Adventures in Homeschooling, and Why it Matters
Why homeschool? The question is simple enough, but to answer it brings one into an epicenter of debate: in parenting, in education, in socialization, and in religion. For me, the quick answer is, "Why not?" I have loved homeschooling the whole time, and personally could not imagine a better option. There are some more solid reasons, of course, for why I think homeschooling is a good choice. But first, here is what homeschooling has done for me.
I attended public school for first and second grade before my parents decided to homeschool. I still remember my teachers; the first was devoted and enthusiastic about her work, and I enjoyed her class very much. The second, not so much. I still recall listening to her stories - she had a tailless cat and a house on stilts, she once fished a chair out of a lake, her first husband died from a heart attack, and she once watched her cowboy son get beaten to a pulp by the biggest bull in the rodeo. None of these were anecdotes to add interest to her teaching or drive a point home, mind you; she was simply diverting from school to talk about her life. One may also wonder why some of those stories were things she considered appropriate to discuss with a room full of second-graders.
One of the problems with a public school is that you can't always control the teacher you get. Maybe she will be amazing; maybe, she'll be a dud. A bad teacher can make fascinating subjects boring and easy subjects incomprehensible. Or, she may not teach much of the subjects at all. Once I started homeschooling, the quality of my education didn't sway with my teachers or the type of day they were having.
I've always loved to learn at my own pace; when homeschooling, you are not weighed down by the usually slower learning pace of a classroom. This was its first and most obvious benefit, at least to me. I did not immediately enjoy math, but my Mom assured me I was good at it, so she worked with me and helped me stick through until things became more interesting. I spent as much time as I wished writing long stories, devoting a great deal of time describing the plethora of characters and the beautiful places in which they lived. My Mom was not afraid to get her kitchen dirty, and we did all sorts of science experiments. But from the start, the center of our schooling was when my brother and I would sit and listen to Mom read, whether from a piece of literature or a textbook.
Sometime after I turned eight, my Dad got a job in another part of the country, and we began travelling - first to Arkansas, then Washington and Illinois and Florida (though that one was a vacation). We'd pack necessities, school supplies, pets, etc. into a car or two and drive for days, stopping along the way at places like the Grand Canyon, Wichita Art Museum, Arches National Park, flight museums, and snorkeling trips (in the Florida Keys' coral reefs!) Homeschooling allowed us to adapt our school to our surroundings; in Arkansas, for example, we took time off from ancient history to study the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, and in Illinois chose botany as our science of study, where we were just a short driving distance from a delightful arboretum.
In Arkansas, we built ziggurats out of cereal boxes, went to Tennessee to check out the Parthenon (with a full-size recreation of Athena!) and kept a nature journal about the tadpoles we watched growing in a kiddie pool in the backyard and the bird family we watched grow from speckled blue eggs in a nest on the front porch. In Washington we memorized poems and experimented with electricity, making rice-crisp cereal dance and water bend as it ran from the faucet. And in Illinois, we read so many exceptional historical fiction books; I still vividly remember scenes from my all time favorite, The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It haunts me in the best possible way.
We finally settled in back home, with trips to the beach and more frequent, long country walks. Now we could really get into piano (couldn't take that along with us) and have fun with some longer-term classes, like orchestra and theater. But the trips we took together made memories we all treasure, and we had so much fun growing closer as a family.
Our personal choice of curriculum was rather eclectic, and there was a bit of a "Charlotte Mason" influence. I don't think I ever even thought about college until my junior year. I never took tests or followed state standardized curriculum. Sure, we learned the three R's, but we also had the freedom to jump into whatever interested us at the moment. Once, that was learning how to write in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Then there was the time I started researching the different types of dog breeds (don't look at me like that - it's history, geography, genetics and military history, all rolled into one!)
Looking back, I wouldn't have changed our methods for the world. Tests and deadlines are important skills for college, but they are most definitely not education. If I had been stressing over grades and due papers in fourth grade, I'm pretty certain that I'd have a different opinion about education than I do now.
Of course, up till now I have left out one very important subject: our faith. My family and I are Christians, and God is at the center of our lives in everything. My number one favorite thing about homeschooling has been the chance to see His purpose and Him glorified in each and every subject. My faith started to become real to me when I discovered Answers in Genesis through our elementary science curriculum, Apologia. Suddenly, He was everywhere I looked! Our history curriculum showed us what God was doing behind the scenes and offered us insights into the church's fascinating history; our English studies showed us how to discover the underlying worldviews and the authors' attitudes towards Christianity; science showed us the marvelous world of God's creation; even math had its uses, revealing the orderly way in which God created and continues to uphold the universe. Homeschooling has deepened and strengthened my faith and relationship with Jesus in ways that I doubt public schooling ever could.
So, our Christianity is a very big part of why we homeschool. By contrast, public schools take society's values and concentrate them into an almost totally antithetical religion, to be indoctrinated into the students.
