Monday, January 24, 2011

I don't spend a lot of time here on my little cyber-home talking about our lives as a home schooling family. I suppose part of that is that it's just so much a part of our day each day that it doesn't occur to me as something to write about.

A friend of mine on a social networking site made a comment about the school of one of her children just not working out well for their family, and I mentioned that this was one of the big reasons we made the decision to begin home schooling our children four years ago.

Someone known or related to her made this comment in response to mine:

"As flawed as our education system is, it builds social skills that can not be built at home...I have seen this many times over...home schooled kids are less likely to be socially adjusted

"also I feel leaving the education system is not really... solving the issue, become involved, get other parents involved and you will be surprised of the changes that can happen.

"And i sure the comeback will be that "MY Kids" are very social and are doing great..Unfortunately you will not see the damage until they are older....which I have seen too many times....They can not make it because they have been sheltered.

"I personnally am glad my kids are in public school...and yes we are involved in the changes that need to be voice of change a be active in your schools....I see too many times, people who complain, but do not get involved in their schools and still expect change to happen...

"get involved and see what happens...

"As E. knows, I am very passionate about my beliefs. And if you truely want change and/or advice, feel free to contact my wife or myself and hopefully we can get you some good info to get you started in your schools.

"My wife is the PTO President at our school and I volunteer my time at our school also...and we have spearheaded many changes at our own school..."

Now, without being nit-picky and taking this comment apart bit-by-bit, I responded in kind:


"Tell that to my kids, who have been home schooled for four years now and have markedly better "social skills" than their public school educated peers. If you think my kids or any home schooled kids for that matter) aren't socialized..., you don't understand modern homeschooling. It tells me that if you do personally know any families who home school, you likely either do not see most of what goes on, don't know them very well, or know a very small sampling of homeschooling families.

"Please don't assume that I was not involved with my children's education while they were in a building school. Our eldest was in the fifth grade when we made the decision to begin homeschooling, and it most certainly was not for lack of effort on my part, the parts of other parents, or our kids to make the most of the classroom model of education. Very simply put, it does not work for many students, and the ones for whom it does not work are marked as failures, as learning-disabled, as disruptive--when that's not usually the case at all.

"I spent many long days volunteering in their three different classrooms--three days each week, assisting teachers, and helping in ways that most parents would never take the time to do.

"Colleges and universities LOOK for home schooled students because they know that these kids know how to apply themselves academically, generally have good independent work ethics, and are not afraid to set a good example for their peers. I know dozens of home schooled college students and college graduates who have been very successful and are incredible testaments to the dedication that their parents had to their education.

"My children are not "sheltered" from much of anything. They are very involved in many aspects of their community, active in ways that they would not be able to be if they were tied down to the current model of education.

"Please don't assume that homeschooling families are hick know-nothings who could care less about education or are interested only in "sheltering" their kids from "real life." The fact is, very many of us are college-educated, and see the downfalls of the public education system, who work in effort to change it, but who realize that changes happen very slowly, and that had we not made the decision to home school our children, they would have fallen victim to a system which frequently fails kids. Had I *not* been actively involved in my children's' classrooms, I likely would not have seen this in action"

.......and just because I can't keep my big mouth shut (or in this instance, can't keep my busy-bodied fingers from typing), I continued:

" I really want to elaborate on something very specific--the social aspect of schooling. Kids who begin in pre-school and continue toward graduating high school in a classroom setting are not being educated in a way that shapes them to interact well with anyone outside of their specific age group--yet once they reach college (if that is their goal) or the work environment, they are at once thrown into a place where not only are they expected to be responsible for completing tasks under their own motivation, but they are also expected to deal immediately with people of different ages, educational backgrounds and work experiences. These are the types of situations my home schooled children encounter on a very regular basis, through volunteering, participating in activities during the day or evening which encourage them to interact with others who are not necessarily within their peer-group, and which would not be available to them if they were in a classroom from 8 to 3 every day.

"My kids are able to participate in activities structured toward learning actively about government, learning about their faith, learning the history of their community, caring for the poor and needy, tending to the aged and infirm, observing many different professional and vocational callings, and in general, helping them understand that life is not entirely about them and their friends.

"My kids do not have to worry about competing with kids their age over ownership of *stuff*, over "who's dating whom?" (and the accompanying societal peer pressures to get into things they have no desire to make priorities in their lives), over who is involved in more after school activities. They know how to sit down and talk with just about any person of any age, and it's conversation with substance. They can talk with their grandparents and great-grandmothers about family history and learn their stories. They can talk with me and their dad--and do, frequently--about their thoughts and dreams and fears and hopes. They can even talk with the parents of their friends about what's going on with them, what's happening in their lives, their schooling, and their families. They can talk with kids younger than they are and even *play* with them appropriately, without the fear of being laughed at by their friends. They are capable of performing just about any household task that is asked of them. They are able to go to work with their dad and see first-hand what makes the family business run. They are learning to be responsible for more than just getting their Math and English work done!

