Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Homeschool Revisited

I started to write a response to a comment on my last post suggesting I had not considered the benefits of school away from home. It was a long exposition of my analysis of the pros and cons of institutional schooling as opposed to home schooling. Maybe I will post it sometime--but today I have decided to take a different tack.

We live in a world of choices--in fact, I believe learning to make choices is a crucial part of our experience here on earth. Every choice we make means we are giving something up--what economists call the "opportunity cost". We cannot have all opportunities.
Robert Frost expressed this more poetically than I ever could in his poem The Road Not Taken:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

How then do we choose? When we take one path we must of necessity give up the opportunities of the other. In most cases, the first step in making a decision is to analyze as well as we can the opportunities afforded by each choice. In doing so, we are usually looking for which road will lead to the greatest good, which choice has the more compelling claim to helping us reach our ultimate goals.

This is how I see the choice to keep my children home or send them away to school--both choices have benefits, but which offers the more compelling benefit? Unlike the poet, we cannot choose a path based simply on which is more or less traveled--we are not exploring in a wood but guiding the growth and development of our children. Such high stakes surely require careful and prayerful consideration!

In my discussion, I will especially emphasize the early years of childhood, up until about age 8. While much of what I say applies as well to later years, I believe these first years of a child's life are the most critical in laying the foundation for their entire lives. During these years, children are both growing and learning faster than at any other time. We often say that little children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them. Should we not be especially careful, then, in choosing our children's surroundings during these years?
As parents, we have a solemn obligation to teach our children to pray, to walk uprightly before the Lord, to know and understand the gospel of repentance and forgiveness. These early years are the most formative years of a child's life, the time when the foundations of faith are most easily laid.
We know that Jesus Christ paid special attention to children. We read in Mark chapter 10:

13 And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Sadly, we live in a society which no longer acknowledges the God of Christianity. In it's place we have set up the god of Political Correctness, with one great commandment: thou shalt not offend. As some take offense at the mention of Christian faith, it is no longer permitted not only to be taught but even to be mentioned by those who teach our children. There are those in society who have taken great pains that our children should be forbidden to come to Christ, at least at school! Instead, they are carefully trained in the art of Not Giving Offense: a powerful deterrent to speaking the Truth in the world because the Truth has always offended those who do not want to hear it.

But this is not so bad, we say. After all, we still have many hours when our children are not in school to teach them Truth. We can send them to school, let someone else teach them their reading and math, have a few hours a day without the constant responsibility of taking care of them, and still teach them the Gospel in the evenings and weekends. Ah, but what is the opportunity cost here?

What if, instead of a morning rush to get everyone dressed, breakfasted, and off to school, we could have a gentler introduction to the day. Children get up, get dressed, make their beds, and come to the table where everyone can enjoy breakfast together. Afterwards we can all stay at the table for devotional time--singing songs, reading scripture stories, memorizing verses together. What if our children could learn to read sitting on our laps, taking turns with Mother reading a favorite story? What if a math lesson means mixing up a bowl of chocolate chip cookies while practicing measurements and fractions? What if recess is a family bike ride around the neighbourhood, or two brothers happily building forts in the sandbox? What if evenings meant playing games and reading aloud together, because no-one had to worry about homework or packing lunches for tomorrow? What if family prayer could be more than a rushed morning or evening ritual, but part of the regular rhythm of every day throughout the day? What if handwriting practice meant writing a letter to Grandma? What if a multiplication lesson meant a 12 year old brother with a bowl full of beans teaching an 8 year old sister?

OK, the picture is idealistic--but What If? An ideal is something we work towards, the pattern we are trying to follow, however imperfectly. There are two very contrasting patterns laid before us. In one, children are pulled away from their families almost as soon as they begin to talk. They learn quickly to bond with their peers, to blend in and follow the crowd, and to keep what is sacred separate from their everyday lives. They learn that their needs and interests must usually wait on the contingencies of the group agenda--it doesn't matter whether they mastered this week's spelling words last year, they must sit through the lesson. And when they are lost in math class, there is no time for personal explanations--the class must move on.