These antitheses are everywhere. Society teaches a lack of moral absolutes; if it feels good, do it. This ranges from the obviously wrong to the subtleties of 'everyday sin.' Immodesty, crude speech and follow-your-heart mentalities are all things Scripture warns against (1 Timothy 2:9, Colossians 3:8, Jeremiah 17:9). In the classroom, deep time evolution is taught as fact, and the Biblical account of creation is ignored or mocked. Psychology teaches humanism and neofreudian ethics. History books favor Progressive values and foster Progressive beliefs, often teaching the Marxist idea that historical wars and depressions are reflections of the age-old conflict between the rich and the poor. And with the onset of Common Core, more and more students will be receiving a one-sided, pluralist religion, as well as a one-sided, liberal political agenda. With folks like Bill Ayers (a current esteemed American academic who attempted to blow up the Pentagon in his younger days) involved in the development of the curriculum, you can bet there'll be some subtle conditioning for their beliefs in the curricula - the same type of thing C. S. Lewis warned about in The Abolition of Man.
And Common Core isn't the only brainwashing agent placed in public schools. Increasingly, teachers of young children are being given handouts that encourage them to stop referring to students as 'boys and girls' and instead dividing them into other, allegedly equally arbitrary, groups, like 'juice drinkers and milk drinkers' or 'skateboarders and bicyclists.' A great deal of school teachers and curricula are being dedicated to teaching children that gender identity is really just a social construct, not a God-given aspect of your personhood.
The lack of moral standards in public schools is manifest. They range from simply annoying - I have been in extra-curricular settings with public school students who continuously ignore the teachers' attempts to get them off their cell phones - to the more disturbing. At the school in my town, for example, girls try to get boys' attention by kissing other girls in the hallways. I realize that some parents think that their children can be a light in public schools, but it is (at the very least) difficult for a child to grow into spiritual maturity in a dark environment, where even the sins the Bible describes as abominable are taken as totally normal, as a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice. How can that child focus on doing hard things for Christ, on not being ashamed of his Christian faith, and then having to focus on the actual learning part of school? It is not exactly the optimum scenario for raising up a child in the ways of the LORD.
The subject of actual education brings up some rather disappointing research done by various educators. According to scholars like E. D. Hirsch, Jr. (The Knowledge Deficit, Cultural Literacy) and Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind), a great deal of American students are struggling in reading, writing and math, and are largely ill equipped, upon graduating high school, for college level writing and analysis. Steeped in relativism, their worldviews are full of contradictions and meaninglessness apart from personal pleasure, and elementary, middle and high school teachers are told to encourage self esteem over actual academic excellence. Again, Common Core will likely play a role in the weakening of an already weak educational system (with its emphasis on conceptual over qualitative knowledge in math, for example). Any method that expects thirty children to learn by listening to lectures and taking tests, and all at the same rate and in the same way, cannot possibly succeed for each individual child.
How does homeschooling change all this? By placing parents in control of their children's education, they can best decide when and how their children learn about moral, social and religious issues. They can allow the children to learn in their own personal way and at their own pace, and, as Oliver De Mille writes in A Thomas Jefferson Education, they can encourage their children to teach themselves. For education can only be self-implemented; the child must apply himself, he must engage himself in his studies to really learn. In homeschooling, he has the opportunity to complement that with books, movies, internet research, family field trips, even legos.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the author examines claims that small schools produce the country's most successful students. As a statistician, he explained why that is a misunderstanding. Consider this scenario: I have a bag of marbles, half of which are blue and half of which are orange. I then ask you to draw four marbles from the bag without looking, and then I draw seven marbles - again, randomly picked. Who is more likely to get all blue or all orange marbles? You are, of course, because you are drawing less marbles at once.
Now consider public schools. Very large schools have a mix of students who are very driven in their studies, and students who see no use of school and would rather play video games all day; they have students whose parents hire them tutors, and students whose parents drink too much. In other words, they have students of all levels of perseverance, aptitude and stability back at home. In a very small school, however, that small sample size means that you are more likely to have an majority of extremely well-adjusted, devoted students. You are also more likely to find a majority of extremely insecure or careless students! Kahneman writes that if you were to conduct a study to find the worst schools in the U. S., they would also be small schools!
What does this say about schools in general? It says that one of the stronger forces determining the success of a school is not necessarily the curriculum it uses or the teachers it has or the methods it employs; it is the type of students it has. The individual students are either taking advantage of their education and applying themselves, or they are experimenting with personal projects and ignoring homework they consider boring, or they are giving into the wrong types of peer pressure and playing hooky. Instead of asking about the size of the school, a better question would be: What schooling method will enable the most personalized approach to interest my children and enable them to learn the most? There is no doubt that that method is homeschooling.
This freedom in education enriches not only intellectual and religious development, but social development as well. Gone are the cliques of high school, or hanging out with kids of like mindedness, interests, age, etc. Through co-ops, church, extra-curricular activities, homeschool groups, and just about anything else, homeschoolers can interact with and have friends from all walks of life, from peers to toddlers to octogenarians - and that list, more often than not, includes both parents and siblings.
So to sum it up, the number one reason I believe in homeschooling is that I believe it glorifies God. And yet it offers even more practical benefits, in education, family relationships, and yes, socialization. For me, homeschooling has been an adventure, a well-appreciated invitation to step up to the challenge that is learning - and enjoy it immensely.