Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Few of the Reasons that We Homeschool

Homeschooling is new for us this year. It wasn't a decision that was made as a knee-jerk reaction; it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision; it's not the path of least resistance; and it's not because we're overly religious. All of those above are the reasons that people assume we're homeschooling. But the decision took almost two years to make and about as much research--divided between my wife and myself--as my dissertation took (but, thank god, we don't have to cite any of it).

We home school for a number of reasons all woven together into a philosophical tapestry. It has to do with the school options in our area as well as the general education climate today. It has to do with thinking as well as learning. And it has to do with the arts.

When our oldest daughter went to kindergarten last year, we were surprised by a few things. We were surprised by how much she liked it. We were surprised by how quickly she learned to read. We were surprised by how long her school was--from 8am-3:30pm. We were surprised by how often she was tested. And we were surprised by how she was graded. I don't personally remember grades in kindergarten, but they have them now. As a matter of fact, my daughter was assessed on 22 different things. I didn't feel any better about things because she got straight A's either.

There's too much research to point to a particular article about the effectiveness of homeschooling. A kindergartner doesn't need seven hours in a classroom to learn. The latest educational research suggests that they need somewhere between 30-60 minutes a day of instruction and much more time playfully exploring. Play was not a part of her curriculum at school. On Fridays, they got to have "Friday Fun," which actually gave them an hour to play whatever they wanted; this is what she looked forward to all week.

She never brought home any art. Seriously, no art at all. Her school--like every other school in the district--cut their art teacher. (They had a music teacher, but I would honestly be surprised if she had a music education. I have taught music and was a music student for years and I've never seen a worse job of teaching music. Who can make music boring? Only her). Kindergartners focused on academics rather than the arts.

Kids draw. They draw all the time. How often do you, as an adult, sit down and work on drawing? For most of us, it's not that often. But a kid will work hours and hours one drawing, given the chance. What is it that they do with the drawing when it's through? Nothing.

Can you imagine, as an adult, putting hours of work into a project only to discard it, let it fall to the floor, or scribble all over it? Kids do that. They don't wonder "what is this good for?" Instead they tackle the project with enthusiasm. If they don't have enthusiasm, they don't do the project.

Art shows the intrinsic value of learning. Kids teach themselves art, and refine their art, as it's own activity. Not based on outcomes, they concentrate on refining and revision with no ultimate goal.

School, and the conquest of the academics, beats that out of us. When you home school, you can see that kind of enthusiastic approach to every subject. When you let them follow themselves down a rabbit hole, math, reading, art, music, a science experiment, whatever can be fascinating. Why take creativity out of the learning process like school does? Why devote every moment of every day to assessment?

Tests a okay at telling you what someone has learned--they're not flawless at it. But when testing is the focus of the school system, and five year olds are being assessed on 22 different things, something's wrong.

My college students tell me that while they were in high school, they only had to write one formal paper. One. And it was buried somewhere in Junior year, 20 pages long, and they didn't have to properly cite their work. Now, I'm not the most rigorous academic in the world, but I think that if I were to send my kids to high school for four years, they should write more than that. They hated writing the paper, of course, because the subject was assigned and they had to follow the "proper" formula for how a paper "should" look.

Just what the hell were they doing instead of writing? Drilling for the tests.

I think that reading, writing, math, and science are important. But I think that the arts and humanities are important, too. The it is through the humanities that we express who we are and how we feel. It's through the study and art of the humanities that we come closest to learning something about possible meanings of life itself. And this is not offered to modern students.

I think history is fascinating, but most students don't. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful history teacher in junior high, and a number of talented teachers in college. My interest in history has spurred me to keep learning about it as an adult. But why do most students feel turned off by it? How could they?

The delivery method of subject matter is rarely engaging and never to all students. Why risk your child's love of history? Why not let them learn it based on what they're interested in?

I don't know that we're always going to home school. As they get older, the kids' attitudes toward school may change, and they certainly have a say in their own education. But as long as they're gung-ho, and we live in this particular area, we're doing it.

The schools are not raising a generation of thinkers. They're raising a generation of test takers. Which one offers a better childhood? Which childhood offers a better life?

I'll muse on this some more, as my thoughts settle.


Anonymous said...

I think that it is great that you have chosen to do this. My son (age 14) has a learning disability compounded by a TBI in K.

We have recently moved to Virginia only to find out how far behind their standards he is. And how far they will not go for him.

Many have suggested that I homeschool him but I have no patience at all. And he still needs to pass their Standard of Learning test to go to 9th grade.

Jacob said...

I really appreciated this post. We've decided to homeschool our sons, and I get many of the reactions you describe early in your post. Of course the school system here in Flint, is, well, I suspect you've seen it in the news. So we'll homeschool.

I'd love to see some of the studies you read about the amount of time students need to spend "learning". That's interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'm the mom who was wearing the Beco at the Rainbow Park this past summer. We are struggling to decide what to do next for school w our kindy boy. My concerns are the same for his current schooling situation. Any directions you can point us to for research on homeschooling? I would love to read some of the studies you found.

Julia said...

This post has given me some new things to consider when making the decision of how to school our daughter. She is only 19 months right now so that time seems far away but I know it will be here before I know it. I've already spent some time thinking about schooling but hadn't considered some of what you brought up. Thanks!

Tina said...

My husband and I are unemployed music teachers. I actually had an article about the effect of NCLB and arts classes published in a mucky-muck academic week before I got my pink slip (oh the irony).

We believe in the purpose of public education (since it gives people in poverty a real opportunity to better their situation)....but the current climate has also made us debate homeschooling our son. Thankfully we have a couple more years before we really have to decide.

Joyce said...

I really enjoyed reading about your thoughts and experience on this. I had a similar experience with my four older children. I homeschooled them because the other options available to us at the time were not valid. They loved the experience--they learned A LOT! But most importantly, they loved learning. When the oldest daughter was entering 5th grade, our situation changed, and homeschooling was no longer an option. The girls made a great transition into public school--I did have to keep the school from putting them in advanced grades for their ages (this happened to me as a child, and I hated it--didn't want my kids to suffer through the same thing). When they entered public school, I kept up some of the homeschooling activites (especially around the humanities) as much as I could. This worked well for us and helped me to keep engaged in what they were learning (this can become a challenge for even the most well-intentioned parent--especially when the kids outnumber you) and to this day they still love reading and learning on their own. I hope you and your family find as much enjoyment and reward from this experience as we did. Good Luck.