Friday, September 16, 2011

Come To Think Of It: I AM a Homeschooler

You know, I have been pondering the whole homeschooling topic once again because it has recently been the subject of a number of postings on Rod Dreher's blog.

A good while ago, I wrote a blog posting entitled: "Why I Don't Home School My Kids." And I stick to that blog posting.

However, I began to wonder what it was about the homeschooling movement that kept (and keeps) nagging at me. Then I had a bit of an "A-HA!" moment about this that made sense to me. What bothers me about homeschoolers is that their appropriation of the term "homeschooler" is a kind of judgment on what goes on in the homes of us parents who send our children to "regular" school for a part of their day. I know that this differentiation is probably not intentional, but it does nevertheless set parents like me and my wife, who send our kids to regular public school, apart from the parents who keep their kids out of institutional school environments and call what they do as homeschooling. That differentiation implies that my wife and I are somehow not homeschoolers. But I would beg to differ. In many ways, we are just as much "homeschoolers" as they are, and so I find the differentiation between us to be a cultivated falsehood.

Let me try to explain it this way: what most often vexes me about the homeschooling movement is why it is often thought of, by those who claim the label as its practitioners, exclusively as a temporal and spatial alternative to “regular” schooling.

But here's my problem with that view... Yes, my children attend a regular public school from 8am-3pm. But it is also a fact that they are home with my wife until 5pm and with me and my wife from 5pm until bedtime. We are always together on the weekends. And when we are together, we are constantly “homeschooling” our children. Whether it's helping out with homework, discussing current events, or going to the Zoo on the weekend, we are constantly in the process of participating actively in the learning process of our children. What's more, we are actively involved to the extent we feel is appropriate in their 8am-3pm experience, too. And my children definitely bring the "homeschooling" they get that outside of the 8am-3pm time slot of their day with them to their “regular” school. It's not like my wife and I are completely divorced from their 8am-3pm life. Nor is it the case that their life outside of the regular school day doesn't inform what they do during their 8am-3pm regular school day experience. But what my children get that pure 100% "homeschooled" children don't get is the good that comes from having a "regular" school experience. Let me delve into this a bit more.

As I understand it, a huge part of the homeschooler movement views the “regular” school always with suspicion and often with dread. The refrain I often hear about not sending kids to “regular” school is less about the positives of homeschooling and more about the negatives of regular schooling. Homeschooling is always the alternative to the “bad” in regular schooling; and the “good” of homeschooling is always preferable to the "good" of "regular" schooling [at least to the extent that pure homeschoolers think there actually IS anything good to be gotten from "regular" school.]

But the good of both kinds of school experiences (homeschooling and "regular" schooling) are different kinds of good. And it’s my belief that sacrificing the good of the regular school experience in order to avoid the bad of the regular school experience actually cheats kids. Why do I believe this? Well, because I reject the notion that I and my wife are not homeschooling our kids just because our engagement with their intellectual, spiritual, and moral lives takes place outside of the 8am-3pm, M-F, 9 months out of the year “regular” school schedule.

My wife and I DO homeschooling our kids, and for much more time than they spend in “regular” school. So they get the benefits of homeschooling without sacrificing the good of attending regular school.

When folks self-identify as homeschoolers and think of that movement in its neat, conventional box (and make no mistake: the homeschooling movement IS a conventional movement), I know they wouldn’t include me in that number because my kids happen to go to “regular” school.

But why is that? It’s kind of offensive to me to think that somehow I’m not a homeschooling parent, too. It makes me wonder what homeschoolers think us “regular” school parents do with our children outside of the 8am-3pm day. It also makes me wonder if they think we abdicate responsibility and have no engagement with the 8am-3pm environment in which our children pass these hours of the day. In fact, I’d argue that sending my children to be in a structured learning environment that my wife and I sanction and monitor IS part of our “homeschool” strategy. By not "hovering" over them during a part of their day, and by letting our children have their own experiences of learning with peers away from the comforting gaze of a protective parent always nearby, we actually ARE pursuing a kind of homeschooling pedagogy. It's as much a choice on our part as parents concerned about and involved in our children's education as is a "homeschooling" parent's choice about what curricular or extracurricular experiences their children will have.

So, for this reason, I am taking back the term from folks who would deny it to me: I AM a Homeschooler, too!

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