16 January 2010

Homeschooling does not equal conservative christian

Although conservative christian does usually equal homeschooling.

Recently, I've noticed an increase in writings about homeschooling and how conservative Christians love it. While this is true, I've also noticed an increase in people assuming that homeschooling one's children means that one is a conservative christian, and that's just not true.
 Yes, a majority of conservative Christians do homeschool their children, but I would argue that a majority of homeschooled children do not come from conservative households. I can't really blame people for their assumptions, though. I constantly get pop ups and facebook ads for faith-based homeschooling curriculums. And really, if you look into it, just about every curriculum falls into one of two categories: one, teach everything from a biblical point of view or two, overwhelm the children so they are ready for college before their peers are ready for high school. So if one doesn't know anyone who homeschools, except for the people who get media attention (which is primarily centered around conservative Christians and edited to get ratings), then it makes sense that one would assume people who homeschool are essentially crazy.

But there are other options for homeschooling curriculums. Many people choose to create their own, based on their child's abilities and where they are in their education. (Some five year olds don't know their ABCs. Some six year olds can already multiply and divide.) Many families take from several different curriculums to create their own for their children. And still, many families choose to unschool. Considered radical even by many homeschoolers, unschooling is child-led homeschooling without any curriculum.

One thing the conservative Christians and .. the rest of us .. have in common, is our reason for keeping our children home: we don't trust the public school system. Now our reasons for not trusting the public school system are entirely different; in fact, they couldn't be further from each other.

Conservative Christians don't trust the schools to teach biblically correct facts, and rightfully so. Can you imagine the uproar if our public schools suddenly started teaching that the earth is only 6000 years old? How about if they started teaching Creationism only, saying the Theory of Evolution was the devil's work? This group of people teach their children not only that, but that science in general is fallacious, and in some cases, down right blasphemous. They acquire text books which teach that global warming does not exist (or rather the warming of our planet is natural and has nothing to do with man) and that dinosaurs and man lived together. (And yes, I'm completely serious. Have you seen the documentary "Jesus Camp"? It's absolutely horrifying.) And let's not forget that the devil put fossils on the earth to "confuse" us. Usually, they begin the day with prayer and a bible reading, although I don't see how that differs from any other day.  The children still learn history, albeit from a biblical standpoint, and they still learn math, to a certain degree.

For the others who homeschool (and this does still include many families who use a faith-based curriculum), the reason for not trusting the public school system is very, very different. Most do not trust the school to truly educate and protect our children. Again, rightfully so. How can one teacher be expected to teach and cater to thirty children all at once? What is the school supposed to do with the children who learn differently or at a different pace? Well that one's easy. The children who learn differently or at a slower pace are put in remedial classes and labeled as "stupid" by their peers for being in special education; the school just labels them as "learning disabled". The children who learn at a faster pace are placed in accelerated courses, which basically just means they are put in a class with students who are a year ahead of them. Once high school starts, there are "honours" courses and "Advanced Placement" courses, both of which cover more subject material in the same time, the latter of which teaches at the college level with college text books. Neither of these are the answer.

Homeschooling allows the children to get special one-on-one attention. If they need more time on their math skills, then they get it. If they really love history and excel at it, they are encouraged to do so. It's okay if one child is struggling in algebra but completely engulfed by the French Revolution and learning French in order to read original documents to further his/her knowledge on the subject. Public schools don't give that option. If a child just isn't interested in science, it's okay to do the bare minimum in physics and chemistry and biology, teaching the basics, while allowing the child to master five different instruments so s/he can get that acceptance letter into Julliard or Berkeley. Again, public schools don't give that option. Many children learn more by asking lots of questions and having discussions about the subject material. Not only do public schools simply not have the time to do that, it often greatly vexes the teachers, not to mention the other students. And if a student asks too many questions, the teacher usually talks to guidance about it and the child is labeled as "not understanding the material" and put in remedial courses.

Growing up, I met several people who were homeschooled, all for different reasons. Scot* was labeled as "learning disabled" by the public school system because he learned differently. The school decided to place him in remedial courses, thus not allowing him to take a foreign language. His mother pulled him out. He is currently a high school senior, excelling in his studies, mastering Italian, and playing in a band, which is actually gaining fame and popularity in the public circuit. But he's "learning disabled".

David* was homeschooled because his mother felt she could do a better job. She even started her own homeschooling circle. David graduated high school and was accepted to Penn State. (I'm not sure how that went for him, as I lost contact with him shortly after high school ended.)

Val* was homeschooled for religious reasons. She has always been extremely conservative in her values and her education. Because of staying home, she was able to master many things, such as dance and cooking. Her mother (or her aunt?) has a bakery stand at a local market and Val has always be able to work there during the day since she does not go to public school. She also is able to focus more time on dancing and working at her church. During high school, she actually did attend public school for one or two classes (This is considered "part time".) at her own will. She was not forced to do so. After high school, she attended community college so she could still live at home and is now doing mission work in her local area. (She may be attending a four-year school next semester, but she's been so busy with her mission work that I haven't been able to get caught up with her in the past few months.)

Parents choose to keep their children home for various reasons. Maybe they live in an area where the public school system is atrocious, like Alaska. Maybe they, themselves, had a horrible experience and wish to protect their children from it. Maybe their children learn differently and the school is unwilling or unable to cater to the children's needs. Maybe they feel they can do a better job and wish to be completely involved in their children's education, instead of from a distance.

Or maybe the family has better things to do than to be tied down by a school schedule. Jay* works for the federal government and travels a lot, often for weeks at a time. Many times, he brings his wife and their four children along for the trip. Since he works for the government, he is always sent to places of great historical value. His wife, Jill*, homeschools all their children, and by making these trips, she is able to give them hands on lessons about US history, taking them on tours of DC or Gettysburg or Philadelphia. That's a history lesson that no classroom can reproduce. They are also able to spend a lot of time as a family, time they wouldn't have if the children were in public school.

Each family homeschools for their own reasons. Some are good reasons, some are not. (And I didn't even touch on the medical reasons for homeschooling) But just because a family chooses to keep their children home instead of sending them off to school every morning, doesn't make them religious and it doesn't make them crazy.

*names changed

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