Saturday, September 24, 2011

Homeschooling, for the win.

Imagine this.

You’re out shopping, minding your own business, and a random stranger comes up and begins questioning your life choices.

You’re taken aback, but you try to be friendly. However, as the encounter goes on, you realize that this random stranger doesn’t have a clue what they’re saying. They’re like a faith healer discussing endocrinology, a stalwart Grecian patriot discoursing on what it means to be an American, or a used car dealer questioning your honesty and ethics.

This is my life. Welcome to it.

I homeschool my children. Somehow, this entitles those around me, including batshit crazy art supply store patrons, to question my motives, my abilities, my experience, my finances, my goals, and anything else they can possibly construe as related to that fact. I’m certainly no stranger to the disapproval of folks I’ve never met before, but this particular decision absolutely takes the cake. It’s like I’m wearing a shirt that says ‘Ask me about my horrible decision to homeschool!’.

Let me tell you: There is no shirt. It’s a great decision. And if we’re going to discuss bad choices, let’s discuss a more recent choice, like when you decided to question a perfect stranger on their personal parenting choices. No, that doesn’t sound fun? Okay, then. Let’s bust some myths instead.

I like my children. I understand that you find your children particularly burdensome. I don’t like them much, either. But I genuinely like my children. I enjoy spending time with them, and a day of teaching is nowhere near as frustrating as a day in sales or a restaurant. A clue? If we didn’t love teaching, we wouldn’t do it. Please don’t assume that my children are a burden, or that I have no time for myself. Neither of those things is true.

Alternatively, please don’t assume that I have all of the time in the world. Homeschooling is just as time-consuming as your own job is. I can’t babysit any more than you can. I can’t run your errands for you or ‘look something up real quick’. If you don’t have time for those things, how could you expect it of me? And I didn’t answer your call because I’m busy. The existence of a paycheck doesn’t make your job any more valuable than mine and you look like a jackass when you imply otherwise.

The likelihood is that you have no idea what that word actually means. Yes, that word: Socialization. A clue? Socialization has nothing to do with spending your days in a room with children who share your race, social class, and economic status. It has nothing to do with learning to sit down, shut up, and stand in line. It doesn’t involve bullying or violence or conformance. Socialization is about gaining the skills and habits necessary for participating in own society and it’s almost impossible to do that in a homogenized classroom.

My children take gymnastics and kung-fu three days a week. They’re in book clubs at the library and art classes at our local museum. They volunteer at a local nursing home and help out with younger children pretty much everywhere they go. They talk to everyone, everywhere, without fear or disrespect and as of yet, no one has managed to impart the idea that they are supposed to be disdainful of those who are older or younger, smaller or larger, or with different abilities or skin colors. This is socialization.

High school is not a microcosm of ‘the real world’. In ‘the real world’, I have never been physically threatened by a co-worker and I have never been expected to defend myself with violence. Instead, I am expected to defend myself with intelligence and passion and the worst threat I am likely to endure is by clueless, well-meaning strangers (and sometimes their choice of fragrance). The number of physical alternations I have been in or witnessed in my entire adult life, from voting age to death, will probably not reach half of what I experienced in one year of school. My local public school is not going to prepare my children for ‘the real world’. It will prepare them for prison.

It doesn’t matter what curriculum I use. Children are born leaners. They learn more in their first year of life than the average student learns in eight years of college. The question isn’t how I teach them; the question is how I could possibly stop them from learning. It doesn’t matter what curriculum I use, or if I use one at all. If you teach it, they will learn. (If they haven’t been ‘socialized’ yet, that is.)

We’re ‘in school’ all of the time. Yes, all of the time. When you see us at the grocery store, we’re at school. When you see us at the park, we’re at school. Learning isn’t something that just happens at a set time, or in a certain room. Learning is what happens while we’re cooking, cleaning, traveling, watching the idiot box, or hiking. Math doesn’t just happen when I teach them some vocabulary words. It happens when I get them an odd amount of cash and let them loose at the grocery store. (If you ever wanted to teach children about money, addition, subtraction, or percentages, that’s the way to go.) Science doesn’t just happen when we’re looking at a textbook. It happens while we’re cooking or using virtually any modern invention. (What, you can’t explain how a telephone works?)

No, I don’t have a degree in math/science/literature/history or anything else. Guess what? Neither does your average classroom teacher. In my son’s first and last year of public school, his teacher held a bachelor’s degree in elementary administration. And in Oklahoma, she was only required to have graduated with a C average in order to teach. To drive home the point, my daughter’s two second grade teachers (one for each semester) were high-school dropouts with GEDs. The point isn’t that public school teachers are horrible (They’re freaking heroes.), it’s that a degree is no indicator of an ability to teach.

I’m not protesting public schools. Honestly, I don’t care how you choose to educate your children. It’s none of my business. For better or worse, you are never going to catch me cornering someone in a store and telling them that they should homeschool. And I pay my taxes, just like most people do, so telling me that my personal choices are somehow damaging the institution that I pay for is just plain silly. (And those kinds of fallacious arguments don’t make the public option look any more attractive.)

Okay, I hope we’ve busted a few myths today. And if at least one of you manages to resist the urge to waylay a homeschooler, then I’ve more than accomplished my goal. :)

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