Secular Thursday: Homeschooling's Not For Everyone

Homeschooling is not an activity that should be undertaken by all. Just as not all women should attempt an unassisted birth, not all parents are willing and/or able to take on the responsibility associated with homeschooling. Many parents realize this and do not attempt to homeschool.

Other parents, it seems, do not.

I don't wish to single out particular people, but I do see examples, and I'd like to cite some of them.

• If you've been reading a book for some time as a family, shouldn't you know that it is called Johnny Tremain and not Johnny Tremaine?

• A message board post reads "What would you do for kindergarten if you only had thirty minutes a day four days a week? My daughter will be a kindergartener in the fall, and she is my last child, so I want this to be fun for both of us. ...but with three older dc, I need it to be short and sweet." I don't really understand this at all. What will this woman do in two years' time, when she will have a high school age student (14), a middle school age student (12), an upper elementary age student (10), and a second grader (7)? Will she still relegate her youngest to a half-hearted, quickie version of school? I understand that formal academics is not as important at the kindergarten age, but it seems desperately sad that you would limit your interactions with one child so severely. How will the following year be different? How will more time appear in her schedule so that she can teach her then-first grader?

Homeschooling is a commitment. Many experienced homeschooling parents will argue that it should be approached as if it were a job. (Many other will disagree, but I'm concentrating on the first set.) I would agree - and I suppose some would argue that nearly five years of homeschooling lets me speak as one of those who is experienced. Unless you are planning to unschool, which is a completely different philosophy, you need to have plans, goals, and expectations. No, homeschooling doesn't have to mean drudgery. Often, enough school is completed to enable us to go out of the house by 10:30 or 11 am. However, that doesn't mean that it does not require some commitment from the parents. Depending on the approach that is taken, it can mean a significant investment of time and resources. Since I fall into the camp of "if it's worth doing, it's probably worth doing well," I'd argue that if you're not willing to make those investments, you need to look at why you're doing it.

What level of investment do I mean? It looks different for different families, of course. For us, it means a significant amount of time that I spend researching resources and approaches before purchasing, and then a smaller but still significant amount of time spent planning how we'll use those resources. On a daily basis, I instruct Eclectic Girl in spelling, provide direction with writing, discuss reading assignments, and check work in all other areas, requiring her to correct those exercises that were initially wrong. We spend time together with language arts, and discussing what she's reading in history or science. I also spend time teaching Fabulous Boy phonics, handwriting, and math. I guide both of them to do memory work. There's also a lot of reading aloud. Apart from the home instruction, I'm often driving them to enrichment classes or extracurricular activities. Yes, I would still take my children to the YMCA to swim or participate in swim lessons, even if we weren't homeschooling, but I think it's safe to say that many of our weekly activities would no longer be on the calendar.

My personal goal is to read for at least an hour per day. Thirty minutes is for pleasure, and the other is for research. The latter one generally consists of items I am researching for school. What's in that pile? Currently, I'm reading through Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding, and just finished Readicide. Susan Wise Bauer's The History of Medieval World is straddling the line between research and pleasure; I do wish Dr. Nebel were as enjoyable to read as SWB! My pleasure book at the moment is re-reading David Eddings' Mallorean series before I pack them for our hopefully impending mve.

I also consider it my (and my partner's) responsibility to model life-long learning, and a love of learning. My stack of books to read for pleasure is in fact composed primarily of non-fiction works, especially concerning various science and social science topics. Eclectic Girl is learning to play the trumpet, which has inspired the spousal unit to investigate getting a new clarinet (his old one got pad mites, apparently). We listen to educational podcasts as a family, but not out of an effort to impress Learning upon the children; we just happen to enjoy them. Lately, too, the spousal unit and I have made an effort to showcase ourselves learning new things together. This has mostly taken the form of reading from the same book and then discussing it, but we've also purchased some courses from The Teaching Company that we view once a week or so. Now, with regards to this paragraph, I'm certainly not saying that non-homeschooling parents don't do some or all of these or related things, or even more than this. I want, however, to draw the point that we continue to do all of these things, in addition to homeschooling-specific duties.

In sum, then, homeschooling entails a significant amount of dedication as well as zeal, and this should be carefully considered, along with more commonly cited issues such as "don't you get tired of being around your kids all day?" or "my kids wouldn't listen to me, we'd just argue all day." Even when you are willing and eager to be around your kids all day, and your kids do not argue with you, there are deeper requirements that should be met. Yes, many homeschooling parents will tell you that of course you can homeschool; after all, you helped your children learn throughout the first years of their life. Advancing academics, though, are hardly comparable to biological imperatives such as walking, and you must be certain that you will follow through on your commitment.

I don't mean to be discouraging. If someone wants to homeschool, but fears they may have an issue with the time and thought needed, the desire can help make the necessary commitments happen. I do think, though, that any homeschooling parent must periodically evaluate what their homeschool is accomplishing. If there are serious issues, they need to be rectified as soon as humanly possible, or the parents may need to consider other educational options.


Daisy said...

I agree with you 100%.

There are those families who are homeschooling as a preventative measure rather than a prescriptive one. While defending their "right" to home school, I surely wish they'd move beyond default home schooling and into serious educating.

Kecia said...

Yes. This is why we won't be homeschooling unless other options do not meet his needs. As much as I think homeschooling, in general, provides a superior education, I know that my version would almost certainly not.

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Smrt Mama said...

I feel sorry for the younger children, whose education gets marginalized because mom's just too busy with the older ones. K may not require a LOT of formal instruction, but what you are teaching requires some actual human interaction, you know?

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