Yesterday I read Why Are Urban, Professional Parents Choosing Homeschooling? by Judy Molland. She was writing in response to Linda Perlstein’s recent article in Newsweek, and I think she brought up some good concerns and questions about homeschooling. These are concerns I’ve heard before, so I thought I would answer them from my perspective in regards to why I want to homeschool my children.
As a teacher, I can say that with differentiated instruction, we try to accommodate all students’ needs and learning styles, but it’s impossible to do that perfectly with a classroom of 30 unique, individual kids.
But is that such a bad thing? Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other? And is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?
As Molland points out, many homeschoolers do it because they want to give their children a tailored education that meets their needs. This includes me. As she mentions, it’s impossible to accommodate all the children in a classroom, and I do think that’s a bad thing.
Some children may be able to compensate and do very well in traditional school. (I’m not totally against traditional school.) But I think, if possible, every child could benefit from having one-on-one instruction with someone who is looking out for his/her individual needs. If the child isn’t homeschooled full-time, parents should “supplement public school with homeschooling” as someone I knew once said.
I read in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style that it has helped students when their parents took the time to figure out what his or her special learning style was. Though the classroom instruction was not changed (it’s impossible to change it to meet just one student’s needs), it helped that student to realize that he wasn’t stupid or couldn’t do it the work. It confirmed for him that he is unique and capable. And by helping him learn his own style, he could apply certain techniques at home to help him with his studies.
(Also, I’ve already written about why I think it’s a good idea to Support Your Child’s Interests.)
Don’t children need to learn to work together with their peers and help each other?
Ideally, yes. But I’m not convinced this always happens at school in positive ways. I can remember being devastated in second grade when a new student influenced my best friend (and several other children) not to be my friend anymore. I think this actually had consequences on my self-esteem and trust in friendships for many years after.
And the “help” I remember getting from fellow students as I got older was answers to tests that I should have been taking myself. I’m glad to say I didn’t cheat a lot, but it did happen, and I knew other students who did it too. Students can help each other beat the system, and the group culture can foster underachievement. It was never cool to be smart in school. It was cool to be pretty, wear the most fashionable clothes, and to be popular.
I know that doesn’t happen to everyone, and I know there are some awesome schools out there. But I can homeschool my children, and I can give them opportunities to find out who they are and what they love without peer pressure. This is their one chance to have a childhood and find a direction for their life.
I think my children will learn to work together and help each other better when I’m helping to create their social network. The world is always going to try to beat down their self-esteem, and the cruelty of the world will rear its ugly head at them. I don’t think I have to worry about sheltering them too much. But I do want to help them build a platform of self-esteem, self-reliance, a love of learning, and a heart full of compassion so that when something bad happens to them, they won’t be crushed by it.
Is it such a good idea for children to be constantly with their parents as they are growing up?
Maybe not. Because I know it would probably help my mental health if I had some breaks from my kids! However, I love being with my kids, and I believe being a close family is a reward of homeschooling. Society is always touting “family values,” but I see very little support for these so-called “family values” we’re supposed to have. Why are people so concerned about homeschoolers when they truly care about family values and are doing something about it? Also, I don’t think we’ll constantly be together. As they get older, I’ll find more outlets for them. There are classes, camps and many other opportunities for homeschoolers to spend time away from home.
Homeschooling is not perfect, but I would rather take its imperfections over the imperfections I see in our current public schools.
Molland goes on to write:
It is true that nowadays there are lots of resources available for homeschooling parents including, in some cities, curriculum, centers and classes designed especially for these youngsters.
And yet, I worry that these homeschooling parents will become the helicopter parents of the future, unwilling to let their children flourish independently, or to give them the freedom to grow as separate individuals.
I can’t speak for all homeschoolers, but I’m homeschooling my kids exactly because I want them to flourish independently! Please go back up and re-read the first part of this post to see some of my reasons. In addition to that, I can say that although I’m sure I’ll experience the pains of an “empty nest” someday, I know it’s in my son’s best interests to at some point let go. As someone who advocates child-led learning, I don’t see myself not letting my children flourish independently.
