there was no Science, etc.  This, of course, has changed.  However, the breadth of the syllabus now leaves the various subject areas barely touched and confuses teacher and student alike.  Ironically, in my day, many of the comprehension pieces contained scientific material, so that as we read and tried to understand the passage you actually gained some scientific knowledge – I dare say more than the SEA students of today.

Another problem is that what is included on the syllabus is what the designers of the syllabus think is important to us.  Now strictly speaking that is a total impossibility.  For instance, I studied history all the way up to a bachelor’s degree at the University of the West Indies, but only a couple of years ago stumbled upon a book which gave a very short but exciting history of Port-of-Spain (will get the exact name when I locate it again I hope).  Now why was this text omitted in all the history syllabi? Or why was I not given Mein Kampf to analyse instead to Great Expectations for my O’Level literature? I was much more interested in the mind of Hitler than Dickens at the time.

Some of my readers may think these observations ridiculous.  I mean, afterall no one can structure a curricula to fit every child.  And that, sadly, is the point. It cannot be done.  Then why attempt to do it?

Yet another pet peeve of mine and one that has changed the course of my education, career and life is the ‘grouping’ of subjects.  In the 1970′s at St. Mary’s College, when and where I attended Secondary school, one had to perform very well in the end of year exams before going to form four in the science subjects if one wanted to do science for O’Levels.  The reasoning behind this was that lab space and science teachers were both in short supply.  Anyway, I loved Physics, but disliked Chemistry (largely due to the Chemistry Teacher – Pot Belly Clark) with the end result being that I scored 94% in my Physics exam, but only a paltry 23% in Chemistry.  Now compelled to choose other subjects, I selected the business subjects (Accounts, Commerce, etc.).  I don’t even think it was possible to do any science and History (which I adored).  I ended up with an Upper Second Class honours in Economics and History, to which end I am now earn my living setting up and troubleshooting computer networks and servers.  As the Americans say: go figure…

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The basic problem with the ‘System’

As the title states, this article will touch briefly on the basic problem with our current education ‘System’.  I put the word system in quotes not to sound like a sixties’ left wing radical, but I have no idea what else to call the ‘System’ that would fit into the text place holder. 

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase.  In  Trinidad and Tobago, as elsewhere, there is a problem with the education system.  I have categorized some of the articles dealing with specific problem areas into sub-topics such as: Schools, Methods, Curricula, and Teachers.  The list can go on and on, but I think we would all be missing the point. It’s not how well the facilities are; how qualified the teachers are; how structured the curricula; or how radically innovative the methods of instruction.  It’s the simple fact that Parents are best suited to educate their progeny.

For the really interested take a look at what was written by Socrates (yeah the dead Greek guy) on the formalization of the education process; see what John Gatto (an NYC teacher with over 29 years experience) has written in his letter “I quit, I think”.  See what Einstein has said. Realize that Thomas Edison had only three months of schooling. Then… then, look at your kids; look at the society; see if you’re happy with what their lives will become if they’re left there. It’s not just about how much money they will make or how well they will be able to ‘provide’ for their own children. Life is much more than that. Look back into your own childhood; deep back. Get intimate with it. Were you truly happy with your school life? Sure you made some great friends. So do prisoners of war in an enemy prison. Their friends were all they had.  And in school, friends may be the only way our children can cope, because we, as parents, have ABANDONDED them. It may not seem like it at first, but look and think..

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Teachers – their impact

As adults, we can remember many of our childhood teachers: some we admired, others we did not.   The reasons for our preferences remain myriad: from the way they handled the subject matter to the manner in which they approached us.  Regardless, our perceptions of our teachers often coloured our interest in the subjects they taught.  Our interest in subjects ultimately impacted our careers and our future. 

The choice of a teacher is therefore of extreme importance.  Yet, most of us let the ‘system’, whether private school or public school, do this selection for us.  Some parents try their best to find a ‘good’ extra lessons teacher for the subjects in which their children are ‘weak’.  Kudos to them for their effort and expense, but that creates other problems which we will discuss elsewhere.  Even so, we as parents, can only act on feedback from our children and many refuse to feedback.  There may be reasons for that.  This too we will discuss elsewhere.

