July-August 2010 Selected Content
Taking Charge - Larry and Susan Kaseman
How Parents Benefit From Homeschooling
We parents put a lot into homeschooling. It costs us a lot of time: time to learn about, prepare for, and do homeschooling, plus free time that we don't have because our kids don't go off to school. Then there's the money: expenses we assume when we turn down free public education plus the fact that most of us give up opportunities to earn more income so we can spend more time with our kids. And what about the more subtle costs: shouldering the responsibility for our children's education, sharing more of our lives with them, perhaps risking their futures by choosing an unconventional approach. Thrilled as most of us are to be homeschooling, we do incur costs in the process.
So what do we get in return? Of course there are the not inconsequential rewards of seeing our children free to explore and learn, often happy, growing, dreaming, doing, being. But what about us? What do we parents get out of homeschooling? This column will explore three areas: learning, relating to other people, and, of course (this is, after all, a Taking Charge column in Home Education Magazine, right?), experiencing freedom and taking responsibility.
Layers of Learning
Learning is a many-layered topic for homeschooling parents. Most obvious is all the information we probably (okay, undoubtedly) wouldn't have learned if we hadn't homeschooled our children. Did you know that 1 followed by 63 zeroes is a vigintillion? We didn't until one of our grandsons told us. Think of all the things we've learned from kids who were so excited by their discoveries that they just had to share them with us, plus all the things we've learned because our kids wanted us to help them find out things we didn't already know.
Next layer: How people learn. Many of us accepted what we were taught: If you want to learn, go to school. Specially trained teachers will teach you what you need to know. Just listen carefully, memorize, spout it back. How exciting to discover through homeschooling that learning happens all the time, everyday, for everyone. We can do it ourselves, in our own way (thank you, Thomas Armstrong), by singing, laughing, playing, mucking about, climbing, building, taking apart, racing, sitting, daydreaming, you name it. We are perfectly capable of deciding what we need to know (in fact, we're the best ones to do so) and to go about learning it. No sense of failure because we haven't learned something yet. Just the realization that there's something else we can learn.
So as homeschooling parents we sharpen our learning skills, we learn more about how to learn. We listen to our kids. We listen to ourselves and discover we are much more capable than our report cards and GPAs and SAT scores ever indicated. We ask other people. We go to the library. We check the Internet. We decide we can think for ourselves and figure a lot of stuff out on our own. As an experienced knitter observed, "Don't read my books. Figure things out for yourself, and they will be yours for the rest of your life." Of course, we don't always have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants, getting ideas and inspiration from others so that we, like Newton, can see farther. But then we make this knowledge our own in our own special way.
A critical part of learning how to learn is becoming more skilled at thinking. Homeschooled kids often seem to think differently from the ways promoted by conventional schools. Conventional schools emphasize learning what someone else selects and teaches you, accepting the questions that are asked, memorizing the "right answers," and parroting them back on a test. By contrast, homeschooled kids excel at asking questions that interest them and seeking answers that satisfy them without being limited by what someone else thinks is "right" or what grade they will get. This type of thinking is rather like the much sought ability to "think outside the box." It encourages new and creative activities, explorations, and solutions to old problems. As homeschooling parents, we can learn from our children's example and benefit from their ideas when we are working with them to solve problems. It's amazing, gratifying, and, yes, a bit humbling, to be stuck on a problem ourselves and have one of our kids come up with a most satisfactory solution.
Our thinking and learning skills, enhanced by homeschooling, enrich our lives today. In addition, because we know how to learn, we're prepared for the future. We will be able to learn what we need to know.
Another layer is the emotional component of knowing how to think and learn, which can be a godsend and a great comfort in a time of crisis. Several years ago, a member of our own family faced a serious health problem, a matter of life and death. Our learning cure was very steep: how a normal body functions, what happens when that functioning is impaired, what alternatives are available, what nasty side effects drugs with multiple names have, why you can't choose a given procedure because it will make that happen, and you don't want THAT to happen. Through it all, we found the familiar process of learning to be grounding, comforting, confidence building, steadying. "We know how to learn. We can do this." Our family member recovered in a way that surprised the medical personnel, thanks in no small part to what we were able to learn.
What other layers of learning have you discovered through homeschooling? There are many, and they are available to us, free for the asking.
Relating to People
Layers exist in this category, too. The first layer is obvious. Among the favorite advantages of homeschooling cited by us homeschooling parents is more time with our kids. Here's the flip side of the "homeschooling costs us time" statement at the beginning of this column. We're very glad--well, let's be honest, most of the time--to be able to spend more time with our kids than we would if they attended a conventional school. We appreciate the bonds that deepen thanks to the time and experiences we share. The good times, the sad, the funny, the angry, the messy, the awkward, the joyful are all part of homeschooling. The connections, the memories, the understanding, the differences all contribute to our relationships with our children.
