By Kevin Mark Smith, Esq.
I’m experimenting on a group of homeschooled high school kids, aged 15–18 years. Specifically, I’m dissecting their brains to determine how swiftly their neurons transmit data and how this physiological process translates into their ability to think logically. I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am an attorney.
My scalpel is a metaphorical one. It is the Socratic method of instruction wherein one question leads to an answer, which leads to more questions and yet more answers, with the ultimate destination being the truth. After just four weeks of teaching these kids Constitutional Law, my experiment’s initial result has affirmed the wise choice my own family made many years ago to homeschool our own kids.
Homeschooled kids are brilliant!
It may be helpful to know how I am conducting the class so that you can understand why I am so surprised by how sharp these kids are. We have a syllabus with assigned readings for each class, but the class discussion is very fluid. Just like during my law school days, there is no “lecturing” in my class (as today’s government-schooled high school and undergraduate college students are subjected to), although my students will be held accountable for the readings via one final exam (there will also be a mid-term paper and a legal brief on a legal question to be determined later). Instead, I review the assignment and prepare a list of questions to spur discussion.
Going into the first class four weeks ago, I was a little fearful that these young men and women barely past the age of puberty would be engaged and prepared well enough to sustain a full hour of class time. My fears were unfounded; the first few questions stirred their minds so effectively that many debates ensued, and at the conclusion they asked me if they could extend the class time by half an hour. Since that first class, we’ve gone for at least 90 minutes per class, and most of the students linger afterwards much longer than that, peppering me with many more questions related to topics beyond the scope of the class’s reading assignments.
Big deal, you say. Anyone can bloviate his or her way into an extended discussion. In law school they call such students “gunners,” always talking but never listening, and most of them end up in the bottom quarter of their classes—if they manage to graduate at all. However, that is not what is happening with these brilliant homeschooled kids. Consider their unanimous response to a question that was posed to them in week four’s session. While discussing the ever-encroaching federal government and what led to such centralized power, I brought up the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. I then asked them what led to the Civil War.
Here’s what government-schooled kids most often say led to the Civil War: slavery. Their textbooks and teachers focus on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the different views of slavery held by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. When the abolitionist Lincoln was elected, the South’s fear of losing its slaves led it to an armed insurrection. Indeed, most people reading this article might have said the same thing.
Here’s what all of my students said (prepare to be blown away), rephrased by me to include all of their points in the most succinct way possible: The Civil War was caused by the United States’ unbalanced trade policy, which favored manufactured goods over agrarian products, including bans on exportation of agricultural products to Europe, which forced the South to employ cheap slave labor to offset the exorbitant cost of maintaining their agrarian economy in a hostile tax and tariff environment.Lincoln’s election forced the South to sever its ties to the Northern politicians, who were intent on destroying the South’s economy.
Wow! In the back of my mind I had prepared several follow-up questions meant to lead them to that conclusion, anticipating the typical response and being intent on using my scalpel to lead them to the correct answer, yet . . . they knew it already. Unbelievable.
To be completely frank about what I have seen so far in these kids, I would put them up against many undergraduate and law school students (and lawyers, for that matter). Thanks to the commitment their parents made to homeschool them many years ago, these homeschooled students have the ability to think for themselves and to analyze complex questions better than their government-schooled counterparts.
But I am also afraid. I am afraid that one day these kids will go to law school and return to Wichita,Kansas, to practice law in the very same courts I practice in. Another ten or so years of learning and maturing just might make my job that much more difficult when I am forced to fight them toe to toe with the substandard government-school foundation I am cursed with. Maybe teaching a few more of these classes will result in their brilliance rubbing off on me? I can only hope.
Kevin Mark Smith is an attorney in Wichita, Kansas, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He writes often on the law, homeschooling, and issues of importance to Christians, families, and conservatives on www.kevinmarksmith.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.