Michele's Musings: Upon Christian Homeschooling
by Michele Hastings
From Homeschool to School
School is boring and homeschooling is boring but I’d rather be bored with my friends than with my mom and brother” quipped Asher in response to my question about whether he was glad he chose to go to school this year for grade 8. Thirteen-year-old Asher is attending school for the first time, after homeschooling his entire life. Asher’s 14-year-old brother, Tymon, is also getting his first taste of traditional education, due to our decision to enroll him in a few afternoon classes at a nearby high school. Although we’ve been privileged to homeschool our boys up to this point, we felt the need to once again explore our options. Last year was a successful one academically but rumblings of discontent caused me to set aside the vision I’d had for the teen years and contemplate other possibilities. The model we’d been following pictured our teenaged boys out in the community…working, volunteering or perhaps starting their own businesses. But that wasn’t how things were panning out. Interest and enthusiasm waned. Time was being wasted. Restlessness and boredom prevailed.
Much of their discontent (especially Asher’s) sprung from the fact that none of their friends were homeschooled. They identified more with their public-schooled peers than other homeschoolers. Although we’d been extremely close to another homeschooling family when the boys were younger, as interests changed, so did their group of friends. A love of football and participation in that, followed by other competitive team sports, allowed the boys to meet and become friends with other like-minded kids in the neighbourhood. Those relationships are still going strong and despite the fact that most of their friends aren’t Christians, they really are a good group of kids.
Once you omit the group activities with other homeschoolers such as tours, fieldtrips, and socials, homeschooling loses much of its richness and flavour. And when your kids do their academics “just to get it over with” and “kill time” in the afternoon until their friends are out of school, so they can go play football and hang out (instead of investing their time and energy in meaningful activities) homeschooling loses much of its value. Homeschooling through highschool can work amazingly well, but only if students appreciate the freedom that they’ve been given and use their freedom responsibly. Because that wasn’t our reality this past year, we began to pray about and revisit our options. We’re committed to our kids, not a particular style of education.
Being the daughter of a teacher, sister of a teacher, wife of a teaching assistant, and having teachers as friends and clients at my part-time job as a hairdresser, school has always been a part of my world. We’ve also appreciated the various activities we’ve been able to attend at schools in our city such as musicals, air band competitions, Remembrance Day ceremonies, science fairs, and historical fairs. Last year the boys were even able to play for our neighbourhood school’s volleyball and basketball teams. Due to strained finances in recent years, I’ve often flirted with the idea of putting the kids in school but until recently both were adamantly opposed to the idea. Tymon even threatened to “run away” if I ever put him in school!
All their lives they’d heard about the benefits of homeschooling and the problems in the public school system. None of their friends liked school. A few even asked if we’d homeschool them! Why on earth would they even consider going to school if they didn’t have to? They had so much more time to play than their friends did. They could follow their interests and pursue their passions and learn so much through doing so! They could get up later, eat whenever they were hungry, get one-on-one tutoring, read and write about whatever interested them, learn in their own way, progress at their own pace, and be done their schoolwork by noon! What’s not to like about that? They’d be crazy to exchange that kind of freedom for a life of schedules and bells, tests, textbooks, and homework.
Yet that’s exactly what they did…Asher anyway. Tymon’s situation is a little different. I decided to enroll Tymon in a few classes for a number of reasons, the first being that I had no idea what to do with him for grade 9 science. We’d already tried a popular science course designed especially for homeschoolers but he hadn’t really liked it. Tymon had loved science in earlier years and I was hoping to see some of that spark return. Being “scientifically challenged” myself, I knew that I would never be able to inspire him in this area. I thought that perhaps taking science in a group setting at school might be the answer…despite my creationist rather than evolutionist perspectives.
We also enrolled him in a computer class because Tymon is really good on the computer and enjoys creating web sites and making digital mini movies. I could see him excelling in the media arts area. And being that he’s into sports, phys-ed was a natural choice. Tymon’s classes are in the afternoon, leaving us free to cover math and language arts at home in the morning. Initially we were going to social studies at home, too, but Ty decided after only 2 days at school to take it at school next semester (since he’ll be there for part of the afternoon anyway.) That was my first shock. My second came when he told me that he’s considering going fulltime next year for grade 10!
My plan is working. If Tymon finds after a year of taking afternoon classes that he hates school, he’ll return to homeschooling with a much better attitude. I didn’t want him to homeschool through high school out of laziness or a fear of change, but because of the benefits of homeschooling.
I’m also glad that we allowed Asher to make his own choice about whether or not to go to school for grade 8. His plan to go to school “to get used to it” in preparation for high school (because he’s pretty sure he wants to go to high school) is also unfolding better than I expected. Asher too has taken a tremendous amount of ownership over his schoolwork and attendance. Despite his inclination to stay up late and sleep in, he’s been dutifully hauling himself out of bed to get to school on time, keeping himself organized, and doing his homework without prodding or complaint. This kid, who considers himself bad at math and hates the subject, completed 128 math questions the other day and got only 8 questions wrong! (Although the homeschooler in me thinks it rather silly to assign so many questions and let the students use a calculator. All that shows is how well they use a calculator! Why not assign fewer questions and have them do it without the use of a calculator?) He was also given a leadership role, being made foreman of a crew of his choosing to do “set up” for school assemblies!
When I asked Asher if homeschooling has made him a better student or a worse one he replied, “Behaviourally…better…but skill wise…worse.” He’s referring to the fact that he prints rather than writing in cursive and is a stranger to some of the methodology of school. I told him that teachers are happy to teach skills, but find it more of a challenge to try to control bad behaviour.
Tymon and I had one little hump to get over after his first day of school. He chided me on the fact that all his life we’d told him that “school was dumb” and now we’re making him go. I spent the next hour reviewing our reasons both for homeschooling him and his brother all these years and also why we are open and even leaning towards them going to school from this point on. After my speech he retorted, “Well maybe you should spend less time talking and more time teaching me!” My response, other than being mildly insulted, was hitting the books hard…with a smile on my face however.
Michele Hastings is the author of the popular book The Homeschooling Trail, which is described as “A ‘Fly-on-the-Wall’ view of homeschooling in the Hastings’ home” that recounts she and husband, Ted’s, adventures with teaching their 2 sons in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. For more information, please visit Michele’s website, www.michelehastings.com ■
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