Sunday, August 30, 2009

To homeschool or not to homeschool...that is the question

Lately, it seems like everywhere I go I run into friends who are choosing to homeschool. This was a phenomenon I had never even heard of until I was an adult. Now, suddenly, everyone (or at least everyone I run into lately) is discussing whether or not they're choosing to do it. And I have to say, homeschooling is starting to seem downright trendy among a certain set of moms. This is sort of surprising and sort of not. It seems like so much of our generation of moms looks at mothering as a series of choices. Breastfeeding vs. formula, working outside of the home vs. working inside, cloth diapers vs. disposable, organic vs. whatever's-on-sale, crying-it-out vs. attachment parenting.

I would argue that homeschooling vs. traditional school has made its way to that annoying list of choices we must make as mothers. How did this become the case? Is there some kind of book (or preferably short magazine article) that will explain to me why we are all suddenly trying to teach our children at home rather than send them to school?

I'm sure it's a combination of many different cultural phenomenons all intersecting at once that make homeschooling so appealing to so many. And I have to admit, I'm one of those people to whom it appeals. When I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to homeschool, I envision this idyllic scene of my children and me sitting around the kitchen hearth, reading to each other, taking breaks occasionally to do our handwork or bake some fresh bread. Basically, I imagine something out of a scene from Little Women when I imagine homeschooling. Never mind that we don't have a fireplace. And never mind that I happen to have more Little Men than Little Women at my house.
Instead of something from Little Women, the homeschool scene at my house would play out more like a scene from Raising Arizona ("She's got more than she can handle") or that scene from Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood where all of her kids are throwing up at once. In other words, I think homeschooling at my house would be slightly chaotic and not so productive.

Emma has learned to read pretty much on her own, though. And the kids love to sit and draw and make stuff all day long. They're great at having tea parties. Maybe my homeschool could be sort of a charter school that specializes in reading, making paper airplanes and having tea parties? We would blow everyone's socks off!

After visiting Emma's new elementary school many times in the last several weeks, I am more than convinced that those people have their act way more together than I do in the school department. I am not even going to try to compete. She will be in a Spanish immersion classroom where half of her day will be in Spanish. My semester in Sevilla in college was awesome, but I'm not sure it qualifies me to teach kindergarten in Spanish. I can order a "ron y coke" like nobody's business, though.
At Emma's school there are also lots of opportunities for art and drama, a great library, a cafeteria, a big gymnasium, music room, orchestra, and two playgrounds. Not to mention hundreds of new potential friends. Again, I can't compete.

I realize that everyone is different and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to educating our children. I do question some people's interpretation of teaching at home though. I used to tutor a little girl who was "homeschooled." Basically she did a computer program by herself while her parents went to work. The program was designed for a second grader...and she was in middle school. I've also talked to another mom who bragged that homeschooling wasn't that hard because she just had her children watch videos to learn what they needed to know. I know there are tons of parents out there who are doing a great job with homeschooling and their kids are probably as smart as they come, but I think there's a good chance that with homeschooling becoming so trendy, some parents could wind up doing it because they want to be like the other parents they know who are doing it or because they believe it is the "right" thing to do, and that doesn't necessarily qualify them to be their child's only source of knowledge.

I should've reported the parents of the girl that I tutored. It has always bothered me that I didn't do more for her. Her dad fired me because I tried to get her to read books rather than do her computer program. He told me that reading wouldn't get her anywhere. He wanted her to be a vet tech.

The main reason I want my kids to go to school is because I think it will be good for them to be away from me. I'm great and all, but there is a whole world of great people out there who I believe have amazing things to offer them. Likewise, I think it will be good for me to be away from them. I am, after all, more than their mother, or so I hear. And they are more than a reflection of me.

When Emma gets on the bus on Tuesday and waves goodbye, I'm sure I'll be sad. I'll be saying goodbye to a chapter of her life where our family was pretty much her whole world. She'll be spending a lot of her waking hours away from home, learning things from someone else. Meanwhile, my own life will be freed up a tiny bit more to write and think and grow. I'm really looking forward to that. My hope is that we'll come back to each other at the end of her school day with a new appreciation for who we are and who we are becoming.

I feel like I wanted to say so much more in this post, but wasn't able to say it the way I wanted to. I would love to hear your thoughts about school. I've probably unwittingly offended some of my friends who homeschool. I hope that's not the case. Feel free to challenge my assumptions and tell your side of the story. Happy new school year to all!


MaryAnne said...

I'm a few years away from this decision, but currently I'm planning to send my daughter to our local public school for kindergarten. I think my Emma could enjoy kindergarten, and hopefully she'll learn some good things and make new friends. If it turns out that town budget cuts are making for enormous kindergarten classes (as is currently happening in some nearby schools), I may reconsider. I was homeschooled until 7 with no ill effects, and my brother and sister currently do a fantastic job homeschooling their 5- and 6-year-old children.

Christiana said...

Before I had Neva I had fantasized about homeschooling (particularly because we were in DC at the time) but after a few months as a mother, I'm totally with you on the 'needing to be away from them' aspect of sending your child to school. By the time she's five, I will undoubtedly be more than willing to send her to someone else to be educated. But I also think that if you're going to homeschool, it should be for the right reasons and you should look at it as a chance to teach yourself as well...because you have to learn everything you teach them. The story about the little girl and the computer program is appalling!
I think you teach your kids so much already and Emma is already so smart. She probably needs to stimulation of going to school with other kids.
I always love your topics!

mdm said...

You laid it out more nicely than I would have because my suspicion is that many (certainly not all) parents who homeschool their children do so for a protectionist -- if not elitist and dare it be said, even bigoted -- reason: to keep their children away from other children who are from less-fortunate family, social and economic situations, out of a fear of what kind of negative influences those less-fortunate children could have on their children.

Others may feel that the education system is flawed and feel they can provide an unflawed education in the home. The education system IS flawed, primarily because of weak-kneed governing authorities, school boards, superintendents and school principals who are all to willing to yield to pressure from I-and-my-child-are-the-center-of-the-universe-and-here's-what-I-want parents.

But when a society is willing to sacrifice the good of the whole for the good of the one, the whole AND the one suffer.

Emma has been raised right. The chances of her being negatively affected by less-fortuate children are far less than the chances of her having a positive influence on the less-fortunate. If she were homeschooled, the chances of a positive influence on those other children is nil.

Knock their socks off, Emms.

Jennifer said...

I agree with Doug (aka MDM)! The public education system needs more Emma's!! I think that's why our parents were committed to the public education system, as well. It CAN work! And you have made conscious decisions to have her in an amazing program. It's not so easy for everyone and they have to make those decisions personally. We all have to carve out the education of our children through home and school and church on a daily basis, in the end. In my opinion, you make those decisions (how to educate/lead/guide your children) every day no matter where you live and what the given system is. What makes me happy is having the freedom to choose how to educate my children. I'm very relieved that we have choices, and that we can change our plan if we need to.

Sherie said...

Emma's school sounds wonderful and I fully agree that she will have a positive influence on everyone she comes in contact with. Our schools here, in the small town we live in, are not very good and don't come near to offering what you have much less a quality education. Holly is really struggling with what she should do. I'm praying that she will have better options in the next year or two so that decisions aren't made out of desparation. Our state is in a huge mess and schools are deeply affected. I'm afraid that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg on the problems we will be facing here in IL. Give Emma a big hug for me.