Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why wouldn't you want to homeschool?

A while back I wrote ("argued") that ANYONE can homeschool . I still stand by that. I've been involved in some discussion lately that makes me want to revisit this issue. It's also made me rethink the terms that are thrown around when we discuss anything that is not "traditional" public school-style education. And of course, I have to add the disclaimer that I'm not out to badmouth "schools" or teachers or anything else - remember I was going to be a teacher and chose not to.

This is MY opinion and if you get upset, that's on YOU - NOT ME. Now that we have that out of the way....

Homeschool, unschool, independent education, alternative education. There are so many other terms out there that people use to "label" the process by which children and young adults learn when it is NOT what they're used to - Public Education. Whatever you choose to call it is immaterial.

For the sake of "argument" let's refer to it as HOME LEARNING. Yeah, I just pulled that out of my hat, but it seems to fit - we're learning at home. So, from here on out, if I say HL, you will know that I'm talking about education and learning that takes place primarily at home and NEVER in a school classroom. That does NOT mean there can't be coop settings or group learning situations. All it means is that when it comes to HL, your child does not "go" to school.

Next, I'd like to define (again for the sake of  "argument") what comes to mind when HL folks think of "traditional" or Public (or even private) school. Basically, many HL families do NOT think of the process as school. We'll call it that because, frankly, it's too much effort to try to explain HL to someone who has had no exposure to it previously. So, to save time we just say "we homeschool" and leave it at that. For our purposes here we'll refer to "regular school" where the children "go" to school as S.  S is what MOST people around the globe - at least in "civilized" cultures - think of when it comes to education and learning.

Finally, it's important for people to realize that within HL that there are countless variations. Some families utilize full blown curriculum. Some don't ever open a book. So we can't really lump all HL families into the same box. But....... since it's difficult enough for non-HL families to grasp the idea if they've never had exposure to it, at this point we'll do the difficult and lump all HL families together... Maybe some other time we can try to separate them, but that would take a HUGE post since most every HL family takes a slightly, if not drastically, different approach. No two families do things exactly the same. But, let's stick with what this is really about - HL vs S and WHY.

For many people who choose to pursue one of these "non-standard" methods of learning S is seen as something like this: They ship their child off to a strange place, with strange people where their child sits at a desk or table, with many other people of the same age, being taught the same material, at the same rate. Their teacher/instructor is someone who cannot possibly care about their child the way they do. The parents recognize that this isn't because the teacher/instructor does NOT want to, it's simply because they don't have the ability to do so - they're limited by time, rules and a host of other things. And let's not even go into the fact that it's frowned upon for a teacher to hug a child - even when it's painfully clear that the child NEEDS the hug.

A lot (but not all) of HL families see S as a place where success or failure is based on a documented grading system, which is in turn based on demonstration of retention by way of testing. NOT by the child's repeated utilization of said skills beyond classroom time. Where a child's view of their self worth is often tied to "getting good grades," and where children strive to be better than other children, not because they WANT to learn anything, but because it's what is expected.  Where learning things is important because "it's going to be on a test," not because learning is something of value in and of itself. It's a place where differences are criticized rather than celebrated. Where independent thought is regarded as lack of understanding for the "rules" of the institution. Where there is talk of individuality being a worthwhile thing, but no practice of it. Where going against the grain makes you a trouble-maker and gets you detention instead of recognition for coming up with something new. Where you MUST pass a class, even if you have NO interest in the subject matter and even if that subject matter will be something you will NEVER use once the class is over.

Every parent I know will say they want "the best" for their child. Yet far too many of them ship their VERY YOUNG children off to S at the tender age of 4 or 5, or even earlier depending on available programs, because they think their child must "get an education."  They do this without thinking about what they're doing, and often they do it simply because that is what was done to them, their friends, their families. Still others do it because they don't KNOW that they have a choice. That THEY can say no to S and choose something else.

From what I've learned in the time since we began to explore HL vs S, is this - there is only ONE group of people for which HL might not be feasible - that is for families where the parent(s) MUST work full time and the children are too young to be left alone during this time. Families who have no other options or resources - such as extended family or reliable day care during work hours. However, I say it might not be feasible because I also know that where there's a will, there's a way.

The last thing I'll touch on today is the conflicts that often arise between HL and S groups. Neither group is right or wrong - though many HL folks will say that their way is the only really right way. I will say that for us, HL is right. I cannot tell anyone else what to do, I can only share my perspective on what I have found that works. But, the conflict still raises it's ugly head. I think people have a hard time thinking outside the box. And, often with HL, you have to really think WAY outside the box - particularly if you don't utilize structured learning or curriculum. Thinking outside the box is often extremely difficult. When you have had no exposure otuside the box, it's even MORE difficult.

