Why we homeschool is a question I'll get better at answering with time. Right now I struggle with it. I worry that in giving my answers I might make people uncomfortable. I might make someone feel defensive of their own choice to not homeschool their children. So I generally take the wimpy route and say "it works for us" or something benign like that. And really, that is the reason if you boil it all down.
Another lazy reply that I've attempted and have heard other parents say is "go read some John Holt books" and then come back to me. I'll wait. But this answer doesn't work when you are face to face with cousin Hope at Thanksgiving who sincerely wants an explanation. But there is truth in this reply too. The truth being that it took a total and complete mental paradigm shift for me and these books might help someone understand where I'm coming from. It is a whole belief system of how I look at education and learning. It is hard to cover all of this over turkey and pumpkin pie, you know?
But what lead us here? What lead us to taking this departure from the norm? What exactly are our reasons for homeschooling?
We didn't intend to go on this voyage. Last year we bought our house where we did because of the excellent public schools. They are some of the best schools in California. However we have come to feel that even the best public schools still leave much to be desired. (and this is where people start to get twitchy and defensive over how truly great their public school is, sorry) Why? Freedom. Freedom and the natural way we learn.
I don't want force fed learning for my children. I don't want force fed learning for myself either because I know firsthand it doesn't work very well. People don't truly learn unless they are interested or motivated somehow. Sadly, much learning in public school happens because of the motivation of fear, not because they are truly interested. Kids memorize the state capitals because they have to. Because they don't want to get a bad grade.
This often leads to the argument, "But they NEED to know the state capitals!" Really? Do they? If I don't know the capital of Montana what do I do? I look it up. And guess what? I did learn those capitals back in fifth grade. My fifth grade self knew the answer was Helena (and yes, I just looked it up) but my college educated, happy and successful 33 year old self didn't. Who cares? Why do you think that TV show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader works? It is because we are filling the minds of our US fifth graders with facts that will prove completely useless and irrelevant by the time they are adults. By the time they are adults it will be long forgotten.
All I actually learned in fifth grade was how to pretend to learn. How to memorize things just long enough to pass a test. This realization lead me to take a long, hard look at that word "need" and how a flawed system based on standardized testing decides what my child needs to learn. I think that the methods used and topics covered in public schools are outdated and in some cases, totally pointless.
So what would happen if we filled the minds of our fifth graders with real life learning experiences that they were interested and excited about? What deeper, more meaningful knowledge is possible if we follow the lead of our children?
Say a fifth grader is interested in baseball. Madly, passionately interested in baseball. That could lead to learning about velocity. About history. About racial issues. About economics. He'd learn the teams from different states and cities. Geography. It could lead to family outings to baseball games. Outings to the sports museum. He'd learn about careers and discipline. With a little help and resources from his parents, he could discover all of this on his own terms which would make it all the more powerful. This is the way we naturally learn about our world. By being interested.
But I'm drifting. Back to what lead us to this voyage. Deep breath. So then we looked into private school. We have some amazing private schools in our backyard. Private schools so progressive and sustainable and "real world teaching based" and ones that have organic lunches that I was in love with them before I even toured them. They were so up my alley that I was all set to shell out the $$$$ to send my kids there sight unseen. Schools with child based learning (called emergent curriculum) located on acres of stunning nature. And we could. It would hurt and we'd have to tighten our belts a few notches but we could do it. But. We started questioning what we could do with that money. With even half of that kind of money. What kind of enriching experiences and resources could we provide our children if we created our own education fund? Trips abroad. Pretty much any private lessons or classes they desired. Instruments. Books. Museum memberships. We started saying things like, "Why would we want them to learn about Italy from a textbook if we could just travel there instead and in the middle of November if we wanted to with no worries about school schedules?" This all started making sense to us.
So we decided to test the waters after one more final effort to "be normal" and to do what is expected. After our preschool co-op closed last year (which was lovely and run by parents so it was actually more like a homeschool group I realize in retrospect) we toured about 15 more local preschools. After trying out one which was great in many ways we ultimately decided to see what homeschooling could be like. We pulled First Mate out of school. We started meeting with local homeschooling groups for park days. We joined a learning co-op for preschoolers with like-minded parents. We asked questions. We read a lot. We wrung our hands and bit our fingernails. We got defensive. We worried. We were hopeful. We had terrible days. We had good days. And finally...
We decided that this feels right for us. And here we are. We still have no map but at least we know why we set sail.
In conclusion, homeschooling is a natural progression of the way in which we have been parenting our children all along. It works for us. Go read some John Holt books. I'll wait.
Do you homeschool? Why? Do you have a fifteen second answer?