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Homeschooling – past and present

I was working on an article about “back to homeschooling” for Growing Up in Santa Cruz (read it!), and in the midst of corresponding with representatives of the wide range of local homeschoolers, I came across yet another incendiary piece on the web about how awful homeschooling is, how it’s damaging children, killing public education, and shaking the very foundation of our republic.

You can read any number of these pieces on the web, just Google it. But it got me to thinking how my thinking has come around on this issue, due to my own experience and to meeting all these great and varied homeschoolers in my community.

Click on “homeschooling” above and you’ll see that I am what is called by our ilk “a reluctant homeschooler.” I never had any intention of following this path, unlike many of the committed, inspired parents I interact with in our community. Here are some thoughts on how my viewpoint has changed since that fateful day I was forced to become a homeschooler…

In the past, when our son was in preschool, my husband and I read about a local homeschooler who had declared her home a “private school” and whose daughter was doing some fabulous thing or other. I remember that the “private school” part of it amused us, and we made fun of it in our ignorance.

Now I know they’re called independent homeschoolers and it’s a perfectly legal and legitimate route to take. And not only do I know people who do their homeschooling this way, but I respect the path they’re taking. My children are registered with a public school program for various reasons. I love the program’s social atmosphere and I appreciate that our tax dollars go to a local school district. But I do have a bit of a sense that my independent friends are taking the more “virtuous” path, as far as homeschooling goes.

In the past, I would have assumed that most homeschoolers were probably not schooling their children as well as a school, even a mediocre school, could.

Now, I’m pretty much convinced that schools are unlikely to produce a better-educated product — uh, child — than the child’s parents are. Most people end up more or less educated similarly to their parents. We wonder why kids can’t learn math? In most cases, you can predict their math skills from their home life. Ditto interest in reading and critical thinking ability. Yes, occasionally a school, or more likely a committed teacher, can really reach a child and help her to reach past what she was given in life. But I know that in a good number of those cases, you’d see parents who want more for their child, too. Parents who don’t care about education don’t choose to homeschool.

In the past, I thought that our local public school would be “good enough.”

Now that I have kids, I only feel successful as a parent if I know that I’m doing the best to fulfill their needs. And if the local public school can’t do that, I have no obligation to use their services.

In the past, I would have thought it a real concern that homeschooling parents have no state oversight. See above for concerns about the level of education they get. But one part of this really concerns me: most child abuse referrals come from public school teachers. If there is no public school teacher to notice and care about a bruised child, who will help?

Now, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a problem on any large scale. I know that a severely abusive family would probably keep a child out of school no matter what the laws. Homeschooling kids is such hard work and demands such commitments of the parents, I really doubt the casually abusive family would consider it. Their kids are in the way, so public school is as good a free babysitter as any.

Finally, the question of rocking the foundations of our democracy just makes me laugh. Yes, like all non-homeschoolers, in the past I believed that Christian homeschoolers were all nutty fundamentalists trying to keep their kids ignorant.

But now I know that for every Christian homeschooler trying to keep their kids ignorant, you have the whole range of other homeschoolers to balance them: Christian homeschoolers who aren’t, actually, trying to keep their kids ignorant. Homeschoolers who happen to be Christian but educate their children in a largely secular manner. Homeschoolers of other religions or no religion at all. Homeschoolers who are actively atheist. Pagans, hippies, and whatever else you can find.

And talk about rocking the foundations of our democracy: Those Christian homeschoolers aren’t the only radical ones out there homeschooling. How about those of us who have decided to vote with our feet when it comes to the sort of choices our educational establishment has been making lately? (No Child Left Behind, for example.) And those of us who are raising our children to actually be radicals: left-wing or no-wing, there are parents out there that simply don’t want their children to be forced to conform.

What it comes down to, for me at this point in my homeschooling life, is that the very foundation of our democracy is choice. Yes, there are some yucky parts of our history that don’t jibe with that (the fact that the native people of this land had their choices taken away from them was probably the first), but those yucky parts aside, we are a nation of people who choose to be here. We choose to have the freedom to choose, and new immigrants come here full well knowing what they’re giving up. The rest of us may have forgotten why our ancestors came here, but freedom of choice was a big part of it for most of them.

So, now I would absolutely defend a parent’s right to choose to homeschool, almost no matter what. But I am going to put that almost in there… I like to keep my options open….

Posted in Homeschooling.

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