Thursday, July 09, 2009

Why I Don't Home School My Kids

My wife and I don't homeschool our children. Let me tell you a few of the more important reasons why. From what I have been able to discern from homeschoolers, I find that the decision to home school is made primarily out of 2 main concerns, both of which are admirable: (1) a desire to "protect" children from a hostile and inadequate external environment, and (2) a desire to carefully condition the kind of social experience children have and the kind of social reality children are exposed to. Again, both are admirable goals and have a lot of positives to speak for them; but I personally think that homeschooling might actually make achieving these very goals more difficult. In the first place, I believe that the "overprotectiveness" that I detect in some homeschoolers can serve as a disincentive to children to learn to deal constructively and proactively with the reality of a hostile and inadequate external environment when it intrudes, as it inevitably will, in their lives. Second, I think it is important for children to develop an identity and life that is outside of the watchful eye or the managed plan of concerned, loving parents. Even though homeschoolers have very rich social and recreational activities, it is still very much conditioned, planned, and approved by parents. It is, essentially, the parents' conception of appropriate experience and socialization for their children, not the children's. This is not a bad thing, especially at younger ages, but I think it discourages children of crafting their own experiences and learning how to deal with the moral and ethical dimensions of their world and experiences that are truly and exclusively theirs (and not partially mine as well). In other words, I think it is important for children to come into their own, to struggle with issues that mommy and daddy are somewhat removed from, and to have to face their consciences over doing right or wrong, especially when they know that mommy and daddy will likely never know how they chose. I'm sure most homeschoolers are aware of these arguments, but they were very important considerations, among many others, to go the route of the institutional school experience, which also has many "positives" to offer my children.

Now, I have often come across the argument critizing the reasoning above as a kind of abdication of parental responsibility to protect vulnerable and easily-influenced adolescents and teenagers from what is an unnecessary exposure to the dangers and harshness of the rough-and-tumble world of peer pressure with minimal supervision. The argument is usually that kids don't need to be "thrown to the wolves" as part of a kind of hazing ritual in order to come into their own. I agree that children need protection. After all, they are still very vulnerable individuals subject to all kinds of pressures and influences, not all of which are good. But I don't see how sending children to a school is necessarily an abdication of the responsibility of parents to protect their children. It's not an all or nothing proposition. If I ever thought my children were really threatened by being in a regular institutional school environment, I would most certainly intervene to protect them. And my wife and I certainly are involved in the life of our kids' school as much as our time permits, so we do know what's generally going on there. I'm not talking about throwing my children to the wolves, just letting them have a little bit of their own lives decided by them and, at times, kept to themselves. And let's not forget that children still spend a good deal of time at home, too. Sending a child to school is not an abdication of parental responsibility, it is part of it.

I often find that the very admirable parental tendency to want to protect one's children (and I have this tendency in abundance) can easily slip into a rather unhealthy overprotectiveness that can infringe upon a child's unique sense of independent identity. Even at young ages, our children are not helpless mini-me's; they are their own persons, completely independent of us, and I think it is important to let them find space to stake out their independent identities truly separate from us. For instance, let me lay out a common scene that takes place at the dinner table of my home, and I think of probably every non-homeschooling family, but which I can't really imagine being possible at the dinner table of a homeschooling family. I ask my daughter how was her day at school. Sometimes I get the full story, told with enthusiasm and joy at being able to surprise me with details about which I'm in the dark. She's, in effect, the agent in revealing her life to me, as a surprise gift completely at her discretion to offer, and not the other way around. How do homeschooled children get the pleasure and self-satisfaction to boast to their parents about having won the spelling bee that day, and then get to tell the story to a curious parent of how she worked out spelling the winning word? Or, how she tried to comfort the friend who scraped her knee at recess? Sometimes, however, I get a shoulder shrug and the one-word reply "good" that will have to suffice in answer to my question about how the school day was. I can't say that I particularly like the latter response, but I don't think it's because my child is keeping dangerous secrets from me. I think it's either that she's just not interested in talking about it, or, at an unconscious level, she wants to keep her day special to herself. I think that's healthy up to a point.

Finally, there is no guarantee that homeschooling keeps the reality of the world we live in at bay. Personally, I think that's a very nice, but unrealistic, way to approach life. And I'd rather that my children learn to live in the world, as it is, with both its warts and its glories, on their own terms, and not in the idyllic (and impossible, I believe) dreamworld of innocence.

But in the end, I know that loving parents who live out what they feel is best for their children are ultimately all that matters. And in that respect, I know that homeschooled children as well as "institutional system" schooled children who have the benefit of such parents in their lives are not likely to go wrong.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. My decision to homeschool was based mainly on my feelings about the mechanics of the educational process. I wanted my kids to have a more individualized, self-directed, and fun approach to learning than what is available at school.

If there were one of those hippy-dippy alternative schools near us (and I could afford that kind of thing) I might have considered that, but only if they had many different age levels interacting with each other because I also think that the starkly age-segregated environment at school is unnatural and distasteful.

Eric said...

I think there are good arguments for both sides. For me personally, I don't homeschool because we live in a small community where I personally know and trust most of the people who work at the school. The thing I could not in good concience do is send my kids off to be watched by a bunch of strangers every day. That was a major part of the reason my wife and I moved back here after having kids: the small homegrown school system.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm a Conn writer doing a story on the pros and cons of home schooling. Have found lots of rah-rah stuff but not so much about the downside.

Would you agree to a brief phone interview with me (5-10)minutes early next week?

I was very impressed with the parents I spoke to in Conn who do this but there have to be some (social and other) drawbacks for kids going to college at the age of 10, as some do!