Along with our unexpected pregnancy, we have also been gestating another new little life these past few months: the life of a homeschooling family (or maybe we are more technically an “unschooling” family).
As the back-to-school frenzy surrounded us here in our part of the country, our school year had already been in session for nearly a month. We didn’t have to buy a thing to get started. There were no uniforms to buy, no back-to-school haircuts, no competing with the mom next to me at The Big Box Store to get my hands on the very last purple glitter pencil box*
Let me tell you about our first day of homeschooling this year:
We began our day in our pj’s, cutting, pasting, and decorating our hand-me-down three ring binders with scrapbook paper and magazines my (non-pregnant) friends scored while dumpster diving out at the mall. That covers: Art. Fine Motor Skills. A discussion on how businesses could be more earth-friendly and help their communities with donations of things that they cannot sell.
We got dressed, took a walk at the arboretum where Bug was able to practice reading the signs that described the types of trees. Ella was able to sketch a landscape and we had a discussion on the importance of preserving wetlands, which inspired us to stop at the library on the way home and pick up a documentary on the ecological impact of our dwindling wetlands. We also picked up some new reading materials for Bug. So, now we’ve covered: phys ed, practical reading skills for Bug, art for Ella, and environmental science.
And then we go to the co-op to pick up lunch. Each of them picks out a healthy meal and strives to stay within their $5 budget. They read labels. They weigh things on the scale. They calculate the costs (well, Bug does it with Ella’s assistance, of course). They count and pay with money. Ella asks Bug if she knows who the guy on her $5 bill is. I ask Ella to cite which state he was from, which party he belonged to, what his claim to fame is. Bug goes over her budget, but Ella is under, so they make a deal to cooperate and share the costs. That covers: health and nutrition, practical math skills, American history, along with a sweet dose of generosity and compromise (which I am not sure are officially academic subjects, but ones that I wholeheartedly support, nonetheless). And we still have the afternoon of reading, singing, guitar lessons, journal writing…which we decide to do at the beach with our lunch.
Our lessons do not stop at 3pm…they continue into the evening when Sir Hubby arrives home and Ella works on long division with his help and Bug takes apart the broken vacuum and gets a lesson in mechanics, small engines, and tool use. The vacuum inspires us to watch a NOVA special on black holes. Did I mention that I’ve had our toddler with us the whole time?
Homeschooling is not the right choice for everyone. I am not trying to sell it to your family. At this point in time, it is the right choice for us and I am happy with our efforts. Perhaps it will not continue to be the right choice for our family… after all, I did not homeschool my eldest child at all. I only began homeschooling our 2nd child last year when we had to switch schools mid-year. So it is not like I am an old veteran of the homeschooling trenches and have all the answers. Right now, homeschooling is new and shiny for us. We are learning and growing together. It fits us right now.
Let me address a few of the issues surrounding homeschooling that seem to be controversial for many people. These are some of the issues that have led us to homeschooling. Perhaps your experiences are vastly different since your kids, your homelife, and your school are vastly different.
We’ve been asked time and time again: “But what about socialization? How are they going to get through life without knowing how to deal with bullies? They are going to be weird and not know how to make friends!”
My moms words ring in my ears every time I hear this question: You’re not there to make friends, you are there to learn, silly! Yes, making friends does wind up being one the fringe benefits of attending a classroom-full, or a bus-full, or a lunchroom-full of other children. But it certainly is not THE purpose of going to school.
And furthermore…who are these kids? Do I want my child befriending them? And even furthermore, do their parents want their kids to be friends with my kids? I often imagine Bug telling some random kid all about the funny story about how Ella took a picture at our homebirth when the baby was crowning from her mom’s vagina and it how the picture shows her mom’s butt, too, and isn’t that the funniest story ever… and then that kid runs home to tell his/her mom about the kid who has pictures of her mom’s butt and vagina? Not the phone call I want to be fielding from some over-protective uptight mother.
I’m gonna guess from previous experiences with Bug in preschool that other parents are thrilled that a kid like her is safely stashed away at home not filling their kids heads with her crazy ideas. Mainstream folks seem to have a HUGE problem with her and we have had more than one situation in which Bug has been asked to NOT socialize with certain kids any longer (in and out of school). While that is one of those momma-bear-moments for me in which I feel inspired to verbally abuse the yuppie parents and their robot offspring until they cry big weepy crocodile tears and expose themselves as the vapid, mindless, creative-less zombies that they truly are, I refrain since I know that they are making deposits into their Teen-Angst Fund (they will get to cash that in when little their Little Ballerina’s and Soccer Stars hit about 14 and think their parents are the dumbest, most useless, completely out-of-touch idiots who ever lived). Sure, I’m putting in the hard work with Bug now, but I am hoping to cash it in for a connected teen and a confident adult someday. Of course my life would be much easier if she would just simply follow rules, sit still, and use her manners. She doesn’t seem to be naturally inclined to doing those things though. But why would I want to raise an daughter who is compliant and blindly obedient? How will that serve her well in the face of peer pressure in her teen years? How will that help her to make bold and confident choices as an adult? I watched her older siblings “question the system” and receive disciplinary action for it. I don’t want to force my children to participate in a system that does not allow children to exercise basic human rights (like asking hard questions) and having trusting relationships in which they feel safe enough to call adults on their bullshit.
