Dr. Arthur Robinson, president and research professor of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, and his wife, Laurelee, also a scientist, were busily engaged in homeschooling their six children, managing a successful professional life, and taking care of a farm. Laurelee, who was responsible for most of the homeschooling duties, developed a curriculum spanning twelve grades, which was filed away in several filing cabinets.
When Laurelee died suddenly after a brief illness, Robinson was left wondering how to manage everything. Their youngest child was only seventeen months old. The other children were left with a classroom and no teacher. Slowly, the Robinson family began an experiment. The children developed a system of studying independently, and each took on home responsibilities suited to his or her abilities.
Today, progressive educators talk a lot about the value of collaborative work. According to Robinson, though, the ability to study independently as a homeschooler has several distinct advantages, which are:
- The ability to homeschool even when a parent isn’t able to dedicate hours each day to that purpose. Many parents would like to homeschool, but feel unable to because of other commitments. With the Robinson method, a parent must still likely be in the home, but they can be working at the same time children are studying.
- The capacity to learn subjects well beyond their parents learning. Whether a parent has a high school diploma or a graduate degree, when children learn to study independently, they can progress as far as they like, on their own.
- A very high level of academic achievement. Robinson’s children all averaged 1400 on their SATs and have gone on to receive graduate degrees in chemistry and veterinary medicine.
The Robinson Rules
Robinson instituted some family rules early on which he believes are fundamental to the success of his program. Some of those rules include:
No television, period. Most homeschoolers limit television viewing, but Robinson doesn’t even own a television (although the family may watch a DVD every few months). He believes that television teaches children poor thinking skills because of its passive nature. Few could argue with that assumption.
No sugar. The Robinson children don’t eat sugar, honey, or sweets. Sugar has many harmful effects, such as increasing the risk of diabetes, hypoglycemia, and immune deficiencies, and also leads to poor mental function and increased hyperactivity and irritability. Robinson figures the best way to avoid these problems is to eliminate sugar completely.
Rigorous study schedule. The Robinson children attend school five hours each day, six days per week for ten months out of the year. That’s substantially more than any mandated attendance law you’ll find in the U.S. School is a priority, starting first thing in the morning after chores. The children sit quietly at a desk in the school room, while Mr. Robinson does his own work at his desk.
Back-to-basics curriculum. Mr. Robinson’s curriculum doesn’t offer electives or extracurriculars. Instead, he focuses on the basics and allows the children’s natural interests and chores to take care of the rest. Children learn to read through phonics, and the family keeps a library stocked with classic literature. Children spend two hours each day working on Saxon Math, which Robinson believes provides a solid foundation for higher level math and science. Each child writes one essay each day, which Mr. Robinson checks. High-school age children study college-level science. After studies are over, the children spend many hours in recreational reading. Children are not allowed access to the computer until after they’ve completed mathematics through calculus.
Potential Benefits And Drawbacks
Most homeschooling parents can easily see the benefits of children capable of independent study. These students learn to think for themselves and develop a strong work ethic. A back-to-basics approach allows students to spend their time mastering the important skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, which are so necessary to later academic and life success.
On the other hand, critics argue that this approach eliminates one of the great joys of homeschooling—learning together. Analytical thinking flourishes, but an artistic child might suffer with this approach.
When Mr. Robinson started his homeschooling approach, he didn’t use one particular curriculum, with the exception of Saxon Math. Instead, he used high-quality literature and textbooks as resources.
Later, his children decided to develop a curriculum based on the resources they’ve used at home. This compilation is available to purchase and includes twenty-two CD-ROMs containing over 120,000 pages of text, mostly from out-of-print books. The set includes literature, autobiographies, textbooks, and exercises and games. Visit Dr. Robinson’s website to learn more about his philosophy or to purchase the curriculum.
Several websites offer reviews or additional information on the Robinson method. HS Treasures offers an in-depth analysis of the potential pros and cons of the curriculum. Visit Home-School.org for more information on the benefits of the Robinson method, written by Dr. Robinson himself. Check out Homeschool World for an insider’s look at the Robinson family, including information on what the children are doing now.
Dr. Robinson’s approach probably isn’t for everyone. Auditory and kinesthetic learners will likely have a hard time sitting still for five hours of quiet study each day. But, regardless of your philosophical bent, most can agree with his passion for encouraging excellence.