Thursday, April 23, 2015
Thoughtful About . . . Education
I'm an educator. A home educator, if we're being precise. Every day at 9 o'clock my kids bounce out to the kitchen table, open their books, and say, "Come on, Mama, you're going to be late. Start reading."
Every day, I read to them. We read the Bible. We read history. We read literature, poetry, and listen to music. We spend a whole semester studying a particular subject in science--this year was botany and marine biology, next year will be flying creatures and anatomy. We're learning Ancient Greek. We're learning about the orchestra. We're studying our favorite artists and making our own masterpieces. We've got fraction to decimal conversions going on right now, grammar and mechanics, writing, and reading.
And you know what else we've got a lot of? Play. I consider that, too, a vital part of the home-education experience.
I was in high school when I decided I was going to homeschool. I'd been leaning that way for a while (Wouldn't it be awesome to stay home with my kids, write books, and homeschool them? They could totally direct their own education from the desk beside mine when they're 5. Ahem.), despite the fact that I excelled at public school.
I could memorize like nobody's business. I learned quickly and could spit it back out nearly perfectly. I could take a test--boy, could I take a test! I could, and did, focus on grades and hit them out of the park. I was valedictorian. I took college classes during my last several years of high school.
But one of my most vivid memories from my junior year is when, in Algebra II, I was performing all the functions I was supposed to perform, but I had no clue why I was doing it. I was doing the math but not understanding the math. Getting the right answers, but I couldn't tell you why. And suddenly that bothered me. So as the teacher came around to check on us, I asked her. I asked her for the reasons, I asked her for what was behind the formulas. And do you know what she told me?
"I'm sorry, Roseanna. I don't have time to talk to you about that. You understand well enough to get the right answers, which is all that matters right now. I have to focus on the kids who don't."
That, right there, was when I decided that my kids weren't going to public school. That their questions--the questions that matter, the questions that can lead to proficiency and love of a subject, the questions that can lead to innovation--wouldn't be brushed off by well-meaning but overworked teachers who have to prepare their students above all for tests.
But for me, it's more than the faith aspect. I made my decision to homeschool because I firmly believe that I can give them a better education at home than they'd get in a classroom. We don't always move at the same pace--my kindergartener sure wasn't reading as early as my niece in the public schools, though boy howdy could he do math in his head!--but we pursue things in ways that I know will be rewarding. We explore and discover and seek out answers together. We talk about what we're reading, guaranteeing that it really sticks.
Do we test? Sure. But after a few math tests where my daughter cried if she missed one answer, I decided that she was far too much like me to do things the same old way, LOL. I decided that what was more important in life than a percentage score was figuring out how to correct her mistakes. So I would mark things wrong...and then tell her to fix them. That means she has to figure out where she made an error. It means she has to figure out how to correct it. Then I'll recheck, and give her half a point if she got it right.
I love educating my children. It's not without its challenges and frustrating days, but the rewards so outweigh the drawbacks for us. I get to be there for each new discovery. I get to make sure that their school time is filled with learning, not with fluff or needless worksheets or filling the time until the bell rings. And then I get to send them out of the kitchen to be kids--no hours of homework after hours of school. They're outside studying each new plant that comes up and recording it in their homemade garden charts (not an assignment! They did that all on their own!). They're pouring over dinosaur books. They're building. They're playing school with their toys. They're writing stories and doing digital design and building gravity-defying train tracks. They're being kids.
I'm not saying kids can't end up doing the same things in public schools, or private schools, on their own. Great kids are going to be great kids anywhere, and great parents are going to encourage their kids anywhere. But the environment doesn't foster it. Trust me, I know--I was one of those kids who did it on her own, and that is what I remember most clearly from my school days. Where I had to fill in my own gaps. I remember those days when I had to teach half the class because they didn't understand the teacher. I remember when I taught my history teacher things I learned in my reading. I remember putting plays together on the playground. I remember earning $10 from a teacher who said he'd pay anyone who ever caught one of his mistakes. I remember what I did, on my own, more than I remember what they taught me for that test.
Will I always, absolutely homeschool? I can't say for sure. Life changes, callings change. That could change someday too. But right now, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is how I'm equipping my kids. I know I'm giving them a firm foundation, and I know that I'm helping them stand on their own, think for themselves, and learn to be responsible individuals. And you know one of the other things I love, which is a big "Ha!" to all those who say, "But how do they get socialization?"
Whenever I enrolled my daughter in ballet, within 2 weeks, the teacher came up to me and said, "Is she homeschooled? I can tell. She's focused, she listens, and she's so polite." This is a common refrain, one I've heard everywhere from that ballet teacher to a public school teacher we happened across in the play area at Chick-Fil-A, who was impressed with how nicely and considerately my kids were playing with hers.
I homeschool because I know firsthand the failings of public school education. I homeschool because I want my kids to learn at their own pace. I homeschool because I want them to have plenty of time for play and discovery while they're still young enough to enjoy it. I homeschool because I don't want them losing that childhood innocence too soon--and I know what middle school and high school were like when I was there, and so far as I can tell, it's only gotten worse.
Is it for everyone? Nope. Absolutely not. But I've spoken to a few people lately who want to homeschool but whose families are telling them, "You can't. You shouldn't." So this is for them. We can. We should, if we feel strongly about it.
And we can know that our kids are getting the opportunity to stay kids a little longer in some ways...and learning how to be adults a lot faster in others. We can know that they're getting more than lessons in how to take tests--we can know that they're getting what really matters: an education.
We can be educators.