A good friend of mine wrote me last week to ask about “the homeschooling thing”. Which delighted me to no end as I know their family would be fantastic homeschoolers. I found in answering her questions that I have quite different answers to the questions “Why did you start homeschooling?” and “Why do you homeschool?” both of which I am frequently asked and then there is yet a different answer to the rarely asked question “Do you think homeschooling is better than school?” and the more frequently asked “Are you nuts?”
Why we started homeschooling was pretty straight forward. Our local public elementary school is struggling under the burden of several large and diverse immigrant populations, the omnipresent specter of standardised testing, and the typical ills of city schools. Our parish school, in which our children were enrolled, went through a chaotic period, spiralling down into a toxic atmosphere and ending in a massive tuition hike before the school closed. Homeschooling at that point was a minor desperate reaction to figuring out what to do, but one that we were hopeful would work well for us.
And it has. Why we homeschool now really had nothing to do with why we started. I enjoy homeschooling. The kids enjoy it. Take away the better curriculum, the more engaging material, the spiritually sound environment, the great support of our parish homeschool group, the childrens’ homeschool friends, the one on one attention, take all that away and I still would love homeschooling because I get such a kick out of watching the children learn new things. Why we homeschool now is more a matter of lifestyle. Once we broke out of the box we started learning new things about learning. My husband and I are both self motivated learners. We both read a great deal, try new things, like talking about ideas and concepts and pushing ourselves ever so slightly each day to be more informed and engaged in life and learning. Basically we are autodidacts. So homeschooling fits us because our own experience has been that learning need not be confined to the classroom.
So do I think homeschooling is better than school. Well yes, for us. I can certainly see how others might not have the same type of experience. But good homeschooling would be very difficult for any school to match. First because homeschooling is focused on educating a particular child (or relatively small set of children) to the best of that child’s abilities taking into account that child’s aptitudes and interests. Secondly the nature of schools being political institutions creates a an atmosphere that is not educational in the classical sense. Politically the goals of schools are quite different from the goals of a classical education; schools more train than educate. Even where they educate the education is directed most commonly towards very utilitarian knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact as a citizen I certainly want the bulk of my community’s members to be trained in useful skills that create a good work force that provides me with the services I need. But I want my own children to be educated in the sense that they become rational human beings with a deep understanding of their own faith, culture and the natural world. As institutions schools will always be bogged down in administrative overhead that impacts classroom learning but doesn’t affect the family educating their own.
So are we nuts? (this is by far the most common question I am asked about homeschooling) …. Probably. But it is a happy nuts.