vendredi, janvier 07, 2005

Advantages and Disadvantages of Homeschooling Part One: Religious and Philosophical Convictions or It’s Hard to Replicate the World in Your Home

I have been surfing around digging on the whole homeschool scene, baby. Here’s the scoop, can you dig it?

Most pro-homeschooling sites, in one way or another, boil the advantages down to these:

First, the advantage of religious/philosophical convictions

Second, the advantage of socialization

Third, the advantage of academics, including –

Custom designed curriculum
Moving at child’s own pace
Working with the child’s learning style

Fourth, the advantage of "time as a family"

Source (a great site BTW)

Today’s post will consider the first advantage, the advantage of religious or philosophical convictions.

Of all the motivations for homeschooling, this is the one that makes the most sense to me, and, simultaneously, the least sense.

Here’s what I mean.

First, I feel strongly that public schools should not attempt to educate based on religious or philosophical convictions. I assume everyone agrees with that statement. How can a school seek to educate the public and teach religious or philosophical convictions at the same time? As a practical matter, it can’t. And, truly, most would not want it to do so.

However, this does not mean that traditional schools cannot promote religious or philosophical convictions. For many of us, including me (believe it or not) there are faith-based schools, in our communities, that also meet our needs. For those who do not have such schools in their communities and want to build an educational foundation on religious or philosophical convictions, homeschooling can be a wonderful alternative. In that way, it makes sense to me. Additionally, few can argue that for imparting your family’s religious or philosophical convictions, there are few better teachers than, well, your family.

The way this advantage does not make sense is that religious or philosophical convictions can be shared with our children in addition to the lessons they learn in traditional schools. When I struggle with homeschooling, this is where I struggle most - it tends to presuppose that its advantages cannot be obtained in traditional schools. Teaching your children your particular religious or philosophical convictions and sending them to a traditional school are not mutually exclusive.

My assumption is that parents who homeschool argue that their convictions are harder to impart if their children go to traditional schools because their convictions are set against the backdrop of other people’s religious and philosophical convictions (or lack thereof). Here, the argument will be settled differently for different folks. Some will conclude that it is best for children to hear one message and to take it in unchallenged until they are ready (read old enough) to consider other messages. Others (like me) will conclude that if our convictions are presented to our children with passion and reason, then they will endure in spite of other messages they receive.

I have a real-life example. My daughter goes to a Montessori in St. Paul. There are many things that I like about it. It is very structured. It is, even for three year olds, somewhat academic. She learns to socialize with other kids. She learns from and teaches children who are older and younger than she is. She picks up many, many things that we are proud of and admire, and a few that we wish she had not learned. The most awful example is that she recently brought home the word “stupid.”

One of the worst words ever. As one of my favorite professors said “you shouldn’t call a person stupid. It’s usually not true, and when it is, then you really shouldn’t say it.” What I’m trying to say is that we have a religious/philosophical conviction against calling people “stupid.”

So, there’s two ways to take this: first, we could imagine that we could craft an existence where our angels would not hear words until they were old enough to understand what motivates people to say them, why it is wrong to say them, and (more to the point) why their family does not say them. Or, second, we could use it as an opportunity to teach our religious and philosophical convictions - which is what we do. So, guess what my daughter says a lot these days.

“We don’t say ‘shut up.’”
“We don’t say ‘stupid.’”
“It’s not nice to hit people.”


Now, here is my critical point. This does not mean that homeschooled kids don’t benefit from the same teaching and lessons. Of course they do. I hope it underscores my point that teaching religious and philosophical convictions can happen in both settings.

So, which is better? Well, I might actually concede the advantage to homeschooled children because (obviously) as our daughter gets older, the challenges will intensify and her willingness to take direction from us may decrease. There is, in that sense, an advantage to a consistent, clear and unchallenged message. Instead of having to learn early that some kids call other kids stupid and why that is wrong, there will come a time when our daughter may go to school with kids who use drugs, with kids who do not buckle their seat belts, with Republicans who suppress voting rights and who condone torture, with pregnant students, and with scofflaws. We need to prepare her to have a strong sense of self and to stand tall against contrary messages – and believe me, that is (and will be) very difficult to do. I would rather shield her from those messages than count on her to have the strength to say no a thousand times.

Still, we want very much to prepare our daughter to be a citizen of the world and to understand that there are people who are different from her but who are worthy of her respect. She's learning that already. She goes to school with children of different races and backgrounds. She goes to a school with a child with who has special needs. She goes to a school where she has learned about Kwanzaa and Christmas and Hanukkah and the Winter Solstice. She goes to a school with kids who have two mommies, kids who have two daddies, and kids whose parents are divorced. She goes to a school with kids who are adopted. She goes to school in our community which is our world in miniature. She is getting a tremendous education. Some elements of it are not as we would have it (“stupid”). Many of them are as we would have it (see list, this paragraph).

Bottom line, it’s hard to replicate the world in your home – sometimes you don’t want to replicate it, sometimes you do.

Overall advantage: Homeschoolers (with some potential losses). I think their road is easier where religious and philosophical convictions are concerned.

[Note to readers: there is another post below this one, I don't usually post twice in one day, and didn't want you to miss it - have a good weekend.]