Thursday, October 11, 2007

Open Mic: The Question Nobody Asked

So, why did you & Shari choose to homeschool?

I'm still surprised that no one has asked us about this...

...but I think it's worth answering.

Before I do, however, let's do a quick mental check. Close your eyes (yes, I realize it's difficult to read the blog post with your eyes closed - I trust you can figure it out) and take a close look at the picture in your head of a "homeschooling family." There's a good chance it is a potent mix of survivalist & religious fundamentalist, mixed in with the fashion sense of Betty Suarez & a severe paranoia about any cultural expression that didn't come from Thomas Kinkade or the local Christian bookstore.

Far be it from me to point fingers at you for that picture... the first homeschooling families I ran into as a youth minister nearly 20 years ago pretty accurately matched that description. But I do want to challenge you to take a second look at what you think about homeschooling & homeschoolers.

With that little exercise out of the way, let's move on to my reasons for homeschooling. (I used the word "my" on purpose in the last sentence - Shari & I have some different reasons for homeschooling... and when we do agree, we don't always agree on their priority.)

I realize as I begin this list that some of you will take these points to be an attack on public schooling - which I do not intend. Shari & I both went to public schools and received good to excellent educations. Shari taught 7th/8th grade math in public school for four years & was recognized for her success in teaching students. I have long said that the kids in my youth ministries who were most well-equipped to deal with the world at large were public school kids. (Don't get me started on private Christian schools... or, if you do, someone pull up a soapbox for me to stand on.) So, we didn't approach the decision to homeschool with an anti-public school perspective.
  1. Schedule: As a senior pastor of a church, my schedule is (to say the least) wacky. Meetings at night, counseling sessions at odd hours, being "on call" round the clock, funerals monkeying with my carefully planned (ha!) activities... and then there's the whole "Sunday is a work day" thing. So, I was very aware that if my boys went to public or private school, the times that were easiest for me to flex with would be the times they were in school... and their free time would often be my work time. Homeschooling allows me to spend lots of time with them, both helping teach school & (of course) playing boardgames!
  2. Educational Quality: Simply put, the chances of our sons getting a high quality education are better at home (where the teacher:student ratio is 2:1) than in a public school (where the teacher:student ratio is 1:20+). Our ability to choose curriculum to fit particular learning styles & needs is substantially higher than a public or private school. We can also use travel in ways that public schools can not to further supplement our boys' education.
  3. Spiritual Training: While I long for both of my boys to be well-read, intelligent young men, the most important role I have as a parent is to give them the best possible opportunity to follow Jesus Christ. It's easier for that to happen when Shari & I can spend time with them... and that's easier when we homeschool.
  4. Flexibility: I don't think a lot of folks realize that good quality homeschooling doesn't take 8 hours a day - if Braeden is concentrating & working hard, he can do most of his work in 90-120 minutes. (Just think about how much time in school is spent moving people from one place to another, taking attendance, listening to announcements, etc.) That extra 5-6 hours per day allows him lots of time to read, to play outside, to go with me to run errands... and that doesn't even figure in our family's flexibility to travel during the off-season, when prices are cheaper & crowds are less. As well, it allows us to deal with difficult life circumstances without sacrificing education.
  5. Values: This is not just about kids - people pick up values from their enviroment, not from what they're taught. (Does any school teach that cheating is OK? No. Does that stop kids from cheating? No. The culture is stronger than the information... and even the chance of punishment.) By homeschooling, we're spending our boys' formative years with them in an enviroment where they are swimming in our value choices. According to research from The Barna Group, most individuals don't radically change their values & beliefs after age 13 - which means that the elementary school years are key!
  6. Being Kids: Shari read a book earlier this year entitled Stop Dressing Your 6-Year-Old Like A Skank: and Other Delicate Words of Southern Wisdom by Celia Rivenbark... which made us profoundly grateful that we're raising little boys & not little girls. (The book, btw, is very funny but occasionally off-color.) The pressure from popular culture is for kids to grow up so quickly now - to become little adults in the manner & content of what they consume. Shari & I really want our boys to be kids as long as humanly possible - they will have plenty of time to be adults later.
  7. Enjoying Family: Here's something weird & wonderful about homeschooling. Relatively healthy homeschooling families (there are unhealthy ones) seem to enjoy being together more than other families, up into & including their teenage years. I like that.

