December 6th, 2003

A Pocket Full of Murder

(no subject)

I apologize for having seemingly ignored the very interesting discussion going on in the comments to my previous post until now... life has been busy and is getting busier all the time. Even now I'm typing this with Simon on my lap and Nicholas wandering in and out of the room intermittently helping himself to dry cereal. But anyway...

Over the past six months it's seemed that every single time I meet a new person in RL, or strike up a conversation with one of the other women in my local church, they ask the same question: "So, are you planning to home school?"

And the answer is: I don't know.

Do I believe home schooling is an excellent (indeed superior in many cases) method of educating children? Absolutely. Do I know people who've done it? Lots. Did I ever say to myself that when I had kids I would want to home-school them for at least the first few years? I did, indeed -- many times.

However, now that I do have kids, one of whom will be starting formal education within the next year and a half if not sooner, am I enthusiastic about the prospect of home schooling them? No.

In spite of the fact that I'm quite capable of communicating information to large audiences with little or no nervousness, and that I enjoy learning and teaching others what I know, I never wanted to be a schoolteacher. The reason being that in order to inject any kind of life into the proceedings, I need to be able to communicate at an adult level with people who want to hear what I'm saying.

With K-12 teaching you have to take kids who really want to be somewhere else, and who often are somewhere else in their little wandering minds (I know, because I daydreamed through most of my education), and not only make them sit there long enough to do their work, but actually understand and appreciate what you're trying to get through to them. To be a good K-12 teacher you need a knack for coming up with object lessons and illustrations that will get kids' attention and make them remember what you're saying -- as well as an ability to switch teaching styles for different students with different needs.

I've done enough teaching kids to know that I am not a good teacher of kids. I taught Sunday School to grades 1-3 for about four years, and every week I'd sit there in front of the curriculum in despair, wondering how on earth I could make this information come alive for the students. And yet... the inspiration never came. I knew what kinds of things other teachers had done that really made lessons memorable and interesting for me as a kid, but I could never translate that into an approach that would work for me as a teacher. And I was relieved when I moved to another city and could escape the obligation to teach Sunday School again.

The thought of home schooling my kids inspires similar feelings. Yes, they are my kids, and yes, I know their interests and aptitudes, which gives me an advantage I didn't have with my Sunday School teaching. But I also know that when I try to teach Nicholas anything at home (how to spell his name, for instance) I can't get him to sit still or concentrate long enough to learn. Too many toys, too many distractions, too many opportunities for escape. Whereas by all reports Nicholas is attentive, full of questions, and interested in his Sunday School class at church, where there's a more formal learning environment and an instructor who is "Teacher" to him, instead of "Mommy".

Also, I don't know that I'm done having kids. So if I want to teach Nicholas at home, I have to figure out what I'm going to do with Simon, who is too young to learn, and possibly (in another year or two) with a baby who (if it's anything like my other babies) is going to demand all my concentration and energy just to keep myself sane and fulfill even the most basic household duties. How am I supposed to give Nicholas the time and attention he needs, or keep him focused on the work, in that kind of setting? Other mothers have done it, I know: but I don't know how they keep their sanity and I don't think I'm capable of doing likewise.

I'm also concerned about raising "hothouse flowers" -- kids who have been beautifully educated, but at the same time so protected from the harsh realities of the world that when they're finally thrust out into real life, they wither spiritually. I hated public school, especially grades 1-8 and the bullying I received during that time -- it was horrible. And yet, those experiences tested and strengthened me in a lot of ways. They were instrumental in making me the person that I am today. I would never wish such hardship on my children, but at the same time, I can't regret having gone through it myself.

I'm not really afraid that my impressionable youngsters will be indoctrinated in liberal thinking by the worldly public school system. As I recall, I was only in Grade Two when I requested an alternate assignment from the teacher because I didn't agree with the model of human evolution they were using to teach us about "Early Man". So while all my classmates were drawing club-wielding Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, I did my project on the Sumerians. (Rather funny now, seeing that both Cro-Magnon Man and Neanderthal Man have been bumped off the family tree of homo sapiens by recent evolutionary science -- rather nice of them to prove a six-year-old right. )

The point is, even at that early age, I already knew what I believed; and I thought of my parents, not my teachers, as the ones to tell me what life was all about. If what I heard at school didn't match with something I'd heard at home, I talked to my parents about it. I didn't just blindly absorb and accept everything my teachers told me, as some (though certainly not all) homeschooling parents seem to fear that their children will if they aren't sheltered from the big bad secular education monster. In fact, it strengthened my faith and my convictions to have them put to the test, and to be challenged to stand up for what I believed in. I believe that if I cultivate an open and loving relationship with my children, and talk with them about spiritual and moral issues on a daily basis, they'll know where to come when they have serious questions -- and it won't be to some teacher at school.

So. I have a bright, articulate three-and-a-half year old son. I'd love him to get a good education that will take him as far as he wants to go. But as to what form that education should take, or whether I'm at all capable of providing that for him myself... I really don't know. Am I just being selfish, wanting to send him to public school so I can have more quiet in the house? I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about that, and how nice it would be (especially if I've got another preschooler besides Simon to look after by then). But then I look at the homeschooled kids I know, and how sweet and intelligent they are but how vulnerable and naive they are when it comes to facing the real world... that worries me.

Anyway, I welcome more thoughts if you've got 'em.