School has started again. And again, Jack is being questioned about school at every turn. Leaving the library on Tuesday, he was asked by another library patron why he “wasn’t in school today.”
Our answer was that he is always in school. That caused some confusion, of course, but it’s easier than taking on the assumptions of strangers. I find that non sequiturs are often the best response to a nosy question.
Interestingly, we are starting to discover that many people who surprised us by supporting our homeschooling endeavors have very specific reasons. They don’t approve of homeschooling per se, it seems, but rather they acknowledge that it’s the best choice for Jack because “he’s different”.
That’s cool, I guess … at least they support us. I have to say, though, that Jack’s particular nature doesn’t have much to do with why we chose to homeschool him – we knew we would pretty much from the time we decided to welcome him. There are so many reasons that homeschooling appeals to us for any child!
So, why do we homeschool?
First, we choose home education because we believe that a child’s natural curiosity and excitement about learning are frequently damaged by a group school setting.
Schools, pretty much of necessity, discourage any curiosity that is outside of the current lesson plan. Group learning must limit the children’s access to knowledge and experimentation to what can be made accessible to lowest common denominator. That means they work on whatever is on the agenda at the speed of the average student and go as deeply as the average child can handle. That’s not always the right speed or level for the specific child and rarely does it match up with the burning passion to know that lives in the heart of a child. It may be just right for some and close enough for many others, but some children will be left behind and others will be bored out of their minds. And every one of them will have to postpone learning about what interests them until they get home…if there is time and energy after home-work and dinner and chores.
We want to encourage Jack to follow his curiosity down every rabbit trail, which homeschooling will provide the time to do, but we also want to provide an enriched academic background both broad and deep in its scope to encourage Jack’s very capable mind to stretch, along with the extra support he needs in those areas where he is weak, because we want him to reach his maximum potential in all areas, not just those where he is strongest or weakest.
We want Jack to remain excited and involved in his education, a partner with us in determining the goals of his academic career. We can provide the broad academic environment at just the right pace through which Jack can explore the basics of what there is to learn and know, and we will encourage and mentor him in going much deeper to sate his intellectual appetite in exploring those things that truly catch his interest.
We will work hard to provide the information Jack needs, so that as he matures and is more able to determine his own academic and life paths, he has an understanding of the vast reservoir of possibilities open to him.
We are also concerned that mass-education could damage Jack’s image of himself as a capable human being. That could happen if a teacher chooses to emphasize his ‘failure’ to learn as quickly as others in those areas where he is maturing more slowly than the average or doesn’t seem to value the areas at which he excels. If he’s bad at what matters and what he’s good at doesn’t matter what is he supposed to think?
Perhaps even more important, we want to free Jack to grow up an “unbranded child”, sheltering him from the marketing onslaught that so much of modern life, and especially the group school setting, has become. At home and in the community, Jack will have the opportunity to forge his view of himself apart from consumer culture, based not on ‘the cool brands’ but on his own values, talents, preferences, and goals.
Homeschooling lets us provide Jack with the logical tools he will need to evaluate marketing on his own, but just as importantly, he will be able to think through political, economic, and social issues that he will encounter in his adulthood. He will have the tools he needs to base his opinions on clear logic … and to understand when logical argument isn’t relevant.
We want to nourish Jack’s love for the natural world and the planet. We want to share with him the wonder of the plants and animals that surround and support us, and to see clearly the web of life of which we are an integral part. That can be done best if he gets to spend hours every day outside, exploring and experiencing nature.
We also want him to be familiar with the history and stories of both of his countries of origin and to be aware of the social and cultural web of connections that tie together his world village. We want to show Jack the threads of culture and history that make up the tapestry of world history and share with him other places, other peoples, and other times, so that he can see where we as a species have come from, where we are, and perhaps envision where we can go.
We also want him to have the opportunity to be familiar with several languages and fluent in at least two that he has chosen for his own reasons.
We want to allow Jack, too, to avoid the “fast food jungle” of the mass education lunchroom. By teaching him ourselves, we can help to moderate the influence of peer pressure and marketing that make eating poor quality, processed foods seem “normal” and even preferable, and we can ensure that he has access to high-quality, nourishing foods, any time he’s hungry. We can also provide a constant stream of quality health and nutrition information, so that as he gets older, he’ll be in a better position to make his own well-informed nutritional and health decisions, improving the odds of his having a healthy adulthood.
We want Jack to have a well-rounded social network. While he operates from within the family, he can meet people of all ages, cultures, and belief systems within the community and work alongside them as equals. Coming from a broad social environment, he will be more able to see beyond the shallow pool of people his own age and social class to the broad spectrum of emotional, social, and cultural development that is humanity. By being exposed regularly to people of all ages, he can come to understand what it is to grow into an adult, rather than being caught up in the “perpetual adolescence” that is so commonly a result of the relegation of young people to “childhood ghettos” of people from their own neighborhood and within nine months of their own age, for 6 to 8 hours per day for twelve years or more.
We want most of Jack’s early social contacts to be safe ones, moderated by adults who care about him and the children around him, so that he can learn to socialize comfortably with anyone, anywhere, rather than learning early to be a social victim or a social aggressor. With a loving mentor supervising his relationships and advising him in his early years, we believe he will be better able to create healthy social and emotional relationships on his own, avoiding either bullying or being bullied or being drawn into other unhealthy social dynamics.
We want to share with Jack our own pagan belief system, our philosophy of life, and our ethical values, and teach him about all the ways that people approach these subjects across time and across the world, so that he will be able to develop his own beliefs and understand and accept people’s beliefs without feeling pressured to share them.
Mostly, we want to have the time to spend with Jack and enjoy his company. Jack is our fifth child and we are far too aware of how fast children grow up and go their own way. While we don’t want to keep Jack a dependent child or to control what he thinks, we do want the opportunity to watch him grow, develop, and mature into the fine young man we know he will be. We think the family bond that learning together and growing as a family develops will strengthen all of us, not least Jack.
In these ways and others we want Jack to be adequately prepared to live a fulfilling, independent life as a clear thinker who is able to ask questions, find answers, evaluate arguments, and make up his own mind about his beliefs, values, and actions while enjoying an active, healthy, balanced life.
We think we can do this better with our one beloved child than any teacher, no matter how gifted, can do for the 30 children of strangers in her care for one year each.