I homeschooled my daughter from preschool
through the end of sixth grade. For our family, it was a wonderful experience, and it gave my daughter time to figure out who she was before she was introduced to peer pressure
and societal conformity
. When Amy was still at the preschool stage, I wrote this piece more than ten years ago in answer to many of the questions that I was asked about homeschooling.
Almost every week, I have a conversation with somebody I don't know, which goes something like this:
Lady in grocery line: What a cute little girl! How old is she?
Me: Amy just turned three.
Lady: Well she's just adorable! (Pause) Does she go to nursery school?
Lady: Oh! She's really missing out, you know. My four year old loves his preschool! He's got lots of friends, and he's learning how to obey a teacher and sit still in class. That kind of experience really helps when they go to Kindergarten. You really should send her to preschool. Why, my son already knows his ABC's because of preschool.
Me: Well, our family is homeschooling. The schools in our area aren't very good, so we feel that this is the way to go.
Lady: But are you a teacher? Only a teacher can show a child how to read.
Me: Actually, Amy has already begun to read. She knew her entire alphabet over a year ago, and can now sound out simple words and read some Dr. Seuss books.
At this point, the conversation either comes to an abrupt end, or the lady will ask about socialization, or she will ask me how we decided to home school.
Although waiting in a grocery check-out line can seem to take an eternity, it really doesn't. So usually I give a very brief explanation, and leave it at that. If I had the time, I might tell the lady something like this:
The public schools in California are in dire straits. Putting aside the problems about safety and quality of education, the schools are buried under piles of red tape and run by a blind bureaucracy.
Art and music programs are no longer offered in many schools. When we lived in South San Francisco, I spoke with a public school principal there, who told me something that curled my hair. SSF had just closed two of its grammar schools, and had to make more budget cuts. The first place they cut was music. When told that the schools could no longer afford to pay the music teacher's salary, the teacher offered to come in to the school one day a week and teach for FREE. The California Teachers Association heard about that, and they went haywire and filed a lawsuit to block the music teacher from doing pro bono work in the public schools, saying that doing so would destroy the union's bargaining leverage during contract negotiations in the future. The CTA won, and the children of South San Francisco were denied a musical education.
The school district we currently live in laid off the teacher aides for K-3rd grades in 1991 due to lack of funds, yet for some reason, they had enough funds to total refurbish the administrative offices with oak desks and file cabinets, new paint, new carpet, even new phones. (The last redecorating at this school occurred in 1989- two years before the most recent redecorating.) The funds they wasted on unnecessary cosmetic improvements would have paid not only the salaries of the four aides who were laid off, but would have hired two more aides as well.
These are just two examples among hundreds that I know of. Follow this with things like Pulitzer prize winning author Alice Walker's short story being removed from the state achievement test for 10th graders due to protest by the religious right, and clear gender bias against girls and we have some major problems here. Somewhere along the line, the school system lost sight of its primary purpose, which is to educate children. When that happened, California's kids began to suffer.
Private schooling is not an option for most families (including ours), due to its prohibitive cost. Perhaps if the school voucher initiative had passed this would have helped. But even so, private school would be out of reach for most of us.
This leaves home school as the only viable alternative for my family. We approached the idea with some trepidation. My husband and I bring an interesting combination of educational experience to this task. I was labeled as hyperactive and incorrigible by the Boston public schools. I also picked up two more labels in the school system. Through some strange reasoning, I was both learning disabled, AND a gifted child. (Probably because in 6th grade I was reading on a college level, while my math was at a first grade level.) After a very difficult school "career", I dropped out at the age of 15, and got my GED in 1987, at the age of 23.
My husband Koji was born in Japan, and moved to the US when he was in 3rd grade. He was always an honor student, and graduated from MIT in 1984, just after we met.
Having grown up in a hippy household, I've always been very open minded about homebirth, homeschooling, tofu, and granola. Koji grew up in a very straight, traditional Japanese home, and when I first mentioned homeschool (a few years before Amy was born), he went ballistic, raising all kinds of arguments against the idea. But gradually Koji has come around, and if anything, he is even more committed to homeschooling than I am.
(This section written in 1997, several years after the first half of this article.)
