Thursday, February 4, 2010

Home Schooling: Alternative to Compulsory Schooling

Home Schooling
Life Preserver or Sinking Ship on the Sea of Education?
by Sandra Sexton

I never imagined that I would be a home schooling parent. I thought parents who chose this educational route for their children were either religious zealots or left over hippies from the sixties. I had a change of heart after seeing my daughter began to fail in a large metropolitan school, after being a distinguished student.

My son’s struggles were another factor. His learning disabilities meant countless teacher conferences, tutoring and Admission and Release Committee meetings (ARC). He had the good fortune of having many wonderful teachers who worked tirelessly to help him succeed. And he did. However, as he entered middle school, we moved and he began to struggle even more at his new school. His teachers were great, but they had many other students and couldn’t give him the time he needed. This brought us to the doorstep of home schooling.

I had worked many years as a substitute teacher and I had returned to college to obtain my degree in elementary education. I had a pretty good idea of what would be involved in home schooling my children. I was familiar with the Kentucky Combined Curriculum Documents and I had already taken the methods classes for teaching the elementary subjects. I knew some friends who had home schooled as well. So, I thought I was prepared. Little did I know.

The wealth of information on home schooling is unbelievable. There was so much to choose from. Should I choose a curriculum, in which my children would complete the assignments, mailed back and graded by someone else, a curriculum which allowed me to do the grading or choose a religious based curriculum commonly used in many private Christian schools. There was also the method known simply as “un-schooling”. I was also astonished by the cost of many of these curriculums. I began by going to my local library. I knew I would be able to find much of the information I needed to know about home schooling there.

I would soon become familiar with the works of Charlotte Mason, supposedly THE pioneer in the field of home schooling. Ms. Mason founded a school, the “House of Education” in Ambleside England in 1892. It would be, however, her book, “Home Education” which would serve as the “Dr. Spock” on education. She does have wonderful ideas and suggestions and was no doubt, a gifted teacher and author. As is stated in the introduction of her book, “The Original Home Schooling Series”, “Charlotte Mason is a bright light in the art of illuminating a child’s mind. Her ideas are practical; they identify problems and offer well-tested and creative solutions”. (Mason, 1935). Her method and style remind me of the Montessori method of teaching. She strongly advocated outdoor time and the need for fresh air each day and night for children. Ms. Mason saw children as “thinking, feeling human beings, as spirits to be kindled and not as vessels to be filled.” (Mason, 1935).

The book “Fundamentals of Home-Schooling: Notes of Successful Family Living” by Ann Fisher-Lahrson contained the most relevant information for my situation. I found it to be a down to earth, honest approach to home-schooling. It offered clear examples of the different types of home schooling from the curriculum based to the “unschooling” method, which questions the benefits of compulsory schooling.

I liked the idea of unschooling or at least a little of it. The unschooling approach is traced to the 1950’s and 1960’s alternative school movements. A key leader was John Holt (1923-1985), one of the best known proponents of homeschooling. He wrote two pivotal and well-received books on unschooling: How Children Fail and How Children Learn. Mr. Holt found that learning occurs everywhere and all the time and advised parents to allow their children to follow their own interests, putting traditional curriculums on the back burner. My son is a kinetic learner who learns most easily when he can do something that interests him with his hands or body. This is why I use a lot of the unschooling method with him.

In the future, I may choose a more costly curriculum, but since I am new to home schooling, I decided to try a little of everything. Cost was certainly a factor in the decisions I made, but the public library offered many free resources and I was able to get free no-longer-used textbooks from the local school district.

As I reflect on my decision to home school, I am struck by an online article I listened to from a podcast entitled “Where Should Orthodox Parents Educate Their Children?” This article featured a very interesting commentary from the Right Reverend Thomas, a Bishop of the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. He regarded home schooling as “bittersweet” (Orthodox Christian Network 2009), because, by choosing to home school, parents have given up on public education. I realize he is right, to a certain degree. His suggestion was to try everything possible with the school system before choosing home schooling. I do feel as though I did that. He also cautions against becoming isolated. We avoid this by being actively involved with a home school co-op in which my children attend one class per week and where they have the opportunity to socialize. My son also plays on our church’s youth basketball league.

By home schooling, did I “abandon” the school system I hope to be working in some day? I don’t feel that I did. I simply chose an alternative route for my children and I’m happy to report that we are sailing very smoothly on the ocean of home schooling.

Mason, M. Charlotte (1935). Home Education Training and Educating, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois

Fisher-Lahrson, Ann (2003). Fundamentals of Home-Schooling; Notes on Successful Family Living. Nettlepatch Press, Carson, Washington

“Where we send our children to school”. Orthodox Christian Network, (2009, September 11). Podcast retrieved from

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