Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Where I'm coming from

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.)


Fred said...

Thank you for posting this!

Amber said...

I second that - thanks for posting this. I don't know very many adults who were homeschooled as children, and it is always interesting to hear their reflections on the experience.

I think that in general the homeschooling world is going to go through some interesting shifts as all of these people who were homeschooled start coming to an age where they start evaulating whether homeschooling is right for their families. I have no idea how this might play out, but I think it should be create some great new resources and ideas as well as a lot of fuss and nonsense. *grin*

Literacy-chic said...

I have two questions--what did your parents do for a living that allowed them the time to spend doing things like, well, I was struck by the Bible study and the Daily Mass in particular? (That question wound up seeming less like a question toward the end.)

The other: how many siblings do you have?

Your homeschool experience sounds a very little like what I observed in my family, though more positive (and with religious elements). While in theory a more free-style homeschooler, my mom started with textbooks borrowed from the local public schools, but became dissatisfied. She settled for the longest period of time with Abeka, which she found to be a solid curriculum, but which was (IS) annoyingly Fundamentalist (to the exclusion of all else!). She started as somewhat hands-on, at least observing what lessons were being completed. It eventually became the "do the next lesson (and stay out of my hair)" situation that you describe. She was in the process of trying to finish her B.A. when she started, and the homeschooling continued through a nasty divorce, in spite of her ex-husband's sporadic efforts to force her to quit. Not ideal in any way.

One thing that she did that I didn't exactly approve of was to organize my siblings (4 of school-age at the time) into 2 grade-levels. This meant that they were necessarily measuring themselves against each other in an academic sibling rivalry. My oldest sister in particular, who certainly would have benefited more from a school-based social life, was a slower learner and had to deal with being surpassed by her younger, academically more advanced, "gifted," show-off sister. This has had a lasting effect on my oldest sister, who was never good at traditional classwork, but who was carried through the difficulties by having friends and teachers who thought she was interesting & nice, etc. She could have derived benefit from a less traditional homeschool experience that was more child-led, but that's not how it worked out. I know that one concern was whether or not my mother wanted/needed to adhere to LA state guidelines as well as needing to prove to her ex- that her curriculum was equal to what they would/could expect from public schools.

I am happy to say that my youngest brother (now 12) is currently doing rather well with the homeschooling, having more observation; he could not have functioned in a traditional school environment (for reasons that are difficult to describe).

I was very supportive of my mother's efforts to homeschool for most of the time, but became disillusioned. I guess in a way I just needed to get some of this off of my chest. (Sorry) (Thanks)

I enjoy hearing about positive homeschooling experiences!

mrsdarwin said...

She started as somewhat hands-on, at least observing what lessons were being completed. It eventually became the "do the next lesson (and stay out of my hair)" situation that you describe. She was in the process of trying to finish her B.A. when she started, and the homeschooling continued through a nasty divorce, in spite of her ex-husband's sporadic efforts to force her to quit. Not ideal in any way.

Actually, this is remarkably similar to my own family's situation after I left home...

Anyway -- my dad worked a regular office job, so the bible study was held in the mornings before breakfast. (Dad is very devoted to scripture, and has a wonderful teaching style.) We often went to daily Mass downtown at noon, and my dad would walk from his office and meet us there. Cincinnati is full of Catholic churches, most of which have a good daily Mass schedule.

I have five siblings, the two youngest of whom (16 and 13) are now in Catholic schools. My youngest brother initially had some trouble adjusting to the demands of schoolwork, but now he's caught up and is doing fine.

I have a very negative reaction to the idea of homeschooling after a divorce, based on my own family's experience. Of course I don't think a family has to be perfect to homeschool, but I do think there has to be at least a semblance of spousal unity and support. Homeschooling isn't a requirement of being a good Christian mother, nor is it suited to every environment.

CMinor said...

It eventually became the "do the next lesson (and stay out of my hair)" situation that you describe.

I think this is what is known as "burnout." It can happen to a teacher in school, or a mom at home.
It may be less of a problem in school as kids often rotate among teachers, not all of whom (we hope) are suffering from it at once, but it sure does detract from the learning experience during the times when you're unfortunate enough to be in that person's class! Of course, at home, or if you're in a setting in which you have to work with the same teacher all day, the effect is multiplied.

I don't have a cure for it, but all homeschoolers would be wise to watch for the signs. When homeschool becomes "do your work and stay outta my hair!" day in and day out, it's time to change the way you're doing things. For some, that may mean school; for others changing their method or materials. Taking a week off to reassess things might be a good start.

BTW, I'm not going to say this in your hubby's last post because I'm afraid I may tick some folks off, but tell him I think "Charlie the Hammer" sounds like it would be a really good name for a Mob hit man. Or maybe a pro wrassler.
[Baby, who is casually reading over my shoulder, submits that it sounds like it should be a character in Bob the Builder]

Anonymous said...

Ok, now I'm very curious to see how you get from your own not very inspiring homeschooling experience to a decision to homeschool your own kids. I hope you don't make us wait too long until the next installation.