Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not Dead Yet

Gotta love Monty P.

I'm not, though! Still alive and kicking. I've been busy with all sorts of stuff, but namely we've been gearing up for our first year of homeschooling. Anderson, who insists he'd like to be called Andy now, is 5 and while we aren't required to report to the district until he's 6, we're moving ahead with Kindergarten this year. It's been an education just preparing everything for our first few months.

I won't launch into all the reasons we're embarking on this journey today, but I tend to think of us as weirdos among weirdos - a family homeschooling not for religious reasons in an area where the vast majority of homeschooling that does exist, is deeply tied to Christian values. On the other hand, we share some basic commonality with those folks and have been happy to find nothing but support from other families out there. Somehow, we have more in common than not, even if we won't be sharing certain science materials. :)

I will clear up a couple of really basic misconceptions right here at the outset, though, if for no other reason than being able to refer people here when we're asked about these things:

1. Yes, this is legal, and yes, there is oversight, just in case you are worried we'll let them watch TV all day.

2. No, we are not worried about so-called socialization. Not only is there plenty of research-based evidence out there that homeschooled kids do just fine, socially, but we strongly believe regular school provides a pretty unrealistic simulation of real life when it comes to interacting with other people. Homeschooling actually provides kids with more opportunities to interact with not only groups of similar-aged peers, but people of all ages in various parts of the community and farther afield. I suppose we could just lock them in the TV room, but the real dilemma we face is narrowing down the myriad activities available to us to a few manageable choices.

3. No, we do not think we are better than you. We were both traditionally schooled and think we "came out just fine," just like most people we know. We simply feel we can offer much more at home, that standardized testing is too big a focus and too big a waste of time in public schools, and that modern ideas about schooling don't seem to be keeping up with the modern realities of the world. It is difficult for schools to concentrate on cultivating creative, big thinkers when they are forced to worry so much about flawed, often meaningless testing. Perhaps even more extreme to some people is that we firmly believe children can, and should be able to, have a much bigger say in their own learning experiences. Learning, to us, is best when it happens organically. One discovery naturally leading to another discovery and so on. At home, these experiences aren't interrupted by bells, or 30 other students who also need attention. We will likely use some structured materials as well as allowing plenty of room for self-discovery.

4. No, despite all that, we aren't anti-school or anti-teacher. It is important to us to support our local school district and to encourage real change and improvements in the public school system because we'd like to live in a world where everyone has equal access to knowledge and the tools to succeed (i.e. the ability to make true choices as adults). Right now this isn't happening. At all. The disparities among schools in the same district are shameful and many children are certainly being "left behind." This doesn't spell good things for our future. On the other hand, plenty of kids come out of traditional school and go on to do great things. Why on Earth would we have a problem with that? Good teachers, and attentive parents, affect kids profoundly, and our kids will certainly have educational experiences led by some of them throughout their school years. Besides, you never know - if this whole at-home thing doesn't work out, we'd like to have a decent place to send them!

5. Yes, I do feel qualified to teach my own children. Even if I hadn't completed most of a master's in teaching before it dawned on me that I had major issues with the system in general, I would still feel qualified to guide this process. We aren't sure, yet, exactly what "homeschool" will look like to us as things progress, but we are sure it won't look like school-at-home most of the time.

6. No, we won't be sitting around a big oak table every day doing exactly what they'd be doing in school anyway. Our classroom, as cheesy as it sounds, is the world. There will be traveling, local exploring, hands-on research, digging around in muddy creek beds, and lots of community interaction. We will meet artists, writers, musicians and scientists. We'll volunteer as a family more, cultivate our own garden (one where everything doesn't die by July, hopefully), create a portfolio of all the trails we hike, create art, music and film, get some pen pals from across the world... and yeah, we'll do some reading, writing and arithmetic along the way, too.

7. Yes, they will be able to go to college. In fact, many homeschoolers complete their first two years of college requirements by attaining associate's degrees at community colleges or taking CLEP and AP exams during their high school years. Many colleges, including Ivy League colleges, recruit homeschoolers because they are often some of the brightest thinkers and most well-rounded students that enter their doors. We also feel the concept of college will evolve dramatically over the next few years as the value of a college degree becomes more and more questionable. It's hard to say what "college" will look like in 13 years, but we feel hopeful that they will rise to whatever challenge awaits, and that they will be open to a host of options.

