Homeschooling: friend or foe? Desire to make children strong in their faith affects decision
With the advent of the new school year, kids abound in Target and Officemax as they search the spiral notebook sales and array of calculators. At Briarwood Mall, one may spot more than one pint-sized pupil toting a freshly purchased backpack. When I was beginning a new year in elementary school, I was all about the pens with the feathers at the end. The new school year is definitely here.
These sights, plus the cooler temperatures and the slightest hint of fall’s crispy aroma in the air makes me feel as if I’m also due back at an educational institution this week. Alas, I am not, but I feel a little jealous that I do not have an excuse to take up on all the 25-cent notebook sales. It also brings to mind something that my husband Gordon and I have chewed over for a long time: the potential value of homeschooling over public/private institutions, especially in the realm of faith education.
I attended a private, non-religious elementary school in Atlanta, and then went on to continue my education at Saline public schools. Gordon had a similar experience, but matriculating from a religious private school prior to going on to Huron High. We now both have jobs and college degrees, so it would seem that our educational experience was a success. However, Gordon and I have discussed how we will educate our future children, especially in regard to how we wanted to integrate the Catholic faith into it, and have tentatively decided that we’re going to homeschool educate our kids.
My initial reaction to Gordon’s zeal for non-institutional education was something along the lines of “but honey we want our children to have social skills.” I was indeed a reflection of a possible stigma surrounding those who are taught by their parents -- the stigma being that homeschooled children are sheltered, socially inept, intellectually dependent on mom and dad and, on the more extreme side of the stereotype, even brainwashed into complete close-mindedness from anything they have not learned from their parents.
I am still not a die-hard proponent of homeschooling, but my prior dubiousness has ebbed for a few key reasons. On a practical level, kids may indeed learn more in less time with the one-on-one attention homeschooling makes possible. They have the opportunity to learn as fast as they can understand the concepts but can take the time to thoroughly comprehend what they are learning before they go on. Public or private schools may not offer as enriching of an individual lesson plan, and as I remember from my years as a blundering math student in both public and private school settings, I rarely understood the lessons by the time we moved on to the next unit.
Socially, it does seem that homeschooled kids would not attain enough peer interaction to shape their own abilities to mesh with different personalities and backgrounds. However, there are many local homeschool groups where kids can enroll in sports, theater, musical endeavors, and even take conventional classes together taught by a homeschooling parent. From what I have gathered from a brief look at what these homeschool groups offer, the pupils are given the opportunity to fill their lives with pursuits that are filled with interaction outside the home, many times equal or more than that of a conventionally educated student, except there is more opportunity to interact with those that share their faith.
Our most important factor in considering homeschooling was our faith. Allow me to clarify that our goal here is not to “brainwash” our children into thinking just as we do, with no independent skills to make their own decisions in regards to their faith and how they live their lives. Yet we also acknowledge our responsibility as parents to guide our kids to what we truly believe is the utmost, undeniable, and whole-hearted truth.
Teaching our children to be Catholic, in our case, should also include teaching them the reasons behind why we are Catholic, and to teach them to actively think about why they attend mass, go to confession, and pray, etc. Although this is definitely achievable in a private or alongside a public school education, homeschooling does offer a benefit in that the study of faith can be possibly more integrated into all areas of learning. Placing one’s kids into a school where teachers and other students of different faith is not at all a bad thing, but surrounding a child with those who support and uphold their faith, especially when they are very young, could have its advantages in their confidence of faith later.
We want to homeschool because we want our children to grow up to be independent, confident, socially adept adults who can exist in the real world peacefully with those who do not have similar beliefs, but maintaining confidence in their own faith and values. In terms of their own independence, I have found that homeschooling could lead to a child having more ownership of their education where learning isn’t something they do from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. to earn a grade, but a constant pursuit of discovery. When they have the freedom to study and learn outside of 50 to 90 minute blocks of predetermined subjects, kids might find the time and the drive to just learn more, just because they are interested. Not to say that they should not be challenged and pushed, but some freedom that homeschooling offers may empower some to take vigorous steps in their own learning.
All this is not to say that I think a traditional education is far inferior to homeschooling, as I do not believe this at all. A child could grow up to be a very balanced, tolerant, faith-based person in any educational setting. Really, I feel a lot rests on the parents and their behavior towards others regardless of the schooling. However, I have come a long way than I was before in terms of recognizing the value of home based education, and that it does not doom children to dork-dom and intolerance of other traditions, but it nurtures a fascination with learning, faith and the relationship between the two.
Anna Kangas is a freelance writer for the Ann Arbor area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.