Sunday, July 3, 2011

Homeschooling--Why we made this choice

It isn't unusual people to ask me a ton of questions when they discover that Jeff and I have chosen to educate our children at home. One of the most frequent questions is "WHY?!". I know that anything that goes against "normal" society(I use the term normal very loosely) seems strange or maybe even inappropriate to people. First of all, let me say that I speak for most if not all homeschooling families when I say that we did not make this decision at the drop of a hat. When God first put the idea of homeschooling in my head I must admit that even I was skeptical. Let's be honest, we all have encountered that "one weird homeschooling family", and the media doesn't exactly highlight the positive side of home education.
Jeff and I always knew that we wanted our children to receive a Christ-centered education. However, private school wasn't a likely option with our sole income being Jeff's military salary. So when God planted the tiny seed of homeschooling inside my brain, I was listening but I wasn't too convinced. I decided that in order to truly be obedient to God, I at least needed to hear him out so I did what I do best--I read. I read every book that the public library offered on home education. Within a month, I had complied research from over 30 books about home education. The data was so impressive that I decided to find out more about the positive aspects of homeschooling. Luckily, God had recently steered me toward some opportunities to meet some new, fabulous Christian friends, most of whom were educating their children at home. They generously answered every question that I had concerning homeschooling and also allowed me to sit in and view sessions of them doing school with their children. I was hooked! I knew that home education would be the best choice for our family, but now I had the job of convincing my husband. I prayed and presented the research, but I really didn't have to do too much to get Jeff on board:-) So if you want to know WHY, here are the reasons:
Our family is unashamedly Christian. We believe that having a relationship with Jesus Christ is much more than talking the talk, but that we also have to walk the walk. To us, that means that the love of Christ has changed our very hearts and dictates the way we live our life. It seemed ridiculous to us that we would walk the Christian path at home only to send our children to a secular, humanist public school for 40 hours a week. We want to teach them that God is in EVERYTHING-history, science, art, etc. Despite what many people want to think, public schools are not "neutral". As Jessie Wise states in The Well-Trained Mind, "Education cannot be neutral when it comes to faith: it is either supportive or destructive. The topic of education is humanity, its accomplishments, its discoveries, its savage treatment of its own kind, its willingness to endure self-sacrifice. And you cannot learn-or teach-about humanity without considering God." Government schools teach evolution as fact, revisionist history, and Marxist ideology. People argue that my children need to be exposed to such ideas regardless. I agree that my children need to learn about things such as evolution, but I think the best way for this idea to be introduced is from a Christian apologetics perspective. I want them to know "Here is this theory some people choose to believe about our origins, but here is what the Bible says about that theory and why it cannot be true." As parents, it is our job to train our children in Biblical truths. If we are to train them to live as a Christian in a secular world, then we must give them all of the tools to do so in a safe, nurturing environment that is supportive of a Biblical Worldview.

