Thursday, March 6, 2008
Why We Homeschool
(T and J writing cuneiform words as they study ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia last September as we started our tenth year of home education.)
In light of the recent court controversy here in California, I thought it a useful exercise to remind myself and others why homeschooling is so important to me and to other home educators. I'm not saying that homeschooling is the best or perfect or most "Christian" manner of education; I am asserting, however, that the homeschooling lifestyle works very well for our family, and we think that it's the best choice for our particular children at this particular time.
Each spring we discuss schooling options with our children to make sure that they wish to continue home education and if so, which studies they would like to pursue in the coming year. With our local "Homeschool Expo" (a conference of speakers, educators, textbook vendors, and ISP and legal advisors) happening each May, I like to have a fairly good idea of what each child needs to and desires to study before placing orders. This year I am teaching grades 2, 5, 7, and 10; fortunately, I have been able to reuse many core curricula items for my younger students, depending on learning styles, personal preference, etc. We utilize a private Independent Study Program (ISP) that keeps our records, tests our children annually, provides co-op classes and field trips, and distributes report cards and high school transcripts. Our principal is also an excellent career counselor as she has worked extensively in human resources; she knows how to aid students in entering the university of their choice as well as help students to train for other jobs in fields outside of academia.
Our oldest three children have experienced "real school," with the older two attending a small Christian school for a full school year three years ago, and our third child going the local public elementary for two years. The kids started at the schools rather reluctantly; we felt we had to put them in school because of my poor health at the time. I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis, among other autoimmune issues, and I was simply unable to educate three children and care for a preschooler. Our eldest child hated traditional school because her teachers piled extra classwork upon her because she was "so advanced"; it was not unusual for her to have five hours of homework a night in seventh grade, and she became nearly as ill as I was. The boys, both in the private and public schools, fared better but still wished to be back at home. However, the schedule of getting children to school and picking them up as well as helping with hours of homework when I was most exhausted (late afternoon) was as wearing on me as homeschooling them all. When we were homeschooling, at least I could have them start some seatwork while I went upstairs for a little more rest on "bad" mornings when I was feeling particularly ill or in pain; no such luxury was allowed me as I made lunches and got kids out the door by 7:30 AM for school. The kids were tired and cranky with not receiving enough sleep due to their early hours and late nights of homework. We were back to homeschooling the next year.
Many Californians, as well as hundreds of thousands of families across the nation, educate our children at home for many reasons. Some do it for the superior academic standards that can be achieved in a one-on-one setting, others for religious reasons stemming from disapproval of state standards in the instruction of human reproduction, evolution, non-traditional family situations, etc. Some of us homeschool to promote family bonding or to allow our children sufficient free time to "be a kid" or to follow their own pursuits and talents while others do so in order to accomodate one of both parents' unusual work schedules. And some of us home school in order to accomplish all of the above to one extent or another.
As a former educator at the university level, I willingly relinquished my "dream job" of instructing at a small liberal arts college in order to educate our four children. A definite turning point occurred that brought me firmly to that rather unorthodox decision in 1996. I was teaching a class in the research methods required by the Modern Language Association (MLA), and my class consisted mostly of transfer students from local junior colleges or other schools that did not require the five-unit writing course that our college did; therefore, they needed to take a two-unit writing course, and my research course fit the requirement.
Anyway, I was instructing the students in the proper formation of the MLA outline after receiving outlines that did not conform to the required format. I informed the students that the format required an outline consisting ONLY of noun phrases (nouns and modifiers). When I noticed a look of puzzlement from most of my students, I joked, "So who can give me the definition of a noun?" Not one hand stirred. Not one look of dawning comprehension darted across a face. Eighteen blank stares greeted me. I tentatively suggested, "You know, 'a person, place, or thing?'" For almost thirty seconds the class remained eerily silent -- and then from a few I received a brief nod or a shrugging of the shoulders. It was true:
I had an entire class of legal adults (college juniors and seniors) who did not know what a noun was.
And it was at that precise moment that I decided to home school our children.
Academics is one reason we educate our children at home. Three of our four kids, all but the second-grader, study Latin. They are also exposed to poetry daily, create amazing science projects and physical science experiments, receive one-on-one tutelage for math, are studying world history this year, study art history several days a week, etc. And besides that, it's just plain FUN to learn together: the older kids at times helping the younger ones, hearing my two middle children practicing ragtime on our ancient piano, taking time to do our lessons outside when the weather is pleasant, learning Greek and Latin vocabulary roots, getting involved in deep discussions about all sorts of philosophical and practical matters. The kids learn that their viewpoint counts, that their ideas are worthy of being heard and pondered, and that they have something important to offer not only in our family but also to the world.
And yes, they receive more than adequate socialization, not just with kids their own age but also with adults of all ages and backgrounds as well, making them extremely well-balanced and polite young people whom most people delight to be around. Sometimes that reason alone seems good enough to homeschool....