Quote of the day...er...week...umm...hey, look, a quote!!

"...besides love, independence of thought is the greatest gift an adult can give a child." - Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

For old quotes, look here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thoughts on Home Schooling

I was catching up on my blog reading and found this post over at Wat Da Wat (Go read him, he's neat!), which prompted me to write an obscenely (and rather rudely) long comment. I then decided that I wanted to turn that comment into a post. Go read his post - he makes a good argument for sticking with the sinking ship and rebuilding from the inside out before it goes entirely under - and this one might make more sense. Or not.

Some, but not all, of the reasons I am home schooling: Bullying. Drugs. Revisionist history. Teaching with a political bent. Theft. Sex. Cliques. Gangs. A lack of mores. "Dumbing down" classes to fit the lowest common denominator. Forcing children to learn a give topic at a given time rather than harnessing their natural tendency to learn. Forcing children to speed up or slow down their process so that no one feels left out. A lack or squandering of resources. Lack of discipline. Rewarding students who cheat while punishing teachers who frown upon and act on that cheating. A focus on sports rather than education. The banning of all things spiritual. The loss of arts programs. Teachers sleeping with students. Over crowded classrooms. A focus on learning by rote, without actually learning what anything means. Putting greater emphasis on social issues than on educational issues. Forcing children to fit into a single mold without respecting their individuality, their creativity, their strengths. School lunches. Threats of violence. Teacher's unions that are more focused on protecting teachers than in supporting the actual education of the students (or in protecting students from abusive teachers). The lack of basic respect for an individual and the mandate that children be homogenized, even as they form exclusive social groups. Cutting classic novels like "The Old Man and the Sea" from reading lists because they are too hard. Taking school supplies from one child and giving them to another because "...it's not fair that one child has crayons when another doesn't..."(since when is life fair, and why should a child be the one forced to remedy this??). Being told by a teacher in a public school that she would home school her own children if she could, because the whole system is breaking down at an alarming rate and she hates it with a purple passion but can't get out.

No, not all schools have all or any of these problems. I have friends who are teachers, and I adore them and find their strength and integrity to be unimpeachable. I would give my son's education over to them in a heartbeat, if I could afford to send him to private school or hire them on as tutors. I certainly don't relish the inevitable questioning of my ability as a parent to teach my son, although I was a teacher myself for a short while. I don't relish the constant scrutiny, the ascribing of home schooling to every one of his little peccadilloes, or answering the seemingly endless (and often rude) questions about my religious or social reasoning for the decision. I don't actually enjoy the presumption that I am crazy, a zealot, a conspiracy nut, or any of the other negative stereotypes of home schooling families. I don't enjoy answering the constant accusations that I am depriving my son of something that only a government institution can provide (although no one can answer what that "something" is when I ask about it) or that I'm making him a social misfit because he doesn't get to socialize with other kids.

In public school he would be considered of kindergarten age and taught on that level with no regard to his actual ability. At home, he's doing grade one level work in reading, grade two in mathematics, he understands a smattering of Spanish (I'm learning that as we go) and Sign Language (also learning as we go) and he views everyone as a potential friend. He can use the computer with confidence, although I won't let him near the Internet for fear he'll reprogram the whole bloody thing. He's not afraid to wear what he wants, doesn't worry what anyone else thinks of his clothing, his hair, his favorite games, foods, or toys. He plays as easily with the two-year-old child as he does with the fourteen-year-old, with no distinction or ageism on his part. A friend is a friend. He isn't shy of his elders, and he is careful and inclusive of those junior to him.

No, he's not perfect - he has a temper that is astonishing, and he's prone to flying off the handle when he's stymied. He's five, and he acts his age, which means lots of hugs, kisses, cuddles, and learning.

It wasn't an easy decision, to home school him. It means I don't have any time that is "mine". I write late at night, because days are his. I have to factor him into all of my plans, including doctor's appointments and social events. Cleaning house, doing laundry, and running errands are done around him and his education.

On the other hand, I can take him with me when I travel with my band, showing him the countryside and using it as an opportunity to teach. He will know the USA in a way many children won't - by experiencing it first hand. We aren't tethered by a timetable, forced to keep up when something's difficult or slow down when it's easy. We can spend an entire day at the nature center or the museum, exploring them fully, without worrying about a schedule.

I've been in the public school system, and I won't put him through it. Honestly, there are so many things going wrong that I don't know if they can be fixed. Certainly, nothing's been done to patch the gaping holes in the system. I've seen parents get involved and get ground down by bureaucracy and apathy. I don't have the strength to take on that system and attempt to foment change, so I will do what I can to teach my child at home - teach him not only what's in the books, but also to think for himself, to form opinions based on something more than "Think this way because I said so!", to create, to look at the world around him and see the richness, the diversity, the wonder of it.

I got long winded, and I could go on...but I think I ought to stop. I agree that we have a responsibility to more than our own "house", in the end. I would say, though, that when someone sets their own home alight, I have less duty to help douse it than I do to keep it from spreading. We're not all insular, either - many of us pool resources, have play groups for our kids, plan field trips with each other, and try to help each other out when help is wanted or needed. I have no fear that, should the need arise, I would be left on my own to put out the fire.

And now (yes, I started a sentence with "and". So shoot me.) I need to work on the Evil Genius' writing - in that, he is on par with his age group...which means he has the hand writing of a deranged lunatic with palsy and no sense of perspective. Thanks for the thought provoking, and I hope that I haven't offended!


chris said...

As I indicated on my response to your comments, the reasons why you home school your son are the reasons why we should all care and not let the ship sink. Your passion and dedication to your son's education is needed by as all.

foolery said...

What a great and thorough, thoughtful post.

I don't think you should have any fear of Bird's not learning social skills, since you mix him in with all ages frequently.

The reasons I don't home school are these:

I am the main breadwinner (though Chas works part time).

The school is the same one, K-8, that my brothers and I attended and is EXCELLENT. We couldn't be happier.

My elder daughter and I go head to head over everything, and have since she started talking, at nine months. I can't even give her piano lessons, much less home school her.

But if I had to, I'd figure out a way. Kudos to you for raising such a well-rounded boy.