One of my favorite quotes comes from John Holt, a proponent of home education and a pioneer of the Unschooling movement. Holt states, "What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children's growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools , but that it isn't a school at all." It is incorrect to assume that my children will receive a more superior education in a government school. Public school teachers have the task of teaching 25+ students-each with a different personality, learning style, and developmental level. My children, like all children, are unique individuals. If my son has different needs than his sister and learns in a different way, then why would I teach him in the exact same way as I would her? Please do not misconstrue this as a criticism on teachers. I was educated to be a public educator. I do not find fault with the teachers, who do the best that they can with their large class sizes and limited resources. I believe that the problem lies with the entire system of institutionalized, age-segregated government schools; the design itself is a recipe for failure. This point is fully illustrated in the many essays, books, and speeches by John Taylor Gatto, an award winning retired teacher who is now an active critic of compulsory education. Mr. Gatto states, "I don't think we'll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we're going to change what's rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the school institution 'schools' very well, though it does not 'educate'; that's inherent in the design of the thing. It's not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It's just impossible for education and schooling to ever be the same thing."
At home, I have the luxury of personalizing lessons to meet my children's needs. Both of our children are very bright and advanced for their ages, but both have November birthdays. Our daughter would technically just be eligible for public school Kindergarten this fall. I cannot even imagine what in the heck she would do there. Lynsey can already read at a 2nd grade level, write cursive, add and subtract. Yet because of her age would be in a classroom with 25+ other kids, some of whom may not even know the alphabet or how to count to 20. What would she do during the day while the teacher worked at the task of getting these other children caught up? It would be a waste of an entire year of her life! However, you have the flexibility at home to challenge them when needed, yet slow down when necessary. She started 1st Grade work last month and has been doing wonderfully! Her brother, also a November baby, is in the same boat. It would be absurd to send him to "preschool" to learn his letters, shapes, colors, and numbers when he has mastered such things almost 2 years ago. Honestly, those skills can easily be taught at home almost effortlessly through play and games. Many homeschooling critics who can not refute the obvious positive academic data on home education will then assert that children need to attend school to "socialize." This brings me to my next point.
*POSITIVE Social Experience*
Inevitably as a homeschooler you are going to face the question, "What about socialization?". How I despise when the dread "S" word comes up. When researching the word socialization online, I came across the following definitions: "1. the process of learning one's culture and how to live within it; 2. the act of interacting with others, of being social". Children do not have to be around 25 other peers of the exact same age for 8 hours a day in order to learn how to live within their culture. Further more, one could argue that the age-segregated classrooms of traditional schools is an artificial environment that they will never encounter in the workplace or other adult situations. In addition, these children are not spending much of that time "socializing" anyway except for maybe a short lunch and recess. Also, there are many unpleasant and dangerous situations that occur during such "social" times.
Homeschooling offers my children opportunities for POSITIVE social interaction. Our community has a homeschool support group that gathers for swim parties, park days, playdates, field trips, and other activities. Home education is becoming more popular so most areas similar groups for homeschoolers. Go to any homeschool group activity and you will not see kids segregating themselves by ages on the playground. Instead you will witness high schoolers leading a game of hide-and-go-seek and pre-teens helping toddlers down the slide. They just enjoy each other, regardless of their ages. Homeschooled children have plenty of time to interact with their peers at church, playing with neighbors, or group activities that they may be active in. Our children participate in Upward Sports, a Christian sports league that provides a fun kids sports experience based on healthy competition. Not only do my children have plenty of opportunities to socialize with peers, but they also are able to interact with people from a variety of ages and backgrounds.
Most importantly, Jeff and I are able to monitor our children and know their friends. That does not mean that we interfere in and micromanage their relationships. The children are able to problem solve and work out their issues among themselves, yet parents are still available to guide them to Biblical solutions if they need us. That is the exact opposite of the "survival of the fittest" mentality that thrives in schools. I want to know my children's friends. I want to know who is influencing them. I want to know what my children are being exposed to. I want to keep my children pure. They don't need to be exposed to corruption in order to be able to "deal with it". Children need to be in a safe, non-judging environment until they are able and old enough to take a stand against evil and sin. So when anyone ever wants to question my children's "socialization", I'm just going to tell them, "Sorry, but I feel that quality is better than quantity."

*Continuity of Education*
My husband is in the Air Force, and his job often requires us to relocate every few years. Each duty station is different and unique. Homeschooling will allow us to keep our children's education continuous and consistent. Our home school rules and curricula will be the same whether we are in Texas or Japan. Schools, however, vary from one part of town to the other. One may have a fabulous experience with a school in one area and then suddenly be stationed in an area that has some of the worst schools in the nation. Financial restraints on military families often prevent them from moving to the areas with the "best" schools or to be able to afford private school tuition. The only way that my husband and I can ensure that our children continuously and consistently receive a top quality education is if we do it ourselves.

One of the most attractive aspects about homeschooling is how you can do exactly what you need to fit your family's needs. Your curricula, schedule, and approach can all be adapted to what works best for you and your children. You can take breaks when you need to. You can homeschool in the Summer and take vacation in the off-season! You can take a breather from penmanship when it is just driving both you and your kiddo insane. Anything goes!

*Maintaining Family Closeness*
God gave our children to my husband and me. They are our responsibility. As Christopher Klicka says in his book The Heart of Homeschooling: "You can delegate the authority of raising your children to someone else, but not the responsibility". It is our job to help shape and mold our children into the people God created them to be. If children are at school for 8hrs a day with their peers, then peers can become the driving influence in our children's lives.
Family bonding time increases in quantity as well as quality through homeschooling. The number of hours spent together during homeschooling facilitates the sharing of family values and morals, strengthening family bonds even more.
Family time is so precious to us, especially as a military family. My husband's career field is heavily deployed, and his work commitments are extremely time consuming when he is here. My children would not have as many opportunities to spend time with their Daddy if they were in school for 8 hours a day, 9 months a year. With homeschooling, we can even take special breaks just for family time before or after a deployment.

There are many more reasons that I could list, but these are the main reasons why Jeff and I have chose to educate our children at home. This is our choice for what we feel is the best for our family. While homeschooling is best for many families, there are some situations where other options may be best. I am passionate about sharing the benefits of home education. I do not share such things in order to make people feel guilty or to have them feel the need to defend their choice of public school to me. I just want to share how home education has blessed our family and how it may be something that you want to look into for your family. I am more than happy to answer questions, recommend books, or anything else that can help you on your journey to research homeschooling. One thing that I can tell you without a doubt is that God is good and always faithful. If HE calls you to homeschool, HE will be with you every step of the way:-)

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