Some thoughts on home and school

I’ve been reading, with much interest, Jennifer’s series on home education–why she does it, what she gets out of it, how she responds to people who have concerns. People continually ask me if I will homeschool Silas and Petra, and so much depends on factors we don’t know anything about–where we will be, geographically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, as a family in a couple of years when he’s old enough for kindergarten. Jennifer wrote, in one of those posts, about a forum that her Sunday school class hosted on homeschooling. I was there, too. She remarked on people’s resistance to the idea of homeschooling–on more or less moral grounds. There was a strong feeling that, if we don’t send our kids to school, they won’t learn to be compassionate toward people of other races or social classes. Interestingly, much of the descriptions of what was so good about school for the people who spoke up was the conversations they had with their children about things that happened at school. One man powerfully described his children’s experience when the schools became racially integrated. “We were able to talk with them about that, and process that. We used that as an opportunity to teach them about standing up for what was right,” he said. So basically…school was a conversation piece?

What I remember the most strongly about my school years was that it felt like a colossal waste of time, most of the time. I remember a first grade teacher who insisted that I should only read books that were at grade level, so that I wouldn’t get even further ahead–I entered first grade reading at probably a fourth- or fifth-grade level, so that was rather awful. I spent an unbelievable amount of energy trying to fit in to a system that was never designed for me. I felt like the only times I was really learning were the four days each month that I was allowed to go to a gifted program. It was a lot to endure for those few days of challenge and joy, and I often had teachers who wanted to punish me for taking them. I was thinking about it the other day, and in all my years of school, I think I had five really excellent teachers. Which doesn’t sound so bad, if you think about that as one every other year, but four of them were in middle or high school, where I had their class for only an hour a day. I don’t think that being in school taught me compassion for other people. The models in school (from other kids, mostly) were about discrimination and bullying. I don’t recall a teacher ever stepping in to redirect our animal natures, either. I think that the theory of public education–that every citizen has a right to be educated–is a great one. I just don’t see it being executed particularly well.

People often point out that if people like me pull our kids out of public schools, the schools will just get worse. And this is largely true, and I’m sorry. There are so many other things I will sacrifice to do the right thing, but my children’s time is just not one of them. I don’t at all mean to turn my back on the schools. I volunteered for years and years as a literacy educator in a local elementary school, and plan to get back to that when my schedule allows it (because I loved it!). I seek out opportunities to connect with children and families in my community–school isn’t the only place to meet people who are different from me. I have many friends and family members who work in public education and I’m proud of the work they do there. But it’s probably not something I’m going to make my kids do.

I should add that our particular situation is complicated by where we live. Our house is basically on the line between the zones for two of the county elementary schools. Our neighbor kid is now in middle school. He had to switch elementary schools twice because they moved the line. We also live in an area where lots of the values espoused in the schools are very pro-war, which I am not comfortable with, particularly not for very young children. If we lived in the city, which has the most diverse school district in the state, I would consider sending the children to school, because I do think they would be exposed to lots of different cultures and ideas. There are many immigrants, and the elementary schools, in particular, make a point of celebrating that fact. In the county, most of what I see reinforces the dominant cultural paradigm. We have plenty of that as it is.

I’ve been resisting saying anything as committed as “We will homeschool the children,” because, as I said before, there are so many factors that are out of my control. But I find that I’m assuming that I will. In our “movable preschool,” the other moms told me recently that they are LOVING our school…but plan to send their children to “real” preschool next year, to better prepare them for the transition into (full-day, every-day!) kindergarten. I completely understand where they are coming from–and had given absolutely zero thought to that transition, myself. I take that as a message from my subconscious that I never really planned on sending him. I’m enjoying having him with me. Although the days, as they say, are awfully long, the fact that he has already lived through 1/6 of the time we expect to have him living at home with us blows my mind.

I’ve certainly been working to keep my options open. I avoid getting books from the library for Silas that glorify school (and I have kept Tomie DePaola’s The Art Lesson , about his frustrations with art class in school in heavy rotation). I point out people he admires who are homeschooled, including his cousin.

