Being a father of six gives me—along with grey hair and a vast knowledge of board books—a good perspective on how different educating environments affect development.
We sent our eldest, Lily, to Waldorf for nursery school, and by second grade decided that talking to gnomes and fairies was probably going to backfire come 9th grade when she was in driver’s ed. So, we decided to take her out to homeschool.
Being our first, we researched the idea ad nauseum—the pros and cons, the curricula, the networks. We thought best to start simple and to tap into the local homeschooling support groups. No peer pressure, no rules that did not suit our family, no falling through the cracks, no selling gaudy calendars and taffy to raise money for field trips. Who needs that? Now we had taken charge of our child’s education. (cough, cough.)
Although Lily—our guinea pig to launch out into the new waters of homeschooling—was game for anything, it felt like getting our own anti-establishment do-it-yourself-kit, only the pieces weren’t labelled. My wife, Jenny, was our Commissioner of Education, Principal, School Board, and I, on good days, taught math. Our family grew, and soon all of our four children were being homeschooled.
Needing to be with other naïve, anti-establishment do-it-yourselfers, we made dates with lots of families. To our astonishment, we were disturbed by how little most were doing. Some did nothing at all under the flag of ‘unschooling.’ Our kids began to rebel against their teachers (us) early on and by the time the fourth was involved, the eldest were thoroughly disinterested. They, and their teachers (us), were burned out. All the pottery classes and puppet shows and "field trips" did little to alleviate the fact that we were sick of being in each other’s faces 24/7.
Meanwhile, a decade of life on earth was passing and our kids knew little about the culture of everyday life. The very thing we were protecting them from was what they needed to, at least, be familiar with. Why were we homeschooling them? For what imaginary reality? Just as the impending mutiny was gathering momentum, we came to our senses and enrolled them in “real” school with lots of perfectly imperfect kids and underpaid heroic teachers. The awkwardness we expected never came. They loved it. They really loved it. We got to be mom and dad again instead of sergeant and gatekeeper. The kids all got to taste life in all its colourful rough edges and slightly competitive moments. They found new mentors that INSPIRED them. They also found teachers they didn’t like, but it was okay, it was reality.
More than once, James, our third, came home up in arms about the fact that his Greek and Latin classes actually demanded homework. Today, four years later, he’s getting As in both.
Now, when they come home from school, they’re GLAD to be home. They’re glad to have a wider, broader, richer experience with other people. What we were really teaching our kids (unspoken) at homeschool was that the world is not a safe place, people are sketchy, and that we don’t need our community. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Now we converse on a wide variety of topics and all in a very open and curious way. Our youngest, who was never homeschooled (thanks to the patron saint of parental fatigue), is now in the first grade at the local school and very well adjusted, while Lily, due to a lack of exposure to the real world, is still trying to figure it all out. We do need each other. Just sayin’.
But Why Do I Need to Learn This Stuff Anyway? 5 Reasons Why Your Child Should Do His Schoolwork.