Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Homeschooling for Skeptics

I've long been skeptical of homeschooling, partly out of prejudice, partly out of laziness, and partly because of my politics. I'm not sure how many readers here occupy a similar political space, but I wanted to share some of my evolving thoughts-- very specific to our case and to the fact that I've never actually homeschooled.

Prejudice
Until recently, I'd  most encountered the Christian fundamentalist side of homeschooling, which seemed driven by fear of "the world".  Like the U.S. approach to terrorism earlier this century, I really dislike fear-mongering. One of my goals is to deal with my fears well, so that they're not what drives my actions.

Politics
I also have a strong belief in government's role as a potential equalizer; people in poverty can't simply lift themselves out by force of will-- more than that, I think there are things that make it virtually impossible to get out of poverty (poverty of various kinds, not just financial). With that belief comes some hope in public schools as an equalizing force. So, in the framework of public-private-homeschool, private school would probably be my least favorite (it's also really expensive, and you guys know I'm cheap).

But as the internet changes the world in fundamental ways and makes learning more accessible, I wonder if traditional schools are really serving the best learning interests of the poor or the rich. If schools only benefit the poor of societies to the extent that high school certificates or university diplomas are currency in our world, then is that a real or artificial benefit? Will young people have meaningful, learning-filled childhoods, adolescence, and young adulthoods in schools? For some kids, I think the answer is yes. But for many more, schools are babysitting zones to keep kids out of the way for chunks of the day so parents can work. I think this because sometimes Eug and I joke about how soon we can send Noah somewhere school-ey so we don't feel so astoundingly busy.


As Eug and I break out of the 9-5 two-parents-working-treadmill of work, stuff and life, it starts to feels wrong to train Noah to conform to that same system. If school is preparation for the "real world" and we think that world kindof sucks, then maybe instead of preparing Noah for the "real world" we can prepare Noah for the world we dream of. If school is often the only place children meet people who are different from them, perhaps that just means our home must become that space. It's risky, and Noah will always have a say-- I'm not doing a social experiment. Homeschooling is mainstream enough that kids can still pursue whatever career they like: medical school, law school, whatever.

I'm using heady language, and I don't mean to be so abstract. Basically, school might waste a lot of Noah's time, and a lot of our time. School in South Africa, Korea, and the U.S. all seem to be unnecessarily stressful. I'm not certain that stress over tests and exams is really valuable or character-building. I look over the exams I have been most concerned about over the years, and I find I can't actually remember anything I studied so hard. From what I can see, schools have only gotten more test-driven and stressful.

I think there is unavoidable life pain- death of friends and family, AIDS, cancer, malnutrition, poverty, conflict, divorce- and learning to deal with that kind of pain will be important. But grades, ranking, etc? These are artificial ways of measuring people's worth-- it presents pain that can be postponed indefinitely because the later one feels it, the less deeply it penetrates. It's important that my doctor knows their anatomy and physiology, but that trajectory doesn't extrapolate all the way back to the womb (here there are preschools that have wait-lists because they're considered Harvard's incubators). I would prefer my doctor learned to be a caring, interested, interesting human being the first 18 years of their life. 

Laziness and Other Practical Considerations
I also wasn't sure we'd have time for homeschooling.  I'm still not sure, but I think we just might. It seems like a good thing to make time for. We're not thinking of a little schoolhouse at home, with classes and such. We're thinking of learning that is more organic. My dad taking Noah up a mountain. My mom introducing him to crafts. Eug's mom teaching him to paint. Teaching him violin, woodworking, cooking, reading great books, basic graphic design.  The basics, you know.

If we factor in the hour or so in the morning, and hour or so in the afternoon that might be spent driving/walking a child to and from school or getting their special lunch meal ready, you've already got two hours to spend teaching. Then, add in the time spent stressing over homework, shopping for school uniforms, time spent earning the money to pay for school fees and associated costs (in the South African case), and you're getting pretty close to the few hours of hands-on teaching that's necessary to help a child learn. It's telling that six hours per week is the number of class hours recommended for students who take time off school due to illness. That's all.

I'm not saying we'll definitely home school Noah, or that I have any judgement whatsoever on parents who send their kids to school-- I've been a parent for a grand 14 months. I'm suggesting that perhaps homeschooling offers a new dimension of simplicity that is surprising and unexpected to someone with my traditional educational background. 

10 comments:

ems said...

Oh, Jo, lets move closer and have our own little idealist homeschool. Your post voices so many of our/my thoughts on the subject! Because of it I have started to accept a much more laid back approach to my career. We're sending Liam to the best public school we can "buy" into (finding the cheapest house in the best not-too-uppity neighborhood downtown) but essentially telling him that grades don't matter, make good friends and as soon as the school starts pushing stats more than learning, you can come home and we'll learn about life, learn business with grandma and grandpa, and find other ways to get edumacated... Considering who really drives the government, why do we want the government/big oil/pharmaceuticals/big ag teaching our kids?

Kristin Wiley said...

I agree with ems... let's do it! We can all hang out and teach each other's children interesting things via Skype, right? (My daughter is 12 months, so I'm very new at all this too)

Anonymous said...

Reading your blog on thd bus on the way to work amongst crazy london commuters - you are an inspiration and a voice of reason amongst the mad hustle and bustle of this world :-) hope to see you soon.Sarah.xx

Caitlin said...

I love the idea of homeschooling children! I was home schooled myself (albeit briefly, and in high school). It was a great experience, and I learned *so* much. It was quite funny - the only way you can be homeschooled legally in Nebraska is if you have a religious objection to the curriculum. So I was on all kinds of fundamentalist christian mailing lists....I did, in the end, go back my senior year of high school to get a 'normal' degree....I'm not sure if I would have gotten into college as easily otherwise. Go for it!

Jo said...

Em and Kristin- I'd be up for a weekly "virtual" school when the time comes! By then Skype will probably be 3D.

Jo said...

Caitlin, I very much like your Nebraska life experience stories =). I wonder if things have changed now? Noah wants to learn soapmaking from you...

leah said...

you already know what I feel about the subject, but I may be a fundamentalist...

http://www.theonion.com/articles/increasing-number-of-parents-opting-to-have-childr,17159/

"Increasing Number Of Parents Opting To Have Children School-Homed"

Jo said...

Leah- I added the "Until recently" on the prejudice section because of you and Bridget. Don't you feel special?

leah said...

I DO feel special! Also, I think we can choose not to take part in "the world" (of at least standard all-day away-from-home education) without being afraid of it. As a Christian I'd like to keep my kids home not because I'm afraid of them learning about drugs or profanity or homosexuality (I'm not particular moved to fear any of these) but because I'm not interested in them being indoctrinated about the importance of money, success, and sitting still for long stretches at a time just cuz someone says to. The worst thing I learned from um-teen years of schooling was to shut up and be obedient.

That reason, and we need more people to work on the farm over here.

Jo said...

Leah, I totally agree-- for me it's the structure of schools that's bothersome, rather than a sense that I have to shield Noah from anything or anyone. THat said, I guess I do want to shield him from the type of competition I took part in in school, and even in college.