Accountability and Homeschooling
from Louise Keckler
[This article first appeared in Issue 58 (Spring 1997) of the PA Homeschoolers newsletter.]
Nobody likes it, but everybody needs it. Who does not look with disdain at school districts nosing into our curriculum? We all agree that standardized tests do not accurately measure all that our homeschool program can do. Who needs evaluators scrutinizing our work? Truthfully, though, we all need accountability in some form or another. I would like to share a few accountability measures that I have used for myself and my children.
Accountability means answering to someone else for our actions. I don't like to feel intimidated by my school district or spend weeks worrying about achievement test scores. I also like to view my evaluator as my friend not a “heavy.” So I have established several accountability measures for our family.
Contests are a great accountability tool to use. Contests always have a DEADLINE! (nasty word, isn't it?) Deadlines are important to me. I like the sense of accomplishment when I have finished a project on time. I have noticed the same feeling of elation in my children when, say, the Pentel art project was in the mail on time. (I admit, I have had to resort to Overnight Express a few times.) Finally, the research project on Integrated Pest Management was finally typed, proofread for the umpteenth time, and ready to send. Contests are also a great tool for gauging quality control. Even my son, who can be a careless speller, is concerned enough to look up words, use the spell check and ask for help when he knows that this paper is going to be read by strangers.
Nationally recognized exams are another accountability measure that I have taken advantage of. The National Mythology Exam, National Greek Exam, National Spanish Exam, the Math Olympiad, and MATHCOUNTS are all programs that I have used or am planning to use. When my son studied ancient Greece and Rome, we decided to try the mythology exam. Stuart probably spent more time studying up on Greek and Roman Myths and we actually read The Aeneid, because we knew that he was going to take the exam. We are currently using the Destinos Spanish program and studying old National Spanish Exams to prepare for this year's national test. I think we are probably working harder at understanding and listening comprehension because we know that he will take this exam.
The Math Olympiad has been a great accountability tool for us as well. Katie, who is a natural mathematician, picked up the first contest in third grade an got three right out of the five problems! Katie has always enjoyed doing problem-solvers and Math Olympiad problems. But, for Stuart, no way. He struggled to understand exactly what they wanted, much lest how to do them. I still signed him up for the Math Olympiad, even though he was not particularly fond of problem-solving. he saw steady improvement from third grade until sixth. He finally achieved a patch in sixth grade, and just missed a silver pin by one point. He was very thrilled with his performance. His goal always was to improve himself. In all likelihood, if he had not signed up for the Math Olympiad, he would not have gained the self-confidence to try the MATHCOUNTS problems this past year.
Another measure of accountability that I have used for our family is public appearances. I really felt that with all of our head knowledge I also wanted to have my children do community service and political activism projects as well. Usually these kinds of thoughts would go something like this: Over a cup of tea one afternoon, I would think about how nice it would be to go to a nursing home to sing and talk to the residents, or take cookies to all the neighbors, or stage a live nativity for the community. Then I would think about the happy faces, the glowing thank-yous, the important memories I would be creating for my children. Then I might change my position a bit in my chair and stare out at the bleak sky and imagine getting dressed up to go, planning the songs, making sure that the baby had enough diapers, getting in the cold van, dirty dishes, and peanut butter sandwiches and then I would shake my head and quickly get up out of the chair. I just kept coming back to the fact that I wanted my children tobe active in community service and active for causes which we deemed important. So I made myself accountable. I called a local nursing home and scheduled my family to come in and talk and sing with the residents. I forced myself to sign up once a month to do this. Why? Accountability. Do we always go? Yes, usually, but it is a hassle sometimes. When we see how glad the people are to see us and how they depend on us now, we are very glad to take the time. We are always on the lookout for a new song or an old song to play on the recorder or the harp.
Money is also good to use as an accountability tool.. An area where I felt that we needed accountability was physical education. I know most people have no problem filling in this area. I always depended on the kids riding their bikes for exercise, but at one point two things forced me to take control of PE. First, every bike tire in the place was flat and it took my husband a while to get around to them all. Secondly, I realized that as I was getting older, I needed a bit more exercise. Skirts that I had worn for years were starting to shrink! I am sure everyone who is 40-ish knows what I mean! I needed accountability! I knew I would never do it on my own. So I enlisted all my children in a jogging (for them) and walking (for me) program. WE have been trying for about a year to achieve the President's Sports and Fitness Award, and hopefully this will be the year! I needed something more definite to achieve my goal of daily exercise. My children (the spirit) were very willing, but I (the flesh) was very weak. So I finally found just the thing. It was a small town Fun Run and 5K race. I had to pay $5 per person to enter, so I knew I would definitely do it! The kids had a ball. I actually made it. I felt better because I knew I had persevered. I had practiced jogging for over five months prior to the race. And I had helped to establish good health standards for my children. Now that is what accountability is all about!
So if you feel doomed to failure because of lack of initiative, force yourself to be accountable. Enter a contest, sign up for a community project, or if all else fails pay for your accountability. You will feel good about your accomplishments and you will not need to feel intimidated by the law. You will be accountable to yourself!
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