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The Difference Between Homeschool and Virtual School

  • August 21, 2020
  • By Donielle
The Difference Between Homeschool and Virtual School

With many people exploring the option of homeschooling for the first time, on-line or virtual school seems like a good option. I would question what the real difference is between the on-line version of public school in place for the remainder of quarantine, and FLVS or Broward Virtual (the mainstay public on-line programs already offered by the state of Florida). But, that being said, people sign up on-line all of the time and then label themselves homeschoolers.

Virtual school is not homeschooling. Virtual school is correspondence school. Homeschool is taught by parents. The curriculum is selected by parents. The lessons are taught by parents. Evaluation is progress is done by parents. There are hybrid correspondence (distance learning)- homeschool options available.

Just real life for me

There are wonderful resources offered on-line that can help with difficult subjects like upper level math and science. But the kind of homeschooling that creates excellent, motivated students that excel in their studies, communities, and jobs – the kind that are famous for carrying on adult conversations, the ones that schools are clamoring for, and employers are looking for- is not created in an on-line, virtual environment. They are created in real time, real life scenarios, discussions, and treasure hunts for truth, beauty, and goodness.

I am not saying that you cannot have a virtual school student with excellent character. I am saying that virtual school is its own thing. It is certainly a blessing for many right now. I just want you to understand that there is a distinction between homeschooling and virtual schooling. Understand that I spend months of the summer mapping out a curriculum, creating a learning environment, poring over book lists, creating discussion questions, and coordinating cooperative learning, field trips, and museum visits. And I spend hours each week planning my kids’ lessons, grading and correcting assignments, assessing, and ensuring that learning is both delightful, but rigorous enough to challenge them.

So What’s the Problem?

Part of the problem for on-line school is the curriculum. It is possible to find an on-line program that cares about more than the last century, one that cultivates the soul, and engages in the great conversations of the ages, but not for free. Veritas Press has such a program. Memoria Press also has an excellent on-line academy.

Public school curriculum does not take any care or even acknowledgement of the soul and spirit of a child. Indeed, it cannot. Public education must please all the people all of the time, and in doing so, it can please very few. Some that must be pleased deny a child even has a soul. But really, how can hours in a confined environment, constrained to sit still, surrounded by other similarly tortured children who really don’t care much about you, day in and day out, suffering under this unjust sentence for 13 years (more if you are sent to preschool) with no hope of parole, not be a soul crushing experience?

How can you engage in meaningful discussion with others who have read the material and are searching for meaning and truth within it, in any worthwhile manner, in front of a computer? And how will bad habits be corrected? How will we learn to speak up, speak out, or give a speech from behind the anonymity of a screen?

Our Experience

My oldest took several courses on-line. They were foreign languages and upper level math courses. The teachers were wonderful, but I will do it differently next time. The curriculum, the rules, the grading rubric, and the methods those exemplary teachers are forced to use are not ideal.

Take high school Spanish, for instance. Our goal was for our daughter to have conversations in Spanish that would allow her to travel more. Instead she learned to write reports about the endangered rhinoceros in rudimentary Spanish. There was far more Latin culture than Spanish language taught in the course. This was no fault of the teacher; it was a curriculum fail. My daughter is less conversant after the approved Spanish course that is accepted in the state universities, than she was with our co-op Spanish taught by another mom.

Since my second born has her eye on advanced degrees in medicine, if I do another on-line program for upper level math classes, it will be those created for and by homeschoolers. The best education is never free. New homeschoolers and virtual schoolers need to understand that.

When Virtual School is Good

Though virtual school is not homeschooling, it is still a good option for some. Older children and teens may do well – if they fully engage. Teens are too tech savvy to stay ahead of. They have invented a number of ways to appear to be in a virtual class and listening when they are absent or doing other things on the computer. Young people have to be motivated to make on-line learning work. They crave affirmation and relationship, which are harder to express over a video call. Parents still have to be checking on teens and tweens and holding them responsible.

Success in virtual school is obtainable! But only with quite a bit of parental involvement and full participation from the student. That means leaving the video on the whole class, answering questions, dressed, doing all of the homework, and taking the virtual class as or more seriously than the in-person class. Virtual school is a temporary necessity and I am glad it exists. I am curious to see what the long-term outcome of mass virtual schooling might be.

And for our youngest students…

Very few young children will do well with virtual learning. I don’t recommend even trying. Small children view anything on a screen as optional to pay attention to. Interaction over screens feels optional to even the most mature of us. Children have no way of distinguishing a teacher- student screen relationship from their relationship with Cookie Monster (or insert favorite TV show character). Virtual school and learning to read have not been a good mix so far.

Homeschooling is not a viable option for many families where it is necessary for all adults to work full time away from home. Virtual school is not likely to work for those families either, at least long-term. Homeschooling is a full-time commitment for at least one parent. It is a family lifestyle. If that sounds unappealing, if you do not want your life shaken up and shaped by a love of learning, if you cannot stand a mess made by a curious child, or you really must to watch soap operas, get your nails done, and go to yoga every day, virtual school may be a better option for you (just being honest moms, “me” time shrinks significantly).

Homeschooling is life-encompassing, messy, time-consuming, and worth every minute.

By Donielle, August 21, 2020
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