Feb 24, 2008

The education question

I said a couple of posts back that I'd share at some point my thoughts on homeschooling. Well, i have to say that I'm glad I waited cos they've gone through some changes in the last week.

Originally, 'way back before I even had kids, I thought that homeschoolers were reclusive freaks wanting to hide their children from society and that no child taught that way could possibly function in the 'real world'. Now it is quite possible that some kids to have problems after being homeschooled. But many kids fail in the formal school system too, so that in itself can't be used as an argument against homeschooling.

As I read more widely about raising kids in general and explored other ways of doing things, I found several message boards where at least one of the participants homeschooled. And, know what? the parent seemed relatively normal! As did the children. They all had really 'good reasons' for homeschooling and the kids had adapted well. (unhelpful schools, behaviour issues, health problems, learning disorders, giftedness...)

Merl lived in the states for a year before we were engaged, and relates that a high-school teacher friend of his there was adamant that no child of his would ever be subjected to the state school system there.

A friend at my church had homeschooled her two kids while they were working overseas in asia. Both kids achieved very well on returning to New Zealand, and the only difficulties in integrating into the school system here related to the son's learning disorder, the daughter coped exceptionally well and is now an early childhood teacher. Once an appropriate school environment was found for the son he also did very well. He is working at the local university in the physics department.

So I came to the conclusion that if we were living in america then I would homeschool (since my perception of the schools there was so negative). Not that we had any plans to live in america. And still don't. I might also consider it if my children had huge learning difficulties, were exceptionally gifted and talented, or the school environment was particularly 'Lord of the Flies'. But otherwise, I thought, the negatives would outweigh the positives.

I should put here some of the negatives.
- Niece and nephew of a friend from the north island are homeschooled and at even ages 8 and 10 lack basic literacy and numeracy. (in the opinion of the uncle)
- homeschooled kids I know here think of 'school-kids' as dirty, contagious and as all having nits/headlice. admittedly this is definitely the mother's hang-up. But their mother is all they are exposed to.
- Numerous teachers have told me their "oh no, I had a kid come into my class who had been homeschooled and it was really difficult for them to integrate" story.
- I personally worry that some Christian kids who have been homeschooled don't get wrestle directly with some of the shades of grey out there. How non-christians can still be 'good people', and generally quite happy too. This concern also applies to christian schools - I have seen 'graduates' of these institutions with absolutely no point of reference or ability to start any sort of conversation - even superficially - with a 'non-christian', for fear of being 'tainted' somehow. admittedly this usually also has more to do with the home environment than the school one per se, but with homeschooling, the home is all there is.

In the midst of all that, Merl and I had been doing some 'counter cultural' reading, notably "Ishmael" by David Quinn. Which I don't recommend by the way - it's a good starting point in some thinking, but he gets to some wrong conclusions and uses some clumsy 'dirty tricks' of rhetoric to manipulate you into agreeing with his world view. But his analysis in it of the school system was the first time I had come across the notion that school was an experiment in social engineering and that its primary achievement was in creating consumers and worker cogs - not in educating children. That education is best carried out outside of the classroom. Which a moment's reflection proved to be true for myself - school had largely been a big fat waste of time educationally speaking, or at the very least, an incredibly inefficient use of my time.

And that had kindof been that. We were still happy to send Miss3 to the local primary school when the time came, since "our education system here is not as bad as some", and she has good friends at her kindy who will all be going there.

I'm not sure what exactly has changed in my thinking, but it was sparked by reading this post at "Your Sacred Calling". (hat-tip to EllaJac) Now, what she has to say will sound remarkably extremist and separatist to some of you. I personally am uneasy with the faint aroma of fear I sense here - of course that perhaps says more about me than about her that I sense that. I cannot say that I totally agree with her viewpoint here. I still think that many children benefit from a school environment. I definitely think that different education options are best for different kids and families. But for whatever reason her post got me thinking long and hard, and I was unable to sleep.

And then I finally said "Well, okay God, I am willing to honestly consider homeschooling if that is what you want. But you'll have to convince Merl, cos I'm just not that sold on it". And I went to sleep.

Then the next day, I said "I've been revisiting the whole homeschooling thing, what do you think?" And essentially he said "well, I'm not against it, let's look into it."

So there you have it. We are now giving it honest consideration. I do not want to homeschool Miss3 for 'isolationist' or 'seclusionist' reasons, and in fact I find such reasonings make me want to not homeschool (probably because I have always been a contrary child). But today I looked into the resources available for gifted and talented students (a primary teacher friend believes we should definitely be prepared for Miss3 being classified as "gifted and talented") and found that a lot of those families are choosing to homeschool because it gives them greater learning flexibility.

so. now you know :-)

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