Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"I could never teach my own children." And, "Schools give children socialization."

I hear these statements all the time, of course from people who seem to think homeschooling is equivalent to child abuse. Here was my recent response to a blogger who posed these questions ... er ... statements. She is a public school teacher.

I'm curious why you think you couldn't teach your own children. I used to think that myself. That's a common misconception about homeschooling and I think it goes back to the whole classroom mindset with which we were all raised. (I say "we" because I attended public schools.) That mindset had me thinking that the teacher holds the knowledge and dispenses it to the students.

Once my children were born and I began to explore their educational options, I met homeschoolers who helped me understand otherwise. In my family, I am not the only teacher. I simply facilitate my children's learning; we use the whole world as our classroom. My goal is to raise eager, independent learners who know how to use various tools to access the world. In short, I can teach simple addition facts without any additional resources other than what's in my head. I'll be honest: I will not be able to teach trigonometry with only the information stored in my brain. However, I will be able to facilitate my children's learning by directing them to the resources they need to learn. That might be a book (the first thing our classroom mindset allows us to think about) or something entirely different. Chances are it will be real-life learning.

Homeschooling has been quite an adventure for our family so far. I have been able to learn new things (or long forgotten facts) along with my children. It's family learning at its best.

You mentioned that public/private school can give children socialization and group skills. My opinion is this: Those are but two areas that are important for children to learn. I will not sacrifice the rest of my children's learning only so they can access socialization and learn group skills in a forum that I think is inferior anyway. Instead, I expose them to genuine social experiences.

Let me explain. One of my daughters is 5 years old. If I sent her to the public school two miles from my home, she would be in a kindergarten classroom all day, five days a week, with one teacher, maybe an assistant, and about 15 other 5-year-olds. (Their average class size is 15.8 students in the elementary school.) So from whom would my daughter be getting her socialization? From 15 other 5-year-olds. As a teacher, you may have spent time with a group of 15 5-year-olds recently. While I find them energetic and delightful, I don't think I need to explain any more. (But let me know if I do.)

Instead, I expose my daughter to real-world social situations. She gets far more chances to interact with our extended family that time would allow if she were in a classroom all day (great grandma, grandparents, aunts and uncles), and she interacts with real people each day ranging from our nice postmaster to the clerk at the grocery store and from the farmer down the road to our elderly neighbor. That's real life.

I worked in an office environment until my first child was born. Never did I work with a group of only 30-year-olds. I had to know how to work with a variety of people of all ages from all walks of life, from my 60-something secretary to the 20-something graphic designer I supervised and the 40-something advertising sales person.

We're an active family and that gives my children plenty of opportunities to interact with other children, too, all in settings guided by me and other caring adults. They include 4-H, a soccer team, Sunday School, gymnastics class and more.

There are two things my children cannot do well, and I blame it on homeschooling. They don't know how to stand in line, and they don't know to raise their hands and wait to be called on.

I can certainly do without those.

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