“No rational person would argue that the smaller the class size, the better, right?” asked the radio talk show host.
“I think I’m a rational person,” I said, “and I can offer proof that smaller class size propaganda is nothing but, well, propaganda. Small classes are overrated. Individual attention is overrated. It quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.”
“Really? What proof?”
History, personal and otherwise. I went to first grade in 1952. At the time, kindergarten was not universal in South Carolina, so first grade was my first grade. One teacher presided over 50 children. That’s a large classroom, for sure, yet I’ve spoken to women who taught as many as 95 first graders in the early-to-mid 1950s, when the first wave of boomers entered school. All of the women in question attest to orderly learning environments. Today, in many third-world areas of the world, classroom size is huge by first-world standards; yet, those teachers also report orderly learning environments.
How much individual attention do you think any given child received in my first-grade class? Correct. Very little. Occasional. We had to pay attention. Get it?
Typically, a 1950s elementary teacher taught for 15 minutes or so, gave a timed assignment and worked at her desk while her students worked at theirs. When time was up, students exchanged and graded one another’s papers. Then, on to another subject area. Fifteen minutes, 30 minutes, five minutes, put away one workbook and take out another.
I’m writing this column for parents who homeschool, the number of which the current school shutdown has greatly and suddenly increased. For the first time in more than a century, most elementary-age children are being taught by their parents, at home.
The internet is full of advice for these new homeschoolers, but I have yet to run across one article that tells these folks, mostly moms, many of whom are complaining of exhaustion, to relax about the involvement thing. Homeschooling does not require a high level of parent involvement. That is myth. Across the demographic spectrum, student achievement in the 1950s, when children were largely “deprived” of one-on-one attention, was significantly higher than it is today.
The key to successful homeschooling is not lots of involvement, it’s organization. When I’m giving advice to a parent who wants to homeschool, I recommend the 15-30-five routine. It worked with 50 or more kids; it will surely work (and does, in fact) with less than a handful.
The more individual attention children receive in a classroom setting, the more they expect it and the more they come to depend upon it. The attention-overdosed child is likely to not pay close attention to what his teacher is saying unless she’s standing over him, talking directly to him. In a homeschool situation, codependency is an ever-looming possibility.
Codependency is exhausting. Homeschooling, per se, is not.