Wednesday, September 12, 2007

honest homeschooling

On Danielle Bean's blog, she did a post about why she loves, and hates, homeschooling. It's fabulous to read, especially the comments, if you want a really honest look at homeschooling. Danielle says that homeschoolers tend to sugarcoat their experiences, and that's undoubtedly true. We get a lot of flack for homeschooling, and so I do think we tend to gloss over any un-shiny moments, especially when dealing with non-homeschoolers. There is a feeling, especially with all the written bloggy stuff by homeschoolers, that if you homeschool the "right" way you will be able to provide educational bliss for your children with perfectly crafted lessons tailored to their interests and style of learning and your kids will become tiny walking Saints. And of course, to homeschool this "right" way, you must also be a Saint, a shining example of organization, patience, and with an exemplary grasp of algebra and Latin. There also tends to develop this unsaid feeling that if everyone else were a good enough parent/good enough Catholic, they would also be homeschooling. I *don't* believe homeschooling is for everyone. I think it *can* work for any child. I don't think it works for every Mom's personality type or family situation. Nor do I think you can't possibly raise good, virtuous children if you send them to public school, or even Catholic school. I do think you will have a harder time! But I know plenty of great "real school" families with wonderful kids. So, here's my own short list of pros and cons of homeschooling...

I hate homeschooling because---

---Can I tell you how hard it is to even start this list? That's how strong the tendency to gloss over these things really is!

---It's hard work. It's really hard work. Really. It's hard work, and it's a long day. Some days I am wiped out and burned out and wistfully think of what I could get done if the kids were at school all day.

---Your house is never "done". When you clean one room, there's people behind you, all the time, tearing up another. Housework is ongoing, always. We are all in the house all day...dragging out toys, books, craft supplies, making and cleaning up meals, etc. We *live* in our house, all day, whereas for many families, during the week at least, their house stands empty until evening. If I slack up at all on trying to stay ahead of the chaos, the mess gets overwhelming and it's very hard to get caught up again. This contributes greatly to my burned-outed-ness at times.

---I very rarely get any child-free time. I'm not someone that needs a lot of this, and honestly, if I was, homeschooling would be a bad choice for me. But still, I do wistfully eye the shelves in the adult section of the library as I pass by them on my way to the children's room, fantasize about going to adoration by myself, and remembering what it was like to go out alone with my husband. Or even, you know, take a shower without an audience.

---There's a lot of pressure to have perfect kids. Your kids are constantly evaluated in the light of the fact that they homeschool, especially if you have anyone unsupportive in your life. For these people, anything good that your kids do is in spite of homeschooling, and anything bad that they do is because they are homeschooled.

---I worry that Jack is missing out on his share of "mom time". Many days I feel like he is just swept along with the tide of things I need to get done for the older kids. I have to make a concentrated effort to make sure I spend time with him first thing before starting our school day, or the day will charge ahead without it ever happening.

I love homeschooling because---

---We don't have to have our kids "socialized" by a pack of same-aged peers. Their time is spent with us, and they learn social skills mostly from us, not from a bunch of other children. Children are capable of remarkable cruelty, something I don't want my kids to be on the giving or receiving end of. By spending the vast majority of their time with us, they learn to internalize our behavior and our values instead of the values of the 25 other 5th graders they might happen to be with this year. This has a fabulous inpact not only on important matters of virtue, but even on small matters like being swayed along with the next ridiculous toy fad, or refusing to wear a certain pair of sneakers because someone teased them about their shoes at school. The impact is particularly great if you can limit exposure to commercialized television. Maria's first Christmas after beginning homeschooing, I was gratified to know that her gift requests were at least for things she really wanted, not for things that she had seen commercials for a bajillion times or that she wanted because "everybody else has one". This lack of secular socialization becomes even more important to me as Maria gets older. Homeschoolers just tend to be a different crowd, and when I say, "No, you can't wear a shirt that shows your belly/have a Nintendo/listen to that kind of music", I know that the vast majority of the friends my kids have have similar rules in their own families. At the very least, my kids are used to the fact that we just do a lot of things differently than many people choose. My goal isn't to keep my kids completely secluded from pop culture, but to give it the perspective it deserves.

