Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Parenting and My Decision to Homeschool

Amidst falling acorns and leaves, our friend climbed off of our steep roof, down the aluminum ladder, and joined his wife and some of my family on the remarkably safe, sturdy ground. He collected his chimney sweep’s tools and stuffed them in the back of his compact SUV, near his camera bag and tripod. It was mighty kind of him to swing by after his latest photo shoot to tackle the job that neither Denny nor I were experienced, agile, or brave enough to tackle. We stood and chatted a bit before they left. We’d had the two of them over with some other friends the day before, but we were always glad to see them. Friends that you are always comfortable around, always look forward to seeing, can talk with about anything, that make you laugh, make you think, and generally make you feel warm and fuzzy—these are gems you should treasure.

“You should give parenting lessons,” our friend suggested as he and his wife relayed some of the shocking parent-child antics they witness on a regular basis.

Our friend is not a flatterer. This was a compliment indeed. And couldn’t have been better timed, though he didn’t know it. I needed a boost from a friend.

I’ve rather taken a Show-Me state approach to sharing my parenthood: spend some time with me and the kids and see for yourself. Q&A to follow. I thought that was working rather smashingly. But, recently I was stung by some comments of a friend who has been spending more time around our family and engaged in more conversations with me about parenting. I was under the impression that he adored my children and was favorably stirred, maybe even intrigued, by the approach Den and I are taking. That’s why it caught me off guard when he started hinting that maybe our kids are missing out by not being in public school.

There are many homeschool families in this area and Missouri is generally very homeschool-friendly. Our area is not very populated. It’s not unusual to see children out and about town during school hours. What I mean to say is, we are not often challenged in our decision to educate at home. I know all the arguments in favor of it, but am not accustomed to offering them. Those who know us see vibrant children doing remarkable, pleasant, interesting things. They may ask questions out of curiosity, but no one challenges. (Maybe I’m too intimidating? Ha. Imagine.) I haven’t felt defensive for a long time. Unsure of myself and frustrated sometimes, yes, but then I see my kids (or occasionally other people’s kids, though it’s not fair to compare) and know that I’m doing something right.

Alternately, one of my friends suggests that I offer parenting classes. That’s always nice to hear.

It bothered me a great deal that this other dear friend missed it, missed what we are doing. A stranger might, yeah, but someone so close to us?

“I think it’s criminal to keep children at home and limit their opportunities to learn,” or something along those lines. What…? How…? I was hurt and confused. I wanted him to understand. I stuffed it down at the time, not knowing what to make of it, and talked it out later with Denny. (Denny is great for talking things out with, which is the main reason I decided to bring him home and keep him handy.)

I think our friend’s comments have simply come out of his love for us and a slight misunderstanding. I’m sure he didn’t intend to offend and would be upset to know he did. I suspect he wants the best for the kids now that he is really getting to know them. In his mind, the best equals higher academics. I think. If I dared to try to guess his mind. I suspect he sees the kids, sees how incredible they are, and mistakenly thinks, “Imagine how much better they could be with the education and opportunities that school would provide!” I could be wrong, but if I’m not, then what he neglects to realize is that the children are amazing not in spite of, but because of how I’ve raised them thus far. I didn’t merely have the good fortune to birth seven vibrant, curious, happy, well-behaved children! 

There has long been a debate regarding the importance of academics in the lives of children. Surely no one would say that academics are unimportant. But are the rest of a child’s needs considered equally important? I’m not sure what to call it, maybe there’s a collective term for it, but I guess it includes love, moral instruction, behavioral guidance, confidence building, nutrition and security. We’ll call this The Other Stuff, though it deserves a much cooler label.

Unfortunately, the question is often posed with a battle line drawn: Academics vs. The Other Stuff. Public and private school proponents on one side, home educators on the other.

Now, just stop that.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’m guessing the majority of home educators will agree with me when I boast that home education offers the best of both worlds, whereas the drawbacks of public/private education make it difficult to accomplish The Other Stuff. Without a foundation of The Other Stuff children often have a difficult time with their academics (as many a school teacher will attest). And that’s assuming the academic opportunities at home and in school are equal, which they aren’t. No, I won’t say home is always better. I say it depends entirely upon the school and the parents. We know what a joke American schools are, but we also know what a joke many parents are. But as for my family, I don’t believe for a moment that any public education I could thrust my children into could compete with opportunities they have outside of school. Don’t get me wrong, Denny and I know our own limitations. I’m not personally going to teach them algebra or biology, but as with public educators I’m familiar with these little things called resources…  Anyway. More about that another time, but for the record our fifteen year old did just tell us she found a website where she can take a free college level digital art class and she would like to add it to her curriculum this year. Not because she wants a grade or a degree, but because she wants to learn it. Just sayin’.

Maybe we’re not up to our ears in Latin and biology, but my children are young yet. We are only really just beginning to dig into serious academics. I assume my doubting friend has limited knowledge of education (and children), and so cannot understand how unsuitable a classroom environment is for a child’s development, or what kind of opportunities they have at home, and not just opportunities, but that foundation of The Other Stuff that children need to succeed. Man, our older children are nearly ripe for their futures now! It’s so exciting! It’s our goal to supply the tools and skills that compliment their natural curiosity and love of learning. They have the freedom and support to pursue what interests them and no boring class, bad teacher, school bully, locker room embarrassment, or peer pressure is going to hold them back!

My children are not overly sheltered. They are loved and protected and their needs met, but they are encouraged to grow and explore and are regularly exposed to new people and ideas. Religion was the last wall and now it lays crumbled, its bricks studied occasionally with critical eyes. They are bright, confident, respectful, well-behaved and enjoyed by all who meet them. They share the household responsibilities, work well both together and independently, they love books as well as hands-on experiences. They experiment, take things apart and rebuild them. They have time to be curious. Do you realize how important that alone is? They know about life things. Life is the best foundation upon which a strong academic education can be built. The better the foundation, the better the future education. Whatever our children want to build on this foundation, I’m willing to bet it will serve them well their entire lives, to a higher degree of satisfaction and true success than if they joined the institutional masses for rote memorization, mindless parroting, and popularity contests.

Day in and day out, night in and night out, we are working and thinking, living and enjoying, talking and doing everything in our power to give these children the best foundation possible.

And no, I don’t give parenting classes, but you’re more than welcome to stop by and spend the day with us to see what intentional parenting and happy kids look like.

1 comment:

  1. You have good reasons for educating your children the way you are, and you're not skipping the academic essentials. Full stop. That's the only answer you need to give, and you can stand and give it confidently. You've clearly thought long and hard about this, and you're undoubtedly closer to giving a good education than a regimented school would be.


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