Editor’s Note: This article was first published in October of 2012. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…
The title of this article is polarizing and I expect to get in trouble for writing it. As a homeschooling parent, I’m not supposed to think homeschooling superior to institutionalized education. I’m supposed to take the stance that all choices are equal in the effort not to offend anyone who prefers public schooling. It’s a hot topic in the mommy circles and one that most homeschooling moms want to avoid. We all encounter the same comments and exclamations like, “How do you do it? When are you going to put them in real school? You must be crazy! How long do you plan to do this?” My personal favorite: “I could never do that!” This article is a response to all the times I’ve wanted to answer truthfully but held my tongue in order to preserve peace.
Disclaimer: Let it be understood that I believe in the freedom of every individual to choose how to raise their own children how they see fit. This does not prevent me from having an opinion as to the nature of public school and what state-run education inflicts on American children. This is based on personal experience and years of study and research. Further, many of you will argue that none of the examples in this article have ever happened to your child in your school. My answer is, not yet. I warn you, if you are a public schooling advocate and you continue to read this article you may become unhappy with your current choices and find yourself at a homeschooling conference and facing disapproval from your social circle. Read at your own risk.
8. Social Programming for Dummies.
Most people worry that homeschoolers aren’t properly “socialized,” whatever that means. As if uncivilized children should socialize each other (bad idea). Anyone who has read Lord of the Flies knows how that ends. And if the teachers are supposed to do the socializing, why can’t parents? Every homeschooling family I know (and that’s quite a few) has as many, if not more, extracurricular activities for their kids as everyone else. There are 4-H, Girl/Boy Scouts, Jiu Jitsu (that’s us), music lessons, art lessons, metal working, speech and debate, sports and more.
But the most important difference in home-school socialization is that the social values taught come from the parents instead of the state. During our lessons we learn about reading, writing, math, science, history, Bible, Christian character, and art. We spend absolutely zero time on fictional, apocalyptic “global warming.” We don’t preach at them about marriage “equality” or teach them how to put condoms on bananas. We do, however, teach them the nutritional value of bananas and how to be a good steward of the earth by composting the banana peel after we eat it. The state’s values have no effect on our children. When we teach history, we teach them the values of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. We do not blather on endlessly about the supposed heroics of mass murderers like Che Guevara. Because of this difference, homeschooling parents produce inherently American children.
A person isn’t American simply because he was born here and exists here, but rather because he has internalized and embraced American values. Home-teachers have the freedom to teach the real history of America that includes the Bible and its influence in American government and in the lives of our Founders. Without this knowledge (whitewashed from public curriculum), a child will learn a false history of his country and never truly understand the concept of rights that come from the Creator and not men. This one idea is so important, so vital, yet it is left out of context. As a result, these children grow up to attend colleges where “speech codes” punish free-thinkers and no one thinks it’s odd, not to mention illegal.
Publicly educated kids grow up too susceptible to the idea that “hate speech” should actually be silenced instead of balanced with more speech. They sit at the feet of the progeny of Marxist professors who fill their heads with ideas as old as civilization, ideas of madness and tyranny disguised as “fairness” and “equality.” This kind of education does not create Americans. Our children are being robbed of their rightful inheritance. Gone is academic excellence and here to stay is social programming.
My home is a happy vacation from such wrong-headed and stupid ideas. (And my children’s teacher wouldn’t be caught dead on strike in a Che shirt.)
7. Free Thinking Allowed and Encouraged.
School focuses on training children to obey like dogs. Sit, stay, line up, eat now, go to the bathroom now, play now, be quiet, ask permission, don’t wiggle, don’t giggle, don’t talk, don’t run, line up, etc. School teaches children to conform.
At home we have rules, too! Children need them. But when my kids have to go to the bathroom, they go! When they’re hungry, they eat; when they want to laugh or wiggle, they do. Sometimes we have school in the tub with watercolors to paint letters on the tiles just because we can. We are free to go down rabbit trails any time we like if the mood strikes. During kindergarten we read a book about a Weaver bird that builds an incredible nest by weaving a basket out of grass. When my daughter heard that, she had to know more. We found a video on YouTube and watched it, which led to another video on a Tailorbird that actually sews its nest together by poking holes in two huge leaves and sewing them together with bits of grass or straw or string it finds. That day we were totally absorbed in these amazing birds and we spent hours reading everything we could on them. We even tried to make our own nests!
No teacher in a school has the kind of freedom to encourage one student to follow her interests like that. There isn’t time with 25 kids. Even though the lesson on birds was last year, my daughter still remembers every detail because the experience was intense and directed to her interests. She was allowed to become absorbed by a topic that grabbed her imagination. Those moments of watching your child learn with so much enthusiasm are priceless. Learning is about a desire to investigate, not sitting still in a desk for six hours.
6. Justin Who?
One thing I love about watching my kids grow up is how individualistic they are. They are so unique. They like what they like and they don’t feel pressure to change that based on what’s “cool” at the moment. They have no idea what that means. We spend a lot of time listening to classical music, Broadway favorites, and Christian music. My daughter has no idea who Justin Bieber is and I hope to keep it that way.
