punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homeschooling: What I Wish I Had Known

During my time both attending and teaching at Catholic schools, I was always a bit skeptical about homeschooling.  For my credential I had jumped through countless hoops and taken a zillion tests for the sake of proving that I was a competent instructor. It was therefore odd to think that a community existed out there, and literally 'out there' from my perspective, who had to audacity to teach their children without any of my same rigorous training.

At least, that’s how I remember thinking about it.  And I wasn’t alone.  My instructors, colleagues and peers all felt the same way; how could any of our coursework (which was expensive) and 'necessary' training ever be dispensed with? Without it, how could anyone even hope to know how to structure a lesson? Didn’t every subject need a daily objective, anticipatory sets and state standards? Shouldn’t instruction always be differentiated and take English language learners into account?  Shouldn’t a chart of Bloom’s taxonomy be hanging somewhere to make students be truly successful?

What made things really weird for me was the realization that those kids, the ones who learned from their parents, actually thrive when learning at home. Thrive, as in, learn stuff, the same stuff I taught my students. In fact, homeschoolers do better than the national average on standardized tests, and attend college at the same rate as their schooled counterparts. My personal interaction with home educated kids can confirm at least the spirit of these statistics; many have an intimidating base of knowledge to rival any mainstream student.  It’s been a bit sobering, actually, to realize that your friend’s nine year old, who is just starting to swim, also reads Tolkein over breakfast.   Or that someone else’s daughters, barely able to write their letters, can read and perfectly sing a piece of music Acapella.  In other words, homeschooled kids not only fair well academically, but, instead of being recluses, are exposed to things that I only wished I could have taught my students in the fifty-minute slots I was given to make their edu-ma-cation happen.

In a way it’s no surprise.  In Teacher Training Land, you’re taught that the best way to make your students learn anything is to teach them one-on-one. The irony is that this type of interaction with students is almost impossible in the actual classroom (which is why the tutoring industry remains permanently robust).  This means that the best way to educate kids is a method that logistically, a teacher can’t offer them in the classroom. To do that you’d have to do something crazy… like homeschool, for instance.

I completely acknowledge that many children do well in school.  I was one such child. Unfortunately, there is still a widespread misconception that homeschooling is too elementary (in the Sherlock Holmes sense) and cripples children socially.  What these well-meaning folks don't realize is that, these days, homeschooling is in its 6.0 version with families that have networked and built a system based on the talents, ideas and contributions of all involved.  When I taught, I can’t tell you how many times we solicited (read: begged) for parent involvement. Everything we did was always geared toward ‘building community.’  With homeschooling, the families are the community, and everything they 'have' they put in or created themselves.  There's a deep sense of ownership amongst these families that I have not witnessed anywhere else, where parents are dedicated to making their kids' and their own experience as meaningful as possible.  They don’t just pay tuition and expect to get their money’s worth (or pay taxes and expect a ‘service’) as is frequently and sadly the case in a school.

When I taught, I witnessed many a very good, involved parent, who truly wanted to make their children's school experience as bright and memorable as possible.  I wish I had known then what I know now about homeschooling, because part of me wonders if those valiant parents would have seen their efforts flourish even more in a different setting. Much classroom pedagogy, at its heart, is common sense.  It’s as easy as, “What shall we learn today?” but also as challenging as “What shall we learn today?”  Of course, there are terrific homeschooling curricula out there too.

Let's not forget faith.  Fostering faith in children, even from the view point of a Catholic School, is still considered the domain of their parents, as it should be.  From my experience, Catholic parents who possess a strong conviction for homeschooling, also tend to hold strong convictions for their Faith.  It is frequently the case that these parents achieve an enviable degree of success in passing on their values to their kids, perhaps because they did so uninhibited by the obstacles that arise in school (such as peer pressure and an agenda-driven curriculum).  Which isn't to say that a child is guaranteed to stay Catholic if home schooled and many schooled children do stay close to their faith.

For me, homeschooling has come as a pleasant surprise by not being as I first expected it to be.  It does require a paradigm shift that many people are not used to or even comfortable with, but I suspect that that is because we all grow up in a country with an education system which promises to do something many parents don't feel capable of themselves.  For the record, no homeschooling parent feels particularly 'capable.'  But the truth is, no matter what, all parents alike are always the primary educators of their kids, whether they send them to school or not.  Homeschooling offers families the chance to experience learning in a primordial way and gives an unrivaled witness to the sacred continuity that can, and always has existed between a family's domestic life, learning, and Faith.


  1. Another upside is that homeschooled families get to eat. and pay bills. Tuition in Catholic school is now near-suicide in these terrible times, in the SF Bay Area. Of course the tuition is justified: they are running a complex organization, etc, etc, but by removing that bureaucracy, the savings are substantial. Its a win - win situation. Healthy finances, robust academics, and best of all, thriving souls! Oh yes, and community; a moral, faith centered village.

  2. Not all teachers always feel "capable", either. I can't tell you how many teachers say that they love teaching the kids, but they hate their "jobs". It's all the other rigamarole (tests all the time, lesson plans which have to prove that you're tying into state objectives and using your time as you've been DIRECTED...whatever new program they've thrown at you without any training (which you are expected to make work and use rigorously, because it cost the district a lot of money). Then there are the parents.

    Pretty much all of this you get to cut out if you homeschool. :) Report cards? Um. Would I send them home to myself? Ditto Progress Reports. Automatic parent involvement. :D

    That said, I'll stay where I am. I think Grace would be very sad to leave public school, and so would I. Someone has to teach the kids whose parents can't homeschool...*L*

  3. Anonymous- Yes! That's all so true.
    Jenthegreat- If I lived in your state, and a few others I probably wouldn't hesitate to send the kids. But I live here in CA. It's murky now, to say the least.
    Thanks for reading!