Amidst all this talk of educational philosophy, I thought it might be germane to the issue to share some of my own homeschooling experience.
My parents began homeschooling when I was in fourth grade. They were increasingly wary of both the quality of the local public schools (this was rural Virginia, and at the time there wasn't a Catholic school until you reached Roanoke, an hour and a half off) and of the quality of the CCD classes in Bishop Sullivan's diocese in the mid-80s. At that time, the popular resurgence of homeschooling was in its infancy, and the vast store of resources currently available (including the wealth of advice on the internet) weren't so easy to find then. I recall that my mom had Mary Pride's Big Book of Homeschooling (or some such title) and that was about it.
We started off using the Seton Home Study program. Seton is dense and busy and is designed, I think, to simulate a strictly regulated private school with numerous defined study periods. This was not a good fit for my family. The initial excitement of opening the boxes and oohing over the neat stacks of books quickly gave way to a low-level despair. We kids chafed under the quantities of busy work (as did my parents, I think). We quickly fell behind the lesson plan, and stayed behind. We did lots of work without gaining all that much education.
Honestly, I don't think that harmed us. We lived in the country and could run around outdoors a good deal of the time. We had no TV. We read lots of books, enjoyed trips to the library, took piano lessons, and started going to daily Mass. My dad had been a forestry major, and he took the family on mountain hikes. Besides the underlying frustration of always being "behind in our schoolwork", life was fairly pleasant.
Eventually we moved to Cincinnati, dropped Seton, and began using whatever old Catholic school textbooks we stumbled across. Classwork became looser and looser until, by my senior year, I had no assignments, no oversight, and no instruction. I knew that my friends who went to school (which was most of them -- I was one of the oldest kids in the rapidly growing homeschooling group) thought that I was smarter than they were. We were actively involved with the large local Catholic homeschooling group. There was no question of us not being socialized (as if that had ever been an issue!). But I had no idea what I should be doing to prepare for college, if I was even going.
The one aspect of our homeschooling day that was very consistent was religious education -- one of my parents' primary reasons for homeschooling. My dad led us in a bible study each morning, and we often attended daily mass. We did lots of volunteer work because we were free during business hours. We had many excellent resources at our fingertips and were surrounded by knowledgeable Catholics who loved to discuss their faith. As I've said, religious education was one of the primary reasons for my parents' decision to homeschool, and on that front they were dedicated, consistent and informed. On that front, their homeschooling was a success.
On other fronts, I'm not so sure. If someone had laid out Charlotte Mason's principles of education to my mother, I think she would have exclaimed, "That's what we're doing!" But that's not necessarily so. It seems that Charlotte Mason called for the active involvement of the educator, and as we grew older my mother became more and more removed from our course of studies, in the "just do your work and get out of my hair" style. Most of this was for reasons unrelated to education. She had some deep personal problems and became extremely depressed and unstable, causing immense family stress. But the events and the strain of that situation have certainly left me with a negative impression of our family's homeschooling, without which I might have been inclined to describe us as "charmingly unorganized" or "lite but harmless".
Perhaps I'm unfair in my assessment of our schooling -- after all, my siblings and I are all mature, intelligent adults (or are in the process of becoming so) who have gone on to acheive our fair measure of academic excellence in more traditional settings. But it seems to me that homeschooling should be about more than just turning out functional products. There has to be a base of stability and of trust -- the child has to be able to trust parents, trust his education, trust that he is being educated and that this education really is superior to the available options. Certainly, from this vantage point it seems that none of us were harmed (at least educationally, at any rate) by our homeschooling experience. But then, to not be harmed seems rather a low bar.
Next up: Darwin talks about his generally positive homeschooling experience!
(I have to say how humbling and yet refreshing it is to discover, through the process of editing jumbled thoughts into a concise statement, what is is that one really thinks.)
Palm Sunday homily
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