In the other pattern, children are nurtured within the family, under the tutelage of the parents whose commission to teach and guide comes not from an earthly government but from God himself. They learn not only the skills of reading and writing, the laws of mathematics and science, but first and foremost the great law of Truth, the great plan of happiness. They learn that life is not a series of separate compartments named "academic", "social", and "spiritual" but one unified whole in which every moment counts towards eternity. They arm themselves not with a hodgepodge of disjointed social and scientific theories but with the Armor of Righteousness, the Sword of Truth, and the Shield of Faith. Academics are not neglected, but are integrated and take their proper place as one element of a life lived in service to God and Man.

If we lay a solid foundation of Truth, we will not have to spend precious time un-teaching falsehoods. Children who, in the early years of their lives, have gained a solid grounding in what is right and good will have no difficulty recognizing the lies of Satan when they see them. We cannot forget that the adversary of righteousness is working overtime to obscure, twist, and distort the truth. He wants our children's hearts, and will use every tool in his power to get them. Are we working as diligently to preserve them? Are we so willing to send our children away from the sacred walls of home when they have not yet reached an age to discern right from wrong? Do we think the company of their peers so important that we willingly release our children to their influences? Do we place such faith in the expertise of teachers that we will entrust them with the molding of children's hearts? Do we so value independence that we send infants into the world to make their way armed only with our good wishes and prayers? Are we still so caught up in the need to meet society's expectations that we fear to choose a different path for our family? Whose birthright are we willing to sell for a mess of pottage?

We as parents must take careful thought before we send our precious little ones into the world unarmed. Children do not come into this world prepared to discern and choose between good and evil. They must be carefully taught and nurtured as their bodies and minds mature. Does not a mother bird shelter her hatchlings in the nest? Why, or why, are we so determined to push ours out to try to fly before their wing feathers are fledged? Do we think they will not learn to fly if we do not push them from the nest on day one? Children, like birds, need time. Feathers need to grow. Minds need to mature. They must be carefully nurtured both physically and spiritually. If we give them what they need during these early years--tender love, clear example, and true teaching--when their wings are grown they will soar. If we try to make them fly too soon, will they not end up with crippled wings?

Does this mean we should keep our children tied to our apron strings until they get married? Of course not! As children mature they will naturally seek more control over their own lives, more freedom to test their wings. We should allow them freedom within limits appropriate to their age and abilities. As our children mature, we can revisit options for schooling and other activities, and find appropriate ways for them to practice their growing independence and responsibility. Individual goals and passions may direct different choices for different children. The overarching goal, however, does not change. We are seeking to raise up young men and young women who will stand as beacons of light, with an understanding of immutable Truth, of their own call to service, of the importance of family integrity and solidarity. Both our choices for our maturing children and their choices for themselves should be made within this framework.

As we make choices for our children and families, I hope we will carefully examine the opportunity cost of sending our children too young into the world. What benefit, what reason, could be so compelling that it would induce us to trade away much of our influence during these most precious foundational years of our childrens lives?


Chambers said...

Sarah, I appreciate the email you sent to me before you posted this. And let me first say that this is your blog, and you are completely entitled to your opinions and to post whatever you wish, whether you offend people or not :) However, I am not offended in the least, rather I think you and I will just have to agree to disagree on this one. Well, I don't know how much we even disagree on principle. I completely agree with all of your reasons and do not argue them, I just think that you have been blessed with numerous qualities many (if not most) people lack. An extreme amount of patience and tolerance to name just one. I wish I had been given more of the patience you have, but seeing as how I wasn't, I have to work with what I got.
Similarly, and quite possibly as a result, your children are comparatively tame and mellow. I on the other hand have two (and I would expect soon to be three) extremely active, inquisitive and easily bored boys, and it is quite beyond my abilities to keep them entertained, enlightened and out of arguments (most of which turn physical). Gavin is thrilled to be going to kindergarten, and for our family, it is the best thing for us right now.

Keeley said...

Bravo! What a beautiful post.

I have to say, when you get on your knees and ask about homeschooling and the Lord says, "YES!!!!" it would be silly to argue with Him. =D

The Lord knows each of His children, and He knows what's right for them and what experiences they need in order to fulfill the mission He sent them to fulfill. As parents, he has endowed us with the ability and right to discern how to best raise our children. I am so grateful for His trust in our fervent desire to do the right thing for our children.

Chambers, I don't think anyone was suggesting at all that you homeschool your children. You are the parent. You know them, and know how best to raise them. So raise them that way. =)

I just love the freedom in America. When you haven't been raised here, coming here is like a breath of fresh air.

