We homeschool our kids. I have not written much about it here, but it is a big deal to us and part of the very fabric of our family. It is not easy. It takes a lot of work, most of which falls on my wife’s shoulders. I realize more and more that I need to sort through my thoughts on homeschooling, why we made the choice, and what it means to us.
There may be as many different reasons to homeschool as there are families who homeschool. But I would hazard a guess that most families who homeschool do so for many of the same reasons. They want their kids to be better educated, better socialized, safer, more well-rounded, and closer to the family. There is a deeply rooted idea in Western culture, from Plato to Rousseau to Marx and onwards, that the best way to educate children is to get the parents out of the picture as soon (and as much) as possible. This idea is rooted in another idea that the individual is primarily beholden to the state, especially within ideologies where the state is elevated as the primary social group. Homeschoolers tend to take exception to both of these ideas and go in a different direction. And yet, probably most homeschoolers do not choose to homeschool because they take exception to such ideologies, rather they homeschool because they see their local public education, and much private education, to be less than what they want for their children. This is not to say public or private education is always wrong – I am a product of both – but that public and private education is often a lesser education rife with conflicting issues, stultifying bureaucratic “requirements”, unnecessary compromises, and various dangers on many levels. We know that children are natural learners. That a student becomes educated within traditionally and culturally accepted environments (public and most private schools) is often in spite of those environments as much or more than because of them. That was very much true for me and, in fact, I had a lot of catching up to do. Only because I am a little obsessed with constant learning in my own life have I managed to become an educated adult and make up for much of my elementary and secondary education. But I am still behind where I should be.
And yet homeschooling is not all about academics. There is probably no more important element of becoming an educated person as that of one’s character. In public schools one learns basic character traits as standing in line without pushing, or not hitting other students, or not stealing, or how to stay awake in class, or how to take standardized tests. Of course, mostly one learns that to behave well is all about “getting along.” The goal is to follow the rules and to avoid anarchy. This is driven, in large part, by the needs of the teachers who must maintain order in classrooms with too many children. Cooperation, as we are told from Sesame Street and reinforced in public school, is the highest good. Goodness, as an end in itself, is not the focus of public school character development. Nor is much directed character development possible at all. In our local school district the ratio of students to teachers is 20+ to 1. There is no way that a teacher, no matter how “qualified” can truly develop and nurture the individual characters of 20+ students. In fact they can barely teach them. Certainly they cannot uniquely customize their instruction to the unique needs of each individual child. But that is exactly what homeschooling does do. Our kids get teachers who truly know them, who love them, will even lay down their lives for them. There are many excellent teachers in public and private schools (and know that I am a supporter of public education both in principle and with my tax dollars), but none know or love my children the way I do.
In short, we believe that we can give our kids a better education because we can customize the education for each child uniquely, tailoring our teaching to their learning styles and capabilities. We can give our kids a better education because we can better focus on their individual characters and help them grow into the kind of people they were made to be. And we can better educate our children because we are deeply committed to them for who they are – we love them like none other can.
I will write more here on why we homeschool and what it means to us in the future, but I am still sorting out my thoughts. I also realize there are many stereotypes about homeschooling and the strange people who make such choices. I will address some of that too. And I want to examine the idea of being “qualified” to teach and why we think we are qualified. But know this, homeschooling is no formula for success. We take each year, even each day to some degree, as an experiment. It is working so far, but who knows what the future will bring.