I post a lot about homeschooling, because it is a large part of who we are as a family. But I got a comment earlier this week on Twitter that made me realize that I have never put into words all the reasons we chose to homeschool. I hope that by stating the reasons why we have chosen this path, others might reflect on their own family situation and perhaps choose to homeschool as well.
I have spent a good two-thirds of my life in school in some form or fashion. With more than a decade of post-secondary schooling under my belt, I know the value of education, and the hard work that is required. Note that I said education, not school. Going to school does not ensure getting an education. I think it is vital to encourage a love of learning, starting at a young age. When a young person gets that spark, they become motivated to pursue education in many forms. A child can sit in a room or building and “do school” for 8 hours a day, but if there isn’t a passion for learning and a self-motivation for pursuing education and personal excellence, going to school in a formal setting is a waste of time.
Home education gives families an opportunity to encourage this love of learning and continue to build on our kids’ natural curiosity. Homeschool allows us to pursue education for the purpose of education, not to fill a block of time during the day or meet some minimum attendance requirement our state has, or to be another checkmark on a roster to ensure funding for a school. I don’t want my kids to feel that learning “just enough” to get by according to school standards is okay. I want them to be driven to learn out of an inborn desire for personal knowledge and personal excellence.
The World Around Us
One of my (many) criticisms about our culture today is our tendency to glorify “rock stars” – and not just in a literal sense. We put sports stars, musicians, actors, and reality stars on some pedestal, and our young people see this and grow up wanting to be like them. Scientists, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs don’t get this fame and we as a culture don’t make it “cool” to be smart.
It’s only recently that Nerd Culture has been seen as remotely cool, thanks in part to the very popular show The Big Bang Theory. There is still peer pressure among kids to not be the smart kid in class, or interested in something others see as uncool.
I want my kids to be around peers who value being smart, and for whom being nerdy is more likely a badge of honor. I may be painting homeschool kids here with a wide brush, but in all our interactions with various homeschool groups and co-ops, I haven’t seen the negative peer pressure and negative ideals (or nearly as much) that I see in many of the kids going through the public (and even private) school system.
Now I know that some people view (incorrectly, in my opinion) that by homeschooling, we are “sheltering” our kids from the real world, and ultimately doing them a disservice. I disagree. I think our schools are a vortex of suspended reality, with no resemblance to the way the world really works. In the real world, we aren’t lumped together with peers based on age or even intellectual ability. We don’t get ahead in the real world by towing the line, doing the bare minimum, not being driven to succeed, not thinking critically or outside the box.
And honestly, if we are “sheltering” our kids, so what?! Isn’t that our jobs as parents? Up to a certain age, we shelter our kids from violence on television, images of smoking and drug use and sex in the media, profanity and explicit lyrics in music. We are criticized if we don’t shelter them from these things. So why is it, if we choose to shelter our kids from a culture of narcissism, bloated consumerism and personal inadequacy, we are somehow bad parents.
Just The Facts, Please
Producing textbooks for public schools is a big business, and is driven by the needs and desires of the school districts. There is a huge market for textbooks that are used in the public schools, and they are written to meet standards that are set by state boards of education, and now of course the federal Common Core standards will have a major impact on textbook content. I don’t want to have my kids taught using textbooks that are biased, whether that bias is liberal or conservative. I want to use actual books, living books, primary sources – free from bias dictated from school boards and departments of education and common core standards. I want to be able to choose the material we are using in our homeschool so that I am confident that the content is accurate and well written.
Less Stress, More Learning
I remember the stress of taking standardized testing when I was going through public school. I always got test anxiety and struggled to stay focused. When I was going through school we had standardized testing every couple of years, and there wasn’t a huge build up during the year as testing approached. There was some preparation closer to the testing dates, but there wasn’t this feeling of anxiety, pressure and fear. Now it seems the focus of schools is to prepare for this ever-looming test that will determine whether your student, teacher, administrator, school, even district fails. That’s a lot of pressure! This pressure ends up on the shoulders of the students ultimately. And so what if your student does well on the standardized test? Does that mean he or she really mastered the content, or rather learned how to be a successful test-taker?
