Thursday, March 26, 2009

Joining Michele's Discussion: What is Education? (Part 4: Changing Ideas)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

How have your ideas about education evolved and changed over time (if they have).


My ideas about education.


When Anne-with-an-e was born, I had never, ever considered homeschooling.

Oh, I knew about those homeschooling fools. They were the people I'd ridiculed years before when they were fighting for the right to legally educate their kids at home. I'd heard of them (noisy religious fanatics that they were) and forgotten about them.

By 1993, when my first child was born, I didn't have an ounce of interest in homeschooling. I knew that my child would attend whatever public school was nearby, wherever Atticus taught. Because public school was simply what people did.

(I still believe in the ideals of public education -- that a great, solid education should be available to everyone, which is quite different from an education that is compulsory, but that's another post.)

I remember having thoughts about things that would be a part of "Kindergarten and so on" and I therefore didn't worry too much about some of those basics: "Oh ... she'll learn that in school," I would think.

In 1997, when Anne was about three-and-a-half, and I'd been a Catholic for two years, we bought a home from a family who homeschooled. I still remember the first time we went to see the house. As I knocked, I wondered what kind of demented woman would answer the door, and what kind of freaks would her children be, having been shut up in the house all day long, day after wretched, homebound day?

But shortly after that, I began to hear more about homeschooling from various quarters. A close friend was looking into it, though his wife wasn't convinced. At a Bible study I attended, a couple of people were discussing it. I began to find myself strangely intrigued. Oh, I knew we would never do it -- could anyone imagine Atticus, a public school teacher, homeschooling his own children? Preposterous. But, ummm ... tell me more, I found myself saying. Tell me. More.

They told me more. I began to read, and discuss, and explore online, and then read some more. I was drawn to it again and again, despite all my doubts and fears. I remember asking someone on an e-list, "Can I really do it? I'm already tired all the time. How will I teach my kids, on top of everything else I do?"

Those lovely moms assured me that it could happen, it does work, and that it's a process. Kind of like growing into grilled peanut butter.

I decided that if I completely blew it the first year, well, at least my daughter wouldn't be ruined forever. I could still put her in school for the final eleven years of her education, right? Eventually, Atticus was on board, too, and we began.

Now I marvel at how much my mindset has changed.

The idea of waiting for someone else to figure out our path? Or to determine all that my children need to learn? Conforming to others' ideas about what an education is, how it should be accomplished? It sounds like a foreign language now.

And, it all brings home the Church's teachings on the principle of subsidiarity:

The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

-- Catechism of the Catholic Church
We, as parents, are capable of making these choices and carrying out these plans. And, by not depriving ourselves of the most basic responsibility as the primary educators of our children, we have created something -- in the way of education, lifestyle and family relationships -- that we treasure.

In short, my idea of education has changed in this way: I used to think of it as "something they would get in school."

Now, I know it is "something we define, plan and pursue."

"Education" is a wide open space, a vast universe, a wilderness waiting to be explored; it's unconventional and traditional, depending on the day, the book or the topic. It's full of things that are fun and fascinating, not just things that are required to pass the test. It is books, discussion, and knowing when we don't need to talk.

It is our life. As Betsy said in this post, "... let's take years and years and years to learn everything!"

"Education" isn't something that's confined to a desk, from 8 to 3. It's a full-time job, and yes, sometimes it is exhausting to homeschool. But, I'm so glad those noisy, crazy religious fanatics fought for their right to pursue it. For my right. And my privilege, because make no mistake ... no matter how much work it is, defining, planning, and pursuing my kids' education is an enormous privilege, one I'm extraordinarily grateful to have.

On related notes, here are links to a couple of past posts on homeschooling:

Here's one about finding support for homeschooling.

Here's a post from 2006 about "What is 'normal' anyway?"


Upcoming questions:

What’s working? What’s not working?

What are you aiming for?


  1. Your posts on this topic have really been thought provoking. A friend of mine just became a teacher this school year, and while we were discussing a homeschooling friend of ours she said, "Now that I'm a teacher and see how much of what I do is more babysitting than teaching, I can understand why people homeschool. If I didn't need the money from this job I would homeschool my girls in a heartbeat". Thought provoking words all around!

  2. I just gave you a tiny standing ovation. This is such a great post. I too was convinced homeschooled kids were destined to be weirdos (and maybe they are in the most incredible way imaginable). I too got lured into the trial year. I too fell in love with the whole idea after that. And the Church's teaching on subsidiarity is our underlying reason behind all of it. Everyone asked why I didn't put my 3yo in preschool and my answer was a rather vague - why should I? Because I am capable of doing this well. Most days. ;)

  3. Hmmmmm. Maybe it's inevitable for me then. Because though I'm not homeschooling (yet), I'm pretty much following it just as you did in the early days...

    Great post, Karen. Thanks! :)

  4. Great stuff, Karen! I read your "normal" post too, and oh, so true.

  5. Oh, so much of what you wrote really resonated with me. I never considered homeschooling; used to think it was for crazy people until my eldest had a terrible grade 1 teacher. That was 5 years ago. Now we're all pretty enthusiastic, and even the wistful "but they'll go for high school, just for science, won't they?" comments from my mother have died down considerably. Particularly as she sees what kind of kids they are. That's the best retort to the "Why would you want to homeschool???" question, IMO.