I lead a double life.
Not that kind of double life. A boring kind. I’m not a superhero, not a spy. The FBI did surveil me once, but it turned out I wasn’t really the one they were interested in; they were after some other guy with my name. That guy, wherever he is, appears to be having quite a time.
Anyway, my double life is this: I am a public school teacher. I homeschool my own kids.
“Aha!” you say. “You’re one of those people, ultra-conservative and religious and socially awkward and weird!”
Yeah, pretty much.
You see, it’s like this. I started teaching the same year we had our twins. By the time they were ready for school, Cathy and I had long decided that she would teach them at home, with me supplementing where possible. It wasn’t really a difficult decision, once we committed ourselves to being societal misfits.
Since homeschooling is a major part of our family life and philosophy, and will figure prominently in this blog, I suppose I should clear up some basic questions at the outset:
#1 Homeschooling? Are you insane?
#2 Is that even legal?
Yes. America remains, at the time of this writing, a land in which parents are free to decide how best to educate their children. In the event that that changes, we are investigating island property in the Adriatic.
#3 How do you know that your kids will learn everything they need to learn?
They can grow wheat and milk a goat—what more do they need to know?
O.K., I’m teasing. There are many ways to determine whether the kids have “holes” in their learning. They can take standardized tests, just like the public school kids. Also, the State Standards are posted on the Internet, so we can keep track of what the PS kids are learning year by year.
#4 Does your wife feel confident teaching, since she is not a credentialed teacher?
The teaching credential prepares you for a classroom environment. Much of what you learn is geared toward teaching en masse. Ironically, I spent years learning how to differentiate my instruction so that my students can learn in the ways that fit them best. With two students, Cathy has individualized instruction built in. In short, Cathy knows how to teach our kids because she knows our kids. She has been with them every day of the last fourteen years; she doesn’t need to take time at the beginning of each school year to figure out how they learn best. Besides, there are oodles of curricular materials out there in print and online, when we need assistance. And my wife is amazing, which certainly helps.
And here comes the big question…
#5 What about socialization? Will they be able to function in the Real World?
I will respond to your question with one of my own: Have you ever chaperoned a middle school dance?
I’ll admit it; I want my children to share my values. As much as I desire that they be independent and develop their own opinions, I want to be the guiding force in that development. I refuse to surrender that responsibility to a bunch of hyper-hormonal adolescents. As I look out at my classroom, I see young girls who are dressed in a way that advertises their sexuality. I see young boys who are answering those advertisements. Why? The ancient and dishonorable institution called peer pressure. In most cases, these children are developing their sense of right and wrong based on what they see around them, not on what they are taught at home. Last year I had a phone conversation with a mother who was lamenting the situation with her daughter. The girl was disrespectful to adults, dressed in a very provocative fashion, and had friends the mother did not approve of. She seemed surprised that other children would have such a negative impact on her daughter, because “she only sees them at school.” Do you see the problem here? The girl arrives at school at about 7:00am and doesn’t leave campus until about 4:00. That comes out to forty-five hours per week that this child is spending with friends who are a negative influence. What sort of socialization can the mother expect in this situation?
I have heard that homeschooled children are at a disadvantage because they do not understand how to function in the “real world.” Hmm. As I stand at my podium and look out at my students, I see anything but the real world. How often, outside of a formal school classroom, do you see a room full of people grouped solely by age, seated in rows, and expected to sit quietly and absorb and produce information for forty-five minutes at a shot? I can’t do it. As I write this article, I type for a minute, then wander around my living room, then type a little more, then grab a snack, etc. Since beginning this piece, I have spoken on the phone, done the dishes, run out to the store for a forgotten item, and lost two hands of computer solitaire. I can do that, because I live in the real world. If any of my students did the same, he would be sent to the office and perhaps diagnosed ADHD.
I’m getting long-winded here, and I’m sure you have other things to do. For now let me just say that, while homeschooling may not be right for everyone, it is for us. It is a challenge in a whole bunch of ways, and yet it’s producing young people who are bright, creative, responsible thinkers who can…hold on to your hat…carry on a conversation with an adult. Well worth the effort.
Now, if I can just get my daughter to milk the goat.