Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stewing and brewing thoughts in the wake of a homeschooling conference

I attended my first homeschooling conference this past weekend and, not surprisingly, I have a few impressions that are swirling around my brain. So much so that it's keeping me up. I'm just going to jump right into it so I can go back to sleep and be up to take the kids to the science center in the morning as I promised.

While there were a few sessions that offered practical advice to this newby (notably how to tell if your child is ready to learn to read; ADHD vs. kinesthetic learner; and fun, educational things to do with your preschooler), I came away with two key impressions: 1. the homeschooling community has fought so long to legitimize themselves that they believe the only right way to educate your child is at home, and 2. forget about grades, grade levels and preparation for college as following your child's development and interest is paramount. I have trouble with both of these ideas.

First off, I don't believe homeschooling is for everybody in every situation. Sure, anyone can and should be able to homeschool if they want to. But it's not the best choice for every child and every parent. Even if it may work well for the child and parent, circumstances may prohibit it. I'm not talking about government regulation here. I'm all for the legal right every American citizen has to choose to educate their children at home. However, there are a myriad of personal and intricate circumstances that just make traditional schooling a better choice for some families. I'm sure I'm not the only one at the conference with this belief. The last speaker of the day basically said the same thing as I, but many other speakers and parents said that homeschooling was the best choice.

The second idea is the one that I find most troubling. It seems that when you enter the homeschooling world the expectation is that it is for your child's entire education. As one speaker said, "we lose a lot at high school," implying that some wimpy parents coop out at that stage. When I asked about how do you know your child is on grade level or ready to go to college, the response reminded me of Bobby McFarrin's boppy tune, "Don't worry, be happy."

I'm approaching this decision to educate Owen at home on a year-by-year basis. It's completely overwhelming to me to think this is an either-or mandate for the next 12 years. Next year, we may decide to send Owen to school, or the year after, or the year after that. I want to know that he is somewhat on par with his peers and won't be woefully behind. Even if we choose to homeschool through high school, which I just can't fathom at this point, I want him to be capable of succeeding in college.

What's most important to me in educating my children, whether at home or elsewhere, is that they learn to think for themselves, can analyze and coherently express their resulting opinions verbally and in written form, and have a lifelong love for learning. With the pressure schools have to meet state and national education goals that are only measured through test scores, most teachers simply teach to the test. The students cram to memorize facts that they forget two weeks later. Students end up hating school because their natural love for learning is killed by endless busywork and boring memorization that holds no point of reference beyond the test. By the time they get to college they are so "schooled" in this method that the most common question professors hear is, "Will this be on the test." Jack even hears this from his graduate students.

Home education offers an alternative--an appealing alternative that I'm willing to try. I just have to do it my way, which includes lot of fun, tailored activities to keep Owen excited about learning along with references that let me know what a typical kindergartener should know.

1 comment:

wickluba said...

Wow I think thats great that you are going to homeschool this year. I also think it should be a year by year decision and what an opportunity to be so closely involved with your child's learning experience...not that you couldn't be otherwise. Anyways, I'll be anxious to hear how this year goes for you and which of your many creative ideas work best!!