Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Interview: Brad Miser - Author of "Absolute Beginner's Guide to Home Schooling"

Below is an interview with Brad Miser done via email. I enjoyed his book Absolute Beginner's Guide to Homeschooling. I couldn't find it just now, it looks like we may have loaned it out again.

I hope you enjoy the interview.


Brief bio:

Brad Miser wrote the Absolute Beginner's Guide to Homeschooling. Brad has also written a number of technology books, including books about iPods and iTunes, and using Macintosh computers. He is a strong supporter of homeschooling. For more information on Brad check out his web site.


Brad, tell us a little about yourself. What did you like to do as a child? What interests do you have now, other than computers and homeschooling? Where have you lived? Where would you like to live?

I was/am pretty much what most people would consider a science/computer geek/nerd. Except for riding motorcycles, which I did as much as I could, and playing football, which I did for several years, my interests were toward the geek end of the spectrum. I loved to read, but mostly read science fiction. The crowd I hung around with liked to play chess at lunch, and we were definitely into Star Trek. I also loved school (the education part--definitely not the social aspects), but was not particularly challenged by it, especially high school, which I sort of cruised through with "A's" even though I took the most advanced classes my school offered.

In college, I majored in Mechanical Engineering and graduated with a BSME. Since then, I've had a number of different jobs starting in the engineering world and moving towards the computer arena, in which I've happily settled.

Now, I have a family that includes my wife and three daughters. My interests are primarily with them. My full time job is as the director of product and customer services for a software development company; I write books as a second job/hobby/passion. My other passion is riding my street motorcycle, which I do as often as I can get it out on the road. I also like to exercise regularly, and am a big movie fan.

I grew up in southern California, went to college in central California (San Luis Obispo), and now live in Indiana (after living in Texas and Alabama). As I often tell people, if I was independently wealthy, I'd live on the coast of northern California because of its incredible beauty. But, the realities of working and raising a family aren't compatible with that area unless you have lots and lots of money. Indiana is a great place to live if one has to deal with the realities of being a working person. It is also a very family- and homeschool-friendly state.

Absolute Beginner's Guide to Home Schooling:

As I mentioned in my review of your book, I think Absolute Beginner's Guide to Home Schooling is a good book for someone new to homeschooling. What did you learn while doing the research for the book?

Thanks for the kind words. The book was great fun to write, and came quite easily because it was an expression of things we'd learned while homeschooling our kids for more than 13 years. I think the thing that struck me the most was the change in attitude towards homeschooling over the years we have done it. Even when we first started (and we were by no means pioneers as many had come before us), homeschooling seemed to be rare and people often had a negative reaction toward it because it was unusual and they had a bad stereotyped image of homeschoolers. Now when I tell people we homeschool, they tend to be either positive or at least know someone else who homeschools, making it seem less odd. I think that is an amazing change in a relatively short period of time.

After writing all the books about programming on the Mac, was it hard to switch to writing about homeschooling?

No, because it is a topic I care about and am very interested in. I was excited about the opportunity to potentially help others make the decision to homeschool--or to at least understand it as a viable option even if they decided to send their kids to public or private school instead. I hoped the book would be a place people could go to get a grasp of the overall process of homeschooling, understand some of the complexities of choosing it, and be able to get started. I also hoped it would take some of the pressure off by including such topics as responding to the inevitable questions people will ask, having a realistic way to evaluate it, and so on.

Do you currently have any plans to write more books on homeschooling?

Not at the moment. I'd like to write more on the topic someday, but technology books are more in focus for me at this point in my career.

My nine year old daughter has expressed an interest in being a writer when she grows up. What advice do you have for her?

As cliche as it sounds, I'd tell her to read as much as possible. It is a rare writer who isn't also an avid reader (and probably only avid readers have any interest in writing anyway). The other suggestion I'd have is to write as much as possible, about any topics she is interested in. That's really the best way to learn to write... by doing it.

I don't think there is a set path for writers to follow. I always had a "knack" for writing, but didn't really focus on doing it until I was in my 30's. And I'm hoping the best is yet to come.

General homeschooling:

How did you get started with homeschooling?

When my first daughter was very young, my wife started homeschooling her without us calling it that. By that I mean we read to her constantly and generally engaged her as much as we could in exploring the world. As she grew, we decided that we wanted to try homeschooling--we had several close family friends who were already homeschooling and we really loved their kids. They seemed a lot more mature than other kids we knew who were not homeschooled so it seemed like the process offered something. We also liked the idea of having the primary relationships with our kids. Over time, we've been very pleased with the results so I think we made a good decision back then. Of course, it hasn't been easy, but good things seldom are.

As an author do you work at home? If so, how involved are you with homeschooling your children?

Actually, my writing career is a second job for me, or more aptly, a part-time passion that I enjoy immensely. I have a full time position as the director of product and customer services for a software company. I write in the mornings before I go to work and on the weekends so that I have time for my family in the evenings after work.
My wife is the driving force in our homeschool. I mostly participate by providing the means for our family to be able to homeschool and offering advice and support where I can.

What is the most fun you've had while homeschooling?

The most fun I have is when my kids surprise me with what they have learned, especially when they express something that I know they would never have learned in a public (or even private) school setting. I also enjoy seeing my kids react to situations in a mature and responsible way.

How will technology affect homeschooling, and education in general, in the coming years?

I think it is already having a profound impact, nowhere more so than for homeschoolers. The Internet makes it possible to participate in high-quality educational opportunities available literally all over the globe in any topics one can imagine. There are many traditional schools, such as colleges, and homeschool organizations that offer individual courses and entire curricula over the Internet. These can be in virtual classroom settings in which students can interact with instructors and with other students or they can be self-paced programs.

This avenue of education offers many benefits, especially for homeschoolers. The technology makes it easy and relatively inexpensive to provide a variety of educational opportunities for kids without handing over the responsibility for their education to an institution. It also takes some of the pressure off homeschool parents because we can easily engage resources that can help with specific topics in which we might not be qualified, especially as kids start toward the high school years.

This technology addresses one area of potential weakness for homeschooling, which can be a lack of variety in educators interacting with students. I believe it is important that students be able to learn from all kinds of people. Using Internet-based training makes this not only possible, but an easy experience to provide.

What do you see as the greatest benefits to homeschooling?

There are three primary benefits from my viewpoint. One is that it helps kids learn that education is not something you do in school, rather it is a way of life and that we are all responsible to continually grow and learn throughout life. Rather than look to an institution to teach them, I hope homeschool teaches kids how to learn for themselves as a way of life. The second primary benefit is that it provides the opportunity for us to really have a relationship with our kids as they grow--I believe this is something that has been lost over the years as the economy and educational systems have become institutionally-focused. Homeschooling enables parents and kids to grow together with the family as the primary focus instead of a "school" being the place where kids spend most of their time and energy. A third benefit is that homeschool helps kids avoid the kind of "herd" based living that is so prevalent now. Instead of looking to an institution or group for guidelines on what is important, kids can learn to look to their parents for this guidance when they are young and develop the ability to make good choices for themselves from an early age.

And again, thank you for letting me interview you.

Thank you for the opportunity!

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