OK, so that was 7 pretty big ideas. Sorry! It's hard not to rant. I have tried to maintain a reasonable tone here and hope I haven't come off as too defensive or critical. The bottom line is that we deeply respect individual choice when it comes to educating our children. We are positive our friends and loved ones make decisions about their children's education just as carefully, even when they reach different conclusions, and for the most part, we've been pleased to feel that sentiment in return. We are also happy to be in America, where this choice is respected and supported by the law of the land.

So that's that for that. Watch this space for the latest on our homeschooling adventures. I have a feeling this first year will be one of major discovery for all of us. Our first unit study will begin after Labor Day and I can't wait to share the experience with you.


Katie said...

Great post CincySarah! I'm really interested in reading about your adventures with Andy. I find it's hard to have a conversation about unschooling without running into those defensive roadblocks that you've so successfully disarmed here. Honestly, I don't know that much about unschooling and I am looking forward to learning more from you.


Jen said...

This is excellent. And clearly you're qualified to teach grammar and sentence structure, as it's extremely well-written. ;)

Valerie Malott said...

Hey there...I saw your post on the CATCH list and I thought I'd poke my head in and say "hi!" We homeschool over in the east suburbs of Cincinnati and are going on our 10th year. The kids range in age from nearly 17 to 3 (seven, if you count them all, but my second oldest opted to go to public high school). I keep a blog as well, though my posts have been spotty over the past year. I usually gear up around school time, in order to share cool resources that I've found. Best wishes on your first unofficial year! Hope to read more about it!

Melinda said...

Sarah, you rock! The boys are going to learn so much and I suspect you will, too.

Kathy said...

This is great stuff, Sarah! I hope you do share your lessons with us throughout the year. I'm looking forward to borrowing some of your ideas for my kids, and I'm sure my teacher brother will enjoy hearing them, too. You are perfectly suited for this and the boys are such smart, sweet kids. I have no doubt that they will flourish in the unschooling environment.

And how cute is "Andy"? :)

travelnhsr said...

Good Luck on your homeschool journey. I homeschooled mine for 12 years. We traveled, we read good books, we did many projects, but not once did we use a formal curriculum. Mine is now a Sophomore in Mechanical Engineering at well known and respected Engineering college. I used to keep a blog current too, Travelin' With the Kid, it journaled our travels in our homeschool. Homeschooling works and you nailed the myths. Well done!

Shawn Jackson said...

I am usually very eyerollingly skeptical about homeschooling and the reasons why people choose it. But out of everyone I know that has gone that path, you guys are the most capable, rational, and qualified I've seen.

Also on the socializing thing. These kids are going to grow up in a hyper connected world. They will have no problems socializing as they grow up and the old assumptions about homeschool kids being alone is pretty invalid.

I wish you guys luck.

Michael said...

I Just discovered your homeschooling blog, Sarah. This was a great essay on what it means to home school today, and why in many districts it's a highly preferable route.
We get a lot of homeschoolers in the library I work at. Happy to have them, as wild as they can sometimes get when a big group converges on us.
Still, I wonder about the splintering...factioning? Maybe those words are too strong.
From the perspective of a public school kid also pretty underserved, it is kind of mournful to see the fun and engaged kids like Andy disconnected from the lesser or altogether unengaged kids in those ineffectual classrooms. As chintzy as a slogan like "it takes a village" is, I feel like it's a way to frame the question of who ends up in a special village and who gets left with the default public school village.
At any rate this looks like a wonderful outlet to see that question play itself out. Hope you all are doing well, and I miss ya!

Sarah said...

Thanks for all the encouragement in the comments on this post about our homeschooling adventure, by the way. We really appreciate it! 5 years ago I am embarrassed to admit that I laughed out loud when I first heard about the uptick in homeschooling. Yet, I was drawn to the idea again when we started thinking about Andy's education, and try as I might, I couldn't find a lot of persuasive information out there to make it seem like a bad idea, and in fact, it was quite the contrary. It won't be the easiest thing we've ever undertaken, and I'm sure we'll have some choppy waters to navigate from time to time, but we're excited and ready.

Mike, I do understand your sentiment about the village, and I guess I would have to say that one major deciding factor for us was that there was too big a risk that school in its current incarnation is not designed to cultivate creativity. In fact, we worry that the institution of public school works best when the schedule is strict. There are bright spots to be sure, but the idea of Andy's happy juice getting squashed out of him so he could become a better standardized test taker simply weighs too heavy. Basically we're afraid our engaged, curious kid would wind up learning for the sake of pleasing a teacher or passing a test and eventually lose that joy of learning for the sake of learning. We seem to just accept that as normal these days, but I really don't think it should be that way. That's a whole different philosophical ball of wax, though! We miss all you far-flung Michiganders, too. :)

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