Sunday, August 27, 2006

On Homeschooling

It's been interesting reading a few things here and there recently on websites, forums and comments made in blogs. What's caught my eye the most are those on homeschooling.

There are some ignorant, rude folks out there who like to bash the whole idea and warn you that without a doubt, your children are going to grow up without a single social skill. (Conversely, if you plan on pulling your child out of school, even if it's just for a year, apparently they'll have no social skills left after that year. ?!?!?) They'll tell you that your kids won't fit in or will be weird or whatever. (Had an interesting conversation at a park day a few weeks ago on this very thing: yes, our kids will be weird because they likely won't be all caught up in the typical teen culture and since that's what everybody expects teens to be like, anything that doesn't fit in with that means, according to homeschooling naysayers, that they will be weird and socially inept. They don't get that it's really like having grown up in a different place entirely.)

There are others who are curious about homeschooling, who are pulled toward it but have doubts. They worry if they'll be able to actually teach their children. They worry if their children will have any friends and if they'll have a good social development. Some are convinced that they'd be removing a chance for their kids to grow up well and decide against it. Some seem to want their kids to lead the same lives they did ("I remember prom and boyfriends and this and that and I want my kids to have that, too.") Others simply have the concerns and remain in doubt.

The good news is that worrying a bit about it means that you do care about what's best for your kids and you're not making a decision based on just what you want.

Are your concerns truly valid? Or are they concerns that society around you spouts out as some unalterable truth?

Let's take if you can teach your child or not. Do you think you could teach your child how to add 2+2? I think any parent able to read this blog of mine would say yes. Can you teach your child the letters of the alphabet (sounds first, remember! (See blog entry below!))? Can you teach your child how to tie his shoes? Can you teach your child to read? Here you might go, hm, I don't know. Most teachers have a format based on a particular program. They don't have any special training necessarily on reading and they simply make use of the program they've found. There are lots of recommended programs for homeschoolers. Are you intelligent enough to follow directions in a book? If so, then you can use a program to teach your child to read. And you only have one, maybe two, at a time you might need to teach. The school teacher has a class full, which is why she got the classroom training (teacher certificate) before being there.

If you are capable of learning, then you are capable of teaching what you've learned. There are plenty of resources out there that help people teach things. There's no reason you can't use those resources, too.

As for the social aspect, if you were to homeschool, were you planning on putting your child in a room by himself all day long? No? Oh good. Because if he's interacting with a single person, voilà, social skills use. If he's got siblings, even more social skills use. And I'll add, it's likely multi-age social skills use instead of what goes on in school: 12 years (13 if you count K) of social skills use primarily restricted to children of the same age. Which do you think is probably better as an adult? Being able to talk with people your age or being able to talk with people of various ages? Which situation is actually more reflective of life as an adult?

Add to this family interaction your ability to go out during the day with your children. There are fewer people in the stores and at the library and all kinds of places. This means that your children have a better chance of actually interacting with the cashier and the librarian and whomever. Add to that any extra-curricular programs you might put them in. Add to that any homeschooling activities you may participate in or families you may get to know and do things with.

Think about this further: where are your children more likely to be able to use and develop a wide variety of social skills? In a classroom where at least half the time is spent sitting in a desk responding to a single adult's questions and silently doing work? Or actually interacting with other people? Different people, too, since no homeschool activity ever has the same people each time.

I'm going to throw out another question (I like asking questions of people! I wonder if it was my own teacher training!): have you bought into the common belief that kids need to be around other kids the same age all the time in order to be able to interact properly with others? Please think about this for a moment. How long has the current model of the classroom been around? (Answer: about 150 years, but perhaps not even quite that as I think the early public school classrooms were multi-aged classrooms.) How long have people been around? (Answer: much, much, much longer.) Does it logically follow that human beings actually need to have that sort of situation in order to become adults who can work with others?

I've become convinced that part of our society's naysaying against homeschooling is the persistent desire for sameness. I think it would be advisable for many to read The Giver and see where the goal of sameness can end up. Not that I think our society will ever get to that extreme, but both the society in The Giver and our society have this particular bent on developing one model of a person and anything outside that model just isn't right. (And if somebody doesn't fit within that model and is/was homeschooled, it's automatically assumed that it's homeschooling's "fault".)

If somebody's shy, it's not good. Why? Because people are all supposed to be out-going and personable. But why? What would be so great about not having any shy or reserved people at all? Is that really, really a problem? It means that those people will be aimed towards activities and jobs where their personality fits just right. If everybody was a social butterfly, we'd have a lot of unhappy people in jobs which require you to kind of be on your own.

If there are academic issues, this is apparently a bad thing, too. And if you're homeschooling, it's assumed automatically that it's because you're homeschooling. It doesn't matter that we are all different and will want different things out of life and some of us may never, ever use math beyond basics as adults or that some of us will never spend any time writing as adults, other than filling out forms.

Why do we want perfection so badly? I don't think there's actually an answer for that question, but it's got to be asked.

And it ties back in with what I said above: people worry about the 'right' (perfect) thing to do about their child's education. Many people who would be awesome homeschoolers never jump on board because they're afraid of not being able to create the model that society says is 'right'. But there is no single right model! Not for schooling, not for a person. It's okay to be different. That's what schools kept trying to teach us, especially as teens trying to be like everybody else. But it's not just teens, it's everybody (okay, not EVERYbody) wanting everything to match up to some supposed ideal: have this many friends and first boyfriends and this much social contact and this type of training and these grades and these skills...

I think of Thomas Edison. His mother pulled him out of school after a month or something like that. She allowed him to be who he was. She did not insist that he become a 'well-rounded individual'. And good thing, as he probably would not have been the scientist he was if she'd had.

I realize this is a lot of babble and it may be entirely incoherent. It's also very long and I'm impressed if you've made it this far. (Leave a note in the Comments if you have!) My point is this: there is nothing to fear in homeschooling. Yes, there are considerations to make: what will you use to teach your kids, what sort of structure, how will you provide them with social opportunities beyond the people in the household, etc. The things society fears about homeschooling are fears not based on any rational truth. Or as one lady I knew online told me, FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. These falsities appear as realities to a lot of people. If you're intrigued by the idea of homeschooling, don't let them deter you from exploring it further!


Jane said...

OK I'm posting about this post in my blog :)

bskr mccor-blog said...

i thought your post was great. my oldest goes to caraway which is an alternative program (mixed age groupings, no desks, no bells, child led, etc.) within the public system and there are a lot of former homeschoolers in it. i've been really happy with it but do ask my dd from time to time if she'd like to homeschool.

Charlynn said...

Wow, lots of good points there!

Very interesting read.

Daisy said...

Caraway is very much like Montessori, both being very much like what a lot of homeschoolers do (okay, not with all the Montessori materials, but the general approach!). It's a shame Caraway is not more popular as it's a much more sensible set-up than our traditional classrooms.

And thanks, Charlynn!

Karen said...

Wonderful essay, I enjoyed reading it. I agree with all of your points about homeschooling. Confirms my decision. :)

Pam said...

"there is nothing to fear in homeschooling"

I should have read your post last week Daisy! I kept thinking "What have I done!! I am not capable of hsing my dd!!"

It has been good to go to the two park days this week and just BE. Be with other hsers, not focus on sitting and working, just revel in the fact that I finally made the jump!

I guess I had better come visit your blog more!