Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Homeschool Reflections

Two years ago I wrote a post about Homeschool Proms and Graduations. As my youngest celebrated her high school homeschool graduation this past weekend, I can't help but have some words to share. After homeschooling my three kids during the past 12 years, I have to say that it certainly has been a wonderful experience for our family. Our kids have thrived and have created their own successes. When it came to academics, my husband and I served more as facilitators than instructors. Our children have learned to work, think and live on their own. They have become independent and goal driven. More importantly, they have developed into fine people, with a wonderful circle of friends and family.

We certainly were not the mythological/stereotypical homeschooling family that sat around the kitchen table doing lessons, nor did we ever try to replicate government school at home. I honestly never met a homeschool family that did. My kids did not suffer from lack of socialization with their peers, and heaven knows they did not develop into some socially awkward and damaged children. All the ever popular criticisms and labels that people like to toss around in the articles that you normally read in the media about homeschooling were, and still are, bogus. We never had a problem with Socialization, or academics, or being able to compete, or being able to fit in. Did we spend all of our days together? Of course not. Did my kids ever have other people as their teachers and mentors? Of course they did. They had varied and interesting experiences, along with some mundane and difficult times. Were all days perfect? Of course not. The truth is that homeschooling works!

And yes, there are still those narrow-minded people out there who want to make up reasons for why we homeschool - you know them - the suspicious kind who want to think that homeschool families are some sort of control freaks that want to "protect" their kids from other kids attending government schools who are different from them. They think we want to teach our kids hate and how to discriminate. They think we want to instill some twisted world view in our children. I can't even begin to tell you the ludicrous things I have heard, but no doubt if you are a homeschool parent, you have heard those ridiculous things as well. It's kind of sad to see how some people are so conditioned to think these things. The statists are really the worst - they are the folks who truly believe that parents do their children some sort of harm or disservice if their children aren't marched into government sponsored institutional education by the time they are 3. How incredibly ridiculous! Perhaps that is one reason why kids today for the most part are so disconnected from their families. Suffice it to say that the education they are fed from age 3 is substandard when compared to that of other countries!

Then of course there are the indignant parents who feel they have to defend their choice not to homeschool by putting your choice down as being somehow lacking over theirs, yet in the same breath will tell you all of the horror stories of their child's experiences in government school! It's amazing really.

Of course, homeschool critics don't consider that
- Maybe we just want our kids to learn in peace, without the twaddle and nonsense and fabricated drama that happens in government schools.
- Maybe we want to make sure our kids get a real education; one where no one holds them back or determines what they can and canot learn at any point in their education.
- Maybe we want to provide them with unique experiences and field trips that could never happen in a government school program.
- Maybe we want to provide our children with a safe environment - free from bullying and teacher/student humiliation, and one free from drugs and crime.
- Maybe we want to provide our children with a curriculum which they can help craft; give them ownership of their work and lots of opportunity for growth of real self esteem which comes from hard work and accomplishment.
- Maybe we just don't want to deal with bureaucracy and arbitrary rules set by others.
- Maybe we are just caring parents who have determined that our choices are the best match for our family.
- Maybe we understand best what is best for our own family!

One kid once asked my son what time he got up in the morning to start his studies. My son replied that he rose at 10:00 am. The other kid was amazed because he had to get up at 6:00 am to go to public school. He sniped back at my son, in a tone of obvious jealousy, "Well how on Earth will you ever be able to get up early in the morning to go to work when you get a job?" My son simply replied, "When the time comes, and it is necessary, I will buy an alarm clock".

So simple, and yet so funny and sad at the same time.
Most kids are conditioned to think that they must do things well otherwise any bad grades will "go on your permanent record". My kids never had that fear of learning. They did things to the best of their ability and were rewarded for their efforts. They went on to learn new things when they mastered and understood the lessons they had to work through. Sometimes that took a short time and sometimes it took a while. Their pace was their own, and when they did encounter problems. they had a hand in figuring out how to work through them.

They were not inundated with filling every minute of their day with scheduled activity. They had time to find out who they were and what they wanted to do with their life. They had time to relax and be a kid. They had time to be themselves and were not pressured into being something or someone they were not.

They had time to develop strong bonds with their siblings. Ours was not a house of strangers cohabiting. We took great pains to make sure we had dinner together every night, and we talked, joked and shared and on some days we argued too.

What many people fail to understand is that Homeschool is about more than just academics; it's a way of life. Education is not just something that happens between 7:00 AM and 4:00 PM with weekends and holidays off. The fact is, mom and dad are learning too.

We used a variety of sources for our curriculum; Some bought, some borrowed, some absolutely free for the taking. When something didn't quite work, we had the freedom to toss it and try something else. My kids education lacked nothing, and in fact as my kids went through the grades, they had that sense validated as they compared what their government schooled peers were up to. My kids played on town sports teams, played in homeschool orchestras, participated in competitions, joined clubs, worked at jobs, did volunteer work, all along with all of the other things kids do.

We have had a wonderful 12 years; we wish we had started sooner. It was a journey that we are all glad that we took, and that we had the courage to take despite the disparaging remarks and noise from others along the way. We learned to tune out that noise, and we are ever so thankful that we had the freedom to do so.

Thank goodness we were able to homeschool in freedom.
I pray that my grandchildren (and their grandchildren) will have the same opportunity.
All the more reason to continue supporting parental rights and the homeschool community even as my children are off to (and finished with) college.

I may be "done" homeschooling my kids - but I am not done with supporting homeschooling and I will continue working to keep it a free and unencumbered option for parents.

The purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life – by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past – and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort. ~Ayn Rand