Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Question about Homeschooling

On online friend wrote to me,

"I noticed you are for homeschooling. I am debating between that and sending my boy to public school--yikes, I know. Since you did some study on the topic, what did you find? Any curriculum you liked in particular? I guess this is a loaded question."

It's really late/early right now, and I can't promise that my answer will be comprehensive, but I wanted to address her question at least in brief. I decided to post my answer so that the very experienced moms and dads who read this might contribute other thoughts as well.

First, I'd like to address a couple of common reasons why people seem to find homeschooling objectionable. I really think that with some careful thought and observation, these fears can be allayed.


1. Homeschooling presents a socialization problem for children.

In my experience this is the most common question/concern people have about homeschooling. We tend to have a hard time imagining children not going to a school building and sitting in rows of desks with peers who are all within 12 months of their age. But is that the only way, the best way, or even a really good way to learn? Does it realistically reflect any other real-life situation that the child will face in his adult life?

I say that it is not, and it does not. At no other time in our lives do we limit ourselves to fraternization with people of our own birth year. Rather, "real life," which is one of the preparatory functions of education, is much more likely to bring us into contact with people of all ages, in all contexts. I contrast traditional school with "real life" because school is a false construct. Kids learn to adapt to its ringing bells, 20 minute lunches, bathroom passes, and flourescent lights, but it's certainly not benefiting them socially. They survive it more than anything else. Homeschooling generally gives children more opportunities to interact with people of all ages, in varying contexts that better prepare them for any situation they may encounter as an adult.

2. How will they learn at home? Do I have to make a "school at home"? I can't be a teacher!

When I began to learn more about how people learn, what motivates them, what engages their imagination and intellect, I began to see readily that traditional classroom environments kill imagination and intellect more often than they ignite them. The students who survive with some curiosity and true desire to learn intact are the exceptions; this was borne out in my graduate studies, when I conducted qualitative interviews with people about their schooling experiences and memories.

Children can, but usually don't, truly thrive in a traditional school environment. They usually do learn to adapt to it, but I believe that it's often at great cost to their sensitivity, personality, intellect, relational name it.

I am not of the mindset that one needs to make a "school at home." There's nothing wrong with a desk (I'm sitting at one now!), sharpened pencils, or workbooks; but creating an actual classroom complete with chalkboard and rigid scheduling is, in my opinion, unnecessary, and denies your family the beautiful freedom that comes with thinking outside the box when it comes to learning.

I recommend reading some books on learning while making a decision like this. I really enjoyed reading Learning All the Time and other books by John Holt. When I first delved into this topic, I also enjoyed Mary Griffith's The Unschooling Handbook. Many, many of the texts we read about learning in my education classes served to further convince me that homeschooling was the best option for any student to thrive and to reach his potential as a learner.

Regarding being a teacher: YES YOU CAN. You are probably the most perfectly equipped person to teach your child. God gave that child to you. If you look at Scripture, you'll find several places where the parents are told to instruct their children, or where a reference is made to parental instruction. By contrast, there is not a single example of a modern school-like phenomenon, where children left home to be taught by someone outside the family, in the Bible. I am not saying it's sin to send your kids to school! But if we are really looking for the BEST option for the child and seeking advice from the Word, I'd have to say that learning at home is sanctioned by the Bible more than any other form of instruction.

Also, practically speaking, many people give teachers too much credit for knowing everything! We may well give them credit for resourcefulness, stamina, and dedication--but these you possess in abundance for your own child. Good teachers prepare for the lessons they give by consulting texts and experts; that's nothing you can't do. You don't have to be the fount of all knowledge. You have to get good at learning where to find answers and instruction: the library, a professor at a local college, or sometimes, your own backyard. Physics lessons can take place as you plant a garden together. Math instruction can take place in the kitchen as you measure ingredients. Many of the lessons that have been relegated to a workbook and desk can find much better media in the stuff of everyday life! (Not that there's not a time and place for the workbook, too.)

3. Homeschoolers are weird and too sheltered.

The answer to this is twofold. On one hand, the world is always going to look at a Christian family and think at some point, "They are SO WEIRD." People say that to me because we don't have TV. So, yeah, some homeschoolers are weird like that.

But on the other hand, this accusation is more a product of some popular media than of reality, I think. Every homeschooling family I've ever met--seriously--has blown me away. Usually the children are well-behaved, able to converse with adults, and (frankly) superior to other children their age in what they already know. The families are usually very closely knit and harmonious (obviously, they're not perfect!). Yeah, that's just WEIRD. Wouldn't want THAT.

Also, I think kids can hardly be sheltered too much, so I am not the best one to talk to about that concern. There is a kind of sheltering--the "you're never getting out of this house" kind of "sheltering"--that is not healthy, but I have never witnessed a family like this and believe that is an exception, to put it mildly. Most homeschooling families take great advantage of community resources and can be found all over the place taking advantage of things every day that public school kids have to take special, infrequent field trips to see and do.

I hope that helps my friend a bit. PLEASE chime in with other thoughts, because I know I have probably left out really important stuff.