Monday, November 19, 2012

I was homeschooled

Wait, wait, wait, you are saying. You? But didn't you tell us you were raised by a single mother who worked hard, and you went to kindergarten and school and...? 

Well, yes. I did go to school. But pretty soon after school was over and done with I realized that my true education - and even the bulk of my knowledge - were acquired at home. If I turned out to be a more-or-less well-rounded person, it was not so much thanks to school but more despite it. So, I believe I have the right to say I was homeschooled, or to be exact, self-schooled. 

Not that my teachers were bad. Many were wonderful people, and some were actually terrific teachers. Not long ago I went to a highschool reunion, and it was a delight to see all the teachers again - in particular my English teacher, and also my physics teacher, who loved and respected me even though we both soon realized that my areas of potential success lie elsewhere. My teachers were my friends (you can tell I was a real geek, right?) but as individual people, they couldn't fight against the system, which was geared mainly toward one thing: take 35 kids, lock them up in a classroom for the whole day (with a few bathroom-and-sandwich breaks in between), and do your best to keep them from ripping each other's heads off. Then you may attempt to teach them something. Good luck!

Seriously, this isn't mud-slinging. I suppose we should be grateful for a government system that ensures, at least, basic literacy skills for everyone. But unfortunately, children whose parents aren't involved in their education, who don't get the motivation to read and study on their own, don't move very much beyond the basic literacy stuff if their education remains totally and completely within the hands of school. 

Remember my last post? Now, from questions stay-at-home wives and mothers face, we're moving on to questions homeschoolers face. Let me preface what I'm going to say by stating I don't believe homeschooling is the only option for "real" education for each and every family. I'm not even sure we're actually going to continue full-time home education, but we will certainly always see the responsibility of teaching our children as primarily ours. Furthermore, I have some good friends who either have been homeschooled themselves, or are homeschooling their children, so when you read the following comment you'll understand how come it got me on a roll. 

Most moms who homeschool usually do it because they have no identity outside of mommyhood and want their children's dependency to be extended. Rather than go out and get lives of their own, they infantilize their children setting them up to suck at life by denying them social interaction and catering to their every spoiled whim. Those mothers then have breakdowns when their children either move out to get jobs, start college, or get married and build homes of their own.

From the moment our children are born, they begin their path towards independence. From learning to use a spoon and put on their own shoes, to moving out and starting a family, they are on that path and our job is to be there and encourage them - "I know you can do it, but here I am. If you need a hand, just tell me."

Now, let me ask you a question. Is it better to depend on a system, or on yourself? 

As a girl, I used to have fantasies about living, home-based, nature-based education like my childhood hero, Gerald Durrell, had. But when I reached the age of 18 and school was over, I panicked. What on earth was I going to do? How would I occupy my time? A big, vast, scary blank stretched before me. I would have signed up for university the following year, but for technical reasons it wasn't possible. I had a year between school and university. So I worked at several places, and signed up for university the moment I could get the papers worked out. I signed up, even though I had no idea what it was that I actually wanted to do. I had to begin something. I loved learning, but I never had what you'd call ambition. Anyhow, I signed up, was accepted, and relieved - 4 more years of school. 4 more years of having my days all regulated and planned. 

Even then, I realized school didn't teach me much. But university, I rationalized, was the real deal. It's for adult people who come in order to learn. Then I was astounded to realize that even in university, most - I mean more than 50% - of the class time is wasted either on actual interruptions ("guys, may I ask you to please turn off your cell phones", and the poor professors can't even add "or I'll take them away and send you to the principal") or on questions of other people which were irrelevant to me. Yes, I did learn from my professors, but I learned more on my own. And I became more conscious of the fact that actually, I have been doing it for most of my life. 

The goal isn't to "give children an education", but more to give them the means and desire to learn. Children ask questions - very good, sometimes hard questions. If you truly give deep thought and effort to answering them, and not shrug them off, they will ask more. They learn to probe the world around them. If you delight in learning, your children most likely will, too, without any conscious effort on your part. Later they will learn to read, and there will be no stopping them. 

The homeschooling families I know don't "shut their children at home so children will be dependent on Mommy". They offer them a different way of education, one that lends more freedom, if only for the simple fact that no time is wasted on "herding" crowds of students. The homeschooled children I know are responsible, mature for their age, creative, and yes, perhaps sometimes they can allow themselves to be a little quirky, because they don't depend as much on peer pressure, although they do have friends. 

Every morning when I get up, I am so happy as I look at my children and know that we are facing a whole long, glorious day, from sunrise to sunset and beyond, of living and learning together. After hot coffee (for me) and milk (for the children) we go out to feed the chickens, and that's when we usually see the school bus passing is by. I'm always so happy to see it pass by, not stopping by our house; happy that the best hours of the day are spent together, as a family. Truly, without rationalizing or planning the future or wondering how it will all work out next year, I can just tell you how much I delighted in today. 

As a sidenote, it's not that there aren't challenging moments (like the sound of escaped goats on the deck when you are in the middle of a chapter of Winnie the Pooh). Sometimes I do wish some quiet time to just get the things quickly done around the house.A toddler, a wooden spoon, and a mixing bowl with sticky batter isn't a combination that yields a spotless kitchen, if you get my drift. But mostly, I truly enjoy my children, and I hope they are enjoying me, too. 