Unbelievably, I’ve been told the kids in first grade are already coming home from school demanding pop star posters and iTunes. Perhaps worse, some are already gravitating toward too-short skirts and creepily grown-up Halloween costumes. My daughter is oblivious to all of that and it allows her to just be her six-year-old self. She loves dressing up her bear in silly outfits and having tea with her sister. She loves drawing and dressing up in princess costumes. Childhood is short enough. I feel my children have a firm hold on their childhood and will for quite a while because they aren’t involved in school, where their peers are already racing to grow up and be like the cooler, older kids.
Another bonus is not needing to buy school clothes and worry about fitting in and wearing the right thing. I remember the pressure of having to have the right shoes and the right look in school. It was exhausting and expensive. My oldest daughter loves nothing more than hand-me-downs. You’ve never seen a kid get so excited over someone’s old clothes. And our school doesn’t have a dress code. We can wear pajamas and bunny slippers if we feel like it. It rocks.
5. The World Is Your Oyster.
Have you ever felt like school couldn’t come fast enough but then when it does you are bogged down with more work than you signed up for? The constant flow of papers to sign, book fairs to chair, class projects, field trips, concerts, market days, fundraisers, practice, and so many dates to keep straight you wish it was summer again? When my daughter was in preschool, I began to suspect I would not be cut out for this school thing. I resented “snack day,” where I was responsible for bringing the class snack. I mean, why were we all paying over a hundred dollars a month which didn’t cover snacks? Call me a non-conformer, but I’m just not into it.
Then there was the fall program around Halloween at which all the children wore costumes. I was horrified when my 3-year-old daughter came home asking me what a vampire is. Seriously? She’s three. Who dresses their 3-year-old child up as a blood-sucking vampire at a Christian preschool? That led to an awkward conversation with the director about allowing scary costumes. I was the only one who complained. This did not bode well for future school experiences.
The school drama made me feel tied down to a schedule and filled me with anxiety when I had to explain why I was keeping my child home for whatever reason. When we started to home-school, we became truly free. That first year, my cousin was killed in Afghanistan and we were able to drop everything and drive to Oklahoma and stay for a month. While we were there, school started back home for everyone else, but we were on our own time. Family time. It was wonderful for my children to bond with their cousins and help alleviate some of the pain and confusion of the moment for little ones who had just lost their daddy. We would never have been able to be there for that extended amount of time if school monitors were watching our attendance. Home-school can go with you wherever you roam. It’s a beautiful thing. And while we drove across this great country, we learned about each state we passed through while also teaching our children that family comes first.
4. PTA Meetings Double as Date Night.
My principal happens to be in love with me. This is a plus when I’ve had a rough day and not much work got done and my children have gum in their hair or are on a TV high when Mr. Fox gets home. He’s a very patient man and I always look forward to parent-teacher conferences because they usually happen with a good dinner out and maybe even a movie. There was a time when he was skeptical of the whole thing, as many husbands are, but I think we’ve gotten over the anxiety part of it now because he has seen the progress we are making every day.
We agreed from the beginning that I would try it for one year and we would see how it went and if it went well, we’d continue for another year. I’m into year two now and it’s just getting better with each day. This is not to say that every day is a perfect day…far from it! But it’s getting easier and more fun. I still get a little weepy when I see the school bus go by, and there are days I want to run out and stop it and beg the driver to take my kids somewhere way far away. Believe me, we all feel this way sometimes. But when we have those good days, the great ones that light up the house with life and laughter, those are the ones that make it worthwhile.
Everyone always complains that the years go by so fast and older women will chide younger women to “enjoy it now” before it gets away from you, but I’m steeped in it! I’m living it every day and recording almost all of it for our yearbooks! I don’t feel like I’m missing anything because I’m there every step of the way. When I first began I felt I had no other choice and was a little resentful and wished I could send them to a private school. But now I am grateful to be learning every day how to enjoy my children more by teaching them about this fascinating world around us. It allows me to get down on their level and interact with them the way they so desperately want and need. Mr. Fox gets in on it too and gives wood shop, horticulture, and beer brewing courses. (My six-year-old child knows more about beer than I do.) We are in it as a family unit and it is making us a stronger team.
3. Bright Futures from the Past.
When people think of home-schoolers today, they think of nerdy, socially awkward kids with huge brains who build working roller coasters in their backyards. (Sounds fun, right?) What people don’t think of are presidents, the authors of freedom and American history. We forget in this world of modern conveniences and institutions that not too long ago there were one-room schoolhouses with one teacher teaching all ages. Before that, children were all taught in the home. Almost all of our Founding Fathers, the most brilliant authors and orators of all time, were home-schooled. George Washingon, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt were all educated at home by a parent or a tutor. George Washington was taught by his older brother for a while before embarking on a self-taught course that led him to become a surveyor by the age of 16 and eventually the greatest general and leader in the nation.