By now, some of you are wondering about what I'll call "The Two S's"...

  • Socialization: A suggestion for conversational safety: do NOT ask a homeschooling parent about the socialization of their children unless you want to get an earful. I'll try to keep the volume down in my response (grin). I think there's a difference between social skills (the ability to hold a conversation, manners, "plays well with others", etc.) and socialization (knowledge of pop culture, how to fit in, finding your cliche, etc.). As well, I believe that lifelong social skills are not as easily developed in the rarified atmosphere of graded schools where you primarily interact with people your own age. Instead, I think that a wide variety of social interaction (church, friends, family, sports teams, gaming, etc.) is at least equally good at preparing kids for life.
  • Sheltered: Yes, our boys will be sheltered. You say that like it's a bad thing. And, if it our existence was some kind of locked-down Christian bubble that taught Braeden & Collin that life is a tiptoe through the tulips as long as they go to church every time the doors are open & stay away from anyone who doesn't listen to Christian radio & name-drop inspirational authors, you'd be right. But, as you can probably guess, that's not what we're doing. What we are trying to do is to introduce the difficulties of life & faith at a pace that they can handle, rather than throw them in the pool & see if they can swim.

Two other points, and then I'm done. Well, not really done, as I'm very open to your questions & comments about our choice to homeschool... but you get my drift, right?!

  • Should everyone homeschool?: That would be a resounding NO. Not only do life circumstances make it difficult and/or impossible for some folks to homeschool... but in some cases, temperment & personality make homeschooling a complete mess. (We had one family who chose to homeschool in our lives some years back - all of them nifty people, but, shall we say, organizationally challenged. The year they spent homeschooling was almost wasted as they were constantly putting off work.) Any decision to homeschool should be prayerfully undertaken, factoring in family situation and a host of other factors. (In other words, don't do it just because "pastor guy" is doing it!)
  • What curriculum do you use?: We use Sonlight Curriculum, which uses a variety of spiritual & "secular" books. (For example, Braeden is currently reading Mr. Popper's Penguins, From Akebu to Zapotec, The Usborne Book of World History, and Leading Little Ones to God.) If you want to see the article that absolutely sold me on Sonlight, check out 27 Reasons NOT To Buy Sonlight on their website. (We also use RightStart Math.)


ironcates said...

Do you have any connection to the local homeschool networks?

What age do you start introducing cirricula?

Thanks for the info, my wife and I are considering homeschool for our two boys as well. I'll probably have more questions in a year or two.

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

We are connected with Koininia Christian School (which is an ISP) and a new group called The Hedge, which is a homeschool support group.

We started with Braeden at age 4 in a real informal way - then did it more seriously at age 5. Other people do other things, but that worked well for us.

We started with A Beka curriculum, which did a good job of teaching him phonics but was dry & dusty & boring. We stopped that midway through his first year & kind of cobbled stuff together on our own.

Starting with kindergarden, we used Sonlight and have been very, very happy with the choice. (Warning: Sonlight isn't cheap.)

Dani In NC said...

Why did you have to post this today? :-) I am still going through homeschooling withdrawal even though it has been five years since I put my daughter in public school. I miss it so much! Unfortunately, we couldn't manage to make ends meet on one income so I had to give it up and go back to work. All of your reasons were well-expressed. BTW, I also used Sonlight.

Anonymous said...

We use Sonlight and Right Start too!

Tracy said...

Love this post, Thanks for sharing!!

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Thanks, Anon & Tracy, for the kind words.

A quick re-read makes me realize that the Betty Suarez reference is dating pretty quickly (it's from "Ugly Betty"). :-)