Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions About Homeschooling

I used to dread questions about homeschooling, but now that we are so comfortably surrounded by a group of great families in which the kids are clearly excelling in all ways, it doesn't feel radical and therefore I more freely mention it. The conversation usually starts like this:

Random mom at a class: "Where do your kids go to school?"

Me: "Our school is called Saint Agatha Lin Academy. We homeschool."

At that point, I get one of a few general reactions:

A. Extreme. Either negative, usually with a quick end to the conversation with look that says, "you must be a wacko hippy/Christian weirdo!" Or positive, a unilateral rejection of all things school related (this is more pleasant, but not exactly accurate to our philosophy or approach.)

B. Tentative: "Oh." And then, "but how are they socialized" or "but do you follow a curriculum?"

The first question is a bit of a joke among homeschoolers, since it reflects a clear ignorance about what homeschooling is, a misperception that we are isolating our children at home. In fact, everyone we know is so busy with all sorts of cool classes and activities together that if anything, the kids are OVER socialized.

Furthermore, "socialization" in a different context is a HUGE discussion amongst homeschoolers - not the amount, but the type. Many choose to homeschool to avoid the negative "socialization" that too often occurs in classrooms where children so significantly outnumber the adults who are supposed to be modeling appropriate "socialized" behavior. In our experience, groups of homeschooled children, while not perfect, are FAR better behaved and more skilled at interacting with peers and adults than are children who are traditionally educated, even in the "best" schools. We went to two birthday parties in a single weekend a few months ago and the difference was startling and clear: though they were similar in size and composition, one was full of conflicts and gender segregation and in the other the kids flowed happily from one activity to another with not a single conflict the entire time.

The curriculum question is another funny one. Depending on how it is asked and my mood, I sometimes will say, "yes, the state will provide a curriculum for you." Which is true. However, the full truth is that we don't limit ourselves to the state's decisions about what children at a certain age should learn. We look at the requirements, make sure that we've covered those, then take off to follow our own interests, supplementing wildly with fun stuff that is intended to explore and to nurture their love of learning. Last year that included (but was not limited to) chess, Mandarin, Spanish, a two-month study of the culture, language, and history of China, poetry, the Saints, tons of science, literature, and much more.

C. The final response I get is unfortunately unusual, as it is a good one. A surprised mom looked at me last week when I answered her question about schools with full disclosure and asked, "does your daughter like it?" Ah yes, to the point! They are thrilled, wake up happy and excited, and eagerly engage in all sorts of fun activities at home and at classes, in play and in our explored learning. They love us, are affectionate in word and action, and consider each other their best friend. They love God and grow in their knowledge of the meaning this brings every day. The joy that brings me makes this my favorite of the questions that get posed.

Still, in appreciating our kids' happiness, I recall the message in a Mary Pipher book that posits that happiness isn't the relevant gauge of success of any life. Instead, we should focus on whether we are doing the right thing. Remembering the exchange described in the book keeps me grounded. I am thrilled that my children are happy, that they are excelling in all things academic, social, and physical. But the key question is whether they are learning to do the right thing and to that end I can only hope and pray, knowing that we are doing our best by involving God in our decisions, keeping them close enough to lend direction on important matters of character when they arise, and trying to set an example in what we say and do.

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