I recently stumbled across something that made me go look through my documents for the following essay. In the course of writing her Masters Thesis my Mom asked each of her children to write an essay reflecting on their homeschooling experience for inclusion in her thesis. My writing skills have (I think) improved since I wrote this, but my opinion of homeschooling has remained the same. Now with a daughter of my own, the question is more concrete, but I am even more positive than I used to be that I want to be involved in my child's education.
As an unusually young college student I frequently had opportunity to discuss my homeschooling experiences with my college peers. For them, it seemed the critical question, the single question that determined whether or not homeschooling was a success for me, was whether or not I would be interested in homeschooling my own children (should I have them). Over and over I heard the same objections from my peers: homeschoolers and their families are separated, almost reclusive. Homeschooling children do not enjoy the variety of activities and experiences that lead to positive socialization and don't get to participate in the group activities that enrich public and private school programs: team sports, drama, debate club, band, and so on.
In view of these objections I find it particularly ironic that I am reflecting on my homeschooling experience while sitting in the sunlight on a little hill by The International House at UC Berkeley. I am about to play my Charango (a South American stringed instrument made from an Armadillo shell) as part of a troupe of guitarists from the local community college. The International House is hosting an international festival and my guitar teacher, a native of Ecuador, has brought us to play for the celebration with a variety of ethnic Folk dancers and other musicians.
So how did I answer the objections of my peers in college whose experiences in education had mostly been very different from mine? As I reflect on my own experiences with homeschooling, what sticks out most to me is how very different reality was from the stereotypes people so often wrestle with. To be isolated, to be uninvolved is a choice, but is has nothing to do with homeschooling. My earliest memories of homeschooling are not at home, but at the local library for a children's story hour. I sat on (seemingly) gigantic steps in a vast auditorium and listened to the children's librarians read books aloud and narrate stories. When the stories were over I could briefly wander through the mountainous stacks and select a few books to be read to me (or later to read on my own). I have perused the children's section of the library as an adult, and am amused to find a small auditorium with child sized steps. The stacks seem smaller too, but on top of them I saw the model of the Spanish Mission at San Juan Bautista. We visited that mission as a family; I did not know at the time that I was learning or that this was in any way “school”, but it most certainly was. Over here, above the biographies there are intricate models of old sailing ships. I remember my father reading aloud the biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, a mathematician and sea captain of the 18th and 19th centuries. When my father read “Carry On, Mr Bowditch” and talked about logarithms and traced the slow journeys of Bowditch's ships on a wall atlas, I didn't think that this was homeschooling, or that I was studying math and history and science, but I was.
For me homeschooling was simply life. It is true, that like any other child involved in education I had times where I simply had to sit at a desk with a workbook and study. It is also true, however, that I learned as much from reading, from working on construction projects with my father and cooking at a camp in the Sierras with my mother, (and playing in Band, and interning at the library, etc, etc) as I did during any more formal classroom sessions.
I know, I know, I can hear the objections already. Didn't I end up with an education that left me unprepared for college? All that time with the family sounds like a lack of socialization to my peers. And even if I was knowledgeable, I probably lacked the discipline or practice to buckle down to the kinds of study and homework that college requires.
My experiences were quite the contrary. Age segregated schools create unusual and artificial environments in which everyone is exactly the same age. I was in fact more prepared at 16 than many of my fellow college freshman to engage in the kind of inter-generational relationships that my college, with its diverse student body, required. My most common experience in college, especially for the first two years, was amazement that the classes were so easy while those around me thought them so hard. I felt almost that the lower division general education requirements constituted remedial education, making up for gaps in most high school graduate's understanding of writing, science, history, literature, math, economics, and so on. Finally, when I moved on to get my BS in Computer Science at CSU Stanislaus I found that my experience with self-directed education stood me in good stead as I buckled down to studying advanced math, science, and programing classes.
Despite my positive experiences with homeschooling, my educational philosophy remains that there are probably as many different styles of successful education as there are children. Homeschooling does not constitute the “One True Way” of education nor will it be successful for every family and every child. My experiences, however, convince me that the positives potentially far outweigh the negatives: I treasure the closeness I developed with my parents, the time we had to experience life that was not wasted with “busy work” in a classroom, my own early entry into college and hence time to explore its rich offerings. Most of all I appreciate the spirit of continual learning that permeated my educational upbringing. I remain satisfied with my homeschooling experience, and, as I usually got around to telling those who inquired, yes I probably will be interested in teaching my children at home. Because learning has permeated every facet of my own life, guiding my children's education will not seem unusual or new, but merely an extension of my own lifelong pursuit of education.
Update: Welcome Carnival of Homeschooling readers. Feel free to poke around; I haven't written much about education yet (this may change) but you can read the "Best Of" links in the sidebar to get the flavor of things I've focused on so far... I might add that I've been out of college for five years now, the essay is one from my archives ;)