Suzanne and I are seriously thinking about homeschooling Amia (and Elijah in a couple years?), and I'm kind of tired of the bad rep homeschooling has and feeling hesitant to tell people we're considering this. I wanted to write something about it because it seems like one of those things where people have strong opinions about it, usually against, but few people, at least in the conversations I've had about it, know a lot about. Usually the feelings against involve either a gut reaction that it's wrong, maybe because public school seems so natural or right, or they know someone who was homeschooled who now a) doesn't know how to interact with anyone different than them, b) has been too sheltered (although I'm not really sure what that means), or c) they haven't received a good education because the parents aren't educated. In that case they're objecting to a specific practice of homeschooling and not the general movement. I wonder though if given the diversity of practices and philosophies which fall under the heading homeschooling another term might be appropriate. Anyway, here are the things we've been thinking about.
-Homeschooling, as we know it, started as a conservative, White, Christian movement in the 70s. It was a way to teach kids religion and often to keep their kids from having to interact with what the parents considered to be bad influences, whether this was sex, drugs, or people of other ethnicities and religions. While that is the history that is not what it looks like now. One of the fastest growing populations within homeschooling, which now numbers about 1 million children, is people of color living in urban areas. The schools are failing their kids and they want another option. Since the voucher movement hasn't been that widespread, and may not always be that helpful, private school is not really an option. So homeschooling is what they do.
-Homeschooling doesn't mean having school at the home. Although it might. It doesn't mean that the parent is the only teacher. Although that can be the case. And it doesn't mean that the kids are being sheltered from the 'real' world. Although that can happen. Basically what I'm trying to say is that homeschooling is whatever the parents and family make it. If you know someone who's been sheltered from the 'real' world, that's because the parents wanted it that way. If they never come into contact with people different from them, that's the intention. If the kids spend more time away than being at home, learning how to develop organizations to help the homeless, that's because that's how they designed it.
What Suzanne and I mean by homeschooling is 'education through self-directed engagement'. Most public schools, by design over the last 100 years, have taken the responsibility of education away from families and relied on experts to decide what, how, and when to educate children. I think that's fine to an extent, but what I see now, and which is only growing to increase in the future, is an educational system that is more and more test-oriented and designed to help the US compete globally. That's why the focus, ever since Sputnik, has been on math and science. We want to beat everyone else. This leaves very little room for conscious self-development. And with the growing testing movement more and more children are going to be very good test-takers. But where does that leave them? What kind of people are they going to be? You can argue that schools don't have that responsibility, but when kids spend the majority of their time there, and the average teenager spends less than 10% of their time with their parents, who's responsibility is it? The way we envision homeschooling, if we do it, is to guide Amia as she learns about the world and giving her options and a voice in her own education. I don't think that's too outrageous a desire.
-People always talk about the real world. What is the real world? I grew up going to school with some good friends who eventually began spending most of their time drinking. A lot of the people I saw in school were insecure, worried about social status, exploring their sexuality in healthy and not so healthy ways, uninterested in learning about the world and how to change it, largely because the teachers were that way too, deciding whether or how much drugs to take, and secluded in cliques. And I went to a 'good' school. Those are the first images that come to mind. Is that the real world? How necessary is it for Amia to know about that world? Can't she know about the real world by volunteering at a homeless shelter? At the youth detention center I used to work at? I feel like those are much more healthy ways to engage the world.
This discussion about being sheltered and unable to function in the real world I also find a bit disengenous when the solution that's offered is public schools. Some public schools are more segregated than they were before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Illinois and Chicago rank in the top 10 of the most segregated schools in the country. Policies of tracking virtually insure that certain groups of people will never interact with each other (unless it's P.E. and that doesn't count). Housing segregation, of which suburbs are the most clear example, insure the same thing. So what's real about that? Isn't that being sheltered?
-I don't believe that homeschooling is for everyone. I also don't think public schools are for everyone. In a just and caring society I think all children should have the opportunity to be educated in the way that is most responsive and appropriate to them.
-There's a feeling that public school is some kind of tough love technique. "I went through it so so should they". "Yeah it was tough and I didn't like it but it made me a better person". Whoever said learning should be forced, tough, or coercive? Learning and education should be challenging and difficult, but that's a very different thing than making education tough.
-Almost any argument you make against homeschooling you can make about public schools as well. Social isolation, poor quality of education, restrictive environment, etc. Having said that, public school students do enjoy some kind of regulation in their facilities and services, and I think there should be some to an extent in homeschooling. It is true that there are parents who are uneducated and use homeschooling to educate or non-educate their kids about things and in ways I can't support. In a sense though that's none of my business.
-Another issue I see here is trust. We, and I think all parents want this, want people to trust that we're doing the right things for our children. We know our children better than anyone else. And we take our responsibility to educate them as seriously as can be. This is a decision that we'll consult on for the next couple years, study and do research on, and pray about. When we do make that decision we want our community to support us in whatever it is, but whatever we choose is between our family and God. And ultimately that's who we'll be responsible to, not anyone else.