I wanted to call this post “meditations on homeschooling”, but the word meditation implies some level of calm or serenity, and there’s none of that here.
I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I’ve had homeschooling fantasies for a long time. And yet, I’m not even really sure what the goal of homeschooling would be. Mr. December is adamant that homeschoolers should be keeping up and competitive with kids who are in conventional schools; I believe that part of the beauty of homeschooling is that each child learns as much as they can at their pace, and learns it thoroughly.
If one kid learns algebra at age 11 and the other at age 14, will I see any difference when they’re 30 and 33 years old? What’s so special about competing with people born in the same calendar year? Did they all start walking, talking, and reading at the same time? And can we tell who was “early” and who was “late” when they’re young adults?
I liked school as a kid because I was good at it. Mind you, I had a grand total of three friends from grades one to eight, because I was a weird kid and a bit of a teacher’s pet. I was not happy socially. But I did my work and was rewarded with the corresponding grades. My teachers liked me and my parents were proud of my work.
My opinion of high school was mixed (although my high school experience on the whole was outstanding.) Sometimes my enjoyment of a course was based entirely on whether or not I liked the teacher; sometimes it was about whether I was good at it. Okay, fine, it was often about whether I felt competent in a subject. That’s why I loved my music classes and dreaded math class. Wouldn’t you dread a class in which you were put on the spot to execute a skill that you couldn’t perform yet?
(The funny thing is that now I’m fascinated by math. I appreciate how much of my woodworking and quilting is made easier by understanding geometry. I force myself to do mental arithmetic instead of reaching for a calculator because I want to be good at it. I want to see connections between numbers the way I see relationships between words. Math is a language I was taught for 12 years but never really learned.)
I’m a bit torn. School (public school in particular) has given my kids experiences they wouldn’t have had at home; K wants to practice violin and viola because she’s in a strings group at school; The children have to deal with the challenge of working with a teacher they don’t like or doing work they find uninteresting (definitely an important life skill.)
But school also sucks up all of my kids’ energy and time. If they did have a burning interest in some topic, they’d be too burned out by the end of the school day to pursue it… and anyhow, there’s homework. I hate homework. If seven hours a day is not sufficient to teach my children their academic subjects, then we need to revise the curriculum. Children spend far too little time just playing as it is. After-school time and weekends should be family and friends time, household work time, personal project time, outdoor exercise time.
By the time I really get to be with my kids on a weekday they’re tired and frustrated, and I have the distasteful task of enforcing homework completion. I’m sure that for some families the kids just go and do their work and that’s that. Not here. There have been times when the amount of friction and screaming caused by the homework battle was damaging our relationship and souring our family life. If you’ve been there, you know. If you haven’t… be thankful.
I’m imagining a beautiful homeschooling (or unschooling) life where everyone gets enough sleep because we don’t have to wake up early; where we cook, build things, read, and travel, and our children learn how to connect all of those things with math, science, history, geography, and literature; a life in which everyone has the time to pursue their own interests as far as they can. I don’t know if that’s even possible, but I want it.
On the other hand, I can picture a life in which my children go to school all day and I can do rare and exotic things like talking on the phone without being interrupted a dozen times a minute. A life in which I could even meet friends for coffee or lunch — when we’re allowed to meet friends again, of course.
So I’m back to my original question: what is the purpose of education? Are we trying to follow a particular institutional path? Trying to help our children use their unique skills to the greatest advantage as adults in our world? Teaching them to think for themselves?
I don’t know.