Saturday, October 16, 2010

More homeschooling questions.

MSNBC did a report on homeschooling recently; parts of it represented shoddy reporting of handy stereotypes, but most of it was favorable. Still, the ignorance about homeschooling continues to confound me. OK, so a few people homeschool in isolation, which can presumably create problems. However, using this possibility as a foundation for understanding homeschooling is like beginning an assessment of traditional schools with the expectation that children will be bullied into their graves in that environment. Both likely happen (if we are to believe media reports), but both experiences are too rare to provide a basis for broad discussion about the choices they represent.

With that in mind, here are a few more misperceptions to put to rest:

· Homeschooled children are always with their parents. FALSE. While a primary reason for homeschooling is the genuine affection we feel for each other and the joy we take in each other’s company, our kids’ homeschool is rather more like an abbreviated version of the college experience. Our kids take a variety of classes, some with us, some without us. We choose the instructors and monitor the learning and the environment, seeing ourselves in an administration role. We remain their primary teachers, but certainly not their only ones.

· Homeschooled children lack the benefits of diversity, however defined. AU CONTRAIRE. Our kids regularly take classes with children from a broad range of backgrounds: race/ethnicity, ability, economic, and more. Rejection of traditional schooling is not our primary reason for homeschooling; however, many homeschoolers have made this choice because they have found schools to be incapable of meeting needs of children who vary from the norm, however defined. Their deficit experience has become our blessing, as these families contribute in meaningful ways to our community and our educational experience. (Ironically, we hear this criticism in relation to our choice to homeschool, but we have never heard concern expressed with regard to the choice available to us to attend our local public schools, which represent almost none of the diversity that we seek.)

· The homeschool experience is not “the real world.” Well, that depends on how that is defined! It is obviously a different choice from the majority of the population. However, homeschooling can provide better preparation for the challenges and opportunities of adult life. Like adults, homeschooled learners aren’t confined to those born within 12 months of their own birthdays yet are exposed to numerous appropriate challenges that address their individual needs to prepare for adulthood. As one homeschooling mom said, “for most kids, their school is their world. For homeschooled kids, the world is their school.”

· Homeschooling is an opportunity available only to those who are economically privileged. Oh, does that assumption come with a winning lottery ticket? Ha! We wish! We do feel privileged and honored to be involved with our childrens' lives at this level. We are cognizant always of our appreciation for living in this country, where even the poorest experience privilege in many forms that too many billions around the world can only dream of. However, our choice comes with significant cost and sacrifices. We have given up possessions and experiences that most people in the Bay Area take for granted. We each work more than full time outside the home, juggling our schedules and eliminating much from our lives for this privilege. There are others in our circle of lovely families who do not struggle financially, but many more who have given up more than most people can imagine to do what is best for their children.

· Finally, a major misperception about homeschooling is that it is a choice that represents a criticism of public schools or those who choose to send their children to them. (Private school educators and parents don’t express as much defensiveness, regardless of their school’s performance.) To the contrary, our paradigm is a positive, creative, loving one; we have made our choices based on what we DO want; not that which we seek to avoid. In fact, comparisons only arise when we are confronted with criticism, which is usually quickly revealed as ignorance. (That isn't to say that we don't critically assess our options, just that our primary motivations don't arise from a deficit perspective.) Parenting Report recently published a more direct and humorous article that loosely addressed this comparison, though if asked I could say much more.

Quite frankly, we haven’t seen ANY disadvantages to homeschooling as an educational option. Rather, we’ve become deeply appreciative of the advantages. Every traditional educator will tell you that education requires more parental involvement and smaller class sizes; we accomplish that by establishing those essentials as a foundational paradigm.

A challenge related to the choice to homeschool is the emotional toil on parents, especially moms. Traditional educational options allow some emotional distance from its outcomes; parents can blame teachers and teachers can blame parents and administrators (all perhaps legitimately). Homeschooling parents must look to themselves, which is a vulnerable position to intentionally adopt. Of course, it is also a powerful perspective, so even our disadvantages have silver linings!

This relative disadvantage does not reflect on the outcomes, either academic, social, or emotional. We have yet to feel or hear of any criticism of the educational merits of this choice that is grounded in reality. Rather, we have been rewarded with success that is measured in ways both quantifiable (were we to value testing systems) and those that are holistic and based in the core values that we value as foundational for our children's future.

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