I would rather evaluate my child’s progress throughout the year, using a variety of methods to determine if they are retaining and fully understanding the material. Writing assignments, quizzes perhaps, narration, presentations and demonstrations– there are so many ways we can track our student’s progress without the stress of standardized testing.
When I was going through middle and high school, I hated Shakespeare. Hated him. I resented the fact that every year my teachers found a way to make me read his works. For the record, I do actually enjoy Shakespeare’s writings, having read many of his works in college. My resentment came from him being forced on me at every turn. It wasn’t like I didn’t read. I have always been a voracious reader. But I prefer to choose what I am going to read. I didn’t enjoy reading Shakespeare in secondary school because I was being forced to, in addition to having the teachers tell me how I was supposed to read it. Had they backed off or given me a choice, I may have felt better about it.
Anyway, what I have learned from my own experiences, as well as with my kids is that we learn better when we are self-motivated. When our kids take ownership of their own schooling and get to pursue their own interests, that is where real learning happens. We call Kyri our little entomologist, because she is really interested in bugs. She loves to explore and find insects and collect them in jars (don’t worry… it’s catch and release around here) for observing. She remembers interesting facts about the bugs she finds and is motivated to look up information, draw sketches, and build small habitats for her “friends.” This is what she is interested in and her passion motivates her to learn more. If she wasn’t interested in bugs, I couldn’t force her to go bug hunting, or pick up beetles to examine the different features.
Square Peg, Round Hole
Kids have different learning styles – some are visual learners, some are auditory learners, some are tactile learners. Some kids have trouble sitting in one place for too long and need to pace while doing school. Unfortunately, in a class of 20+ other students, there really isn’t much room to accommodate every student’s individual needs. It’s just not realistic. I wonder sometimes how Kyri would fare in a formal classroom setting. She struggles with staying on task and likes to wander around as she does her schoolwork. But at home, the teacher-to-student ratio is MUCH smaller, so as I figure out what schedule works best for us, and what learning styles she favors, I can modify my teaching method to suit her needs best.
Experiencing the World
I’ve mentioned in the past the abundance of educational opportunities around here. We love library classes, field trips with fellow homeschoolers, co-op classes. The dynamic learning environment keeps things fresh and excited, and this keeps Kyri engaged and wanting to participate. She remembers things she learns from some of these outside-the-home opportunities a lot more readily than when she just does a worksheet.
Educating at home gives us the freedom to take advantage of opportunities in our community, without fear of repercussion from the school for days missed, and without having to ask permission to take my daughter to an event.
Learning happens all around us, and the world really is our classroom. I don’t want Kyri to be so beaten down with her head stuck in a textbook or a test-prep guide, that she misses out.
Raising my kids the best way that I know is my number one priority. I have strong feelings on what I should be teaching them (and not just academically) – I am sure this is true for most parents. I want to teach my kids about what I think is most important. I don’t want to have to weed through what indoctrination is occurring at the public school and try to counter it. The truth is, indoctrination is going to occur – if we raise our kids vegan or as meat eaters, we are indoctrinating them in what we think is right. If we are Christian or some other faith and raise our kids to follow the same faith, we are indoctrinating. If we teach our kids about politics from our particular viewpoint, we are indoctrinating. If a child goes to public school and is told or shown through example time and time again that this particular “something” is the truth, that is indoctrinating.
So you see, indoctrination is going to occur, it is only natural I suppose. But as parents, we need to decide what we think is right for our family. That’s our responsibility.
The Family Unit
Call me odd, but I’m one of those folks who actually likes to be with my kids. When I was working full time and Kyri was in daycare/preschool, I missed her terribly during the day. I was missing out on most of her new experiences and the highs and lows of each day. We would come home in the evening after picking her up, and have maybe an hour before it was time to start our bedtime routine. She wasn’t getting quality time with either of us, and her behavior reflected this. One of the big pushes in the beginning, when deciding whether I would stay home, was her behavior. While we still have our struggles, as most parents do, being home with Kyri (as well as the boys) has been the best decision for us.
I get to spend my days with my kids, and have an active role in raising them, educating them, helping shape their development. I am grateful that I can do this.
***In case it sounds like I am bashing public school teachers, please know I have the utmost respect for educators in all forms. I think most teachers enter the field with a desire to teach and make a difference, but the education system itself and the way our schools are organized and run make this very difficult.