Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why I Homeschool: Part I

Why I Homeschool, Part I

I am asked all the time: Why do you homeschool? Often, the asker is intrigued. Or horrified. Or baffled. Or curious. Or offended. Or—most often—all of the above.

I put my four-year-old daughter Abby in preschool the first year of her little brother’s life because I wanted time for writing. My in-laws, God bless them, agreed to keep the baby those three mornings a week, and I was a Starbucks writer from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Also, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with her. My husband and I had always been intrigued by the idea of homeschooling, but we weren’t convinced. I believed she needed some experience in a real-life classroom environment as a sort of insurance—that way, she would be prepared for either option.

My belief that she needed some “real-life” classroom experience, I see now, was at least partly rooted in my squeamishness of not conforming to tradition. Oh, there are lots of reasons for sending a maybe-future-homeschool-kid to preschool or kindergarten. Such programs do teach children quite a bit about life, and a number of truly necessary “social skills:” waiting for one’s turn, not stealing someone else’s snack or toy, relating to grown-ups outside the child’s family, among so many others. And it is true that exposing children to preschool does help them cope with the structure and expectations of future school life.

Plus, kids like preschool. It’s fun, and, well, educational.

However, the truth was, I saw kindergarten coming at us and was terrified. Most of us parent, to some extent, the way we were parented—or, as a reaction to the way we were parented—and most of us send our kids to school because it’s simply what you do. We nod and agree about how children need to be with other children their own ages to be properly “socialized.” We remind each other that they need structure and progressive educational opportunities (a la John Dewey).

We worry that selecting any other path will limit or even damage our child.

It’s the default mode. Yellow buses. Field trips. Lunch boxes. Report Cards. Recess. This is how it’s always been.

(Which is, of course, false. This is the way it’s been done for the past hundred and fifty years or so; before then, homeschooling, in different forms, was the norm for centuries upon centuries.)

Before I go on, I want to say that I do understand that most families, due to financial constraints and other practicalities, simply cannot afford to “choose” homeschooling. I know that. I also know that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. And, I do appreciate what schools do for our young people and especially, what teachers do. (I am a former public school teacher myself.) I know that I have been hugely blessed by a number of talented and dedicated teachers from my own growing up.

And, I recognize that there are limitations to homeschooling. There are homeschooling situations that do more harm than good to everyone involved. There are situations where homeschooling families cling awkwardly and shortsightedly to the belief that homeschooling is the only way.

Sometimes, I do have doubts about the path we’ve chosen.

But. What I want to do here is tell my family’s story. And, more personally, I want to discuss as honestly as I can how I’ve wrestled with this and what I’ve learned. I’m not interested in proselytizing. Nor do I want to sentimentalize any of this. We’re talking about educating our children, which we can all agree is one of life’s most important decisions.

I also believe that there’s a larger story here: how we find our lives, and what we do to help our children find theirs. This issue is fraught with emotion, longing, and regret. We want to give our children everything, don’t we? And yet, our own stories—our own ambitions and dreams and fears—don’t (and shouldn’t!) end the minute we have children.

I hope you’ll stay tuned. I also hope that you’ll email me questions and comments of your own you’d like me to respond to here. (I won’t print your name, unless you want me to.)

susanwoodring (at) gmail.com


Katrina Denza said...

I'm looking forward to it!! Thanks for sharing your insights on this very important topic.

Jonnia Smith said...

Having wrestled through this myself, I am eagerly following your story.