We just recently began our 5th year of homeschooling. You don’t homeschool that long without being keenly aware of the tremendous amount of homeschool support AND opposition in the world. I’ve heard many similar arguments against homeschooling, the main one always referring to some mysterious social ineptitude apparently ALL homeschoolers fall victim to, leaving them incapable of social interaction and branding them as “weird” for the rest of their lives. Enough people have addressed this ridiculous and unfounded theory so I won’t bother with that here except to say it’s ridiculous and unfounded. 🙂 What I’d like to talk about briefly today is maybe one of the unvoiced reasons against homeschooling. Maybe you find yourself rubbed the wrong way by homeschooling but you don’t quite know why? Homeschooling, and the (homeschoolers you know) just doesn’t sit right with you? Is it perhaps, because it’s really counter cultural?
I only lasted three years as a public school teacher. I had high hopes of changing the world with my cute bulletin board displays and adorable reading corner. It took just two years in a low income school serving high needs students (whom I loved) and each of their one-on-one paras for me to learn that I was not fully equipped for my new job. Between the meetings, the Individual Education Plan writing, the schedule writing, the Progress Report writing, the actual lesson planning, the actual time with students, the very real political dramas and exhaustive hours, I had little gas in the tank to change into my pjs at night let alone change the world. But there was something else at play, too, that I didn’t realize at first. Something else nagging in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until I switched schools and went down to a part time schedule my third year of teaching that I started to realize: education didn’t have to look this way. At least, not for me. And? My life didn’t have to look this way either. I started to realize I was an unconventional educator and that I was really designed for a more unconventional life.
For over 5 years prior, some of which overlapped with my time in college while I earned my teaching degrees, I assistant taught in a Montessori classroom. It was in the Montessori classroom where I learned that education could be slow and not frenzied, child-centered not adapted for the masses, measured based on a child success in many areas instead of focused solely on reading and math scores. It could be full of nature and life skills and playing a game with a friend all afternoon and painting a picture all morning. This was closer to my true style of education and honestly it still is closer to my true personality than the hurried, stressed teacher I had become in just two years.
Having more time off during my third year and working with some incredible “old school” teachers also showed me a healthier way. These public school teachers made time each week for Friday celebrations where students could feature self-written plays and poetry or personal works of art. They read aloud to their students each day and gave opportunities for talking and sharing. They valued them as WHOLE PEOPLE and made time for their students to demonstrate their many talents! I also only worked half days so I enjoyed time off with my then only child. We would start our mornings slowly- take walks to the park or linger in our pjs before I had to get to work around 11:30. And after many years of running and busyness, first in college and then in teaching, I felt like I had discovered some secret gift. TIME! SPACE! SLOW! And when it came time to decide how we were going to live the next 18 + years with our kids, we wanted the time, we wanted the space, we wanted the slow. Not just for me, but for them, too. So we chose homeschooling for these and so many other reasons.
When you see those homeschooled neighbor kids outside at 10:00 am on a school day, does it bother you? When your homeschool friend posts pictures of her and her kids at the park at 1:30 on a school day, do you “tsk tsk”? Have you ever asked school-aged kids why they aren’t in school when you run into them and their mom at Target at 9:45 am on a Tuesday- and then when they answer they are homeschooled have you thought, “Well, shouldn’t you be DOING school then?” Have you ever asked a homeschooled student what she did all day and balked at her answer of “painted and played a game”?
Maybe homeschooling is just hard for some people because it is the opposite of so many things our culture says is the norm. If it is school time kids should be IN SCHOOL with books and tests and a white board. Not at a park or playing outdoors or shopping or lying in the grass or painting rocks. It feels, well, wrong. But really, it’s just the way some of us chose to make room for the time, for the slow, for the space. It doesn’t look the same as everyone else’s life and that’s okay.
There’s lots of ways to make time and slow and space happen, this is the just the way it worked for many of us. So maybe the next time you see a homeschool mom or dad with their kids at Target at 9:45 on a Tuesday you won’t “tsk tsk” or shake your head. You’ll just say hi and keep doing your thing, because they’re doing theirs.