Friday, August 31, 2012

This Homeschooling "Thing"

I am not going to talk about SouthLAnd today, as much fun as that would be.  I will talk about it again soon.  And when I do, I will speak of the wondrous Sammy Bryant. ;-)

Today, I am going to ponder "homeschooling".  It seems like a good time for this, as it is Labor Day weekend, the traditional final weekend of summer vacation.

Some people believe I have been a bit hard on homeschoolers in my blog.  Sorry if you feel that way.  I think homeschooling can be a wonderful thing.  I mean, I homeschooled my kids for a total of 13 years.  So, logically, I must find it to be a reasonably acceptable educational alternative.  The only other logical conclusion is that I am crazy.  And maybe I am a little crazy....  But, as with any decision in life, I think it is important to look at both the pro's and the con's, without getting overly defensive about your own position.  I believe this to be a healthy thing.

There are many positive aspects to homeschooling.  Firstly, when all the other kids were heading back to their educational institutions in August, my kids never started their studies until after Labor Day.  They also had two full weeks of Christmas vacation and their Easter break actually coincided with Easter.  There were  no teacher in-service days, and I could adjust the calendar so that we could accomplish everything by Memorial Day weekend.   So, you can see my first priority as a homeschool mom -- lots of time off.  (Tongue-in-cheek here.  So, don't get your undies in a bunch people.)

Seriously, though, there are many true benefits to home education.  I did teach in a public high school at one time, and I realized some things.  Most of the kids who did not succeed had poor basic skills -- reading, writing, math.  They were also disorganized and did not take personal responsibility for their work.  Of course, if you cannot read, write, and do math at a grade-appropriate level, you will probably not have much motivation to be organized and responsible.  I also came to the conclusion that if a person has strong basic skills, he or she will be able to tackle most of the other academic subjects with reasonable proficiency.  So, as a home educator, I was able to concentrate on helping my kids achieve proficiency in these basic skills in grades K-8, so that they were then able to apply them to a more rigorous high school curriculum which would prepare them for college.  Thus far, this approach has borne good fruit.  My two oldest have successfully graduated from college.  My youngest is a college sophomore, whose grades thus far have been very solid.  I do not mean to brag here about the greatness of my own children.  I believe this approach could work for many people's children, giving them opportunities for higher education that they might not otherwise have.  I know this is a bold assertion, unsupported by any formal research.  So, let me just call it an hypothesis.

Another wonderful aspect of home education is that the curriculum can be adjusted to reflect a child's interests.  This is fun for both the student and the teacher, as the student will have much more enthusiasm about his or her studies.  For example, my youngest son became a World War II buff at approximately age seven.  Therefore, he was eager to read and write about this topic; and he also came to appreciate the importance of mathematics in the area of aviation.  Fractions may be boring, in and of themselves, but he realized he would have to learn about them in order to be able to fly a plane like the aces of WWII.

On the other hand, though, there are negative aspects to homeschooling.  And these must be squarely faced, in my opinion.  If you are a home educator, and someone questions or criticizes your choice, you should not be defensive and accuse that person of persecuting you.  You should thoughtfully consider these questions and criticisms.  They might help you to be a better teacher to your children.  They might help you to strengthen your program.  Many people, for instance, wonder whether or not homeschooled kids have adequate extracurricular and social activities.  Most of these kids do have opportunities in these areas, but I have also seen some problems.  Socially, homeschoolers do tend to hang with other homeschoolers, who are of similar backgrounds and points-of-view.  This can be a wonderful thing for forging the bonds of friendship.  We all enjoy being with like-minded people.  But, on the other hand, children and teens who attend public (and private) schools do tend to be regularly exposed to those of differing viewpoints, and there are benefits that come with this.   One of these benefits, which I think is very important, is that the kids can come to view those with different opinions as actual human beings who can be VERY GOOD FRIENDS, friends who will truly stand by them in a time of need.  It is important for kids to learn that they can actually enjoy the company and wonderful qualities of those who are different from themselves.  And it has been my personal experience that many homeschoolers have difficulties when entering the "real" world, as they can be highly suspicious of those with the "wrong" viewpoints.

Because homeschooling is often undertaken without any connections with authorities in private or public educational institutions, there are those who will prey on homeschoolers and take unfair advantage of them.  There are people who privately provide extracurricular activities for home educated students.  Most of these people are wonderful, don't get me wrong.  But, I have also seen some of these providers make almost fraudulent claims about themselves.  These providers are also usually not subject to the background checks that are required of those who work in accredited private and public schools.  So, a warning to homeschool families:  Just because a person says he or she is a Christian, or supports Christian beliefs, or is going to vote for the pro-life candidate, doesn't mean you should trust that person.  There are people who will say these things in order to take advantage of you.  Be aware and beware.

Homeschoolers tend to be very bright and independent people, who firmly believe that it is the parents' right and duty to choose and provide for their children's educations.  I believe this, also.  And, it is not that I am a total "It Takes A Village" kind of person, but I think we need to remember that there are some advantages to what I think of as the educational "safety net".  If a child is in school, there are multiple people there to support the parents and the family.  And most educators truly do want to support the parents and the family, in spite of what some may believe.  So, as a parent, if you choose to remove yourself from the educational establishment, it is important to remember that sometimes you can misjudge a situation or make a mistake in a decision.  Humility is required.  If you have a friend or friends who care for you and are expressing concern about your educational decisions, at least listen and consider respectfully what they have to say.  In the end, your decisions are your own, but try not to be dismissive of the concerns of others. 

I hope I have clarified my views on homeschooling.  I do not regret my decision to educate my children at home, but after many years of doing this "thing", these are the conclusions I have come to about this choice.  May all parents be granted wisdom as they make decisions for (and with) their children about what type of education is best for them.  And may we realize that people do not all fit into the same mold, and that variety is the spice of life.

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