Home Education Magazine
January-February 2001 - Articles
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Gaining Confidence In Our Homeschooling
Throughout life, the more confidence we have in ourselves and in what we are doing, the more likely we are to succeed. As Henry Ford put it, "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right."
Confidence is especially important in a choice like homeschooling where we're going against the dominant culture, without the support and reassurance that comes from doing what almost everyone else is doing. In addition, the more confident we are, the better able we are to maintain our homeschooling freedoms. We are better able to convince others that homeschooling works, that homeschoolers do not need to be tested or unnecessarily regulated by the state. We are less tempted to seek assistance or reassurance from conventional schools.
This column will discuss reasons to have confidence in our homeschooling, why it is sometimes difficult to develop and maintain confidence, and how we can increase our confidence.
Reasons for Feeling Confident What basis do we homeschoolers have for being confident?
* Homeschooling works! It works very well for parents and children to live and learn together, as shown by thousands of families who are now homeschooling and thousands of grown homeschoolers.
Homeschooling works because children learn well with the help and guidance of parents who know them well and care deeply about them. They can learn at their own pace, when they are ready and eager, so learning is easier. They can spend extra time on things that especially interest them, which motivates them. They often discover interests that lead to their life's work. They do not have to deal with disruptive schedules that interrupt their learning, peer pressure, humiliation or failing grades if they make a mistake or haven't learned something yet, teachers who do not understand or appreciate their strengths, a curriculum that does not suit their needs, approaches to learning that do not work for them, and other inevitable parts of standardized schools run by the government and designed to try to educate many children at once, regardless of their individual differences.
People who think that learning through homeschooling is difficult have it backwards. Learning is more difficult in a conventional school than at home and in the community. Children attending conventional schools are taken away from their families at very young ages. They are put in a building where very little real work happens (except for what the janitor and the lunchroom staff do). Despite this, unrealistically large groups of children are expected to be interested in and ready to learn the same things at the same time. With very little support or guidance from older and more experienced people, children are expected to figure out how to survive in a highly competitive environment. Since conventional schools have become the norm in our society, it's no wonder that many people think that learning is very difficult and requires specially trained adults.
But as homeschoolers we know that although learning is sometimes challenging and frustrating, basically it's an activity that children (and adults) are good at when they are at home and in their communities, facing the challenges of daily life, and when they have support and encouragement of people who love and care about them. Consider the complexity of learning to talk. Babies have to differentiate speech from other sounds they hear, figure out what various sounds mean, and learn to make them. Yet babies do this all the time, in an amazingly short time, with no specially trained teachers.
In short, children are great natural learners, especially if they have not had their confidence undermined by conventional schools OR if they have had the opportunity to recover from school. (So don't worry if your child attended school. Children are amazingly resilient.)
* Some of us receive confidence and strength from our religious beliefs, from the higher power that we believe in, and from the power of prayer. This is especially true because many families find that their principles, values, and beliefs lead them to choose homeschooling in the first place. In addition, homeschooling gives us many outstanding opportunities to share our beliefs and values with our children.
* As homeschoolers we get a lot of very helpful feedback from our children. We don't have to wait for tests results at the end of the week to find out whether our children understood what we were working on. We can tell immediately by the looks on their faces and the questions they ask. If we try something that just doesn't work (which some people might call "making a mistake"), we can modify it or try something else right away.
* We can have confidence because we are capable people, regardless of what schools may have tried to tell us. Think how many children learn to read or do math or conduct experiments without the help of textbook or teacher. Think how much we know about driving safely that goes beyond what we learned in drivers ed. Think how much more we know about cooking and feeding our families than we learned in any home ec classes we may have had. Think how much more we know about how the world works and the current political situation than was covered in civics class. Think how much we've learned about homeschooling!
* As parents who love our children, pay attention to them, listen to them, and enjoy them, we'll do a good job of providing the space and support our children need to grow well. Of course, we'll make mistakes. We won't do everything right. But The great things about homeschooling is that we have time, more time with our children than do parents whose children attend conventional schools. We have time to make mistakes, figure out what went wrong, make amends, and move forward.
Why Is It Sometimes Difficult to Have Confidence in Ourselves and Our Homeschooling?
Given all the good reasons to have confidence, why is it sometimes difficult to develop and maintain confidence?
* Many people in our society tend to rely heavily on experts and professionals rather than on their own knowledge, ability, and common sense and what they learn from other "ordinary" people they know well.
