Well today was the second day of the conference. The theme continues to be “You Can Homeschool!” Many of the attendees from Russia are brand new homeschoolers or those who are still considering homeschooling. So this morning’s session included several speakers – one from the USA and one from Russia – who focused on reasons for homeschooling. Debra Bell, from the USA, showed that a consolidation of all the research out there about what makes for an ideal teaching environment, came back with the answer of a home school. She used research from public and private school, not homeschooling to reach that conclusion. And some of the findings she cited were a low teacher-student ratio, a teacher who knows and loves the students, a curriculum that is tailored for each student, and a flexible curriculum day plan that allows you to take advantage of “teachable moments.” One of the most compelling points she made was that research shows that children go through cognitive growth spurts just like they go through physical growth spurts. But institutional school is based upon each child learning a predetermined amount each year. She used an illustration of a boy who is shorter than his classmates in middle school, suddenly have a growth spurt and becoming taller than his classmates. We just look at that as normal growing up. But when the equivalent thing happens for that boy in cognitive ability, he is first labeled as having a problem and then suddenly he is rewarded for finally buckling down and getting it. In both cases, it is just normally growing up, but in the academic world, that kind of growth pattern is considered a problem.
The Russian speaker, Natalie Geda, who is a homeschooling mom who has recently graduated her oldest from high school, also offered reasons to homeschool. I found one of her comments very applicable to schools in the USA. As she pointed out, Russian schools are pointed to professionalism. Students are taught lessons and skills they need for a future in business or industry. This means profession like doctor, lawyer, engineer, programmer, teacher, banker, or mechanic. But there is no profession of a morally good person with excellent character. Therefore, the public-school program and curriculum ignores these concepts. While for many of use, moral character is a primary consideration when teaching our children.
The morning finished with a panel of graduates – two college grads from the USA and two Russian, one a recent graduate entering engineering school and the other an individual who is set to graduate soon. These “examples” of home schooling did a good job of presenting their experiences and then fielded a ton of questions until we had to break for lunch.
The afternoon session was for Russians only and was too focus on some local issues in St Petersburg and establishing a local organization of homeschoolers. For the rest of us international attendees, we went on a tour of several famous locations in St Petersburg. This is one of the interesting aspects of this trip to Russia for me. I have been saving for a year for this trip (don’t worry, no SCAIHS funds were used for any portion of this trip). I enjoy history and I find the history of St Petersburg (sometimes known as Leningrad) fascinating. The seige of Leningrad during WWII is famous for its ferocity and the endurance of the Russian people. And of course, St Petersburg itself was built by Tsar Peter the Great in a swamp in order to create a port for his country and through which he created the Russian navy. We toured the grounds and gardens of the summer palace which were literally across the street from the hotel. Then we went into downtown St Petersburg to tour the Hermitage, which is the former winter palace and now one of the largest museums of fine art in all of Europe. In my opinion the British museum and the Louvre are a little bit better – but only a little bit. In fact, with respect to architecture, I give the edge to the Hermitage. It was a very interesting afternoon, but we probably walked about 5 miles between the gardens and the museum, so I am ready for bed tonight. Tomorrow we head to Moscow for the second half of the conference. Since there are not conference sessions tomorrow, I will spend some time telling you about the international peoples here at GHEC.