I've been meaning to sit down and really take a long, hard look at homeschooling and how it's working for me. Not for my children; not for my family; for ME. And this isn't meant to be a selfish, whiny, or self-congratulatory post - I'm not looking for sympathy, praise, or anything of the like. I'm just looking to put some thoughts down on (virtual) paper.
First, I need to discuss our reasons for choosing to homeschool (and I can't remember if I've already done this). These are in no particular order.
~ Homeschooling fits well with our semi-nomadic, somewhat transient military lifestyle. At one point last year, we were looking at the possibility of living in three different locations in one school year. The idea of bouncing my children in and out of three schools in a 9-month period made my head hurt. If for no other reason than the sheer amount of paperwork associated with doing so! In all seriousness, I know how disruptive one move can be if it's made in the middle of a school year and we weren't willing to sacrifice our children's academic year because of my husband's career. (I'll add the caveat here: just like when you read your fortune from a fortune cookie, you add "in bed" to the end to make it funnier, the unwritten ending to everything I say here is "because we are blessed to be able to do so at this point in our lives. It is quite possible that I may have to go back to work and our children will go back to public school. They will be fine - we will make sure of that. But for now, I am able to stay home with them and educate them at home. None of this should be taken as a slight against parents who either are unable or choose not to homeschool.)
~ Homeschooling allows us to focus on what we feel is important. Traditionally, the 4th grade year is the year that students study state history. And that's wonderful if you are a lifetime resident of the state in which you live and you plan to live here for the forseeable future. Because (sadly) Hawaii was not going to be our lifetime home (not yet, at least), spending 4th grade studying Hawaiian history - while fascinating - was not to The Girl's benefit. Instead, we were able to spend it learning about ancient Rome, ancient China, Babylon, Egypt and the pharaohs, and so on. We read wonderful literature works that backed up our studies on the ancient civilizations. We took our time and dug into the things that fascinated us. We breezed through the things that we mastered and moved on to things that challenged us and interested us.
One of the things that frustrates me about those in academia (and in life, generally) is that we always think WE can do it better, therefore we reinvent the wheel ALL. THE. TIME. We don't stop to think that it IS possible that those that came before us might very well have done it right. So rather than have our children read the classics, we have them read drivel because we've designed it to be 'better'. Either that or we don't think they are capable of reading or understanding the classics in the first place, which is both wrong and disappointing.
And, while I believe that there is a time and a place for 'fluff reading', I prefer to rely heavily on the classics...because they did it better than I ever could.
~ Homeschooling minimizes the impact of negative influences seen in the public school system. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one to shelter my children. That doesn't do anyone any good and, in the end, it does a terrible disservice to my children. My children experience the world - good and bad - on a daily basis. We don't hide real life from them. But set foot in a middle school or high school today and show me ONE behavior you would want your children to emulate. I want my children to grow up capable of functioning in, and contributing to, society. Sitting in a room with 32 other 10 year old children will not help my children accomplish that. Going out into the world - interacting with people in a variety of different roles and locations and learning how to navigate the world as it is outside the walls of a school - will benefit my children more than sitting in a school building for 7.5 hours per day.
~ Homeschooling allows me to tailor my children's curriculum to fit their learning styles, likes, and interests. The Boy's biggest problem in math is that he does it all in his head. It comes to him naturally and he's already well ahead of his peers. But his listening skills are his weakness and he has trouble sitting still when being read to. The Girl has no trouble with words in any form - written, spoken, etc. She's well ahead in spelling and language but struggles with math. It doesn't come naturally to her and she has to really WORK at it. Thankfully for both of them, I am able to address not only their weaknesses but their strengths - something that is tough to do when you're juggling 30+ students who each have their own strengths and weaknesses (I've been there and done that...with 150 students. QUITE a challenge.)
Right now, The Girl is learning fractions. There is no better way to reinforce what she's learning than to bring her into the kitchen to help me cook and bake. The math skills she is acquiring are going to help her throughout the rest of her academic career but this is not necessarily something that a teacher in a school setting could actually do with a classroom of students. They could hand out worksheets and encourage parents to bring their children into the kitchen to help reinforce the lessons learned at school but nothing compares to the immediacy of going from the dining table (where we did our math lesson) to the kitchen counter right then and there to put those new skills to use and solidify the concept.
~ Homeschooling allows the teaching of critical thinking. It's tough to really develop the concept of critical thinking in a classroom. That's 30+ opinions and ideas to juggle. It's easier to resort to lower levels of learning - primarily the memorization of dates and facts. The perfect example is history. It is Presidents' Day weekend. A few short weeks ago, we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. In a classroom, we might discuss the dates and events that surround these people we celebrate but rarely would you find an elementary school class engaged in a discussion as to the motives behind the actions of the people in the stories. Why did the KKK react so violently to the idea of blacks and whites having equal footing? What were the arguments for and against the Emancipation Proclamation and what were the opposing viewpoints with regard to the Civil War? Why do you think President Lincoln chose to draft the Emancipation Proclamation? What were the consequences if he had not? What would YOU have done? Do you think that Dr. King would have made a better (or quicker point) or seen a different degree of success in the Civil Rights movement had he allowed his followers to resort to violence? These questions can be posed in a classroom setting but a discussion like that takes time and time is not something teachers have a lot OF. So critical thinking gets the shaft, even though it's probably one of the most important skills to have in today's world.
~ I know my children. Better than anyone except maybe their father. I know what makes them tick. I know their weaknesses and their strengths. I know what they like and what they cannot stand. I know how far I can push them. And, yes, sometimes it is better if they learn from others. I do not think I am the ONLY person capable of teaching my children. But I do think I can do it best.
I also think that quality of the curricular options I have as a homeschool parent are light years beyond that of a school. I'd go back to teaching in a classroom TOMORROW if I could choose the curriculum. Some of what we see in classrooms is solid but most of it is crap. It's politically correct, aimed at the lowest common denominator, and screened by lawyers, rendering it pretty much devoid of life before it ever reaches a child's desk. But the options I have available to me (go check out the Rainbow Resource catalog if you doubt me) are astounding. And, like I've said before, I love our math curriculum so much that I think it should be required that all teacher education students complete every level of the curriculum (as though they were the student) before the ever set foot in a classroom of any kind. I feel pretty much the same way about our language and history curricula as well. I'm not saying our choices are the best or the only good ones out there - I'm just saying I love them.
And now I see that this post is going to be much longer than I anticipated so I'll wrap this up here and post Part 2 later this weekend.