I am the first person who will encourage my sons to meet new people, try new things, and do for themselves.
I’ve already written about how I plan to teach my children more than what they’d learn in school in What Are We Preparing Our Children For?
Right now, at the ages of 5 and 2, I try to ask questions as much as I parcel out information. I want them to know that their thoughts and ideas are valued. In a classroom, a teacher may ask questions too, but how many students answer? There’s usually one or two who raise their hand a lot and the rest of the class stays silent. (I was always too shy to answer a question in school, and I hated it when a teacher asked me a direct question. Going to public school did not help me overcome shyness or insecurity.)
I would advocate that any mom should not let go of her interests too. While we may do less of the things we love while rearing children, we need to keep a flame lit so that when the time comes for our children to step on their own path, we’ll have our own path to travel too.
Molland’s final questions are these:
Will These Kids Know How To Interact With Others From Different Backgrounds?
And, as someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, it also concerns me that these children won’t know how to interact with people from backgrounds quite different from theirs. What do you think?
I wish I could ask her, “As someone who grew up in a very isolated town in the southwest of England, how did you learn how to interact with people with backgrounds very different than yours?”
When I was in school, I wasn’t very aware of “different backgrounds.” In college, and throughout my twenties and thirties, I began to realize what adults consider the “dividers” in class, culture and beliefs, and I finally experienced the pain of that through first-hand experience. This might tell you that I was a middle-class white girl without a lot of experiences to clue me into these deep emotional divides. Yes, I was quite naïve. And guess what?! I attended public school.
Again, I’m not saying everyone has this same experience. I know young people who are very aware of things I had no clue about growing up. I offer it as an example that public school doesn’t always allow us to learn how to work with people of different backgrounds.
But come to think of it, as I became an adult and lived in London and Japan for a while, I never thought that I needed to “learn” how to interact with people in those countries. I just did it. I learned about customs and nuances as I went along. (I believe my son is doing the same thing in his five-year-old world as we meet new people and go places.)
When I returned from Japan, I learned that most Americans don’t know half as much about the world outside their borders as people in other countries know about us. Schools may do a better job of having multi-cultural lessons and events, but we do not make learning a second language a priority in our schools. My husband is a college professor who teaches world history, and he says that students coming out of our high schools don’t seem to know the first thing about other religions of the world such as Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. With all the globalization that has been happening for many years now, shouldn’t our students have a basic knowledge of these religions?
This is a reason I want to homeschool! I want to teach my children about the world, different beliefs, different religions, and if possible, I’d like to teach them a foreign language. In Our Homeschool Mission, I listed Religious Education as an emphasis of mine. I don’t mean one religion. I’ll teach my children about my personal beliefs, but I’ll also teach them about others.
I realize that there are many homeschoolers who do so for religious reasons, and they do want to shield their children from any other beliefs. While I don’t agree with that, I have to respect a parent’s right to teach their children in their own way. If I don’t respect their right, how can I expect anyone to respect my right? (Child abuse is a different story, and unfortunately, it will exist occasionally for all children – traditionally schooled children and homeschooled children.) Frankly, I believe parents can still shelter children even if they go to public school, and children often grow up and continue to hold the same beliefs and attitudes their parents did. (I think the parents who don’t shelter their kids will have a better chance of their kids not rebelling than those who do.)
I respect people who voice concerns about homeschooling and ask good questions, but these concerns are unfounded, especially when you consider the countless students in public schools who are left behind. There are so many kids out there who need help…. who need food…. who need new clothes. Why do people keep bringing up these ridiculous concerns about homeschoolers?
There may be some students who are at a disadvantage while being homeschooled, but there are many who are disadvantaged in our public schools. Most homeschooling parents are doing so because they love their children and want to give them a good education. They hear these concerns and they do what they can to overcome any negative effect that homeschooling may give their child.
Personally, I would rather deal with the possible ill effects of homeschooling than the possible ill effects of public education.
That is what I think.
Shelli Pabis is a newspaper columnist, photographer and homeschooler living in Georgia. Sign up for her RSS feed by clicking here.