Saturday, July 29, 2006

Why Homeschool?

In the past two weeks I have met more and more families that are considering homeschooling. More than have crossed my path in the past two years. Way more than since I was first introduced to the idea of homeschooling over ten years ago, before I had children of my own. Today it is estimated that there are somewhere between 1 and 2 MILLION homeschooled children in the Unites States, increasing at a rate of 7-15% per year. The sheer number of us is astounding!

And it's no wonder. Homeschooling is not a new idea. It's the oldest educational system there is. Parents have always been teaching their children, from humans to wombats, it's cross-cultural and cross-species, and has been around for as long as there has been life on this planet. We're just returning back to the old ways, the natural way things used to be. There is nothing novel about it.

I shouldn't be surprised that others have come to similar conclusions that I have about the U.S. public school system. Some folks say that it sucks the life right out of their children. Others say No Child Left Behind sucks the life right out of the teachers, so it's no wonder. They're between a rock and a hard place, as the old adage goes. They have to teach to the tests to maintain funding. There is no time left to stop and smell the proverbial roses. No time for experiential learning or fun and games. Music and art and sports have been labelled extra-curricular rather than fundamental to the educational experience, and in some places done away with entirely. And many people say that the loss of those things, among others, turns our children into robots. They say that public school is a factory, a machine, and our children are squeezed through the process until they emerge on the other side, dumbed down, nondescript, submissive and spiritless. Or cynical and maybe even angry.

Me? I don't know. I'm a product of that system. It wasn't a fate worse than death, but it wasn't terrific. I got out before the major budget cuts, before the stringent testing, before anyone talked about viable educational alternatives. There are many reasons not to send your kids to school. We could bash the public educational system until the cows come home, but to what point? Who does it serve?

I think a more interesting question is: Why are people homeschooling? What's the payoff? What does it do for your children? For your family?

What could I say to all these people that are on the fence, or interested but overwhelmed, that would really give them a fuller sense of what homeschooling is all about? I've been thinking about it, and have come to realize that what's really key is not my curriculum choice. It's more about how I teach than what I teach. In that sense I don't think I'm really that different from the larger homeschooling flock. My reasons are simple, my findings are ordinary. Ordinary among homeschooling parents, and yet... they are phenomenal. Ordinary phenomena.

Subject matter aside, my children are learning:
  • to think for themselves
  • to question
  • to find their own answers or truths
  • that the right answers are often a matter of perspective
  • to trust themselves
  • to be interested
  • to create and explore
  • to develop relationships with each other, their parents, and the world
  • that they have a voice
  • that they're unique and special
  • to dream
  • to follow those dreams
  • and that they, and their dreams, matter
Even if they learn nothing else, I will have done my job.

But in my experience with other homeschooling families and teaching my own children, it's obvious that homeschooled children also learn the key curricular ideas of our time-- the three Rs. They also manage to learn physics, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, history, sociology, etc, etc. And they do it remarkably well because they love learning. Being able to learn something at your own pace and because you're interested in it is incredibly motivating. Initially I was worried that my children might not be interested in the right stuff, but the fascinating thing is that if you let them guide their own learning the content seems to just bubble up out their interests and questions. They manage to turn a pirate card game into a lesson of physics, world geography, geometry, history, and moral fortitude.

The bonus factor is that I'm learning all these things, too. It's no secret that most homeschooling parents find themselves repairing their own educational shortcomings, everything from physics to self-esteem, in the process of educating their own children. We're all learning how to stand up and follow our dreams.

It's not an education of facts. It's an education of spirit that no institution could ever hope to compete with.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:39 PM

    Dear Sara,

    Thanks for posting this. I will direct any prospective newbies here for the next few months - and there are so many of them.

    You put it so well in that the reasons to homeschool are positive in their own right - notbased in the negatives of the school system.



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