The conflict arises most strongly when you get the dyed in the wool S group - who have no exposure or knowledge of what HL really is. Even within HL there are divisions - some people are still stuck thinking that HL is simply S at home. And there can be conflicts that even arise between HL groups - just like you get conflicts within S groups - public school, charter school, private school, independent study through a district etc.

The conflict is this: HL think their way is better. S think their way is better. Unfortunately, there have not been enough studies to show that either way is really better - there are TONS of "successful" people out there that have been "to S" and tons who have learned through HL. I do know this -  it's all about preference.

Which brings me to why I am writing this today. OUR preference is HL. And, we can honestly ask, why wouldn't EVERY parent WANT to utilize HL? With HL, as a parent, you KNOW the following:

  • Your child's ideas, opinions and methods will ALWAYS be valued and listened to
  • Your child will NEVER be criticized or made fun of for the following: the way they talk, dress or play. For having a different opinion or idea about things. For coming up with an alternative way of doing something.
  • Your child will NOT be exposed to the endless cycle of colds and flu that are passed around the classroom like a favorite toy at sharing time. 
  • Your child will NOT suffer "missed" work because they were sick, there was a family funeral to attend, or simply because they just weren't in the mood to study a particular thing at a specific time. Not to mention, you can take a family trip when YOU want to, NOT when the district says you can. 
  • Your child can pursue subjects and ideas that are NOT what was planned when they want to, not just because it's what's on the schedule. 
  • Your child will NOT be immediately labeled as having ADD or ADHD just because they are full of energy and can't sit still. They will ONLY be labeled this after LONG, intensive review of IF they can actually stay on task - when it's a task THEY are interested in. 
  • When your child is having a bad day, you can stop doing what you're doing, and do what they need in order to get back into the positive swing of life. 
  • Your child will learn that there are ALWAYS other ways to do things, to think about things and to see things. 
  • Your child will learn that differences are valued, and that independent thought is more than just an idea. And along with that, they'll learn that debate and discussion and even argument are productive things. 
  • Your child will learn that believing things, just because someone says that's how it is, is not necessarily the best practice.
  • Your child will learn to question ..... EVERYTHING. And they will learn that this is GOOD. They will learn that questioning things is how NEW things are learned. 
  • Your child will LOVE learning and will most likely NEVER utter the phrase "I hate school." 
  • Your child will NOT be bullied - no one will take their lunch money, push them down at recess or make fun of them for ANY reason. Which gives you the opportunity to discuss it BEFORE they ever have the problem! Your child will be "well-armed" to defend themselves - and  a "mental" defense beats having to resort to a physical defense EVERY time. 
Finally, there's the thing that comes back over and over again when non HL people learn that you are pursuing HL. You will be asked this question over and over and over again and even when you explain it, they still often will NOT get it. The question is, "but how will your child get socialized," or, "but what about socialization?" Most HL families politely list off all the social stuff their children do to make the person quit asking. But really, I think a lot of us would prefer to say something like, "what do you mean? Are you saying my child will be socially inept if they don't GO to school? Are you saying that they won't learn how to interact with other people if they don't GO to school?" and some of us might even like to say, "seriously? Are you saying it's better to learn to be judgemental and petty than to learn to accept others? That it's better to make fun of differences than to celebrate them?"  And, as The Unplugged Mom said here, "I don't want my kids to 'get socialized'. I want them to experience life." I said this the other day:

I want my child to think independently, to LOVE learning, and to continue to pursue things he loves LONG after he's no longer required to be part of compulsory education. I don't want him to "be socialized" or to "get an education." 

I want him to be happy, well-adjusted and capable of interacting with other people in a manner that is kind (not demeaning of others who are different), cooperative (not competitive to the point of crushing others just to succeed), and successful over long term (not just to pass a test). I want him to pursue subjects and fields of "study" not because someone says he HAS to, but because he genuinely is fascinated by them. Very few people I know have been this fortunate.

It's also important for S type folks to realize that most people who opt for HL are not doing so because they think they're BETTER than anyone else. That's a common misconception. They opt for HL because THEY see the advantages for THEIR family. 

So....before anyone goes out an offends themselves over this, I want to ask them:

Do you see any differences between S and HL - even if this is the ONLY thing you've ever read about it? IF you see the benefits to HL, why wouldn't you choose to utilize it? If you CAN, why wouldn't you? If you think S is the way to go, do you wish it could be better? If you wish it could be better, why wouldn't you DO something about it? After all, don't you want THE BEST for your child? If you agree that S is not "the best" why do you settle for it instead of pursuing other options? Instead of INSISTING on something better?

I challenge everyone out there to insist on something better - even if it's just one small thing. Not only when it comes to the way their child experiences learning, but with life.

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