How to Educate our Children
My Journey Toward a Decision
I loved school. Diary entries from my elementary school years lament vacations because they meant so many days away from school. I think I thrived in the atmosphere of the schools I attended, for the most part. The exception would be junior high, when my self esteem plummeted and I didn’t even care very much about grades. I have always attributed that to the hormonal changes of puberty, but I can see now that the problems inherent in institutional schooling probably played a part as well.
From a young age, I thought I’d be a teacher, and I eventually did indeed pursue a credential. I taught primary grades for 5 years. It was incredibly tough at times but also very rewarding. There are a lot of problems with school that you can see as a teacher, but often we were rather helpless and had to live with it. I was terribly aware of the difficulty in trying to have one-on-one time with each of my merely 20 students (used to be 30 until the “class size reduction program” thank goodness!). I made charts to assure I met with students regularly to discuss their free reading, and I never sat at my desk when students were in class; I always circulated around the room if I wasn’t working with an individual or small group. Yet I’m sure I still didn’t achieve much more than the 3 minutes a study found was the average amount of time teachers spend with each student each day. And what’s worse, the “best” students—the ones who work well independently and are well behaved (i.e. won’t act out despite being bored because they already learned the material months ago!) are the ones who get the least attention. The squeaky (disruptive) wheel gets the grease (attention). That is so unfair.
Yet, while I was teaching I hardly thought of the problems in terms of my own future children. I’d heard of homeschooling and thought it sounded like a pleasant way to be around your children more, but it just didn’t occur to me that I’d want to do it myself. Until sometime around giving birth for the first time, I thought that when my youngest child entered kindergarten (or even preschool!) I would return to teaching, or some other kind of outside work. I did always intend to be home when my children got out of school in the afternoon. And I wanted to be very involved in their schooling. But it wasn’t until recently that I began to understand the many problems with school.
I always knew I wanted to be close to my children. I always knew I wanted to let them be children and not rush them toward independence before they’re ready. But for a long time I didn’t fully understand what that meant. For example, before my daughter was born, I happily received a crib for her and I actually assumed she’d be sleeping in it after just a month or so in a bassinet beside my bed (yikes!). Well, we ended up getting a bigger bassinet, and then moving the crib into the sidecar position beside my bed as Rhiannon grew bigger. We’re still neither of us ready to sleep in separate rooms through the night yet. Breastfeeding is probably the thing I understood the best. I always knew breastmilk is best and planned to let my children nurse as much and as long as they want. But even that held surprises as I discovered how important a relationship it is. I learned there is a name for this instinctive, responsive, and respectful parenting I was trying to do: attachment parenting. As I read about it, it confirmed my instincts and reassured me when others were not supportive of my choices. Homeschooling, many say, is a natural extension of attachment parenting. It’s natural, after spending years following your instincts and responding to your baby’s needs to question, “Should I be sending my 5 year old away from me for most of the day?”
How can you have a close relationship with your child when she is away for 6+ hours every day and she comes home too tired for much interaction in the evenings? And how productive are those 6 hours? Having been a teacher, I have seen two points of view. The adult point of view is fresher in my mind, so I don’t know how much I can trust my rosy memories of my schooling. Anyway, if I see wastes of time as an adult, imagine how the children must feel! Waiting to line up, waiting for some disruptive kid, waiting to go on to a new subject, waiting for stupid fund raising assemblies to end so we can return to our regular program, waiting for the class to quiet down, waiting for the end of snow days (well, that was one I did not experience as a teacher in California!)… and here’s the latest good reason I’ve thought of for homeschooling: when a homeschooler is sick, do you think she misses anything if she skips school that day?
Homeschoolers complete the basics much faster because they don’t have to do all that waiting, nor other time-wasters, like testing. I’m not trying to rush my children through school. But homeschooling is an opportunity to delve deeper into topics of interest, spend more time in real life activities, go on field trips, and experience the real world! In institutional school, the teacher has to follow the standards and topics “every 2nd grader shall learn” (for example). We have X number of weeks to cover (barely) the solar system, then we must move on to the frog life cycle. The child who was fascinated by planets—too bad—we must move on! The homeschooler can study astronomy as long as she wants! And she has the time! Real passions can develop! Why can’t an institutionally schooled child do this? Perhaps the highly motivated will to an extent. I know I was an avid reader; I read a lot outside of school. But I never never delved deeply into any topic until college. I didn’t have any time after spending all day at school and then having homework. I didn’t even do much extracurricular activity. If I had, I would have had even less time for really learning anything in depth. Homeschooling only takes a few hours a day—if you follow a more traditional approach—or it’s nonsense to even put a number on it if your philosophy is more of a “life IS education” and learning goes on 24/7. In either case, a homeschooled child learns at her own pace, and spends as much time, or as little, as desired or necessary, on any topic.
To return to my “journey” theme… So as I participated in groups with the attached parenting mindset, homeschooling would often pop up as a topic. At first I didn’t pay much attention, because as I said, I was happy with my schooling, and I just didn’t fully understand the problems with institutional schooling. As compelling arguments began to reach me, I talked to my husband, who also has happy memories of school, and I considered whether I wanted to take on the responsibility of homeschooling. For the first year and a half of Rhiannon’s life I didn’t think a lot about homeschooling. When others would question me, I kept saying that not all schools are bad, and I want to give school a chance. At this point, my idealistic self still thinks there are great schools out there, if I could only find them!
I’m not sure why I suddenly felt the urge to research the topic more in depth. It happened soon after I found out I was pregnant for the second time. Maybe this child is sending me messages encouraging me. Obviously children are different and some will thrive in institutional schooling despite its faults, while others will be much better off at home. In any case, I followed the urge to learn more. I found homeschool support groups online. I read of other parents’ experiences. Some began sending their children to school, but switched to homeschooling after realizing what a drain institutional school is on family life. (This really hit home with me.) Parents also switched because their children were bored and/or unhappy in school. I borrowed almost every book on the topic in the library. I began to think that at least I should be prepared in case I decide to homeschool.
I still haven’t committed to homeschooling, but the more I read the more I can’t find any reason to send my children to school other than just for another experience (though it may be a bad one) or to follow the mainstream culture (but that’s not a good reason, and I have been going against the mainstream in a lot of ways for so long I’m comfortable with that, and I often blame it for many of the woes of our culture today…) . I have actually tried to argue with myself against homeschooling, but I have a better counter-argument for every argument I come up with!
So perhaps it comes down to simply: What do I want to do? Have more time with my children? Or send them away from me at a young age? Put that way, it seems like such an easy decision. And I have lots of data and secondhand experience to know I’d be making a good choice.
By the way, my ability to teach my children has never been my concern, and that is not because I happen to have a teaching credential. I have been Rhiannon’s primary teacher for 2 years already. Anyone can teach. If you don’t know a topic, you can learn it or help your child find resources so they can learn it on their own.
As I said, I still haven’t committed to homeschooling, but perhaps that’s only because I still have a few years before I have to officially declare it.