Mark Twain has famously said, or has been said to have said, something along the lines of, you should not let school get in the way of your education.
I was blessed to have been born into a family which held this attitude. Also, I was fortunate to have lived in places, where outside of school, there were a plethora of educational opportunities. My parents took me in and out of school to allow me adventures and opportunities that sitting in a classroom would never have allowed. The schools were fine with this. There was a time when there was some mutual respect between parents and school, but in the age of accountability, much of that has gone away. Restrictive absence regulations are in place. Why? Every minute your child spends in a hard plastic chair equals a modicum of progress in the educational Holy Grail – the end of grade tests. I have a passion for what I do; I am a public middle school teacher. I do believe that what I do makes a difference.
However, I know I am working within a flawed system. Hundreds of articles by other teachers attest to the fact that many teachers feel the same way. Until education reform is based on a philosophy that holds the child above all else, rather than on political agendas, this will be the case. As a teacher, I can say that what public schools and most private schools are good at is educating a large population at one time. The hitch is this means there is little room to recognize or sculpt curriculum to a child’s individual needs. If your child has no individual needs, public school is a great place for him. Oh, wait! All children have individual needs. This is why, as a public middle school teacher, I make every attempt to find out my children’s talents and interests, but in a class of 25 plus, I would be lying if I told you that I could really build on those each and every minute they are in my class.
If I discover your child has a passion for nature photography, I can’t haul the entire class out to the Arboretum to help cultivate that passion, while linking it to lessons in optics, botany, biology and writing, then have them all back at school in an hour for their next class. These limitations are the main reasons that I think homeschool parents should feel good about the choices they are making for their child’s education. Yet, there are others. Public school education, even at the lowest grade levels allows for very little physical activity. Recess time has been whittled down to allow more time in class to allow for higher test scores. From this arises a whole host of problems for children such as over diagnosing of hyperactivity and attention disorders, emotional disorders, and to me the worse, children hating school — hating learning. Learning, the great joy of many of our lives, made a hated thing?
Perhaps one of the most hurtful policies is the pushing of advance learning goals to lower and lower grades. For instance, reading in pre-K. Most children are not ready to read for many years after that. Boys especially may not be ready to read until they are seven or eight. My own father never really read until he was ten. When he did begin to read his love of reading and his skill was a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, my son read at two. He was the unique one though, not like my father and his slower progress. These years of non-reading garnered my father shame and scorn. He thought he was stupid. This is a situation that more children are facing now because of the reading standards are pushed even lower.
In our test crazed system, children are expected to progress according to the standards, not their own unique timetable. However, these standards are not compatible with child development. As I said before, I try to get to know my students and what drives them. I must admit that I can do little with this knowledge and the knowledge I gain is imperfect. You, the parent, KNOW your child. You know what is best for them. If you have misgivings about your choice to homeschool or unschool, this incontrovertible fact should give you heart. You know your child. You know what is best for him or her.
As a final salve let us list some people who were homeschooled and did okay: Thomas Jefferson, Louisa May Alcott, Teddy Roosevelt…feel free to continue the list.
Lisa Hope Vierra-Moore
I have always thought of myself as a homeschooler who sent her children to school. In my upbringing as an “Army Brat,” I have experienced just about any educational environment you can think of. The good, the bad, and the train wrecks. I was born in Frankfurt, Germany in the early sixties and moved often from that point on. As a teacher I have taught high school English, psychology, world history and philosophy. For the last 10 years I have taught 7th grade English Language Arts. I received my undergraduate degree from Presbyterian College. I am a great lover of literature and the arts. Creating whimsical art from found objects, painting, cooking and family fun fill up my non-work time.