---I don't have to share the best parts of their day with a teacher. I got to be there for their first words and their first steps. I want to be there when they read their first Bob book, when they have a "lightbulb" moment over a difficult math concept, to see their face when they make a spore print with mushrooms for the first time (we just got to do this yesterday). I love discussing religion and science and history with my kids, I love seeing the way their wheels turn and what kinds of ideas they come up with.

---I have time with my kids. When Maria was in school, our lives revolved around the school. She was there for 7 hours a day, and then often various things going on in the evening, and homework to get done...all around my own work-schedule of course, which, since John and I are nurses, involved frequent weekend shifts for both of us. Now, our lives revolve around our family. We spend hours and hours a day together, and we only participate in activities that support our values and enrich our lives. We have plenty of time for activities we deem a priority, like frequent mass attendence, family prayer time, and family play time. I also have plenty of time to "work on" different areas, everything from memorizing prayers to learning how to operate the washing machine, to practicing charity towards other members of the family. The opportunities to teach and guide your kids are endless. We don't worry about finding enough "family quality time", because those times are pretty much happening daily. Our kids also have plenty of time to visit grandparents, even taking off school for a week to fly to Florida or staying for long weekends at Meme's and Papa's whenever the mood strikes. We have taken weeks off to get to know Jack as a newborn baby, as well as weeks off to be with Grandaddy when he was dying.
Our school fits into our family, we do not have to try and squeeze our family's needs into the school.

---My own path to sanctity...having the kids around all the time, being responsible for their education, has made me a much more conscious parent and has pushed my patience, fortitude, selflessness, patience, charity, and patience well past the limit. Homeschooling stretches me and has forced me to become more organized and disciplined than I've ever had to be before.

---No one, not even the best teacher, has more vested interest in my children's success. We have had some bumpy learning issues to navigate. In fact, that was what pushed us to homeschool to begin with. Teachers don't even get to pick their curriculum, must less customize it for every child in their classroom. When she was in public school, she was failing science because she couldn't read the science tests. When Maria was in third grade at home and could barely read or spell, we could patiently peck away at her problem subjects and charge ahead in subjects she could handle. I could do her history reading aloud, give her science tests orally, etc., so that her language difficulities wouldn't hold her back in other subjects.
As a result, I have a child that, although she still dislikes reading because of the amount of effort it requires from her, and tests on a second grade level for writing and spelling, *loves* literature in the form of read alouds and books on tape, has a 7th grade reading comprehension level and fantastic vocabulary. And Kain, of course, has numerous issues that affect his ability to learn traditionally. Homeschooling Kain enables me to sit and patiently work through one small section a day of a kindergarten printing book, give him preschool-type manipulatives to improve his hand-eye coordination, and keep his chair-time to a minimum. I can also pick curriculum that matches my own thoughts on education, that education should be respectful of the developmental phases of a child, that it is not appropriate for young kids to sit with hours of book work a day, that different learning tasks are appropriate at different ages, that you can learn more history from one engaging and well-written biography than you can from a pile of textbooks, and that kids should learn their faith well, to read, write, and speak well, to do math well, and to move on to adulthood with their natural curiosity and desire to learn about the world still intact. Anything else is gravy. If they graduate our homeschool with that much, they'll be better off than I was when I graduated!

Ok, that's it for now. Obviously, I have more pros than cons, or we wouldn't be homeschooling! These are reasons that matter to us. There were other cons listed on the comments at Danielle's site, but I either didn't see those things in my own situation or didn't feel that they were cons. Feel free to add your own in the comments, or link to them on your own blog!


Kelly said...

Awesome Post Mel! You are so dead on.

Entropy said...

I totally agree so I don't need to come up with my own pro/con list!! Especially the one about supposedly having perfect kids...ugh. I don't have to deal with that too much from family but a lot from strangers.

Great post!