The other day, after preschool, we drove past an elementary school. Silas said, “That’s where Mara [his friend’s sister] goes to school. But I go to house school.” Then he thought for a minute and asked, “When I am big, will I go to that school?” Well, if we lived in that neighborhood, I’d have a harder decision on my hands–I’ve volunteered in that school, and I think very highly of it.

“No,” I said, “you won’t go to that school.” Then I tried floating an idea to him that we hadn’t explicitly discussed before. “You know, some people don’t ever go to a big school like that. Some people are homeschooled. That means their mama or daddy teaches them. They go to choir or soccer or things with other children, but they don’t go to a big school.” I started naming people he knows who are homeschooled. “Do you think you would like to be home schooled, like Nicholas and Helena?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “When will we start homeschool?”

I found it so funny to hear him ask a question that I get from adults all the time. I know that adults mean, when will I put up a little desk and a blackboard in our living room and use a real curriculum. The answer is maybe in a few years, or maybe not ever. Who knows?

“We already do homeschool.”

“I don’t mean like our preschool, I mean like you teaching me at home,” he said.

“No,” I told him. “We already do homeschool, all the time. When we go outside and see what floats or sinks in the river or look at birds, that’s homeschool. When we play with blocks, that’s homeschool. When we read books and play with your letter magnets and draw, that’s homeschool. When we make muffins, that’s homeschool. We’re always learning.”

“Are you going to do homeschool with Petra, too?”

“We already are,” I told him. “You are teaching Petra every day, when you help her be careful with your toys or when you teach her songs or you read her the colors book. You’re a good teacher. And Petra is teaching you, too–teaching you to be patient and kind.”

When we were almost home, I remarked on an icy spot in the road. He asked why it was icy, and I explained it to him. Then I said, “Hey, this conversation we’re having–this one right now–this is homeschool.”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, it feels just like real life.”

Exactly.

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5 responses to “Some thoughts on home and school

  1. Bravo! (standing and cheering)

    1. The idea that if we pull our children out of schools, the schools will get worse: I wonder if this is myth. Homeschooling is on the rise, and in the first SS class (were you there?), the speaker pointed out that public schools are all-around much improved. How could this happen with all the children being pulled out of school? And what about the tag line (for a certain place of education, no less) that goes something like, “A good education benefits everyone.” In other words, maybe a boon of homeschoolers will benefit society (I don’t think a “maybe” belongs in that sentence) and then, in turn, the schools will benefit, aw well? (This is where the conversation about Institution, Revolution, and Empire take off.)

    2. “I have many friends and family members who work in public education and I’m proud of the work they do there. But it’s probably not something I’m going to make my kids do.” As though it’s our kids’ responsibility to go to work in the school system. I hear this logic (as motive for sending kids to school) all the time and find it ironic, what with all the concern about child labor laws and such.

    P.S. I so appreciated your comment in class about your school experience.

    • No, I wasn’t at the first one (though I wanted to be). I was sad to miss it, but I was subbing for JC in the nursery because he was sick. Are public schools actually getting better? That’s sort of interesting; the media portrayal is that they are getting worse, and I haven’t really researched it.

  2. You’re forgetting some important details.
    1) 90% of home schooled kids are creepy as fuck and have no social skills. The Ross’s are the exception to this rule and I’m pretty sure that’s because of the benefits of being raised by hippies.
    2) Maybe before brain washing Silas into thinking that nothing could be better than spending all day with his mother you should watch Psycho again for a reminder of what that does to a person.

    It should probably be his choice and you shouldn’t let him make it until he’s done at least a couple years of public school.

  3. I really appreciate your thoughts on the debate of homeschooling vs. public school. I absolutely agree that you already are “homeschooling”! Of course you are your children’s first, forever, and most important teacher. It is unfortunate that our culture can already influence your young Silas that the public school is the “big school” and where all the important learning happens. That’s where you go when you get “big”, such an important place to reach for a young one. I’m torn every day that I send my children to public school.

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