Friday, August 05, 2005

Why do we educate in the home?

That is a question that will get a unique answer from each home educating family that you meet. For some it is about time at home, perhaps they live far from a school and it would mean several hours of busing every day. Some for deeply held religious or moral reasons, these families do not see a public or even parochial school fulfilling the obligations they feel towards raising their children in a particular religious/moral environment. Some families do this for philosophical reasons that tend towards a secular education, but want to explore the educational experience in a different way than cannot be done in a formal school setting. Some families will home educate for reasons that have to do with illness or developmental issues.

Each family is unique, each reason diverse. It is interesting to discuss this lifestyle choice with those who oppose it. For many, there is a perception that educating in the home is about isolation. This isn’t true of any family we have met. There is a difference, however, in the level of oversight on activities certain families have. Some will reduce the amount of time spent ‘hanging out’ or online or in some other way, in an effort to immerse the family in a rich cultural or religious atmosphere. This is often confusing to many people brought up in a secular world and a public school system. They oftentimes see a home educating family as a stifling experience, thinking of all the activities they were involved in as children and that this is something integral to growing up happy and ‘normal’. Well, to be a bit of a devil’s advocate, we know any number of adults that grew up in this atmosphere that are walking about with many unhealed wounds taken during these 'happy' times. We know many that are well adjusted and happy too, of course. An important question would be, is activity the sum of personal growth? Is a glut of running about while a child that which leads to a functional and healthy adult?

The home educating process is not merely about schooling at home, bringing the experience of 'school' and 'class' into the home. To think that, rather misses the point in our view, but that is what is generally embarked on by most families, at least in the beginning. This idea is generally enforced as the modis operandi with some of the more highly regimented curricula and in some States that have a rather heavy hand in homeschool legislation and activity. This is not an expose on the pros and cons of State homeschool laws and operation, but rather an insight into one family's journey of educating in the home.

To that end, we began our journey at the beginning. When we found to our joy that we were to be the vessels of bringing forth a new life upon the earth. We did all the things new parents do, delved the mysteries of having the most healthy of pregnancies possible, thinking of baby names and of course, imaging the impending childhood of our little bundle of joy. So, perhaps in a seemingly premature move, we began investigating the schooling options. We investigated public, private and parochial schools, evaluating them against the goals we had begun to set for ourselves as a family. Then we continued to investigate and evaluate against moral and religious suitability. Eventually we found that none of the institutional opportunities really 'fit' with us.

So began our 4 year trek into the world of homeschooling. This was most entertaining. We found that we truly fit into this style of life, an open learning style that can be tailored to fit each child, using material that can offer continuity towards the educational experience (we saw several curricula changes in the local schools in the course of a couple of years), easy incorporation of religious expression on a daily basis, etc. So, now that homeschooling was definitely what we were going to do, we made a commitment to 'do it until...', meaning that we committed to doing it no matter what. We weren't 'trying it out' or changing our minds, we really took our time to integrate this into our family philosophy and goals as what we were definitely going to do. Some families have similar stances on any number of issues, recycling, medical decisions, among others. For us, homeschooling was that kind of stance.

After our process of integrating this as our personal family philosophy, we began the search for the curriculum that suited us best. There wasn't the plethora of curricula choices available at the beginning of our journey as there is today, nor the amount of support; online groups, forums, newsleters, books, local groups, etc. But we found one we felt fit us the best and embarked on the beginning of our journey. We chose a curriculum that embraced a Classical style of learning. To train the student's memory, understanding, and will as well as training the student to speak, to write, and to act. Utilizing the venerable avenues of Grammar (mechanics – reading, writing, math), Logic (in this sense the art of researching and making connections) and Rhetoric (the joy of being able to state and properly defend an opinion in both an oral and written environment).

We began by using a full curriculum then moved into the fun of making our own curriculum, using the many resources available at the local library and becoming used book aficionados. As we moved through the journey, we became as much the students as the teachers. In fact, one could say it is more a journey of mutual discovery, rather than a student/teacher relationship. The concept of being autodidactic became a cornerstone of our daily experience. We discovered, as part of our journey, that we were looking for an educational experience rather than merely a schooling experience. What is the difference?

Education comprehends. . . instruction and discipline intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness for any future endeavors. Education: the action or process of [developing mentally or morally]. This definition is what we mean when speaking about education. To assist in the formation of adults into independent individuals with a continuous capacity and desire to learn. The art of learning. This may seem redundant with the concept of school, but we disagree. Learning, the art and practice of it, is something that carries on into a life long acknowledgment that there is always more to learn. That is is a constant and never ending process.

In contrast the definition of schooling is; the act of teaching at school : the process of being formally educated at a school; "what will you do when you finish school?" The process of being educated formally, especially education constituting a planned series of courses over a number of years. There is an understood sense that this process has a beginning and an end. That after putting in the required hours and expending sufficient energy, one will be finished with learning.

This is the crux of the differences between many of the different home education philosophies. Those who pay acute attention to the details of getting a certain curriculum finished exactly and on a particular timetable and those who believe that education is a process with a lot more flexibility. Our thought has remained, what is our end goal? Is what we are doing know, serving that end? If not, we correct and continue.

More thoughts on another day.


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