Even when we do seek and find help from an expert, it is important to keep an accurate perspective on what we have done ourselves and not give too much credit to the expert. Both our general health and our ability to heal from an illness or injury are much more dependent on factors such as what we eat, how much exercise we get, our general attitude toward life, and our genetic inheritance than they are on what a doctor says or does or what medications are prescribed. Children who are supposedly taught to read in school learn to read less because of what their teachers do and more because of the experiences they have had outside of school, grasping fundamental principles of language through learning to understand and speak, learning to recognize and remember shapes by seeing signs and putting together puzzles, and wanting to learn to read because they've seen other people read and they want to make sense of all those squiggles, too.
* It is difficult to develop and maintain our confidence as homeschoolers because so few people understand homeschooling (which can be difficult to understand without having personal experience). Therefore, many non-homeschoolers question our ability to help our children learn. Their lack of confidence in us undermines our confidence.
* Our own school experiences often undermine our confidence, even if we were "good students." By their very existence, schools say, "You can't figure out things for yourself. You have to have someone show you what to learn, make you learn it, and test you to find out whether you really learned it." They operate on the assumption that there is a body of factual information that everyone needs to learn at a specific age, that there are "right answers" that are the only acceptable ones, and that experts are needed to provide the right answers because ordinary people cannot. Schools do not encourage people to figure things out for themselves and come up with their own answers (although some exercises are designed to lead children to "discover" a predetermined answer). Working cooperatively with other students is often called "cheating," and you wouldn't want to cooperate with others anyway because then they might get better grades than you do. Schools do a great deal to destroy our confidence.
How Can We Increase Our Confidence?
* Realize that confidence isn't a matter of having all the answers. It's a matter of knowing that when something happens, we'll be able to deal with it.
* Keeping simple records shows us dramatically how we and our children are learning and provides great perspective when we are beset by doubts.
* Before we look something up, we can ask, "What do I think or know about this? What can I figure out for myself?" To be sure, following directions can save time, and we don't need to constantly reinvent the wheel. But when we create our own recipes and games, our confidence grows. Similarly, when we encourage our children to develop their own ways of washing the dishes or solving math problems, their confidence grows.
* Remember that our task is to create our own unique homeschool that meets the needs and celebrates the strengths of our family. Sometimes it's intimidating to hear what other homeschooling families are doing, especially since many of them focus on one activity and excel. The Smiths don't just gather around the fireplace to sing on Saturday nights. They've all learned to play at least three instruments and are about to make their first CD. Of course, we can't do what they do, but they can't do what we do, either. When we realize that we are in the best position to create the unique homeschool that will work best for our family, and we set about doing just that, our confidence grows.
* At the same time, discussing our questions and experiences with other homeschoolers can boost our confidence. We can meet them at support group meetings and homeschooling conferences. We can read about them in this magazine and other homeschooling literature. It helps enormously to find out that other homeschooling parents have doubts, feel "stuck" at times, maybe even want to quit.
* Turning to our principles and beliefs, the source of our strength and courage, increases our confidence.
* If we decide we really need to consult a professional or an expert, we can keep our experience in perspective. If children break their arms, we take them to a doctor who has been gaining experience in setting broken bones while we've been gaining experience in parenting and homeschooling. To be sure, the doctor sets the bones, but the cast only holds the bones in place so they can grow back together. The real healing is done by our children, not the doctor. Similarly, when someone helps us learn something, they are pointing the way, providing examples, answering questions, and helping us gain the confidence we need. But the actual learning goes on inside our brains; we haven't really learned until we have created our own knowledge. So we can thank people who help and support us, but it is important to remember that the learner plays the most important role in learning.
* We can help our children develop confidence by respecting their natural confidence, listening to their ideas, setting an example by increasing our own confidence, and encouraging them to solve problems themselves.
* Why not deliberately engage in activities like these to develop our confidence, just as many people exercise to develop health?
The more we homeschooling parents work to increase our own confidence, the better able we will be to homeschool and the more secure our homeschooling freedoms will be, simply because we will be much less tempted to turn to state tests or school officials for reassurance that we are doing the right thing. But more importantly, the more confident we are, the more opportunities our children have to develop their own confidence. And confidence is The greatest gifts we can give them.
(c) 2000 Larry and Susan Kaseman
A Personal Note: This is our 50th Taking Charge column for Home Education Magazine. It's a great experience that we are eager to continue. We'd like to thank all the people who have helped and supported us, especially our children (with whom we have learned about homeschooling), Mark and Helen Hegener (the publishers of HEM), people who have shared their ideas and experiences with us, people who have worked and are continuing to work for homeschooling freedoms, people who read and use this column, and finally (can't we have a little schmaltz once in 50 columns?), some of the best partners ever: each other!
January-February 2001 Issue
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