Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A philosophy of education

Few subjects get parents passionately talking--and frantically deliberating--quite like that of the education of their children.  I confess that I am no different.

It's been three years now since we made the decision to teach our children at home.  Yes, friends, we are homeschoolers.

And I find that we have so much exposure to other homeschooling families that it feels mainstream and normal, even though it is technically not.  So I'm sharing today about why we homeschool, hopefully providing some insight for those who've never thought about it before, and encouragement to those of you on a similar journey.  Then Friday I'll let you in on some of the things that have worked for us so far.  I'm no homeschool veteran--my oldest is only in second grade!--but this is a decision that I have truly not regretted once.

I must start by saying I do NOT believe homeschooling is always the best option for families.  Homeschooling is not intrinsically superior to public or private schooling, it is not a holier choice, and it does not magically guarantee a better childhood in any shape, form, or fashion.  In fact, both my husband and I are products of the California public school system and, let's face it, we're pretty awesome.  (KIDDING!)  In all seriousness though, for all the problems one can point to with the US public education system, we are fortunate to have it, and blessed to have so many teachers and administrators working on behalf of our children.  Okay, PSA over.  Now back to homeschooling.

It's funny because people are often surprised to discover that a family with so many children would choose to school at home--"how do you do that?", they ask incredulously--but the truth is that for us and our lifestyle, it is actually more convenient and, well, natural to center our world around our home.

Of course ease of schedule isn't the primary reason we've made this choice.  Because the main impetus for forgoing public school in lieu of a home-oriented education is philosophical in nature: it is all about what we believe family and education ought to be.  

Which could be more or less summed up by the statement that we want our children's education to involve learning in an organic, ongoing environment, where growing in knowledge and wisdom is never squelched or confined to an eight-hour stint in a classroom.  We want our children to develop a love and passion for reading and for them to achieve mastery of their subjects--when they are developmentally ready to do so.  And our main hope is for them to become life-long learners.

We also believe an education goes far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic (though those are certainly important components).  In addition to the basics, we want our children to know their faith, to learn to think critically, to have a grasp of history and of their place in the world.  We want them studying the lives of the saints and learning the Bible and Catechism.  And there would simply not be as much time for this were my children away for eight hours each day--and truth be told, these are the things we care about most. 

Many people are of course concerned about socialization.  (Funny, since I can remember countless socially awkward kids at school--homeschoolers don't have the corner on socially struggling children!)  I'll be honest and say that I want my children to avoid, if at all possible, becoming completely peer-oriented.  (Read this book for an excellent and compelling, research-based explanation of this concept.)  My kids have tons of friends and we always seem to have something social going on, but life and relationships are navigated within the context of family and with the guidance of parents.

Not to mention, one of my favorite parts about homeschooling is that sibling relationships are nurtured and our children are good friends.  When a child joins our family through birth or adoption, there is plenty of time for bonding and simply being together.  The day affords countless opportunities for play, interaction, and yes occasional conflict--which means lots of practice apologizing and forgiving.  Lifeskills worth honing, yes?

And, I know most people have a really negative association with the word "sheltered", but you know what?  I really don'tChildren are exposed to society's harmful messages at increasingly younger and younger ages --and so I am more than okay with the fact that my kids don't have a clue when it comes to pop culture.  Heck, I couldn't care less about most of that stuff myself.  I think many parents fear that their children won't be able to relate to other kids, but I assure you that my crazy-social but relatively sheltered homeschooled children make friends everywhere they go.  Even if they don't watch Hannah Montana or know what the coolest brand of shoes is.   

But if we could only give one defense of our decision to homeschool, it is this: our belief that the family is an institution designed by God Himself, thus making it the ideal place for children to grow.  And, as such, it has profound potential as the foundation for a rich education.  Consider Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education, no 3:

As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family.  They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.  The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.  It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal, and social education of their children.

Beautiful, right?  And the thing is, every.single.word. applies no matter what path you choose for educating your child.  We personally believe that the best way for our family to fulfill this important mandate is to do life together each and every day, educating our children at home.  Not every family will come to this conclusion, but for us it has worked splendidly. 

Now, I certainly can't predict the future.  I don't know if we will manage to homeschool all throughout each child's school years.  We'd like to, but we also have no desire to die on the proverbial homeschooling hill.  If at some point we discern that it would be best for our kids and family to enter the public education system, so be it.  I am in no way morally opposed to public schooling--on the contrary, I am quite grateful that we live in a country that provides it free of charge.  Not to mention, two of my children are eligible for services through the public schools, so that may eventually be a factor too.  (I haven't really discussed private school here, because financially-speaking it is just really not an option for us.)

But, for now, our vision of family life includes learning at home, and I really kind of love it.

Come back Friday to see some of the resources we've utilized in our homeschool.


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