"All of these things have helped to enrich our children in ways that could never be accomplished in a classroom setting, and each element of their day-to-day living and learning here at home is helping to build great character in each of them.

"I don't mean to imply, so please don't infer, that children who attend building school don't have character or are not capable of building character...but there are many dozens of lost opportunities for learning when you put a child into a classroom for seven hours each day and expect them to fit into that district's idea of the mold of a model student.

"E. is right--there are some children who just do not fit into that mold. Public--even private-- classroom education is not for everyone, just as homeschooling is not for everyone...but for some families, homeschooling can make the difference between a very bright, successful adult and one who has been marginalized by teachers and peers alike throughout their schooling experience."

Now, I didn't get into all of the reasons that went into our decision to home school. There are, for starters, simply too many. But what I've found is that it really doesn't matter, fundamentally, to anyone but us--and the fact of the matter is that the biggest reason we made the lap from building to home education is that it is, plainly, what God was calling us to do. Most people don't understand this, and it would be frustrating and fruitless to try to explain it.

Because we are strongly anchored in our Catholic faith, and because we knew that God was calling us to more fully live that faith, we knew that allowing our children to daily remain in the hands of people who are disinterested in instilling the truths of our faith in every aspect of their education was not only not in the best interest of our children, but for all intents and purposes, quite frankly, to their detriment. Why would we daily immerse our children into a system which undermines the moral values which we have instilled in their hearts and souls since their births? Why would we choose to put them into situations which would make the question the decisions and foundations of their parents? Why is it seen as "healthy" or "good" or "normal" to put children into situations which cause them to have to question the authority in their lives which ought to matter most?

Well, we decided, along with many other parents, along with Holy Mother Church, that it is not healthy, good, or right at all. Parents have the right to educate their children, and the moral responsibility to do so to the best of their ability, and so we took that right and responsibility seriously and began on our home schooling journey.

What do we have to show for it?

I'll let my comments above speak for themselves on that, and perhaps I'll ask the kids to start writing the occasional entry for my little cyber home here at God Will Provide.

I would encourage those of you who have chosen to educate your children at home to chime in with your thoughts--why did you begin home schooling? What have you found to be the positive aspects--and what have you found to be the greatest challenges? Do you have the support of your family? Of your friends? Of your church? Of a home schooling support or cooperative group?


Claire said...

It has been a long time since I have spoken with you, and I'm not quite sure if you even remember me. (Maggie Moore's sister-in-law, Claire, from Camp Gray). I was so interested by your blog entry that I just couldn't help responding!

Currently, both Nick and I are public middle school teachers. We choose to teach in a public school because we feel that is the place where we can educate ALL children, regardless of class, or even invested parents. First off, I must say that I agree with you on most angles. I also believe that the standard school system doesn’t work for all kids, and I agree that is up to the parents to be involved and thinking about what is best for their children. Nick and I are constantly immersed in discussing the merits of education so I feel unable to pass up a chance for a good discussion! Please take it as nothing more than that…

Towards the end of your post, you wrote:

"Because we are strongly anchored in our Catholic faith, and because we knew that God was calling us to more fully live that faith, we knew that allowing our children to…..Why would we choose to put them into situations which would make the question the decisions and foundations of their parents? Why is it seen as "healthy" or "good" or "normal" to put children into situations which cause them to have to question the authority in their lives which ought to matter most?”

I have to say that I disagree on your point about children questioning their parents. I think children should absolutely think critically, and indeed question, the foundations their parents gave them. If children have been taught true values, and raised well, then they will most likely choose those same values for themselves. How much better it is for a child to come to a conclusion by their own accord, and hold the value on their own. In this way, they will know said value authentically, believe in it, and promote it honestly to others. I have to wonder what would happen in other situations in history if children went along with their parents without question…. some pretty significant examples come to mind, namely the Hitler Youth. While that is an older and obviously extreme example, it does offer insight and warnings for today’s society. I believe the key with education is critical thinking; we fail children if we don’t allow them opportunities to question and to think for themselves. While I believe all life has value, I do think Socrates had a point when he said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The other point that I question is if spending time with people who are not Catholic, or Christian is a detriment to a person’s faith. It seems like Christ surrounded himself with “sinners” and used the occasion to bring light and love to the world. In asking us to follow him, I believe he means exactly that. As Christians, we are called to take the light of Christ and the love, peace, and hope he offers into the most dismal places. Public school is a perfect chance for a child to practice being Christ-like. I am lucky to witness examples of Christ-like behavior from my 132 students on a daily basis. They are constantly given the chance to make decisions on their own: how to treat people they don’t like, what to do when they lose a game, and how to turn down a variety of temptations. In these situations, it seems, faith is actually challenged and encouraged.

