Thursday, August 7, 2008

What is a homeschool?

I've always had trouble figuring out how to define what we are doing. Are we homeschooling? or home schooling?

I read an article several months ago, and I only wish I could find it again. The gist of the message was that if our goal is to be an alternative to group school, then why not call ourselves a home school. In that case we are just one of the educational options, so take your pick:

public school
private school
home school

If our desire in educating our children at home is to be a mimic the group school environment, call it a home school. I mimiced group school in the first few years: misunderstanding what socializationis and what my children really needed, using cold-facts books, expecting my students to follow a list of to-do's following a little instruction and then put out remarkable results. I thought we needed the best curricula you can find in a box, complete with teacher's manuals, showing red answers on my copy of the exercise sheets to show me the answer they SHOULD have gotten. I focused on getting through the pages, two by two. I gave them the prescribed verbage and the lessons on the whiteboard, and then asked myself, "Why? Why aren't they getting it?" I was failing them.

I never planned to fail. When I decided to educate my children at home, I had nothing to model the education I wished my daughters after except with the education I had received. My mother was a single woman raising 5 children and working several jobs. She did not have the occasion to read me a single book, to teach me to sew or knit, to ever help me with homework. Her business was working and I took on the motherhood role. I was my own mother and the mother to my siblings. My education took place in the classrooms of public school, and I feel I was served fairly well. But it was because I served myself. The teachers put out the buffet, and I came and took what I needed, showed them my full plate, and tasted of the meal. I had a love of books, no learning disabilities, an insatiable drive, and a desire to please. Other kids were drowning. My own children were drowning 20 years later in private school. And then they were drowning in my own living room.

It was just a home school...a school in a home.

Earlier this year, I came upon an educational philosophy that was new to me. I had previously dismissed it because I associated it with "unschooling." And I associated unschooling with doing nothing. I am strongly against "doing nothing" in place of educating children, because in my role as principal, I saw many children who lost years of educational "something" with "nothing" in the home. I have a someone who is dear to me, an adult, who only has an 8th grade education because of this "doing nothing" at home and calling it education. Yes, circumstances were difficult, but he is strongly affected into his adulthood by this doing nothing.

I was doing a search one day, desperately, on how to IMPACT my children in home education, and came across the name: "Charlotte Mason." I thought, "What is it about this woman?" I read a website, then another. I bought a book, and another. I read 4 more. I became aware of how polluted my concept of education was, as was the education I had received and was now trying to pass on to my daughters. I cried many, many bitter tears. It is earth shattering when you realized you've been duped, and when you realize you passed of twinkies as a well-balanced, nutricious meal to your children for years. It hurts.

I began to seek God about Charlotte Mason's philosophies and methods. I began to see that education as an opportunity. It is not a classroom or a "something we do" from 8-noon on weekdays. Education is not something that can be prescribed: "Read this book, answer 40 questions in your workbook, and then start math." Education is not something you DO. It is something you are. Education is an atmosphere. It can't be contained in a span of 4 hours. It is a lifestyle. True education is deeply contemplative, life-altering, life-giving. It hypnotizes the teacher as well as the student. Education is enrapturing. True education is a gift.

I'm truly not speaking about doing nothing. A Charlotte Mason education is rigorous. It is based on classic literature, world history and geography, Greek Mythology, Plutarch and Shakespeare, classic composers and artists, and a thorough understanding of the Word. Expecations are high, yet the child doesn't know it. Because they are so excited about learning, they are so happy to finally be getting a well-balanced meal, they find it pleasurable. This is why some liken a Charlotte Mason education to "unschooling," because the child doesn't find learning (or "School") a chore any longer. So in that sense, a Charlotte Mason education is very unlike education as we know it. But it is deep, profound, rigorous, and challenging while also being peaceful, profound, and liberating.

How do you know when true education is taking place? A child doesn't want to stop learning. They ask you to read just a little bit more of Little Women. They don't say, "How many more pages," but rather say, "Oh, I accidentally read 4 chapters instead of 1. Is that okay?" It's when a child says, "Mother, do we have to wait until Thursday to have our next Geography lesson?" True education is when you become utterly absorbed, and learning takes precedence over every other activity in the home: sleeping, eating, and all forms of inactive entertainment (electronic-based). Real learning is taking place in your home when your 10 year old child says, "Act 1, Scene 3 of Twelfth Night is very funny." Or when they say, "Why don't I have math on Fridays? Why can't I have it 5 days a week?" Real education is when your child goes to youth group, and when asked what their favorite activity was all summer, she says, "I started school early, and I love math."

Real education is taking place in your home when you have a homeschool. A home school is just a school in a house. But a homeschool is where home and school are one in the same. It is where the learning never ceases, education is a lifestyle and a joy, and lives are truly changed.

We started home schooling in December, 2003. But August 4, 2008, was our first day of homeschooling. And I am proud to say my kids now know the difference.

No comments: