When I was in school, homeschooled kids were considered freaks, and even though my mother was two credits away from a teaching degree and was quite religious, I don’t think homeschooling ever crossed her mind as a viable option. As Brodie says in her book, in the past, most homeschoolers were either ultra-religious and didn’t want their children exposed to secular teachings and temptations or they were anti-establishment hippie types living off the grid. However, these days, more and more people are realizing that traditional education might not serve the learning needs of their children – for whatever reason – and are deciding to homeschool indefinitely or for a short time.
In Brodie’s case, the reason was that her oldest daughter, Julia, just didn’t thrive in an overly structured school environment. Brodie uses the first few chapters of her book to introduce us to Julia and her particular learning challenges. She’s a bright child, but often lost in her own world, and very adverse to change. By the fourth grade, Julia was of the mind that school exists only to torture children and take all the joy out of their lives. Brodie’s evenings were full of tears and frustration as she attempted to force Julia to do her piles of homework, and she realized something needed to change. Brodie thought a year “sabbatical” from traditional schooling in which Julia could learn at her own pace might renew her soul.
To this end, Brodie did a bunch of research into homeschooling by reading a lot of popular books on the subject – and she started noticing that what was missing in the literature on the subject, by and large, were tales of the daily struggles that arise when a parent and child are alone all the time together.
“Among the millions of homeschoolers in America, there must be plenty who have stormy encounters with their children, and who sometimes doubt the efficacy of their teaching. Those people, however, don’t seem to write books. In the homeschooling volumes I encountered, expressions of serious frustration seemed taboo.” p 67.
Brodie definitely fills this void with her very open and honest account of her missteps and frustrations during her homeschooling experiment. And these chapters – both the ones during Brodie’s excited and hopeful pre-homeschooling research and planning and the ones that delve into the specific examples of what worked with Julia and what didn’t - are insightful and surprisingly fascinating.
I was especially struck by the fact that in many US states, the only requirement for homeschooling your children is a high school diploma. The whole exercise is remarkably easy to set-up, which is something that amazes me when I think of Germany’s severe anti-homeschooling stance.
Germany is a society that is considerably more liberal in many ways than the US (naked public sunbathing anyone?) and yet they outlaw homeschooling, levying fines and even prison time on parents who want control over their children’s education. In fact, in legal terms, homeschooling is considered a form of child abuse in Germany. I’m interested in finding out more about why this is.
After reading Brodie’s account, I e-mailed my friend who is currently homeschooling and asked her why she’s doing it. She offered many of the same reasons as Brodie:
- Child can learn at his own pace to avoid boredom at going too slow or frustration at going too fast
- Child can have more "hands-on" learning about various parts of life - going to the zoo, the store, botanica, planting and taking care of a garden daily, etc.
- Parent is able to pick the best curriculum for the child so that child is not exposed to only those subjects that the state mandates.
- Parent is able to teach to child's learning style - tactile, visual, etc. to optimize their learning and pick a curriculum that fits that style (this is something that Brodie only realized in retrospect)
And some that are unique to her own situation:
- Parent is better able to teach them a foreign language by speaking it to them at home (my friend is fluent in French)
- Family can go on vacation / take vacation when we want - when parents need it or the kids need it (Brodie couldn’t do this with two other children in regular school)
- More family time
So there you have it. It’s an interesting subject and Brodie gives a very balanced view of the pros and cons in a style that reads like an engrossing novel. Oh, and it's also the perfect choice for Mother's Day.
LOVE IN A TIME OF HOMESCHOOLING is available in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author’s website.
What do you think of homeschooling? Would you ever consider it - either for yourself (if you are still in school) or for your kids?