Friday, July 4, 2008

Not Just Killing Time

I don’t generally say a lot about the fact that we home educate our children. There’s plenty of information available, and I don’t think I have anything particularly new or useful that hasn’t already been covered.


...people who actually know us, people we spend time with, people we see face-to-face ask us why we home school. Most of the time, while they might not understand, they are at least respectful of our decision. Sometimes they say stupid things, although I think it’s usually out of ignorance as opposed to rudeness. You know - “Oh, I could never do that! I don’t have the patience.” or “My kids are so involved.” or some such nonsense. It’s painfully obvious that these are parents that speak without thinking. If you can get through potty training a stubborn little boy, you can handle a few hours a week doing “schoolwork”.

But here’s a big part of the problem. Because WE were sent off to school for 30+ hours a week, and because that’s still the accepted norm, society views home education as a full-time sit-at-a-desk-with-a-textbook job. They think we slap pictures of Washington and Lincoln onto the wall, arrange cutesy posters of the cursive alphabet around a chalkboard, produce the obligatory science fair project about Planets, and take a field trip to the zoo at the end of the year.

They’ve probably never heard the term “unschooling” but if they have, the picture conjured up probably involves kids running amok with no adult supervision and frequent trips to Juvenile court, at the least.

We teach our children at home. We don’t have to stick to a prescribed set of rules to accomplish giving our kids the tools they need to function in the real world. We are always changing what we do and how we do it to meet the needs of each individual living in our family. In our world, unschooling means we let our children learn the way they are capable of performing their best. For my sanity and because it works for all of the kids, the math video program we use is very structured. While I understand math, I get very frustrated trying to explain it to someone who does NOT understand it. We follow a semi-structured program for language arts. Pretty much everything else is varied according to the learning styles of each child.

People just don’t understand this. And with few exceptions, unless someone is genuinely interested, I don’t try to explain.

I was talking with a church acquaintance a couple of years ago. We were discussing the fact that her youngest daughter was graduating high school and would be attending the local community college. I asked her if her daughter had been participating in the state’s program that pays for students to go to college instead of high school. (Here in Ohio it’s called Post-Secondary Option, I think. I have no clue if other states have similar programs. Students are still enrolled through their local school district and are therefore eligible for sports and other typical school situations, but their classes, or some portion of classes, can be through a college, if eligibility requirements are met.) This mother nearly gasped when I asked her this question. “Oh No! I could NEVER do that to her! She’s too involved!!” I had an invisible eye-rolling moment and changed the subject.

Recently, one of our neighbors moved a few miles out of town. She is a pastor’s wife, in her 60s and grows a great garden. The boys have earned quite a bit of money helping her around her house and yard. Out of all the strange and stupid things I’ve heard people say about home schooling, she made a comment to me a few months ago that, the more I thought about it, didn’t make me angry so much as puzzled and quite sad, actually. She has, in the past, questioned why we won’t put our children in the local public school, attempting to justify it by saying “There are lots of Christian teachers in the district.” (I have given up pointing out that their Christianity doesn’t change the fact that they teach in a very non-Christian environment using God-hostile materials.) We were discussing our busy lives during a phone conversation, and she was telling me she didn’t think her daughter would be successful at home schooling her two children. I defended her daughter’s decision and questioned her on why she puts her daughter down instead of encouraging her. (an on-going problem I’ve observed several times) She immediately became defensive and said “Don’t tell ME about home schooling. I did it with one of my children. IT CONSUMES YOU!!”

(Interesting enough, her daughter’s decision to home school lasted all of two months, and the children are now in the local school district where there are lots of Christian teachers.)

What got me was the “it consumes you” mentality.

I’ve watched this woman in her yard for four years. It is immaculate. There are no toys left out at night. No weeds are penetrating through the rose bushes. The flowerbeds are beautiful. Her vegetable garden is ever so much neater than mine is. She has a manicured hedge along her chain link fence over which I’ve heard more than one tidbit of business that’s not mine. But she is not in good health. She’s had at least one heart attack and numerous trips to the hospital with stress-related issues. She never sits still.

Who is consumed?

The dictionary defines “consume” this way: to take up, use up, eat, devour, waste, squander, destroy

I am not squandering my life by teaching my children. I realize she most likely used a word out of context. I’m pretty sure her thought pattern was more along the lines of how much time she assumes I spend on bookwork.

Or was it?

In speaking to her daughter, it appears that this lady expects other people to live their lives as she does hers. She does not say that out right, but she expresses her displeasure when things don’t go her way.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about pleasing her. And I don’t have to be consumed by home schooling if I don’t want to be. I can do an excellent job educating my children if I allow God to direct my path instead of thinking I can do it on my own. What a scary thought! Some days I have absolutely no desire to be a home schooling family. Those are the days when I have to rely on God’s strength even more. This isn’t something I can quit because it’s boring, I’m tired, or the kids are driving me nuts.

For the record: When we pulled our kids from a private school 4 years ago, our oldest had some very serious reading deficits. He was failing most of his classes. He hated school. He refused to pick up a book for pleasure reading. Our youngest had daily headaches and stomach aches and was absolutely bored in class. We have let each of them self-direct much of their learning and now our oldest spends the better part of his day with a book in his hand. Our youngest can transplant entire flower gardens, prepare tasty, balanced meals and produce original designer handbags. Our second child has worked hard and earned enough money to pay for expensive musical instruments and lawn equipment. I am not consumed by home schooling.

Let me just make something perfectly clear - if I’m going to be consumed by something, it sure isn’t going to be something like home schooling! It’s going to be something really REALLY fun - like planning my escape to a private island where Tom and I can run around naked all day without winding up on the cover of the National Enquirer because, as very famous people, inquiring minds want to know what we look like.

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