Karene said...

This is beautifully written. Every time I talk to you about homeschooling, I find myself drawn to it because of your passion for it. The ideals you envision are truly inspiring! I would love to live in the world you describe with my children. Yes, it's idealistic and yes, I know you know that's not how reality breaks down sometimes, but still. I love reading and hearing your thoughts about this because I respect you so much as a parent and because our thoughts about what we want for our children coincide so well.

That being said, I am also in agreement with what Amber had to say. Every time I truly take the time to consider the homeschooling option, I have to come to terms with the fact that each mother is endowed with a different temperament and different gifts. You have been abundantly blessed with patience and a relaxed, easygoing nature that I envy. A lot! You also have a natural affinity for educating your children in the ways that you describe...easily connecting a handwriting lesson to a letter to grandma or mathematics to a bowl of beans. Educating your children as a part of the natural flow of everyday life comes incredibly naturally for you (at least, that's how it looks to me! Maybe it's harder for you than you make it look). In any case, I do feel that your passion for homeschooling is closely related to the gifts that you've been given and that it is obviously the right choice for you to educate your children at home. Why would you do anything else?

When I consider this option for me and my children, I find myself having to come face to face with my weaknesses as a mother, which is unpleasant, but necessary. I won't elaborate here, but let's just say I am lacking in most of the qualities that suit you so well for teaching your children at home. Am I making excuses and just being lazy? Maybe. I ask myself that on a regular basis. But I don't think so, when I'm really honest about it. I think you're absolutely right that the opportunity cost analysis is an essential piece for parents to consider, and that the temperament, personality, and strengths and weaknesses of the prospective homeschooling parent are an equally important part of the equation. And given that piece, even with all the advantages of homeschooling you've enumerated here, the answer can come out differently for a different family.

We'll have to talk more about this sometime...since camping didn't pan out, I'd like to plan another visit to you soon!

Maile said...

Your post is beautifully written. You have such a wonderful ability to express things that I only think in inarticulate ways. I love your picture of the ideal - that is one of the big things that keeps me focused on homeschooling. I was relieved when I was talking to my kids yesterday about a friend of theirs who will be starting public school this fall. I explained that some kids go to school and some kids learn at home, and that they would be learning at home as long as we live in this area. I then asked Kaia if she would want to go to school or keep learning at home. I was really rather surprised that she said she wants to always stay at home to learn. I'm not sure if that will be our long-term plan, but I was glad she likes the thought of it, at least.

Paula said...

I think I understand what you are getting at--we have unique abilities and talents and they greatly affect the course of our lives--we have different callings in life, so to speak. I greatly envy you your ability to keep a lovely, welcoming home--something that, for all my efforts (and I really do try!) I can't even approach. And yes, I know Gavin's very bright, inquisitive and energetic personality...three boys would be a handful for anyone. I do wonder though if you will find that a teacher with more than 20 other children to worry about cannot truly meet Gavin's need to explore and learn and grow...may you be blessed with gifted teachers!
Karene, if homeschoolers had to be like me there would be very few of us indeed! I actually think you would be very, very good at home educating. You are better than I am at providing order and structure, and would probably gravitate to a more organized way of teaching. I think you should read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer--I would loan you my copy but already promised it to someone else; it outlines a method of classical education in the home that I think would appeal to you. I also think you might like a way of organizing your children's work using workboxes--check out this mother's blog post: then explore the rest of her blog--lots of ideas you would probably enjoy doing with Cole.

Chambers said...

Haha, thank stated in one eloquent and concise sentence exactly the point I was trying to make. I read your post and was thinking the whole time, "but I'm not you, I can't do that!" Fortunately Gavin has a teacher this year who I believe will be absolutely wonderful. But should "the system" ever seem to not be working out for him, or should we come across a situation where we're stuck with a horrible teacher, I will definitely reassess the situation. And then I'll be hunting you down for your expert opinion and advice :)

Victoria Haveman said...

I don't know you but I ran across your blog by google-ing homeschooling. I'm dong it for the first time this year with my 4 year and 2 year old girls. I don't have much support from family and friends so I googled hoping to find some other people who home school and love it. I SO appreciate your words on it and feel God led me to your blog for the support I needed today. I love home schooling my girls and thank you for your words on it as well. Victoria