Why We Are Homeschooling
A Little Background
I know what some of you are thinking. I was a public school brat, and so was my husband. We grew up thinking homeschoolers were weird (actually, I don't think I even encountered "homeschoolers" until I was in college, and I definitely thought they were peculiar - but not in a bad way). Maybe when we grew up homeschoolers were weird, I don't know. It's not like my public school was free from social awkwardness and bizarre self-expression! During my first college years, I began tutoring math and science. As news spread, I began tutoring a lot of homeschooled or privately-schooled kids and was exposed to a whole new world of education that I had previously never seen. Mainly, I was seriously impressed. These kids were getting a LOT more education than what my school had offered, even at the honors level, and even though I grew up in one of the top school districts in the nation. I continued working on the side as a tutor for ten years, and by the end, it was only homeschooled (or alternatively educated) students and expanded to include writing and languages as well.
After quitting several traditional colleges, I enrolled at a tiny Christian great books college in Oregon called Gutenberg College. Many of my fellow students were previously home schooled, or co-op schooled, or alternatively educated in some sense. Many of the professors' children were being homeschooled. Homeschool became normal, and those fellow students, and professors' children continue to impress me, to significantly impress me. I started to tell myself I would homeschool my little baby boy someday (born before my senior year). I started debating homeschool from the moment we knew we were pregnant.
"Boy's Adrift" and "Why Gender Matters"
I had dipped my toes into homeschool for the preschool and Kindergarten years for my eldest. There were many moves, job changes, a new baby, and other factors that kept our structure very loose. My son had recognized all the letters of the alphabet and known how to spell his name since he was three. By four he had mastered the basic phonic sound for each letter, learned to count to 20, and understood some fundamental math language. For Kindergarten, I wanted to work more seriously on reading and writing, but it was a lot of work, and he wasn't loving it. I kept our sessions short. Then, after repeated recommendation from a friend, I read Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax. It was devastatingly insightful. Then I read his book Girls on the Edge, which was also great. Then I read his first book, Why Gender Matters. I highly recommend all of these titles, even if you only have children of one gender. The sections on boys and school were striking and completely hardened my resolve to homeschool my sons (unless I could find and afford a quality all-boys school). The most basic thing I was convinced of was that the current public school system has changed even since I started Kindergarten (1985), and it completely caters to what is happening in a girl's brain development - not a boy's (Girls on the Edge addresses how the co-ed public school system fails girls as well). Boys often burn out after their first few years of school and that sets the tone for being disinterested in school for the rest of their life. Further, boys are not girls, and will not stay put like a girl for hours when they are five and six years old. Boys get labeled as troublesome, disruptive, uninterested, or as having ADHD rather quickly. My son loves school right now and I want to keep it that way.
Another amazing insight from Dr. Sax's books is that the best schools in the world - year after year - are in Finland, where no one starts school until the age of seven. They have a childhood, which is considered vital to mental development. Play is learning for young children. America repeatedly ranks FAR down the list, and we start our kids in school now as early as the age of three or four. Starting early has not helped us, in fact, it may be hurting us.
I'm Not Ready to Let Go
That might sound worse than it is. I am simply not ready to have someone else be the primary influence over my children. Especially when I have little say about which teachers my children get to have. I have little say about what makes it into a government (or privately) sponsored curriculum. There is little I even get to know about what social interactions my young children will have throughout the day. I won't be there to help them process it, nor even sort through for themselves what they might need to process. My boys certainly aren't going to be able to recount to me significant relational events that happen at school and that begin to shape their self-conceptions. Frankly, I just don't think that 5 or 6 is the age at which they are ready to engage the world without a parent or very close supervision by a trusted adult. I want to provide them as firm a foundation to pursue knowing themselves and learning to learn and love learning and to be willing to seek truth - even if it's messy.
Won't they be weird and socially inept?
I guess I have to refer back to my first section on this. But my public high school had plenty of weird and socially inept people. Further, I know many, many homeschoolers who are far more skilled socially than their publicly schooled counterparts. Additionally, it kinda seems like those homeschoolers are cooler than many of the mainstream people I know. By "cooler" I mean, they figure themselves out faster and have a much stronger sense of self and less of a tendency to blindly follow trends. Of course, I know really cool public-schooled people, too. Maybe it has more to do with parenting, or inborn personality. My husband and I are both people people. We're both good at communication and making friends. My guess is weird parents make for weird kids and, so far, I think we've managed to navigate the social world alright. I imagine we'll be able to pass this on to our kids.
There are also no real-world situations where you are working solely with a group of peers within one year of your birthday. How is this preparation for the real world? It seems to me that mainstream schooling creates more disasters than it averts.
More times than I can count, but more frequently when my kids were smaller, parents at the playground would ask me what we did for preschool for our kids because they were so well adjusted and socially skilled. Most were surprised to know we've never done preschool. What we've done since before the first birthday, was to have regular, standing, playdates. This allowed a lot of motivated parental involvement in training our kids to share, to communicate, to resolve conflicts, etc. We've always gone to the park and encouraged our kids to make friends, if even just for the hour. This seems better to me than throwing them into a pack of 30 peers with a teacher who really doesn't feel like he/she has any moral authority to explain proper social interactions and what it means to be loving and kind. We have trained them in one-on-one situations what it looks like to interact well. Hopefully we have also modeled it well with the people we visit and bring into our home.
Won't they be sheltered?
Perhaps, for a while. But my goal is certainly not to shelter them from the world, but rather to help them process it as we go out and confront it. My aim is to be a safe sounding board as they encounter different ideas of how the world works. I have no plans or notions that I can protect them from the world's ideas or indoctrinate them into my own worldview. I just think that, for now, I am better sounding board than their peers. I have a funny notion, I suppose, that adulthood actually means something and that kids will not just figure it all out on their own (sorry Disney!). In fact, I want them to consider for themselves the history of ideas and to make a choice for themselves about what they are going to believe and how they are going to live. Only if they make these decisions for themselves will they have real value. A teacher in a public school is not necessarily going to be supportive of free thinking, either. It would be hit and miss, but more likely, they will not be supportive of the ideas I think are worth considering.
Are you smart enough?
Growing up I knew I wanted to be a teacher. And I did teach, in a sense, on the side as a tutor for ten years. This means other parents actually paid me to help teach their children, or help their children learn what they could not at home or in the classroom. I have a degree in Liberal Arts from a great books college, which deepened my understanding of the history and literature side of school. That degree helps fill out my natural abilities with math and science. I have studied three different languages, one of which was a dead language. The only thing I lack, in my own self-diagnosis, is a proficiency with lesson planning, but I think that is a skill I am getting better at week by week. Also, I would hope it goes without saying, but if I am failing to impart a crucial foundation or if homeschool does not work for one of my children, we will do something else. I am not at all married to the idea of being their sole instructor for all of their school years. I just want to do what I think is best for them at each stage of their journey. For this year, it is homeschool. Next year, who knows. I am only taking this one year at a time. And if a new baby means I cannot do what I need to, we'll even jump ship mid-year.
Any other questions or concerns? Please feel free to ask.
|A peak at math block work on the first day of school 2011|