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The Father Factor:
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When the Principal's Name is Dad

Posted by Renae Smith

As a graduate of home education, I often get two common reactions when people learn that I was homeschooled through 12th grade.  "Wow, I would have never guessed - you don't act like a homeschooler!"  I believe this is meant to be a compliment on my social skills and fun, outgoing personality... I think.  Or, "How you did learn advanced math and science at home?!" 

Actually, yes; I stand before you as proof that calculus and chemistry can be successfully mastered without a full-fledged laboratory and a professor with a specialized degree.  (While my AP test scores will prove this, please don’t ask me to solve any differential equations right now.  It’s been 8 years and I’m a little rusty.)

So when I came across Quinn Cumming’s article in the Wall Street Journal about her experience home-schooling her daughter, I resonated with what she shared about the evolving nature of homeschooling.  It is becoming a more widespread and respected form of education.  There are countless resources and opportunities available to amplify home education curricula and extra-curricular activities. 

describe the imageAnd just because a child spends normal school hours at home does not mean that he or she is deprived of all opportunity for socialization with peers.  Church activities, neighborhood playmates, and competition in sports leagues afforded lots of interaction with other kids.  I turned out fine, and so did my brother.  (That's him on the right at his high school graduation in 2007. He's now a 2nd Lieutenant serving in the U.S. Air Force. Please humor my proud-big-sister bragging indulgence!)

But, what stood out to me in Ms. Cumming’s article was the role that her husband played in the decision to homeschool their middle school daughter and in the day-to-day responsibility of educating her.  Together, the couple reviewed a variety of educational programs for their daughter, and after settling on home-schooling, the father plays a continued role in teaching.  Ms. Cummings admitted that math is not her forte, so her daughter takes an online math class “with great lashings of help from her father.”

As a homeschool graduate, I am familiar with “great lashings of help from dad,” administered graciously and patiently to me and my siblings.  While Mom was heavily invested in hands-on teaching during elementary school, Dad always said that Mom was the teacher and he was the principal.  That was code for “If you give Mom a hard time with school, you’ll have to answer to me.” 

Then, as we advanced to the more challenging aspects of school, Dad became more involved.  It wasn’t that Mom couldn’t handle the advanced subjects, but with seven children, she and Dad took a “divide and conquer” approach.  Dad has been our math tutor, proofread our papers, and coached the sports teams we played on (our “P.E. credit”). When the time came to look for a different form of education for another younger brother to meet his unique needs, my dad played a leading role along with my mom in determining that public school was the best option for this particular sibling.

Research clearly shows that there’s a father factor in education.  Children who grow up with involved fathers are more likely to get A’s, less likely to repeat a grade, and more likely to be read aloud to as a child.  I appreciate the investment my Dad made in my education and that he continues to make with my younger siblings, regardless of the format of the education.  He is genuinely committed to helping us achieve the potential he sees in us.

But perhaps the most poignant father factor in homeschooling that Ms. Cumming’s article pointed out was the importance of dads in socializing boys into men.

“Homo sapiens have walked the Earth for at least 130,000 years and, in this time, they learned to be human from their elders, not from their peers. Mandatory education in the U.S. is less than 150 years old. Learning to be a productive adult human by spending a third of every day with other kids might be a good idea, but it's too soon to tell. I'm still unsure that the people best equipped to teach a 14-year-old boy how to be a man are other 14-year-old boys.”

As my younger brother has begun attending public school and enjoyed increased socialization with his peers, the change in his behavior has me sharing this uncertainty Ms. Cummings expressed in the last sentence. Boys learn what it means to be a man not from their mothers, teachers, or buddies at school.  They learn this from their dads. 

Home education is certainly not the only way to socialize children into adults and to provide a robust education, and countless students of all types benefit from dads who invest in their education.  For my family, I can attest to the benefits of having a principal / teacher / coach whose name is also Dad.

Topics: boys, father involvement, education, home schooling, father factor

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