Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why we homeschool

We homeschool for a wide variety of reasons...academic, religious, lifestyle...and have been doing it since 1996. So, for us, the question becomes-- what reason would we have for needing or wanting our children to attend school? (For any of you who aren't regular visitors here, we have three daughters who have always been homeschooled. This is mostly about our oldest, who's known as The Apprentice.)

I can pinpoint one of the lines I read, early on, that propelled us towards homeschooling. I had borrowed Nancy Wallace's account of her own family's unschooling journey, Better Than School, from the library, and I came to the part where she described their son's classroom experiences in first grade. It wasn't a good year; her son was exhausted and unhappy, and when asked what the problem was, he complained that he no longer had enough time to read! (The link is to a 1984 Mother Earth News story about homeschooling; if you scroll down far enough, you'll see some excerpts from the book.)

I related to that. I remembered being yanked down by my jumper straps when I tried to climb up to an above-my-grade-level library shelf in the first grade. (Did anyone else go to a school where the books were actually arranged by grades?) I remembered having to use second-grade readers two years in a row (it involved a move from a school that encouraged "enrichment" to another one that didn't). I remembered doing many, many spelling lessons that taught me absolutely nothing (I was already a good speller. I was lousy at handwriting, but spelling lessons didn't improve that). I remembered getting to staple the teacher's papers as a reward for getting my work done early. (What a motivation.)

I also remembered the darker side of school--the pressures, the bullies, the unhappiness when you can't seem to find a place to fit in. I was a geek from the get-go. Many of us have been there and it's not a memory we'd want to spend much time musing on.

And right at that time (when we were thinking about homeschooling), our flavour-of-the-month provincial ministry of education announced a brilliant idea. They would provide optional junior kindergarten not only for the four-year-olds (that was already in place) but also for the three-year-olds. Moms who wanted free babysitting cheered. Everyone else seemed doubtful, including Mr. Fixit's cousin who was teaching JK and had had to buy a supply of changes-of-underwear for her classroom already. And we had a child turning three. Oh but wait--a change of government came in right then and axed not only that idea, but also four-year-old JK. For a little while. Then JK came back (but not for the three-year-olds).

Oh, and then there was the common curriculum that our province brought in (like the "standards" some other countries talk about). And there was a teachers' strike. And there was provincial testing for grade 3 and 6 classes. And the whole idea of self-esteem (that is, spending time on how special we are instead of on math) and values clarification (whatever its present-day name is) and groupthink and not hurting a child's feelings by saying that his work is careless or his spelling is wrong.

In short, we had no intention of allowing The Apprentice to become a guinea pig for some government's idea of what her education should be. Or shouldn't be. Or might be for six months until the latest greatest idea came up. (The newest thing in our school system is that children don't have a lunch hour anymore. They have two "nutrition breaks" during the day instead. This was sold to the parents as something that would encourage better nutrition and more time to play outdoors, but it was actually prompted by demands for longer breaks for the teachers.)

And I wanted her to have time in her life to read.

The Apprentice has never become what you'd call a bookworm. She prefers to make things (like bead jewelery or knitted Barbie skirts), or help Mr. Fixit build CB radios and install computers. But when she does read...she knows what's worth reading, what's middlin', and what's garbage. Would she be better off in a classroom, now that she's getting close to the usual high school age? Maybe...if we can get enough of the important stuff covered first. Does she want to go? She's not sure herself. It would be sort of fun...but right now, she says she likes being at home.

[Update, May 2007: This was first posted in January 2006, when we were tossing around the possibilities for The Apprentice's future education. In September 2006, she enrolled part time at the local high school, and she has spent two interesting semesters there taking all the hands-on things that she enjoys--plus science and French--and I get to brag that she's on the honour roll too. She's planning on continuing there, still part time, next school year. Beyond that, she's looking at apprenticeship possibilities in a couple of the trades that interest her.]


Gem said...

Oh, I so identify with your own first grade experience. My first grade teacher went to our church and I ran into her when visiting home a few years back. She said the thing she remembered most about me was that she was always having to get onto me for reading a book from my lap under the desk (good thing I was farsighted!) while I was supposed to be doing something else. What she didn't remember is that the books I was reading under the desk were 3rd and 4th grade material. My kids will never have to worry about being asked NOT to read (unless it's dinnertime, lol)!

Amy Witt said...

I too am a lap reader. I can remember finishing my math work just so I could read. I would read the silly stories in the basal reader and answer the questions so I could get back to my book in my lap. To the teacher I guess it looked like I had put my head down to rest which was ok but reading extra was not. Go figure. My children will be able to read whenever they want. YEA.

Unknown said...

I was an early reader, my mother tells me of the first day of Kindergarden, I started when I was 5 (I was born in August, which is the cut off time for birthdays for K grade levels here.) I already knew how to read, as my parents had taught me how already. My mom says I came home from school very upset, and announced I was never going back to school. When I was asked why I announced (loudly apparently) "During reading class we did not read, the teacher wanted us to color, mother that is not reading that is Art!" I was apparently appalled at the fact that they wanted me to color whatever worksheet they gave me. My mother told me not too long after that I basically stopped reading for fun, and they wanted to hold me back saying I was not "socially mature" enough for first grade, my mother fought and won.

Then last year we moved from one city to another city 200 miles away, my daughter had been in public school since kindergarden, now she was starting second grade at a school that was full to capacity, though they had an overflow campus that was also at capacity they made us wait for about 3-4 hours to let us know she was able to attend class there. When we lived in our previous city the school was marvelous, the principal knew basically every students name, this was in a suburb of a major city, and welcomed them all and talked to them quite a bit. She had always been a top reader in her classes in K and 1st grade. She takes a reading proficiency test here and they tell me she does not read at level because she does not read out loud well, she can read it to herself and answer all the questions correctly, but she does not read at her grade level. Could it be because she is 7 years old? Could it be that she reads faster than her brain can process to pronounce the words (yes this is a real problem my older brother had this issue)? I asked which words was she missing or using a different word on, I was looked at oddly, and then told well a, and, as well as the. OK I have read studies and studied speed reading, most people when they read to themselves really do not process these words, your brain just skips them as they are not the most important words in the sentence.

I think the biggest problem with public schooling is that they now are too focused on testing and how they can get more money from the government.

Not to long after this my daughter was testing for the gifted and talented program (which they did during recess), came back to class during math, answered a question wrong and the teacher asked if she was even using her brain! Well shortly after this happened I removed my daughter from the school, we started homeschooling and she seems to be doing well. I am so happy I decided that this is the best thing for us, I fear what public school would have done to her, I know in a lot of ways was squashed by the system, they ruined me because I am very artistic, and free thinking. You would think this is a horrible crime against mankind the way the school system treats children that think for themselves.