Home For School

School-Desks-1While writing yesterday’s post, my memory took a backward glance at a time almost thirty years ago when we were educating our children at home.

Stuck In Love‘s main character (writer and dad, Bill) made an agreement with his two children:  if his kids agreed to maintain a daily journal, neither would be required to seek outside employment (i.e. McDonald’s or other typical short-term work) while they were still in school.

If I were home-educating today, I think this is an expectation I would definitely institute for my children!

We began homeschooling in 1986, an era that could be aptly described as the prehistoric age for home educators. Our oldest was entering junior high, the second child going into fourth grade and a third child entering first grade. Our youngest (and most bashful child) had not yet experienced formal education.

green-wood-school-desks-set-and-hand-drawn-chalk-alphabetGiven my husband’s and my own conventional upbringing and experiences in public school settings, we proceeded as many other first-time home educators had done at that time.

We purchased second-hand school desks, a classroom chalkboard (of the green variety) and set aside space in our home as a designated “schoolroom.” We purchased the full complement of textbooks designed for each child’s grade level and purposed (in true OCD style) to replicate a traditional classroom (to which our three older children were already accustomed) in our home.

It didn’t take long for us to realize our well-intentioned plans were terribly misguided! The desks were quickly pushed aside, the chalkboard was used only for art-driven play, and considering how each child’s learning style differed, every room in the house (and often the library and the park) became preferred settings for “school” activities. In short, our “classroom” opened up to encompass the wider world.

Had one (or all) of my children chosen writing as a career, they’d have gotten no objections from me. However, I didn’t actively foster that possibility, in part because I never wanted any of them to think they’d been forced into a field due to my interest, rather than their own.

In hindsight, I wish I’d made an arrangement along the lines of Bill’s agreement, because writing (even for people who are not professional writers) is never a wasted effort. (Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.) Thankfully, my children have each demonstrated their skill in communication, so in that sense, my regrets are not well-founded.

Home education has changed remarkably since our years when it seemed we were charting unfamiliar ground. The worldwide web is, of course, a boon, something that today’s home educators are using as a major resource for home instruction and enhanced research studies. We would have flourished with such an array of tools and information!

A recent article by George Leef, Our Old Educational Models Are Obsolete, offers an insightful look at last century’s educational model and because this model is still the basis for most public school settings today, Leef finds it desperately inadequate. Leef cites a newly-published book (The New School) by law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds. I haven’t read the book, but I’m heartened by the ideas Leef mentions.

One of the reasons we embraced home education those many years ago was because we (like most parents) sought to provide the best education for our children that we could manage. For several years before we commenced educating at home, we weren’t convinced our children were getting a good education and we weighed the home education possibility.

Then, an instance of clarity helped us solidify our decision to go forward:  a teacher in our eldest daughter’s school admitted much of our daughter’s school day was devoted to non-education-related activities.

Our daughter (M.) was a sixth grader. As soon as she completed her work everyday, one or the other of her teachers would recruit M. to supervise this or that class while the teacher took a lunch break, planned future class activities or simply disappeared from the classroom. This was a standard “responsibility” for my twelve-year-old! The teacher who told me this readily admitted it was a “waste” (the teacher’s word) of my daughter’s day … and my husband and I agreed!

When we brought our children home for school, I identified three goals we wished to stress above all else. I wanted my children to develop a love (and hunger) for reading, I wanted them to embrace learning as a lifelong pursuit, and I wanted to instill in them confidence for learning and mastering even the most challenging subjects.

From time to time, I meet young families who are currently educating their children at home. They have opportunities a-plenty that our family could only dream about. Ten years from now, I think these young families will be amazed at the continuing advance of educational opportunities, especially given the possibility (as Leef puts it) for “a thousand flowers to bloom.”

In general, children have a natural hunger for learning. Being chained to a desk inside a stifling classroom alongside other children who likewise feel the chains of their confinement can kill motivation for learning. Leef calls that “assembly-line” education and it’s a model that is failing children (too often) and should be discarded. On the other hand, customizing education to suit the individual student’s interests and learning style is a model (in my view) for developing the lifelong learner and future innovator.

Back in 1972, the United Negro College Fund ran an ad campaign with the slogan:  A mind is a terrible thing to waste. I wholeheartedly agree. I’m excited about future possibilities in education to rekindle the love for learning that children need and deserve.

Renée