Claude Monet (impressionist), Leonardo da Vinci (inventor and artist), Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis, and William Clark (explorers), Robert Frost (poet), Helen Keller, C.S. Lewis, Mark Twain, Laura Ingalls Wilder (authors and lecturers), and Bach and Mozart (composers)… were all home-educated. They are just my favorites from a very exhaustive list of home-educated human beings who not only turned out okay, but changed the world.
What used to be common, educating your children in your home, is now so foreign that people tend to look at you like you have two heads when you tell them you don’t send your kids to institutions. But the one-size-fits-all halls of education are the new and unusual form of education. I believe that one day, we will return to the natural state of education which happens in the home when the public systems crumble. It is happening already. Many people I’ve met recently have just started homeschooling or are contemplating trying it because the public system is failing to meet the needs of their children. These days everyone seems to know someone who is a home-educator. The long-held stereotype that homeschooling is bad for kids is finally starting to come unglued.
2. Ratios Are Never a Problem.
At every teachers’ strike I’ve ever seen (and there was just a huge one here in Chicago), the teachers complain about class sizes. Class sizes are too large! They can’t possibly teach all those kids at once, they say. I agree. I only have two children in my class. But if you were to ask a public school teacher what they think of homeschooling, you’re likely to hear very bad things! Most don’t like home-school as an option at all because they don’t like the idea of an average person without an education degree doing her job, sometimes better than they do and without demanding pensions and salaries. If class size were really a concern for teachers, they would admire an environment where the teacher gets to spend one-on-one time every day for several hours with the student. But they don’t, because it’s not really about class sizes, but about union power, job preservation, and money.
Even the best teacher, and there are many out there, cannot possibly see to the needs of each child in his class. There will always be those who are brighter and need more stimulation who don’t get it and those who are slower and need more attention who also don’t get it because the system is for a generic child, not an individual. Government solutions generally fail because they are based on collective needs instead of individual needs. Human beings are individuals with specific traits and likes and interests that a one-size-fits-all education cannot possibly address.
There are thousands of methods of home education available, so many it’s overwhelming! Go to any home-school convention and you will find school-in-a-box, online programs with accredited teachers, hands-on activity directed schooling, classical schooling, and unit studies, among countless others.
If the curriculum you choose doesn’t work for your child, you can try something else, in the middle of the year if necessary. There are so many options for creative learning. If a child shows an interest in planes, for instance, she can learn about flight, the scientific principles of flight, and the history of planes. She can write about famous pilots, learn to fly a flight simulator, learn about birds and hollow bones, study Icarus, build a flying machine, visit a plane museum, talk to Airforce pilots… and that can last all year.
During that year she would still be reading, writing, doing math, and learning history, science and art, but she would be immersed in a subject she loves and wants to know about instead of glossing over a paragraph about the Wright brothers in a textbook. This is true learning. I wish I had been able to learn like this! But here’s the best part: I get to do it all over again, and this time I’m going to enjoy it!
1. Public School Can Literally Kill Your Child.
Rachel Ehmke was a beautiful 13-year-old girl in 7th grade in Minnesota. Her parents found her hanging in her bedroom along with a heartbreaking suicide note in which she wished she could tell them how she really felt. It turned out Rachel was terrorized at school by bullies who repeatedly called her a “slut” even though she had never had a boyfriend. They smeared gum on her locker and texted the entire student body with lies about her. Not able to handle the pain and having no real intervention by school officials, Rachel took her own life, devastating her family.
Joel Morales, 12-years-old boy, took his own life after bullies at school mercilessly taunted him about his dead father. The list of children who have committed suicide because of bullies and negligent school administrations is staggering. Suicide is one of the leading killers of school-age children.
In surveys, private schools fare better with less violence but report similar bullying statistics. Private schools seem more capable of handling bullies, as many of them still use the paddle and expel trouble-makers much quicker than their public counterparts.
One thing a homeschooling parent will never have to worry about is her child being mistreated by other students. And when they are taunted by a sibling, Mom or Dad is on hand to mete out the proper punishments immediately and ensure the kiss and make-up portion of the apology happens. Within minutes, the squabbling siblings have worked it out and good will is restored. There is no chance for Mom not to hear about it until the moment it’s too late and her precious baby is hanging in the closet.
Lots of parents today say bullying is a necessary part of learning to survive in this world. After all, there are nasty people in all walks of life. This is true, but bullying when we were kids was a lot different than it is today. With cyber bullying, the victim can’t even find refuge at home. The bullies can stalk their prey every moment of the day and night. Too many parents who thought their child told them everything found out on the worst day of their lives that they never knew the truth.
If your child is having problems with bullying, it’s not quitting to pull him out of that situation and give him a chance to concentrate on learning something other than basic survival. It is a lesson that parents love their child more than anyone in the world and there is a safe place at home where he will be protected. That is our job as parents. We should fiercely protect our young no less ferociously than a bear protecting her cubs from poachers. In the adult world, no one stuffs you into a locker or gives you a swirly after an office meeting. There may be difficult personalities, but the fierceness of juvenile aggression has worn off by the time we enter the workforce. If your child is suffering at the hands of bullies, I implore you to not wait one more day. Your child’s life could depend on it.