That brings me to our most recent experiences with Ella in public middle school. So much of her emphasis was on socialization that she was struggling to balance her schedule and keep up with her academics. She was serving detention every week—not for skipping classes, getting into fights, destroying school property—but for insubordination. I had Ella look up the word and this is what she came back with:
Insubordination is typically a punishable offense in hierarchical organizations which depend on people lower in the chain of command doing as they are told. It is the act of a subordinate deliberately disobeying a lawful order from someone in charge of them. Refusing to perform an action which is unethical or illegal is not insubordination; neither is refusing to perform an action which is not within the scope of authority of the person issuing the order.
Ella’s first “charge of insubordination” was a result of writing her homework assignment on a “scrap sheet of paper” (as we have instructed our children to do time and time again in an effort to conserve resources and keep our school costs to a minimum). The teachers precise instructions were to “get out a clean sheet of paper and copy down the homework assignment”. Ella asked if was important to use a clean sheet, or if scrap was acceptable. The teacher sent her to the office for asking this. Ella served a detention and we received a phone call demanding that we also follow suit with punishment at home so that Ella will understand that questioning her teachers is not going to be tolerated. WTF? Seriously? We informed the school that asking that question would have been a perfectly acceptable thing to do in our home and that we would have taken it as an opportunity to communicate, elaborate and educate. Their response: “The teacher doesn’t have time for that…kids like yours need to learn to follow the rules, or they will never learn to live in our society”. Huh? She doesn’t have time to communicate, elaborate or educate? Why exactly is she earning a paycheck? I get that teachers need to run a tight ship and cannot let kids run all over them. But following instructions without knowing why is not something we ask our children to submit to in our family. Asking questions and making decisions jointly is always encouraged.
As for the bully thing. Studies show that bullying and being subjected to teasing and taunts decreases smart students grades. And again, I would beg to know why we think that small children need to learn how to deal with bullies? The answer I always get is “they will have to deal with them their whole lives: at school, at college, and in the workplace.” And I would answer back: Bullying is a symptom of feeling powerless. Bullies feel powerless at home. They feel powerless in the school system. They grow to feel powerless in the workplace. We don’t need to learn how to “handle bullies” we need to stop perpetuating dis-empowering cycles in the home by providing parents and care-providers with the education and tools to be successfully connected and loving. Some of the most powerful bullies my older children ran into at school were the teachers and administrators themselves. Grown ups who refused to listen to them and insisted on humiliating them to teach lessons, set examples, and enforce rules that only exist to produce exactly what the system needs to keep itself going— not healthy, trusting relationships between children and educators.
But the real clincher for me was reading this decade old article by Joseph Chilton-Pearce
[Effective education is] not preparing the child to be a dollar commodity in the marketplace, but is meeting each stage of a child’s life with the environment that allows the child to be fully and completely and wholly a child at that time. My statement has always been that the three-year-old is not an incomplete five-year-old, but a complete, total and whole three-year-old. If a child is given all the nurturing to be here as a three year old, they’ll be the perfect five year old later on, and so on.
The first thing I would say about any true educational system is that it is not founded on the notion that we are preparing a child for life. The theory we are preparing the child for life, or for the future, is a terrible travesty which betrays every facet of the human being. We don’t prepare for life, we equip the child with the means to live fully at whatever stage they are in. The idea we’re going to train a child at seven to get a good job at age twenty-seven is a travesty of profound dimension. It makes for a world where every 78 seconds a child is attempting suicide, as is true today. It is this kind of terrible despair we breed in our children when we don’t see the difference between preparing and equipping our children to be present to life.
Chilton-Pearce goes on to cite studies done around the world documenting the physical atrophying of the whole sensory system in children who are not being given the opportunity to develop wholly, but instead are subjected to the massive over-application of inappropriate or high level, artificial stimuli.
This part of Chilton-Pearce’s paper is what made my choice to homebirth, to practice attachment/connection parenting and to homeschool, a total no-brainer:
First, we have to realize that education really begins in the womb and that the first three years of life are when ninety percent of it takes place. Secondly, never waste effort or energy on trying to bring down institutions, but put every bit of effort and energy into doing what must be done for as many children as can immediately be reached. Look to the tangible and real need in a child, in a family, or in a neighborhood.
I don’t know if I am doing a better job of educating my children or not right now. I hope that I am. I do know that I am putting every bit of effort and energy into doing what I feel must be done to look into the tangible and real needs of my own children and my own family. I hope to keep making my family my priority and to keep educating others on the details of that so perhaps they will be inspired to do what is right for their family…even if that differs greatly from my choices.
PS *(Just for the record I am sure that plenty of my artsy-crafty-greeny friends are perfectly capable of sewing their own uniforms, cutting their own hair, and making their own pencil boxes if they make the choice to send their children elsewhere for school, so I know those are not absolute reasons to choose homeschool).