Home Education Magazine
September-October 2002 - Articles and Columns
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
Why Independence Is Essential To Homeschooling
The beginning of another school year is a good time for us homeschoolers to consider and celebrate both the advantages of homeschooling and the strengths that we and others have brought and continue to bring to homeschooling. Some of the most important advantages and strengths are based on our independence of public school models and the fact that we respect each other's independence and have not established our own homeschooling orthodoxy to which homeschoolers are expected to conform. This column will examine the strengths of homeschooling, emphasizing those that exist because homeschools are independent of public schools, and discuss contributions homeschooling makes to our society.
Opportunities for Learning
Homeschooling offers children much greater opportunities for learning than can public schools, given their large numbers of students, institutional structure, and need to account to taxpayers. Whatever approach to curriculum and learning their families choose, homeschooled children can learn at their own pace, moving forward as soon as they have grasped a concept and taking extra time when they need or want it. They can spend more time on what interests them most, which makes learning easier. They can learn in ways that emphasize their natural strengths and talents, perhaps moving around while they are learning, learning primarily through listening rather than reading, or whatever works best for them. They have time to discover things for themselves, which increases their confidence, their ability to learn how to learn, and the likelihood that they will remember. Without the pressures and restrictions of institutionalized schooling, they can more easily discover the true joy of learning. Many children who have had or would have difficulty learning in a conventional classroom, through no fault of their own, learn well at home and in their communities.
Homeschooling offers parents tremendous learning opportunities. Thanks to our children and our homeschooling experiences (both the stunning successes and the flops), many of us have developed a new understanding of learning, revisited and recovered from our own difficult school experiences, discovered or rediscovered the joy of learning, and done things that we wouldn't have if we hadn't been homeschooling.
As homeschooling parents, we can guide our children as they choose values and beliefs. We can introduce our children to a wider range of ideas and beliefs than they would be exposed to in public schools, where they would be limited to and pressured to adopt the values of the dominant culture. We can present issues in ways we feel are appropriate for our children. We can help them deal with ideas they are exposed to through conversations, community activities, the media, and other sources. We can help them realize that they can choose alternatives to the dominant culture and its values.
Choices About Our Time and Space
Homeschooling gives us control over our time, one of our most precious and limited resources. We have more time to work with because we don't have to ride school buses, collect endless forms, etc. We can get enough rest, which makes life much easier. We can plan our time in ways that work well for us, whether this be a regular schedule or a more flexible approach. Learning can occur at meal times, on weekends and holidays, at times when parents who work outside the home are with us. We can spend time on what is most important to us, whether that is family life, interactions with other people, academics, religion, service to others, health, nature, art and aesthetics, etc.
We have control over the space in which our children learn. We can make it comfortable and attractive and decide what approach to order and organization we want to take and how our children will learn to take responsibility for possessions and living space. We can arrange work, study, and play spaces so they reflect who we are and what we believe and value and so they support us and our activities. Displaying art projects, inventions, and other creations gives credit and appreciation to the producer. Having musical instruments readily available encourages frequent play. Families concerned about various aspects of health can choose full spectrum lighting, control allergens, etc. Just think about the way people are affected by living, working, and playing in spaces they have some control over and can use to make a visible statement about who they are.
We have control over other aspects of our families' lives as well. We can decide what's for lunch. We can prevent our children from watching Channel One, broadcast in many schools and laced with junk food commercials. Homeschoolers have much better opportunities for socialization since they interact with people of all ages, have strong role models, and face less peer pressure.
Homeschooling strengthens families. Young children benefit from the much needed security of being with our families instead of going off to school before they are ready to be separated. We parents enjoy opportunities to spend more relaxed time with our children. Just by spending more time together, we learn fascinating things together, get to know and understand each other better, develop ways of getting along, learn to work and play as a team and support each other, and develop long lasting bonds. We share good times and trials, laughter and tears, joys and challenges. We work together to prepare meals, clean the house, keep the car running, solve problems, perhaps grow a garden or raise animals. We may also sing, play music, pray, travel, or start a family business. Amazing, unplanned, unexpected things happen to families who homeschool, and being part of a strong family is The best forms of long-term security.
Tension is avoided because as homeschooling families we can decide how we will approach various ideas, beliefs, and values. We don't have the state telling us what knowledge, attitudes, and skills our children need to acquire, some of which we would undoubtedly consider incorrect or unethical or immoral. We do not have to teach children things which we don't agree with or which children are not yet physically, mentally, or neurologically mature enough to learn. Relationships between parents and children can focus on what really matters when time doesn't have to be spent dealing with information, values, and beliefs imposed from outside.