When we see the school bus return around 4 PM, I feel a little sad: children are brought home when the light of day, in winter, is already dying. I think it's such a pity. Even if children have to go to school, why for so long? I have heard people say that since scientific knowledge is expanding and technology is constantly advancing, children need more school hours to grasp it all. I don't believe it. Knowledge-cramming isn't the way; it's like the "give a poor man a fish" saying. What children need is a means to learn, and the love of learning, and the access to knowledge stores. Then they will find out things at a surprising rate, without spoon-feeding. 

Seeing that you live in Israel and can send your daughters to Orthodox schools, keeping them away from negative influences is not an excuse. 

Whenever possible, seek positive, not negative motivation. Not "we homeschool because schools are so bad" (although it may be true where you live), or "because we don't want our children to be bullied" (although I have lived through my share of school bullying and one year is almost a blank in my memory because it was so awful, so if it's your reason I completely understand) but - we homeschool because we genuinely enjoy teaching our children, and learning alongside them. We love having our children around, and we enjoy the flexibility homeschooling gives us. We feel our children are enjoying it all, too. Because learning is so time-effective, we have plenty of time left over for creative pursuits. Also, far from being spoiled little brats whose every whim is catered to, our children participate in the daily life and work of a home, and contribute in very real ways, as much as can be expected of children at their age. 

I'll end with a quote from Rose Godfrey (forgive me, Rose, if those weren't your precise words): "Homeschooling fit our family like an old pair of jeans, comfy in all the right places." I know you'll probably find it ironic that this particular quote was chosen by someone who doesn't even own a pair of jeans, but I'm sure you get the idea. 


Anonymous said...

I have to admit, the main reason we homeschool is so that we CAN give our children a better education.

I also agree with what you said about continuing that desire to learn in children. After basic lessons are done (usually hours before we see the bus take the public school kids home) my older two are able to play or continue more "lessons". My daughter especially loves to do extra reading and is constantly learning new things on her own.

I am also grateful that my children aren't exposed to bullying or the peer-pressure to dress immodestly, etc.

And it usually makes me want to laugh when people ignorantly assume that homeschooled kids are anti-social or won't "survive" in the real world. I've known several homeschool families who's children have grown into extremely smart men and women. And not only smart, but loving and kind and (gasp) they have FRIENDS!

Anyway, I appreciate your post. Hopefully this person will research the benefits of homeschooling instead of accepting the brainwashed ideas of the "world". But then again, to do so s/he'd actually have to do some self-learning!


Mrs. Cinnamon said...

Funny, that. My own mother had no identity outside of motherhood (well, wifehood too I suppose, but mainly motherhood) and did have pretty much a nervous breakdown in my teenage years and especially when I moved off on my own. She had no problem sending me off to school, and was nothing like the helicopter moms of today. I basically saw her for dinner each day (which was a wonderful homecooked meal, granted) but other than that, she spent her time on her own, and I on my own, in school, and then playing outside or in my room etc.

On the other hand, I homeschool my kids not because I have nothing else I'd rather do, but in spite of. Don't get me wrong. I love them with all my heart and there are many enjoyable moments I spend with them. But it's a vocation, and not always fun, and not always pleasant. Sometimes we have great days, and sometimes I want to pull my hair out. On those days, my husband reminds me that they won't be young forever - and I do like the way their eyes light up when they learn something new. But gosh darned if I don't have other interests of my own. I am an avid reader (read 3-4 books a week), I write (I have several works I'm trying to get published now), I have a graduate education that I hope to put to use someday, and as soon as the newest baby is born I might even take a certification course online - just because I like the mental challenge. (I already went through several couress... no, they might not be very practical, but I too view it as neverending self-education. I love learning, and I hope my kids willl too.

So... I think the point of that ramble is that I feel I have plenty of identity outside the children, outside homeschooling.

And want to know a secret? It's *less* stressful for our family to homeschool than to school outside the home. Gasp! For real. What with catching illnesses, having to rush, rush, rush around all day, peer pressure to acquire new things, etc... it's the antithesis of a simple life. The school system here is excellent and we pay the most school taxes out of anywhere in America, but we still choose to homeschool. Maybe this will change in the future if our family situation (finances, etc.) change, but for now, it works for us. I can't imagine judging another family for their choices in schooling. I'm dumbfounded that people would choose to judge us. Go figure.

Ganeida said...

I must say that the comment that inspired this post made me see red ~ as only someone who knows nothing about homeschooling would make such ignorant statements.

My youngest finished homeschool this year. She was volunteering at the local school for her last 2 terms teaching reading while I went back to school myself [I graduate after 1 term next year] & has done such a great job she has been offered paid work next year. This is more than most public school students with high OPs can hope for.

No, we never followed the standard state curriculum but my child knows how to find out anything she needs to know besides having the very practical skills necessary to run a household, deal with government agencies & employment.

No system is perfect. Each choice has its benefits & drawbacks but our choice to homeschool is bearing good fruit & we are all happy with the outcomes.

Anonymous said...

My sons and I were recently on a walk, and we happened by the kindergarten playground of our local primary school during lunch break.

My sons are 1 and 3 right now, and they were mostly disappointed that they couldn't go in and play. What I saw, though, was a little boy who had fallen on some of the equipment and bumped his head. He wasn't injured, but he was crying. He was pleading for his mother, and there was nothing the yard duties could do about it (and they really weren't all that interested). It just about tore my heart out.

I see my job as a parent not as being a babysitter, but as the task of raising adults. But part of that is protecting and loving our children when they need us. This poor kid, at 5 years old, has to spend the bulk of his day without the people he most trusts. He is alone, and he knows it.