When the topic of homeschooling comes up, so do the Misconceptions, or as I prefer to call them, the Mythconceptions. I hear a lot of questions and comments: What about socialization? Isn't that illegal? My kid won't listen to me when I tell her to do the dishes, so she'd never obey me as her teacher.
So let's debunk the myths.
Myth #1: "The homeschooled child misses out on socialization, and can't interact with his peer group."
This was our biggest concern when we first contemplated homeschool. It is now the least of our worries. We asked ourselves a few questions: Why does a child go to school? How much opportunity is there for socializing in a normal school day? Where and when did we do most of our socializing when we were children? Our answers were: a child goes to school to learn, not play popularity games. At school, children really only socialize during recess, and just before and after school, and much of that "socializing" is in the form of teasing each other, fighting, and peer pressure. When we were kids, most of our friends were the kids who lived in our neighborhoods, and we played after school and on weekends. We didn't just play with the kids in our age group or school, we played with kids who went to private schools as well as kids a year or two older or younger than us.
We also looked at the facts. Violence in the schools is escalating. Most schoolkids know someone who has brought a gun to school, or have done so themselves. Ten year olds are using drugs, 11 year olds are having babies. Kids are being killed for their gym shoes or jackets. We decided that we don't want Amy's socialization to come from the wrong end of a gun, or an abortion clinic. Peer pressure is a very powerful factor in a child's life, and we believe that before a child is exposed to that kind of stress, they should be given time to be a child. Time to grow up and figure out who they are BEFORE they are faced with difficult choices.
Myth #2 "It is illegal to homeschool, and only a qualified teacher is capable of teaching children."
Please excuse me while I wash my mouth out. In California, there are several ways to legally homeschool your children. You can hire a private tutor with a teaching credential, you can participate in an accredited correspondence school, you can file an affadavit with the county you live in that makes your home a private school (in California, private scools are not required to have credentialed teachers on staff), or you can join together under an umbrella school that handles filing the affadavit and keeping records. This last is the option that my family has chosen.
Most other states have legal provisions that allow for homeschooling as well. These can be researched online or at your local county courthouse.
(Update, July 25, 2005: Two Sheds has just informed me that homeschooling is legal in every state of the US, although getting permission to do so legally involves different hoops to jump through. It is also legal in every country except for Germany. His source is The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn.)
Myth #3: "Kids won't sit still and learn from their parents."
Kids learn from their parents each and every day. How do you suppose they learned to talk, to zip their pants, to use a fork, or to use a crayon? Who says that in order for a child to learn anything academic they must be sitting at a desk with two pencils, a textbook, and utter silence? That is ridiculous! Every homeschooling family takes its own approach to education, taking their child's needs and individuality into serious consideration.
In our family, the approach that we use is referred to as 'unschooling'. What this translates to is child directed learning. What interests Amy is what we work on. Some days this just means sitting quietly with a book and reading it. Other days it means three or four hours of math (unlike me, Amy enjoys math, and keeps me working writing up addition, subtraction and simple multiplication problems for her), it could mean spending an entire day at the California Academy of Sciences or the Exploratorium, or painting and drawing. This approach seems to be working. Amy is reading books that her older, traditionally schooled friends have difficulty with, she has a firm grasp on human biology, she understands more about wildlife than I do, and she is performing at a second grade level in math. She is 6 years old, and would be entering kindergarten in the fall of 1997 if we were traditionally schooling her. Best of all, Amy doesn't hate learning. She is inquisitive, always looking for new things to learn, always seeking information.
There are other methods of homeschooling as well, from the curriculum based approach to the combination approach and I am certain there are others that don't spring immediately to mind for me.
For our family, the question was not "Why homeschool?", but instead, "Why take the risk of quenching her thirst for knowledge by placing her in an uncaring environment that is NOT conducive to learning?" We made our choice, and we stand by it.
Amy asked her father and me to enroll her in public school at the beginning of her seventh grade year. We agreed and did so, in part due to her request, in part because it was becoming apparent that I was going to have to move away and she should be in a school environment before I left so that she didn't have two major adjustments to make at the same time. She took the Stanford Achievement Test and scored in eleventh and twelfth grade levels for every subject except for math, where she was performing "only" at a ninth grade level. She has been on the honor roll two years running and was given the highest grade ever given by her science teacher for her science fair project last year. She has friends galore and is headed for sure success in life.