Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Homeschoolers online

My brother connected me to a bunch of homeschooling people on Google +, and they connected me to even more, and I'm really enjoying reading what they all talk about, what they do, how they named their homeschools (ours is "Starlight Academy"), what they do for a "school is starting" party to help their kids not feel left out when all the other kids are starting school for the year, etc.

I've also been interested to find some threads running through the discussions. Like:
    Homeschoolers who have to deal with school districts find the public employees are condescending, ill-informed about homeschooling, resentful, distrustful, and meddling. (My own experience bears this up. There is a lot of prejudice out there--one school district employee told me most homeschoolers do it for free babysitting all day and little education actually happens; I read online a Kindergarten teacher questioning the validity of homeschooling done without a "printed curriculum". As if the schools and their printed curricula are doing such a great job! And what is public schooling but the ultimate free babysitting service?)
    There is a real fear out there of being noticed because so many states try to take custody of your children if you homeschool--or at least that's what homeschoolers hear and are afraid of.
    Many many many religious homeschoolers assume ALL homeschoolers are religious. Or at least tolerant of religion being a factor in the education. (And while there are many secular homeschoolers, they are right about the latter--tolerance is much higher among homeschoolers than among the general population.).
     Homeschooling moms tend to be educated, curious, bright, stubborn, creative, determined.
     Many families were driven to homeschooling by very very bad school experiences. This is not an isolated every-once-in-a-while phenomenon. It's very common.
    Unschoolers are both passionate about their way of life and very defensive about it--even among each other, they spend time defending themselves. They also work harder than other homeschooling parents because they are always the teacher, always in the classroom, always on the spot.
      Homeschoolers tend to be hungry for resources (especially free ones), but not always sure where to find them. (That's where I come in).

I've also learned some things about myself. Like,
     I'm really good at finding resources for people. And I know a lot more than I thought I did about what's out there for homeschoolers.
     I actually have an educational philosophy! Who knew? I realized I believe in doing a split day--half unschooling, child-led project-based learning, half "generals".  Why both? I can completely see value in the unschooling way of educating. It allows the children to discover and develop talents, it teaches them the very valuable skill of educating themselves, it helps curiosity grow and develop instead of squalching it. It also frees children to pursue the things that interest them, that they feel passionate about, that they love, and teaches them that their interests, talents, and questions are valuable and valid.  So why not this exclusively?

Because I truly believe that there is a body of knowledge in the world that every person should have exposure to and that you will not cover completely if you don't even know the questions to ask. Unschoolers would counter that one thing leads to another and you eventually cover everything. That might be. But I want to be sure my kids know just a little (compared to experts, not compared to other elementary school kids) about things they might not know to ask about, like art, or chemistry, or music, or handwriting, or psychology. I want them to try dance, to learn to cook, to have experienced the great literature and art out there, to hear the myths and legends that shaped the art in our world, to know about science, at least a little, so they can understand the world around them. Because, quite frankly, some of us never do wonder how leaves make food for plants, but it's still good to know.

Interacting with the world efficiently requires that you know (or at least have heard of) certain things--how maps work, for example. Or that blood circulates. What the constitution says. What our rights are citizens are.

Life is not all about me and my talents and interests. It's also about how I fit into the greater world, and about other people's talents and interests. It's about building an effective community, learning to understand other people's ideas, becoming a good citizen. And some families can accomplish that with unschooling. I guess it's just the teacher in me, but I like to streamline the process and make sure we've covered what I think children should know.

Also, (again the teacher in me comes out), I want the learning to be efficient. I want it to proceed from one thing to another in a reasonable fashion (not haphazardly with pieces missing like when I try to unschool). I want to be able to show the kids the interconnectedness of knowledge, to suggest things they've never even thought of.

Unschoolers who are devoted to the lifestyle can do all these things, I'm sure. I'm just, in my soul, a teacher and curriculum designer. So I enjoy not only unschooling. And (go figure) my kids enjoy having "lessons," too. They like discovering new ideas and new things. They actually stand around my chair at least once a week and beg me to tell them more interesting things, to teach them and talk to them even more. Left to completely unschooling, Anda would never learn history, and Caleb would spend all day programming computers and never get the broader cultural context he'd need to make them really appealing to people. And neither of them would ever learn a stitch of math, even though both are going to have to take it in college to accomplish the goals they've set for themselves.

So we do both. Trying to get the best of both worlds.

Sure am enjoying interacting the the homeschoolers.

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