Tuesday, September 17, 2013

One More Thing

Ok, I've now flagged a couple things about me that will come through in my posts that could be polarizing:  politics and faith.  I wanted to give a heads up so no one is caught off guard.  No surprises. 

And I wanted to be up-front about these things because if you disagree with my politics or my theology, you might be inclined to write me off and not read any more of this blog.  I've encouraged you to not do that and to look for common ground.  In my experience, most of us have more common ground than we might initially imagine.

I've thought of one other thing about myself that is likely to come through on posts about voluntary simplicity and that might be polarizing:  My husband and I homeschool our kids.

I know this decision can be very controversial.  Like many homeschooling families, we've learned to not lead with this tidbit.  We don't lie or hide the truth, but we don't necessarily advertise the fact that we homeschool.  When questions come up about where our kids go to school and we have to explain, we've gotten a wide range of reactions over the years. 

I'll start on a positive note.  Some folks are impressed.  They say things like "God bless you, that is wonderful!" 

Alternatively, if they have kids too, they often (without any provocation) become defensive to some degree.  They explain they think homeschooling is ideal, but then they feel compelled to justify why they aren't homeschool.  There are a number of reasons cited typically.  They could never do it because they don't have the patience, knowledge and/or financial resources to do so. 

I always try to make such parents know I believe that education is not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.  Each child is unique.  Every family has its own dynamics.  Different educational approaches are best for different kids and different families.

On a less positive note, other folks we encounter have much less favorable reactions to the disclosure that we homeschool.  Most just seem to stare blankly at us like a deer in headlights.  They seem to not know what to say.  It is as if we've just disclosed that we live on the moon and we summer on Jupiter.  I often get the impression that such folks are thinking, "Wow, you seemed so normal, I had no idea you were deranged.  How do I politely get as far from you as possible?"  Maybe I'm wrong and these folks are not thinking such things.  Maybe they are just socially awkward.  Not sure, but we get this sort of reaction a lot.  To such people, I often wish I could console them that we don't live on a "compound" or carry firearms.  Nothing to fear.  But I figure that would freak them out all the more, so I just smile pleasantly.

A handful of people, upon learning that we homeschool, have had negative reactions that they've shared with us in fairly rude ways. 

One dear friend frowned and said bluntly, "I don't believe in that, kids need to be in schools."  She had no kids of her own and had never even worked with kids.  But clearly her own educational experience was what everyone else needed. 

Years ago, a fellow soccer mom with a kid on my daughter's team replied, "Well, I guess that is ok if you don't care about standards.  For me, I'd rather know my child is learning what she is supposed to."  That mom was very hung up on standardized tests and the modern trend of teaching to the test.  She didn't trust an educational approach that was different.  Her assumption was we were setting our kids up for a life of poverty because they would be unqualified for better jobs. 

I don't try to show off, but to allay any such concerns, dear reader, let me assure you my kids are doing fine.  My 5th grader is half-way through 7th grade math and my 3rd grader is almost done with 5th grade math curriculum.  They are both avid readers.  They are good kids, but my older child sometimes smuggles books into her bed to read them after bedtime or first thing when she wakes up.  We are currently reading Romeo and Juliet together, which is a hoot because my kids keep attempting English accents when they read their assigned roles.  My 5th grader is also reading Pride and Prejudice and a book about the fall of Troy, while my 3rd grader is reading A Little Princess and The Odyssey.  They are both learning to type and to play the piano.  One has been in soccer and basketball leagues.  The other has studied folk dancing and has been on both soccer and volleyball teams.  Both my kids want to go to college. My older daughter wants to be a scientist, and my younger daughter vacillates between wanting to be a dentist and an artist.

However, if you still sympathize more with the folks who've had negative reactions to homeschooling, I recognize this point may be a real turn-off to what otherwise may have seemed like a promising blog.  I encourage you to not write me off, but to consider a few things.

First, about 10 years ago, I would have had the same reaction as you. 

My husband and I both come from a family of public school teachers.  Not only was grade school teaching the family business, but both my husband and I were educated K though college in public schools.  It worked out pretty well for us. 

And I began my career as a grade school teacher where I did not have a favorable impression of homeschoolers.  The only ones I met were the antagonistic families who eventually pulled their kids out of our public school to homeschool--after they insisted we were promoting a "satanic curriculum" by teaching stories like "The Three Billy Goats Gruff" and "Jack and the Beanstalk."  As most of my colleagues and I were devout Christians, this accusation seemed a bit odd to us. 

Additionally, I lived in a community where there was a high profile murder case where a psychotic mom killed all her young children.  They were homeschooling Christians, so this seemed to confirm my impression at the time that homeschoolers were strange and delusional.

Happily, when we adopted our first child, we met some other adopting families who already had older kids whom they homeschooled.  Like many homeschoolers, they kept a low profile about their educational choice.  So, I got to know them and their children beforehand without forming negative prejudgments due to my own bias against homeschooling. 

These families had teenage kids who were so articulate and polite.  The families seem to work well together.  They pitched in to get things done and to care for younger siblings.  No whining or foot dragging.  They also loved to read and were good at entertaining themselves.  They didn't ever seem to get bored.  I finally asked one of the moms what their secret was to raising such amazing kids.  The answer was homeschooling.  I was beyond surprised but I tried to keep an open mind. 

I asked a lot of questions and learned a lot more about homeschooling from these moms.  They also recommended that I read up on the topic and attend a homeschooling convention.  The more I learned, the more I was impressed and realized my prior impressions of homeschooling were not all that accurate.  Instead, my husband and I became more excited about the notion of one day homeschooling our own child, though at the time she was still a baby.

Like many parents, we already had worries about the school we'd eventually send our daughter.  Bullying, the quality of the education, trying to instill our family's values, peer pressure.  There are so many issues.  Like many middle class parents, we had already bought a home in a suburban area with well-resourced schools with the assumption that we'd send her to our local public school when she was old enough.  But we'd already heard from neighbors that things were not necessarily as rosy in the local schools as we had thought.  The local schools had problems, so we'd preliminarily looked into private schools.  Those schools were not only pricy, but they often had their own issues.  Among other things, private schools were not regulated in our state, so it was hard to gauge quality from one to another.  But as we learned about homeschooling, it seemed to be a solution to many of the concerns we had about public and private schooling.

As it turned out, there were also some exciting bonuses to homeschooling that we came to realize as we researched the topic.  First, a homeschooling family spends so much more time together that relationships become strong and the family works well as a unit.  Second, instead of being at the mercy of whichever teacher our child was assigned each year, we could take her education into our own hands to ensure a high level of quality.  Third, we could help instill a love of learning by letting our kids follow their interests more by tailoring our curriculum and spending more time on some topics.  Finally, such tailoring also allows homeschooling families to go faster on topics that kids find easy so they don't get bored.  But if they ran into topics they found particularly difficult, we could slow down until they mastered them.  I know first hand as a grade school teacher, that kind of tailoring is not possible in modern institutional schools where the whole class has to cover the same topics in the same sequence and at the same time.

So, in sum, I flag that we homeschool not because I'm proselytizing.  I respect every family's right to educational autonomy.  What works for one family is not best for another.  But homeschooling is a core aspect of our family life, which is going to come out in my blog posts.  We spend a lot of our days homeschooling.  And we spend a lot more time with our kids than we would otherwise because they are not away at school.  Further, we're all at the house a lot more than if we were all gone during the day at jobs and school.  The fact that we homeschool explains all that. 

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