Note: The original version of this post originally appeared in March 2020 on my blog Accidental Hippies, which is about our adventures building a homestead from scratch. I realized that I wanted to speak more directly to homeschoolers, so this blog was born.
When I was getting ready to enter university back in 2003, I knew in my heart that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. I wanted to be a teacher! But not just any teacher. As a flutist, I knew that music was important and I recognized the power of music to educate the whole person.
So I set out on a grand adventure to earn my Bachelor of Music Education.
As preservice teachers, we were often required to write our “philosophies of education”.
What is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of teaching? How do students learn best?
I struggled with those assignments. How was I really supposed to know? I thought I knew, but without experience in the classroom, I didn’t. My attempts to put it on paper were hamfisted at best.
I completed my student teaching and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in December of 2007. Being mid-year, there were no jobs available, so I started my master’s degree that next semester to fill the time. We emerged into the Great Recession but through great providence, I managed to get a job teaching music in a small Catholic high school, and completed my Master of Music Education degree while teaching there.
That school became like my second home. I loved getting to form personal connections with the students by creating great music together, but I was constantly frustrated. I didn’t really know why and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But that frustration was always there.
After my son was born, I had an even harder time going to school every day.
I loved the camaraderie I had with my fellow teachers, how supportive my administrators were, and the relationships I formed with my students. But I was wearing out.
During that same timeframe, we decided to sell our house, buy land, and build an off-grid homestead out of cordwood masonry. If you’re not familiar with our huge homestead building project, you can read more about it on my other blog here.
We had SO much going on. Through it all, I grew tired and frustrated with having to get up before the sun to leave my own child so I could go teach the children of other people. I was worn down from the late nights for pep band. I was troubled by the behavior issues I saw in our son when I was at school for 12-14 hours a day.
More importantly, I was still drained from something about school that I couldn’t quite articulate.
So after ten years in the classroom, I left.
In many ways, leaving my job was a brutally tough decision. I had formed a family at my school and truly loved everyone. I also didn’t realize exactly how much of my identity I had tied to being a “music educator”. It took me a full year to work through it.
The decision to homeschool isn’t one that I came to right away. In fact, like most of the hippyish things in my life (like cloth diapers or building a house out of trees), it was actually my husband’s idea! He planted the idea before I quit my job, saying, “If you’re wanting to be home with our son, have you thought about homeschooling?”
He’d thought of it for years apparently. See, he was one of those super-smart students and got all A’s without actually trying. He saw right through busy work and felt that he could achieve much more if he wasn’t stuck in the four walls of a classroom all day.
I, on the other hand, made my babysitters play school with me. I dreamt of having my own classroom from the time I was five years old because I LOVED school. Heck, I did worksheets for FUN.
When he posed the idea of homeschooling to me, I was skeptical.
How on earth could I possibly teach my own child better than my colleagues who, like me, had spent years obtaining degrees, certifications, and rank advancements? What an audacious thought to have!
Moreover, don’t all homeschoolers turn out weird? What about socialization? Isn’t homeschooling just for the ultra-religious?
But I saw how much the concept of homeschooling meant to my husband and I wanted to honor that. I knew it was coming from a place of love and concern for our bright and curious child. So I took to learning everything I could about it.
I attended the local Great Homeschool Convention in the spring semester before I’d even put in my formal resignation from school teaching. It was a whole new world for me! Hearing wonderful speakers and authorities on home education started opening my eyes to the possibilities.
I threw myself into learning.
I started reading books, talking to actual homeschool parents, listening to podcasts about home education, and joined homeschool groups on Facebook. Since my child was still technically in preschool, I started testing the waters of homeschooling. I figured there wasn’t much harm since it’s “just preschool”. I could always send him to school later if I wanted to. The stakes didn’t seem super high, so we went for it.
It’s taken me several years to be confident in what we’re doing, but I’ve learned more about my real “philosophy of education” because homeschooling has forced me to think about it. It made me realize why I was actually frustrated as a formal classroom teacher.
My frustration stemmed from the system and structure of school.
I want to be absolutely clear here that I don’t blame administrators or teachers for this. They didn’t create the system. They have to work hard to teach kids inside of a system that was devised more than 100 years ago. Teachers and administrators do their absolute best every day and devote themselves to caring for your kids. But the system and structure of school make it SO HARD to actually educate effectively.
As teachers, we KNOW best practices. We understand how the brain learns. We preach “Maslow before Bloom” because we know the needs of a child need to be met before a child can learn. Most teachers understand their content extraordinarily well and have a passion for educating the whole child. But teachers’ hands are often tied by state and national mandates. I saw the absolute elation of some of my teacher friends when our state suspended its yearly assessments due to the ongoing crisis. They started looking at all the wonderful topics they could cover now that they didn’t have to “teach to the test”!
Just as teachers are seeking educational freedom, so are students. Kids WANT to learn but often feel like they have no real ownership of it when assignments are dictated to them. And even if teachers cover all of the mandated content, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether students remember it or not. Even those of us who had master teachers have serious knowledge gaps. Why? Because no matter how fun or engaging a teacher makes a lesson, educators know one big thing:
You can’t actually FORCE a child to learn.
They can sit in your class every day, spit out information on a test or in an essay, and retain NONE of it. You yourself probably did the same thing. Think about it: right now, could you do a math worksheet on the quadratic equation or convert fractions to decimals? Could you recite the order of plant and animal taxonomy from basic biology? Can you still diagram a sentence?
Maybe, but probably not. If you can, it’s probably because you found it interesting, applicable, or found a novel reason to remember it.
Learning isn’t about regurgitating information on assessments or making the Honor Roll. It isn’t about the accumulation of knowledge and facts.
Learning is about becoming a dynamic critical thinker with a capacity to reason and a desire to learn that lasts a lifetime. It’s about learning to use the knowledge you accumulate in new, innovative ways. It’s about becoming a part of and adding to the collective wisdom of humanity.
Right now, homeschooling is the best way for our family to meet those outcomes.
That isn’t to suggest he wouldn’t learn at school. He certainly would, but homeschooling provides our family with a positive and flexible setting for living out our educational philosophies.
Homeschooling allows our family to:
- Follow interests and passions (while still meeting “core standards”)
- Learn for the sake of learning and not for the pressure of a grade
- Study topics that most schools don’t cover (shoutout to Jazz history, Formal Logic, or Culinary Arts)
- Learn by being active, not just sitting at a desk
- Experience the world at a whim
- Go outside whenever we want
- Prioritize free play
- Get enough sleep
- Not be over-scheduled
- Have free evenings that aren’t dictated by homework
- Make friends with a wide variety of people across ages and spectrums, not just same-age peers
- Volunteer and serve others
- Learn at the times that work best without adhering to a strict schedule
- Experience failure as a vital part of the learning process and not as a poor mark on your record
- Attain skills and knowledge in personally meaningful ways
- Take “deep dives” into subjects we find fascinating
- Differentiate on a personal level
- Apply skills and knowledge to real-life situations
- Travel when we want to
- Form deeper, meaningful family relationships through partnership learning
- Create a lifestyle and family culture where learning happens all the time, not just at “school time”
Each family is unique and has different philosophies on teaching and learning, but this is what works for us right now.
How can homeschooling serve your family, especially if you’re a new or “sudden” homeschooler? Check out these posts to get started:
Join me on the journey of relaxed home education!
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