Am I Homeschooling for the Right Reasons?

Joyce Fetteroll

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—Sandra Dodd

Am I homeschooling for the right reasons?

I think the reason you need to ask that question is because most of us have the idea that homeschooling and public schooling are equivalent with just some minor differences. There are actually huge compromises that need to be made in the learning environment in order for a school to function. The following seems a bit extreme, but even in the best schools, it's there. Some schools may be better at counteracting the effects, but these things are built into the way we've structured our schools.

Compromise one: Schools run as assembly lines. Every child needs to learn the same thing at the same time or the production line can't function. The next teacher in line needs her product (children) in a certain state so she can apply her process to them. If they are knowledge-and-skill-wise all over the board, she can't work efficiently. Regardless of how much a teacher tries to treat her students as individuals, she still has to fulfil the needs of the school.

And yet, it isn't natural for all kids to be ready to read at the same time, or do pencil and paper math. So the schools have to work extra hard and emphasise those skills because the "schools" need the kids doing these on a specific time schedule. To use an analogy, its like kids who wouldn't naturally walk until 18 months who are put into remedial walking lessons at 12 months because "schools" need them walking as soon as possible. Whose needs are being served and what do those needs do to the psyche of the child?

It isn't natural for all kids to want to learn about whales on the 3rd week of September. Interest is what drives our learning, so teachers learn in teaching college to talk up the next lesson to spark as much interest as possible. (There's a specific phrase for this technique). And if children have other interests, they learn their own need to be set aside because what the teacher wants them to learn is mort important. (It took me years to relearn that my own interests weren't just stuff to fill my leisure time with, that they were actually important).

Every child is different and yet every child is expected to learn by listening, reading, memorising and testing. Those whose natural learning style is different just have to work harder. And if they don't work harder, they're lazy or dumb. "They" need to adapt themselves to the environment rather than the other way around. They learn that there is something wrong with them for not being able to learn as easily as everyone else. Yet if the environment matched their learning style, they would be the smart ones and the others would be the dumb ones.

Compromise two: Socialisation. John Taylor Gatto pointed out in Dumbing Us Down (I think it was) that our schools are based on the Prussian school model. And the reason the Prussians devised the system they did was to weaken loyalty a child had to his family and strengthen his bond with the state. When you think about it, you can see it happening but in a different way, beause our teachers aren't demanding loyalty. Children do, of course, make friends at school, but they also view their peers as a substitute family. They want to be accepted by this new family and look to their peers for clues on how to behave so they aren't rejected.

We, as a society, have accepted that children need to be away from their families. That children must learn to be independent and the sooner the better. In fact it's not uncommon for a (brainwashed) parent to be very surprised that you aren't sending your 3 year old to pre-school. They need to learn to socialise, don't you know?

And yet, it's totally unnatural for children to be separated from their families. It's human nature to be dependent until natural drives for independence kick in during the teen years. Children need a supportive environment in order to learn and grow. Homes are like home made whole wheat bread and schools are like factory-made white bread. The whole wheat has all the natural nutrients left in and whatever extras the baker feels like adding. The white bread has them all stripped out and the "important" ones artificially replaced. Regardless of how warm and nurturing a teacher tries to make her room, it's still a pale substitute for home.

So, because children lose their families for an important part of the day, they seek a substitute. They don't have mom to give them a hug or whatever their mother knows works best for them when things aren't going well, so they accept the generic response that the teacher uses for kids. They seek elsewhere among their peers and/or change themselves. They learn to like what their peers like and dislike what their peers dislike. They learn to cover up any emotions that might single them out. They learn to fit in.

Compromise three: The myth of great education. Supposedly the goal of public schools is to make sure kids rise to their greated potential. It's often expressed as making sure they can be whatever they want to be once they finish high school. Can it truly be said that a student who has the skills to be anything she wants to be and yet has no idea what she wants to be because she's never had the time or opportunity to explore her likes and dislikes, be considered a product of good education? How many high school graduates go onto college choosing an area of study because it seems not as boring as other things or just because job prospects are good in that field? Schools are so focused on skills and knowledge that kids have no idea what the skills and knowledge are good for. They've had it drummed into them that they'll be "good for the future". But once we're out of school we realise what a crock that is!

It's nice to think of a great school as all kids rushing to history class and being involved in lively discussions where all opinions are treated with respect and all opinions equal fodder for debate. Where all the kids are absolutely passionate about their English classes, where the teacher can engage them with her love of words and love of Shakespeare so that the kids feel what Hamlet felt. Where the science classes are involved in solving problems facing society as the students self-discover the knowledge they need to deal with the problem? Is any of that happening?

How exactly are the schools in your state being ranked? What constitutes "best"? Is it standardised test scores? Is it number of students going to college? Is it happiness and well-adjustment? Are the kids trained to do well on standardised tests or are they encouraged to learn how to think for themselves and be creative? One may look better on paper, but which one would you rather hire? Which one is more likely to know themselves and know what they want in life?

Are those compromises worth a great biology and chemistry lab? (Assuming you don't have a community college nearby where your child could take these courses).

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