These bonds get us through our homeschooling days, the 24/7 aspect of homeschooling that might be too much if we didn't love our kids so much. They also prepare us for the future in two ways. First, strong family bonds give everyone in the family a better chance for healthy, life-long relationships of mutual respect and support that will be invaluable in the ebb and flow of whatever the future holds. Second, it's often easier to let go of our children's childhoods, to be truly glad that they are grown rather than reluctant empty-nesters, when we have thoroughly shared their childhoods with them. Does this mean there's nothing we'd do differently if we could do it over again? No. If there were nothing we would do differently given the chance, that would mean that we hadn't learned anything during the course of all those years. But it often means being at peace with the past and the present, instead of regretting what we missed.
Another layer is what we learn about relationships in general, not just those we share with our children. In a society like ours that emphasizes competition, materialism, frequent moves around the country, putting work for pay outside the home ahead of family and community, the opportunities for close relationships are somewhat rare. Homeschooling gives us a chance to improve and fine tune skills that serve us well in strengthening our other relationships, including communications skills, listening, patience, forgiveness, problem solving, team work. Developing close relationships with our children often strengthens other relationships as well.
Often we develop strong relationships with other homeschooling parents. The joys and challenges of homeschooling sometimes seem like something only another homeschooling parent is likely to understand. The power and uniqueness of the homeschooling experience draw parents together. Homeschooling parents differ widely in our approaches to education, lifestyles, income, religious and philosophical beliefs. But we are drawn together by our commitment to our families, our willingness to choose an alternative and be part of a small and often misunderstood minority, and our determination to maintain homeschooling freedoms.
Our relationships with others may also be informed by our identity as homeschoolers. As homeschoolers, we don't get our identity or sense of worth from the educational establishment or a particular institution. Our identity comes from what we take responsibility for and do ourselves, not from our participation in an institution. This gives us an unusual degree of freedom, choice, and self-determination, and a solid basis for forming relationships.
Freedom and Responsibility
As homeschoolers, we make our own choices and take responsibility for a very important part of our children's lives that is usually controlled by standardized institutions and the educational establishment. We succeed at something that many people think can only be done in institutions by specially trained teachers. Once we have had a positive experience with taking responsibility for something as important as our children's education and doing it ourselves, we begin to question to what extent we should follow the dominant culture and the directives of experts in other areas of our lives. Once we have discovered that we know our own families and our personal situations better than so-called experts and can make our own decisions, we are reluctant to have others make decisions for us in other areas of our lives. In fact, sometimes we refuse to let them. Once we have seen that families can do a better job of educating their children than large institutions can, we are reluctant to commit family members who are ill or elderly to institutions. Once we know what freedom feels like, we resist a standardized path in other areas of our lives as well.
Specifics of the independence expressed by homeschoolers vary widely. Some of us decided to homeschool as the next logical step on an independent path we had already chosen with homebirth, attachment parenting, whole foods, or another alternative that showed us the value and rich rewards of thinking and doing things for ourselves. Others of us begin our search for alternatives and taking responsibility for ourselves with homeschooling and move on from there. Some of us take increased responsibility for our family's health. We choose food carefully, prepare it ourselves, learn appropriate medical self-care, include exercise in our daily lives. Some of us garden, rely on walking or biking for some of our transportation, build our own houses, make our own clothes.
Through our work to maintain our homeschooling freedoms, we have learned to recognize encroachments on our rights and freedoms and to act promptly and decisively to counter them. Many homeschooling parents (and grown homeschoolers) use these skills to take charge of other areas of their lives as well.
Among the lessons many of us have learned from working for homeschooling freedoms that we can apply to other areas of our lives are the following:
• We can think outside the box, and investigate alternatives to what we are told and/or to what most people do. Whether the challenge we are facing involves health care, entertainment, earning income, or something else, we can ask ourselves, "In this situation, what would be the equivalent of homeschooling? How can we take responsibility for our own lives and make things happen that will be best for our family?"
• We can remember that we are in the best position to make decisions for our family. We can draw on our experience doing something that is different from what the vast majority of people do, which gives us more opportunities.
• We realize the importance of knowing what our rights are, what the statutes require, how they are enforced, and what is voluntary. If an official tells us that something is required, it often works well to ask to see a copy of the statute stating that it is. We can also remember that many things that begin by being voluntary are later required, so objectionable policies and practices that are voluntary still need to be watched carefully.
• We can realize that we must exercise our rights or they may disappear. This includes doing the minimum that is required by law and not ignoring violations of our rights, even when they seem too small to matter or it takes time and effort to protest.
• As homeschoolers we have experience working with others who have similar commitments and concerns. We can take responsibility for ourselves and work on the grassroots level rather than relying on experts. We can investigate and consider joining and supporting existing grassroots organizations that are consistent with our principles and beliefs or, if none exist, starting our own.
• We can stay informed about issues that concern us. We can find reliable sources of information and use them.
• We can communicate with our elected local, state, and federal representatives on important issues.
There is widespread agreement that homeschooling benefits children. Much less often acknowledged are the positive effects it has on homeschooling parents' learning, personal relationships, and ability to manage life. We parents have much for which to be grateful and many opportunities to enrich our own lives.
© 2010, Larry and Susan Kaseman