One school of thought, so to speak, holds that children can teach themselves best.  There may be some wisdom in that.  Afterall, it is only they who know what they know and what they don’t know. Have you ever noticed the exasperation displayed by some younger children on questioning them about things that they do know and which they assume that you know that they do? (a mouthful isn’t it).  The same school of thought posits that children are ‘learning machines’ and that all they need is a proper environment.  I tend to agree with that.  In fact, modern ‘educators’ have dropped the term ‘teacher’ altogether replacing it with ‘facilitator’, especially where the students are adults.  Still the ‘teacher’ approach still dominates.  We dictate what they must learn. Call it what you like, a rose by any other name…

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Teachers – who are they?

Ever consider who are the people that teach your children?  I don’t mean as individuals, but who teachers really are - philosophically ?  As individuals, teaching probably has a mish-mash of personalities like any other profession with good and bad traits, after all, nobody is perfect. Philosophically, however, I believe there’s a problem.  And the problem lies not so much in the teachers themselves, but the position they hold in relation to our children’s future (and present).  Personally, we don’t really care too much about the personalities of our mechanic, plumber or even our doctor once they get the job done efficiently and accurately.  Teachers, however, are a different matter simply because we know that who they are and how they behave can have an impact on who our children become. 

Most teachers nowadays aren’t individuals who are living their career dream.  The truth is given an option, most will choose an alternative career.  They treasure their holidays, weekends and shorter working hours.  They feel stressed at dealing with their students especially those in public schools.  This is understandably so when even we parents seem to ‘lose it’ when dealing with our own few children.  To give them their due, however, I believe that the majority of teachers do try.   It’s not easy to be in an environment such as theirs.  In fact it’s not even natural. Many teachers go well beyond their call of duty.   Some really care for their students which is about the best possible trait any teacher could ever have.

Many, teachers, particularly those in public schools and the lower paid private schools are not the world’s brightest.  Many lack the ability to look at their own actions in an external and objective manner, that is, they are not always conscious of their actions or the reason for them.  Very few are cognisant of how children really learn.  Others too, over the years, have become polluted with a sense of power over their students.  This is particularly scary.  The aggressive approach to teaching by teachers who have been tainted by this sense of power can adversely affect their students.  We see the results every day where children have become ‘harden’ [correctly pronounced, 'hardened' - ever wonder where that word came form - really, examine it].  Others have become fearful or withdrawn. 

Let me relate an experience that demonstrates this point. I, a 46 year old male, recently took a short course in sailing at the Sailing School of the Trinidad and Tobago Sailing Association in Chaguaramas.  The course comprised of 6 one-on-one lessons. My instructor, a very adept sailor and an experienced teacher was somewhat authoritarian in his approach.  The first couple of sessions went well.  However, when I started making mistakes in manoeuvres I had already done properly in previous sessions, my instructor berated me a bit.  I think he was trying to get me to pay more attention to what I was doing, but the truth was I was already paying all the attention I had and trying my utmost to remember.  I think the biggest mistake was that I was actually trying to impress my teacher and some how ‘tried too hard’.  My mind got all confused and resulted in poor performance.  At the time I recognized none of this.  I thought he was a great teacher and told him so.  I just thought that I was a horrible student, and maybe I was, but in hindsight I think that if he used a softer approach with a student like me, it would have been a more productive experience for both of us.  Incidentally, I recommend the course to anyone.  It’s great value for money and you’re on the sea from day one.  I am even contemplating doing it over some day.  If I do, you can bet I will take a different approach this time.

I am not sure, if I am getting my point across.  I would be glad if readers comment on this so I will know.  In summary, I believe we expect too much from teachers.   We expect teachers to give the kind of attention to our children that we ourselves are not prepared to give.  We expect our children’s teachers to be better human beings than ourselves.   Such expectations are unrealistic and really even unnecessary.

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Topics Discussed

This page lists topics discussed here, on Homeschooling – Trinidad and Tobago, in a basic web ‘Blog’ format.  The articles or ‘Posts’ are arranged here in chronological order with the most recent at the top just below this text.  Each article or Post is associated with a Category or Topic.  At the top of the ‘Sidebar’ on the right, these categories are listed as ‘Topics Discussed’ and can be used to navigate among the different articles posted within each topic or sub-topic.  Thus there are two ways in which one can navigate through the posted articles: either chronologically, by using this page; or by category using the ‘Topics Discussed’ tree in the Sidebar.

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