As homeschoolers, we have reclaimed an important role for families and parents in American culture. Homeschooling is a confirming and empowering experience for parents and families. Children's respect for their parents increases as they realize parents are doing something highly valued in our culture: educating children.
Homeschooling's Independence of Public Schools
Families decide to homeschool for many different reasons. Some want to give their children greater opportunities to learn. Some want more control over their time. Some choose homeschooling for religious reasons. Some want healthier socialization than conventional schools offer. Some homeschool for academic excellence, perhaps to increase the chances that they will get into a prestigious college or university. Some want to remove their children from a difficult or unworkable school situation. Some seek greater security and less potential for violence. Some do not want their children overwhelmed by the values and practices of conventional schools.
But whatever the specific reasons, families who choose homeschooling are seeking something different from what public schools offer. Many of the advantages listed above would disappear if we homeschoolers were not independent of public school models. There have always been homeschoolers, but only in the last 30 years have people homeschooled in an organized, identifiable way. During that time, we've worked out practices so people understand they can homeschool. Publications like this one, support groups, and state organizations inform and support them. This has been done by "ordinary people," often over and against "experts" and certainly over and against the dominant culture's understanding of what was possible or a good idea. We didn't try to convert others. Most homeschoolers are not trying to one-up the public schools. Instead, we have had the wisdom to realize that homeschooling has its own rewards.
In a sense, as homeschoolers we have the best of both worlds. If we want to follow conventional curriculums or use some of the learning materials that have been developed for teaching large groups of children in conventional schools, we can do so. But our use of such materials is totally voluntary. We can choose what to use and what to avoid. It is hard to grasp the significance of the difference between this freedom and the indoctrination that comes with enrolling in a public school and agreeing to comply with state-mandated standards and requirements in exchange for money, a computer, a curriculum, or services.
Contributions Homeschoolers Make to Our Society
The compulsory education that became widespread in the United States less than 150 years ago has strengthened the incorrect belief that attending school is necessary to acquire knowledge and develop skills that one would not want to be without, like reading, writing, and math. (Even experienced homeschoolers sometimes find they fall back into the habit of assuming that "real" learning takes place only or at least primarily in a classroom.) What a waste! Think of the learning that goes unrecognized because it did not happen in a school building. Think of the learning that people don't do simply because they don't realize how capable they are, because they think they have to take a class or have an expert teach them. Think of the ways in which this prevents or hinders people from venturing forth because they think it's not safe without a licensed guide, a certified teacher. Think of the ways learning slows down when people leave school because they think they are "done" or their opportunities for real learning have ended.
Fortunately for everyone, homeschoolers are challenging the near monopoly that conventional schools have on learning. We are living proof that people can and do learn anywhere, anytime, at any age. We are demonstrating over and over again that not only can people learn "school subjects" outside a classroom, they can also learn many things it would be difficult if not impossible to learn in a classroom.
In addition, as homeschoolers we are working to regain and maintain freedoms. First and most obvious are our homeschooling freedoms and the right of every parent to choose for their children an education consistent with their principles and beliefs. To do this, we also need to maintain related rights and freedoms that are valuable to people besides homeschoolers. These include freedom of religion, speech, and the press; freedom from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to privacy; and the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty.
We have also set an example for non-homeschoolers who recognize the importance of working to maintain freedoms. We have shown how a small minority can stand up to strong challenges from The most powerful interest groups in our society, the educational establishment.
Our contributions to freedom in our society are particularly important now. Government control over education is increasing through state standards in education and increased use of standardized tests, including provisions in the recently passed federal "No Child Left Behind" education bill that requires that students in schools that receive federal funds take state-mandated standardized tests. Civil liberties are being lost in the wake of September 11.
Homeschoolers have also reclaimed an important role for parents and families in our culture, as discussed above.
What We Can Do To Maintain Our Independence
* Have a clear sense of our identity as homeschoolers that does not rely on trying to meet public school standards, be evaluated and "approved" by public school officials, or one-up the public schools.
* Understand the critical role of this independence.
* Share these ideas with others.
* Think seriously before enrolling in public school programs.
* If enrolling in a public school program seems worth the risk, be very careful to minimize the risks to ourselves and others.
Although late summer is back-to-school time for many families, as homeschoolers we realize we're already where we want to be, charting our own course, independent of the public school system.
© 2002 Larry and Susan Kaseman
September-October 2002 - Articles and Columns
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM