Nothing (Much) New
(Originally published in the September, 2008 issue of Homeschool Horizons)
Homeschooling, along with its magazines, support groups, suppliers and media stereotypes, is a very modern concept. Using home as a base from which to educate is not so new. My aunt, who was raised by her aunt from age six, attended her local maritime one-room school in the morning; but was thought to be too young to spend the whole day. She would stay home in the afternoon, reading. In the Laura Ingalls Wilder story "Farmer Boy", which is an account of a nineteenth century rural childhood, Almanzo Wilder attended school only when there was nothing to keep him on the farm. He didn't even begin school until he was nine years old. These scenarios were practiced by families that took education seriously. Almanzo's older siblings were sent away to boarding school; as were my aunt's older sister and brother (my Dad).
The rise of the modern homeschooler is the result of a system that takes itself too seriously. In the examples stated above, the public school system was perceived to be for every student's use. Now, the system seems to believe that students are for the use of the school system. Therefore, we look at our well-priced, well-equipped, and well-planned schools and say, "No thank you, we'll take care of this ourselves."
My own upbringing lent itself to the notion that the school system must not be taken too seriously. My Mom was a teacher for a short time and knew that a school-child learned very little in one day. She scheduled all our doctor and dentist appointments for school hours. We actually looked forward to them! I also managed to survived the numerous (and most welcome) teacher strikes that occurred as I was growing up. My education didn't suffer. I have the diploma to prove it.
My sister (who, like me, learned from the best) told me the story of approaching her 5-year-old son's teacher to see about taking him out of class early one Friday (full-day kindergarten in Quebec) so that the family could go camping. The teacher replied, "But then he'll be half a day dumber than the rest of the kids." He was kidding. I would love to add "of course" to that last statement; however, I was also part of a conversation in which a dad described the argument he had with his 6-year-old son's teacher: an opportunity had come up for a family holiday, but the teacher didn't want the boy to miss school. The dad marveled at the notion that they would stay home just so that his son would not miss two days of kindergarten. As the conversation moved on, I heard him mutter, "There's always private school."
The school system is forced to adjust to people who don't take it seriously enough to sign up for its entire package. But it gets a shock when homeschoolers (the modern version) reject it altogether. This is why there was, and still is in some places, so much trouble from local school boards when parents began removing children from schools. But I am glad to see evidence that the system is (as systems should be) adjusting. I know of some youth who began attending high school as late as grade 11; and the schools were willing to take their grade 9 and 10 home-studies seriously, even though they were not part of the official Ontario curriculum.
It's also nice to see that parents are once again willing to use the public school system in their own way for their own unique needs. I have seen many cases of parents taking their child out of school for one or more years, address whatever issues were causing difficulties in school, and then send them back when they think the time is right. The results always seem to be positive for the child.
Ultimately, I think that modern homeschooling has been good for the public education system. It's disturbing to see a system that takes itself too seriously; and it's healthy for that system to be challenged. When parents mutter about alternatives, and then begin the process of implementing them (whatever the end result may be) everyone is better off. Although the modern phenomenon of homeschooling is new, we are actually returning to the concept that the schools don't have the final word on educating children.