Education is an issue of constant discussion and debate; it is also one that cannot be solved simply. There are far too many issues in our society… (Not to mention politics! Don’t get me started on No Child Left Behind! (Treating children like a product, similar to brake-pads, cannot be the answer!)) Thanks for letting me comment. Keep being an involved parent; whether your children are in public school or not, we all appreciate supportive parents!

laurazim said...

But you left out a large part of what I said, which is fundamental to understanding one of the core reasons we home school: “...we knew that allowing our children to daily remain in the hands of people who are disinterested in instilling the truths of our faith in every aspect of their education was not only not in the best interest of our children, but for all intents and purposes, quite frankly, to their detriment. Why would we daily immerse our children into a system which undermines the moral values which we have instilled in their hearts and souls since their births?...”

Perhaps it would help if I explained it this way: Why would we choose to introduce our children to the faith which we know is the Truth, begin to lay that foundation within them, encourage them to ask questions about it and understand it for themselves, and then beginning at AGE FIVE send them into a place where that faith is not only disallowed, but ridiculed and scorned? Before the age of reason, before a child has a fully-formed conscience, before we ask them to make any other decisions which affect their immortal soul, we (as a society--not we as home schooling parents) put our children into a classroom where they cannot discuss the most important part of their lives, which is that every facet is a gift from God to be celebrated. We put them into a room where they are discouraged from prayer, especially with others. We put them in a place where they cannot ask questions about their faith to balance what they are learning from government-approved, secular materials.

When you fail to take all aspects of this premise into consideration, then your argument very quickly falls apart. It appears that your assumption is that children can only learn to think critically and begin to question their foundations if they are put into a classroom environment. I can well and truly assure this is not at all the case. We are BORN curious. We begin learning before birth, and once independence from Mother’s womb is established, the learning absolutely explodes. Home schooled children do not blindly follow their parents for lack of being in a classroom full of age peers. And public school classrooms are absolutely not the only place where children learn critical thinking. It’s terribly flattering that anyone would think that our children do not question us, but it’s a misguided notion at best. Our children learn critical thinking through many of the same avenues that their peers do--but perhaps in an even broader sense. We use materials which encourage logic and reasoning, and we are able to spend as much time as we need exploring them. Their foundations are called into question on many occasions--just not seven hours a day, five days a week, for eight months out of the year.

I realize that not all families are Catholic--that is not my issue. But for us, if our children are not free to learn fully, including their faith, then there is not true freedom to learn. We strongly believe that faith is not something to be learned on Wednesday evenings out of a less-than-complete book. Faith is something to be lived throughout the day. We begin by rising in prayer, we pray as we work through our day, as we accept and eat our meals, as we find moments during the day which inspire us to pray, and so on. Tell me, other than an orthodox parochial school, where else could my children spend their day in this manner? Certainly not in a public school building.

(See next comment--stupid character limit!)

laurazim said...

Secondly, I would challenge your assertion that our family does not spend time with people of other faiths. I wonder why you would assume this as true? While we have an exceptionally strong home school support group and faith community in our parish, it would be far from accurate to assume that we don’t associate or spend time with non-Catholics. I will say that probably 95% of the people whom we know and with whom we spend our time are Christian--but demographically, I’m not about to go out of my way to search out non-Christians just so my children can have the “experience” of superficially knowing a token non-Christian or two. The fact of the matter is, My Darling and I and our children and two other couples within his immediate family--and perhaps one or two others within his extended family--are Catholic. The rest are most definitely not. We spend a great deal of time with family. In my family, well, I am absolutely the black sheep. I was not even raised Catholic, so there is no one else there to relate to. Socially, we do spend most of our time with others of our faith--but I think that for the lifestyle which we lead, that would be expected. As human beings, we seek out others who have fundamental beliefs in common and spend our time with them. That’s not unique to my family. We don’t go out much socially with other couples, but we do spend time in groups with other families. Again, I don’t see this as detrimental. If we were talking about sports, and I mentioned that my kids were exceptional basketball players and spent all of their time playing basketball, you wouldn’t scoff at the idea of them not spending time with gymnasts. We might know some, but it wouldn’t be of interest to them to spend a great deal of time with one another.

Claire, thanks for taking the time to comment. I wish I knew how to change colors in this thing, so it wouldn't read like a newspaper alas, my technical skills are somewhat pathetic. (Or perhaps I find myself at the mercy of Blogger, which doesn't offer such an option.)

You're right--education is a constant debate, but it's not a debate that's going to be won by trying to convince parents that they cannot be the best educators of their children for the reasons you've presented. Home schooling is not for everyone, and building schools are not for everyone. For the time being, we'll keep home schooling. :)

Claire said...

I fear that my comments have been taken rather personally, which was not my intent. I only wanted to have a conversation discussing the merits to both systems. I believe there are many merits to both, and areas where both forms of education fall short. I suppose we must agree to disagree. I am sorry to have offended you.