Why homeschool?

The short answer: (1) I think it would be fun. (2) I think we’d do a good job.

(Before the long answer, a disclaimer: If you have kids in school, or are planning to send your kids to school, or you’re a teacher, or in any other way you have a stake in traditional schooling, my thoughts about homeschooling are not a commentary on you, your kids, or your choices. This is what I think is best for my family, not everyone’s family. Also, Michael’s reasons for wanting to homeschool might differ from mine in some ways. He can add to this if he wants to.)

I have positive and negative reasons for wanting to homeschool.

The strongest positive is that I love the idea of being able to give my kids a tailored education. I want them to be able to follow their interests to the end – to obsessively learn everything there is to know about dinosaurs if that’s what fascinates them, instead of spending two weeks on dinosaurs and then moving on to whatever the curriculum says comes next. I love the idea of an efficient education that targets my kids’ abilities right where they are, so that we can spend more time on concepts that are tough for them and sail right pass the stuff they already know, instead of proceeding at a pace aimed at the average kid in a class of 30. I love the idea of “gifted” or “delayed” being irrelevant, because all that needs to matter is what they’re ready to learn next, not how they compare to agemates or arbitrary standards.

I like the idea of being able to link education closely to the real world, so they can understand biology better through cultivating a garden and math through planning out a carpentry or sewing project. I like the idea of integrating practical life skills and traditional academic subjects. I like the idea of being able to draw on the tremendous resources of this city and this part of the country – to be able to jump on the train and go to the Smithsonian whenever we feel like it, to drive out to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry and Antietam when we’re studying the Civil War.

I like the idea of being there when my kids discover new things and new ideas. I like sharing the sense of wonder and exploration. I like the idea of having a lot more time to spend with my kids, just in general, keeping our connection close through shared experiences and discussions.

Some of the negative reasons:

Our assigned public school is, frankly, appalling. In 2008, 42% of third graders scored as “proficient” in reading, and 37% scored as proficient in math. Only 10% of fifth graders scored as proficient in science (the only year science is tested). According to greatschools.com, half of the teachers aren’t certified. It has been described to us as a prototypical failing inner city school, complete with metal detectors, lockdowns, harsh discipline, and rampant disrespect of students. We would have had to either apply for a lottery spot in a charter school or move.

My own schooling was not happy, although I always got good grades. I was phenomenally bored. I spent tons of time doing busywork that taught me nothing and offered no challenges. I was told that that would improve my character because it would instill discipline and good work habits and good attitudes, but it didn’t. I was always painfully aware of how weird I was and how much I didn’t fit in. That was somehow supposed to prompt me to develop better social skills, but it didn’t.

I am not sure that schools do a great job of respecting children’s inherent worth and dignity. Not necessarily big things, but small and pervasive things. Like my third-grade teacher who used to walk around the room peering into our desks. If your desk was messy, she’d dump it over onto the floor and spill everything out, and you’d have to clean it all up while the other kids watched. One day she sent someone to the pull-out gifted program to tell me that my desk had been dumped and I’d better come back to regular class and clean it up. To pick a modern example, there’s the way my OWL students complained that they were embarrassed to carry menstrual products, because they were required to have mesh or clear plastic backpacks. None of these things are necessarily very big or outrageous, but I remember the ones that happened to me clearly, even if they happened more than 25 years ago.

It’s pretty clear to me that Alex is an unusually bright kid. I don’t think most schools are well-equipped to handle gifted children (or kids who are otherwise outside the norm). I worry that her teachers would breathe a sigh of relief knowing that this one would pass the end-of-year tests regardless of what they did, and so she’d be ignored in favor of the ones who need a lot of help just to get by.

I don’t like a lot of recent trends in public education: the high-stakes testing at early ages; the NCLB-inspired “back to basics” approach which focuses almost exclusively on reading and math in the elementary years and squeezes out science, social studies, art, and music; the widespread elimination or reduction of gifted programs; abstinence-only sex education; zero tolerance discipline policies. And yet private schools have their own issues, like intense pressure to succeed, and the narrowed vision that comes from always being surrounded by very privileged people.

I would say that I am more driven by the positives than the negatives, but they are definitely all factors I think about.

4 Responses to Why homeschool?

  1. Michelle says:

    I ran across your “Why Homeschooling” blog post today. I loved it! Your reasons for homeschooling are exactly the same as mine. We also live near DC and can’t wait to use all of the wonderful resources that our area has to offer.
    I hope you don’t mind if I use parts of this post for when I finally “break the news” to that one family member who won’t agree with our decision. We haven’t started our homeschooling adventure yet. My boys are going to finish out the year at their public school. We are so excited to begin!

  2. Pingback: Why we homeschool, revised version. | TINDERBOX

  3. Ashley says:

    I love this post. I feel exactly the same way. Most poignant to me was your comment about the small and pervasive things schools do to chip away at your confidence and self-worth. When I was in school I remember that if it wasn’t the injustice and irrationality of the authorities that got to me, it was the unbearable boredom and pointless busywork. I’m sure there are great schools out there, but they must be rare. I am so glad that you are able to provide a meaningful education to your kids. It makes me happy reading about it, knowing that somewhere children are getting the education they deserve.

  4. lmsfinally says:

    Insightful and honest article. Loved elementary school, grew up to teach for 23 years (until I couldn’t take it anymore), put my children in private school, and now am homeschooling.

    Homeschooling is a wonderfully insightful & appropriately tailored educational journey (for everyone involved). Though some days are a struggle, they are infinitely easier and so much more rewarding than what we all endured most days in a traditional classroom. Although I miss my students, traditional schooling is dreadfully lacking (even in wealthier counties). Too much of everything except respect for everyone involved. Hooray for you and your family! People have no idea what they’re missing.

    I

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