When I was in high school, I read a book called Free at Last about the Sudbury Valley School. It was enchanting, and liberating, for me to know that there were places like that, and that my mother would support me in any sort of school arrangement I wanted to come up with for myself. From what I remember (and this is when Sudbury was one place, an experiment, not a “method”), kids went to school and then did whatever they wanted. Whatever they wanted. On a bucolic-sounding campus where anything seemed possible.
There were teachers, whom the kids could ask to be mentors or contract with to teach specialized courses, but the (I was going to say “onus” but that is the opposite of what the discovery of things, ideas, peoples should be, right?) — the planning and initial desire came from the students.
Marcy and Brad (who are three and five years younger than me) even homeschooled for a year while I was in high school, and though I stayed in public school (partly because the system worked, quite well, for me), I felt free just knowing that I was not a prisoner of the school system. Though there were times, when I compared some of the ridiculous bureaucracies of even my pretty-good school (think The Office applied to education with a twist of Kafka) to the freedoms of Sudbury, that if I had not been so ambitious/competitive at that time, I would have quit.
Now, I like to think that I can apply the principles of self-guided learning to my career as a mother and homemaker. If I have an idea that needs writing or a book that needs reading, I can ignore the cat food spilled on the floor, and last night’s sink of dishes and be glad there are waffles leftover from yesterday and that the kids know where the paper and crayons are (and the roller skates, doll stroller, and cat), while I do whatever I want, right here next to them on the kitchen table.
It’s a pretty good trade off for not getting a paycheck and not being known for having a beautifully-kept home.
The appeal of homeschooling, and my brand of “homeliving” is, as I see it — the freedom to do and learn what you want. Freedom from both actual regulations and others’ expectations. If I jumped up to clean my house right now rather than a couple hours from now, I’d be doing it for fear that someone will come over and see evidence of my “sloth,” not because I want it clean for myself (which I do, just not right now). This is also a financial freedom, of course, the freedom Mr. Bennet’s paying job gives me and also the freedom from extravagant wants. (Or at least the freedom from thinking that those wants, which I do have, are actually needs).
So that’s the biggest appeal to me of homeschool — freedom — and also the largest drawback, because I have always seen that magical time when my kids start school (preschool and on), as the beginning of my personal freedom — from them.
But lately, because they are getting older (they’re 8, 5 & 3) and I can imagine Sally babysitting in the not-too-distant future, and because I don’t know if we will or should even try to have another baby, it has started to not seem so magical.
We had two weeks off school for our vacation, and then another week off preschool because of teacher’s vacations and illnesses, and before I knew it, I was answering Susan’s interesting questions about why our garden is “hibernating” right now and directing as Sally made an entire pizza from scratch, realizing that she’s even old enough now to deal with a 450-degree oven. (Under supervision. Calm down, Nana.)
I see possibility now where before, no matter how I admired the homeschooling lifestyle, I saw chaos and cramping and never, ever getting to go to the bathroom alone.
So I’m thinking about it. The basic philosophy — that my kids can learn without an institution to guide them, that I can provide basic instruction and figure out how to arrange any other instruction, that my kids can socialize with an even wider range of society without the structure of 8-2 school, and that they can become anything they want to be, is something I believe in wholeheartedly.
The biggest drawback, now, is that they like regular school. Sally has never had an academic or behavioral issue, and she loves her teacher and friends. Susan and even Spot like preschool and are always eager to go. Perhaps that should be the end of it, because it is certainly easier to send them off in the mornings and welcome them home in the afternoon. (Susan and Spot only go for a couple hours at a time, now, but I have looked forward to full days of being kid-free.)
Here in small-town Utah, I don’t feel the pull of homeschooling for any of the other reasons I have previously thought would make it an easy decision — here the other kids are, for the most part, good influences on my kids. I don’t worry about drugs and sex and that sort of thing. Of course it goes on, especially in the high schools, but it’s not something that can’t be avoided quite easily, and it’s not something that’s accepted as, well, acceptable. The values and lessons we teach at home are taught in the other homes around us.
I also have no complaint about the school Sally attends. As far as public schools go, I couldn’t ask for better, except for the large classroom sizes, but that’s kind of an insurmountable problem in Utah, and not as important in the long run as a cheerful, enthusiastic, receptive teacher, something that Sally has always had.
So why even think about it? In the past I’ve always been able to shrug it off, or wait a few days, and the idea goes away. Maybe it will again this time. Before, I’ve known it was time for summer vacation because homeschooling was sounding better, and that it must be August when I am dreaming of class lists and packing sack lunches.
I need to do some more research. Observe Sally’s classroom (though I have “volunteered” for parties when cornered and attended parent-teacher conferences, I’ve never sat in on a lesson), and read some books. My sister-in-law recommended The Call to Brilliance, but I’m finding it too mystical so far to be inspiring. On Twitter I got recommendations for A Thomas Jefferson Education, The Homeschooling Option, The Well-Trained Mind, and The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. Let me know if you have a book that changed your life. I’ll probably read Free at Last again (hoping it won’t have diminished as I got older).
And in the end, maybe I’ll revert to my default position, which was similar to my mother’s — that of support and interest in whatever my kids need, with intense relief that they are getting older and are (always have been) good at entertaining and “educating” themselves.
I asked Sally about it yesterday. What would you think of homeschooling? And she nodded, “That would be good.” Why? “Because then you could answer all my questions. Sometimes I have a question and the teacher doesn’t have time to answer mine, and that’s not good when you have a serious question.” Then she turned to me and said, “But would we still have recess?” And I reassured her that recess could be arranged.
I wanted to add a link to one of the best posts on Homeschooling I’ve ever read, by Mrs. G on Pioneer woman.