Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why We Decided to Homeschool

In recent weeks, I have heard a lot about attempts by Nebraska citizens to repeal the excessive absentee law known as LB800, as well as its sucessive addenda that attempted to make it more palatable, but failed to do so. I have great hope that changes are imminent. Since my family decided to homeschool in the middle of 2011, many people have questioned our choice. Some were merely curious, most were incredulous (along the lines of “are you nuts?” a line of thought with which I’m sure all homeschoolers are familiar.) We answered truthfully that there were many factors from a desire for self-determination, to quality of academic content, to a dislike for commercialism and standardization, to a plain unlucky draw with teachers. But after a comment from a NFF forum poster that ran along the lines of “I feel sad when I see kids homeschool because teachers and students are deprived of a learning experience,” I felt I must now stress the main reason we homeschool. The main reason we chose to recuse ourselves from public and private institutional education was because of the restrictive state laws that demand my children’s constant presence. With family members out of state that are important to my children's sense of self, family and ties to loved ones, we have no choice but to spend time going to see them. No matter what you think about schools, whether you believe them a waste of time, evil hotbeds of immorality, perfect vessels for elevating the masses, or the only way to get an education, you cannot argue with the fact that one’s presence in a building means exactly nothing in terms of learning. There are more studies and statistics than would fill the internet to back this up. And if it were true that simple presence equals learning, then no one would come out of school without knowing how to read and write and multiply. But we know they often do. We know that millions of children are herded daily through hallways simply because, as so many have repeated (as if repetition will make it so) “kids need to be in school to learn.” I don’t beg to differ. I do differ, by offering up common sense and results as a way to look at something we have been told so many times, we forgot to question whether it was true or not. Doubtless, many who go to school do get an education. I did it, and from miserably underfunded public schools in Arkansas with teachers who knew more about coaching than history, I went on to one of the best private colleges in the US. I learned despite, not because of schools. It was not fun. But let’s say I’ll never forget the few great teachers I did have, let’s say they made the greatest impact on my young mind ever, even greater than the racial, religious and social bullying I saw every day in the South. I still wonder if all the pain was worth it? What if there had been a way to get a superb education without being subjected to ridicule and ignorance on a daily basis? That is what I wish for my children. Not be be special, or better, or separate, but to be able to participate in an education system that works for them. And in our way, we have found as close a thing as we can get. Because there is absolutely no flexibility in our compulsory school system, and the government has tied funding to attendance, there may never be the kind of flexibility and leveraging of technology and resources that we require. In our public schools, you either go all in, or all out. Benjamin Franklin, whose main goal in life was to discover things which were useful, which bettered the lot of mankind and improved lives would have taken one look at our schools and redesigned them. We need that now. We need to have education options that allow for work, for worship, for family life, for travel, for participation in the “real world” school is supposed to be preparing our children for. Why is it that the more we test, the worse our SAT scores get? (Google it, it made the news.) And the less our students seem to be able to think? (Talk to a college prefessor that teaches freshman 101-anything.) Why is it that the tighter we draw the reins of attendance, the more people resist? (The patterns of real truancy hasn’t changed much since Boy’s Town began.) Why is it that no matter what system we put in place in these schools, it doesn’t seem to change the overall results? Why are we, a country with so much, unable to educate our own children, our future, better than other countries? Why doesn’t it work? It doesn’t work because it is modeled on, as international education researcher, Sugata Mitra called it, an outdated feeder system for British colonial workers. We just copied it and brought it to the New World, added in some Puritan bible-reading imperatives, and whizz-bang: American Public Schools. Now we have every advantage of technology and education available, from public libraries and digital books (many free), to Salman Kahn’s free math and science website (they also have art) to great programs like Kumon for math, to the myriad resources of world-famous museums (most online) and universities, to interactive language applications, to outstanding science information from organizations like the makers of NOVA to observatories and foundations the world over. For those interested in classics, one can read a book a day and work with a tutor (perhaps online), like Thomas Jefferson did. There is a school in Grand Island, NE that teaches kids actual job skills, and many Metro colleges that do the same. And our answer to all that is ... “kids should be in school!” Our constant cry is ... more money! Our big idea is ... Common Core! Really. It would be nice if I could spend time earning an income again. It would be nice to know that my children are well-taken care of and their intellects challenged and still have time for life. But that is not to be now. Not here in Nebraska. For those of us that believe here in the US our best years are ahead of us, and that we can do anything if we employ knowledge and ethics, this is a miserable state of affairs. So I keep hoping that school will come to mean something different, that having your butt in a seat is good for flattening the glutes and not much more, and that some day, school will be something everyone will want to participate in, no matter where they are sitting, or standing.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey, Ann. Beautifully written!