Wednesday, May 18, 2005

It IS About School...sort of

A Response to Laura D. Bush

There’s an article online that's been reprinted here and there, called “It’s Not About School,” by Laura D. Bush. Since I first read it, a couple of points from the article have been bothering me and, at the risk of seeming rude or maybe out of date (the article is five years old) I would like to address them.

Overall, I think Mrs. Bush does have something important to say: that the “heart of homeschooling is in the home we build for our children.” As someone who started homeschooling with Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake fresh in my mind, I agree very much with that point! And I would like very much to think that any family that reads together, that talks about important things (including how those things fit into God’s world) around the dinner table, and that learns to wonder and find out about what that big bug is or how things work, is going to be a learning family no matter what curriculum is chosen; maybe even no matter what school the children attend. I notice, for instance, that theologian Francis Schaeffer’s children (including Susan) and grandchildren were not exclusively homeschooled, although some Christians insist that homeschooling is the only Scriptural choice parents can make.

However, I have to take exception to her criticism that much talk of “books and lesson plans, classical homeschooling and unit studies....obscures the heart of homeschooling” and becomes just an enjoyable hobby of “playing school.” When Mr. Fixit reads the Wheels section of the paper and posts to a station wagon e-group, I don’t call it “playing car”; he enjoys cars, but he’s also taking care of our transportation needs. I enjoy talking about homeschooling and childrens’ books, but I’m also taking care of my family’s school needs. I am the one trying to read between the lines in product reviews, going to workshops, and joining online math groups. I don’t plan everything we do from scratch, but I am responsible for choosing which plan we will follow, which books we will study, and figuring out our longterm academic goals.

If I didn’t do those things and told my children that because the heart of homeschooling is a loving home, I’m not going to spend any extra time working out what we’ll study next school year, they would (rightly) look at me as if I had two heads. Homeschooling is no more just a hobby for them than it is for me; it is how they spend a good part of their days; it means, to some extent, their futures; and it is important that they understand how seriously I do take that responsibility.

To be fair to Mrs. Bush, I don’t think that her purpose in writing was to discourage anyone from comparing curriculum or enjoying “shop talk.” (Even the Proverbs 31 woman considered a field before she bought it.) However, she does tend to wander into the rather romantic ideal that a supportive, literate household will automatically produce educated children. She states that “no child in a home with books and magazines and the welcoming lap of a reading adult will fail to learn to read”; actually, I know at least one child in exactly such a household who has had great difficulty with reading. “No child in a healthy home will fail to learn all the arithmetic he or she needs to succeed as an adult.” Unschoolers may agree with that idea, but for most children (including mine), regular math work is necessary in addition to all the “teachable moments” and real-life learning we’ve made use of. (Cutting pies into fractions goes only so far.) “Homes full of love for one another, love of learning, interest in and concern for the world will almost surely produce well-educated young people, regardless of the methods or materials we choose to use in our homeschool.” Sewing a dress or cooking a meal using wrong methods and poor materials will result in failure, regardless of the good intentions of the sewer or cook; why should the teaching of children be viewed differently?

It’s true that God’s people can have widely varying needs in education, and some families may find they need to supplement their very full “real life” with only small amounts of “school.” Others will need to spend much more time and energy providing learning opportunities for their children. My concern is that, while we can agree with the “heart of homeschooling” philosophy and don’t put prideful over-emphasis on academic achivement, we risk creating a reverse tendency to sneer at method and structure, as if they are somehow less than spiritual. (I think that reflects the same spiritual tension that causes some people to view savings accounts and insurance as prudent, and others to say they show lack of faith in God’s provision.) The “love of learning” Mrs. Bush describes does not happen, for most of us, without at least some deliberate plan and purpose.

1 comment:

coffeemamma said...

I agree with every one of your comments. And I happen to be the mother of a little boy who has struggled terribly with reading- even though our shelves overflow with books, and his mamma's lap is always ready to receive him for a story ;-)