I keep running into this phrase. It comes in a few contexts, all relating to homeschooling.
Concern from parents that their kids are falling behind their peer age group.
Concern from the kids themselves about falling behind their peer age group.
Condemnation from family members and strangers who think homeschooling should be school-at-home and if it isn’t the kids will fall so far behind they’ll NEVER be able to catch up.
But what does “falling behind” even mean? Falling behind an age group? Falling behind a grade level? Falling behind in what areas? Who decides what kids should learn and when? What are they basing this decision on?
I have a lot of experience in the field of education. I’ve worked in daycare, as a classroom teacher and special education teacher in public schools (at various grade levels) and as a GED instructor working with teens who had just left high school up to people in their 60s. I am here to tell you that there is no average student. Age does not determine what people know. Grade level does not determine what people know. In fact, one of the most common topics of discussion among professional educators is differentiated instruction- trying to find ways to teach students in the same classroom who are at different levels of skill and ability.
Based on my personal observations “falling behind” is based upon what works best in the classroom* environment. In that particular setting it is necessary to move at a specific pace, introducing new ideas at specific times for organizational purposes. This is loosely based on when some kids seem able to master certain skills. It’s not based on current brain research or what we know about how people learn. For example, the reason kids who can’t read by the end of 2nd or 3rd grade in school are at risk of never reading fluently isn’t because they are no longer capable of learning this skill. It’s because classroom teachers don’t have time to work on reading skills beyond that grade level. And the kids lose interest because books that are increasingly difficult are required so they give up. This isn’t a critique of teachers, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s a critique of the inherent flaws of the system as it is currently structured.
So, when I hear people concerned with kids “falling behind” I take it with a grain of salt. Many of the arbitrary guidelines necessary for schools to run smoothly disappear in the home environment. I still, of course, listen when parents express concern because there are times when a legitimate concern might arise. However, I don’t think it happens often and certainly not as often as I hear it from “concerned” bystanders.