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Avoiding the Monoculture through Homeschooling?

I recently reread a series of articles on urban parents choosing to homeschool I had saved when I was in grad school. It grabbed my attention because my husband and I have been been discussing it as an option for our kid. Since neither of us were enamored with our own school experiences and we feel it is a viable option for our family. Many articles reiterated some of the concerns I have heard about homeschooling over the years, such as the possible social and psychological effects on children and parents.

The concern that I have seen and heard most often about homeschooling is that the social skills of children may be stunted. Frankly, my social skills were stunted by attending public school (a very "good" one, in fact). Through peer bullying I learned that expressing dissenting opinions and unusual interests would result in name calling and isolation. Through in-class shaming by teachers I learned that saying, "I don't know," is a fault, and that asking for help is a weakness. And that looking different would mean being physically harassed. I was constantly afraid of speaking up because I might be made fun of, or told I was wrong, or called stupid. What I learned in school was that if you wanted to be left alone, you had to seem like everyone else.

I am not a fan of monocultures, and what many of our schools are producing is a monoculture. Most schools--elementary through university, private and public--have become factories, mass producing bodies for the service sector and managerial positions. They are in the business of creating workers. Students are taught skills that are useable by corporations and governments This system only has one acceptable type of output--an adult who follows the path set before them and works to increase values for stockholders and GDP.

Our teachers’ hands are tied behind their backs; they are handed a test booklet and a overfilled classroom and told to make it work. Children and teens who do not learn the same way as the majority of the student body get left behind and told they are defective; while special, sensitive, or curious students get beaten down. A monoculture may be great for standardization and mechanization, but what about innovation?

Homeschooling can allow for innovation. As a parent you can follow your child's curiosity wherever it may lead. Parents can tailor lessons to a child's learning style and inspire them to become their own teachers-- a feat most of us do not master until college or graduate school. I think one of the greatest gifts I could give my child is to deprive them of in-school socialization because innovators are not afraid to ask questions, offer opinions or be wrong. Failure becomes a learning tool, not an ascribed status.

There seemed to be two primary psychological concerns for homeschooled children. The first comes from an article called "Why Urban Educated Parents are Returning to DIY Education" by Leslie Price. In it psychologist Wendy Mogel "wonders how kids who spend so much time within a deliberately crafted community will learn to work with people from backgrounds nothing like theirs." I would ask the same question about school students from the racially segregated suburbs (and yes I am also aware that many large cities are just as racially segregated--I have lived in several). We, unfortunately, do not live in a society which embraces diversity on a large scale, most schools give it the same lipservice governments and corporations do; all talk and no real change or action. If you want your children to be able to interact with people from varied backgrounds, then make an effort. Commit to meeting with as many people as possible and to be candid and honest with question about race, religion and culture, regardless of whether your child is homeschooled.

The second concern is that parents may spend "too much" time with their children. This, I take some issue with. I have never heard and adult say, "I just wish my parents did not spend as much time with me when I was a kid." Having lost my father, I know that memories are precious and the opportunity to create more for my children is a great gift. Yes, I agree that controlling your child's life through scheduling and demands for perfection can be crippling to a child, but that is just as large a concern in families who chose traditional education. I think that part of homeschooling is getting to know your child and their desires, interests and needs--not foisting yours upon them.

Finally, the effects on the parent. First of all I do not think everyone is cut out for homeschooling, and there is nothing wrong with that. If it is not something you are interested in or suited to, than do not attempt it. I do think that for those of us who may choose to homeschool it is a disservice to assume it will lead to an unfulfilled life. I think that these arguments come down to a difference in perception. Happiness is not a fixed point, is very personal and looks different for everyone. If becoming a CEO for a Fortune 500 company makes you happy than good luck with that. It would make me miserable. I may find that teaching my children and working as a body positive activist may make me happy and fulfilled. Bottom line, when we project our own very personal idea of happiness onto others, no one wins.

All in all, I do not know if homeschooling is the route our family will take. As our kid approaches junior kindergarten here in Canada we are looking into the alternative school choices in our area--which are a bit more inline with our beliefs than a conventional school--and supplementing their education at home. Given the chemo kiddo received, we need to be on the lookout for learning and developmental disabilities, and as much as we watch, it may be best to have someone who is trained to spot these issues in his life on a regular basis. If this approach works for us then we may never completely homeschool. Life changes quickly, and with it so do our desires and abilities. More than anything else I think children need to be taught how to be be happy and define success for themselves--that is one commitment I can make regardless of their educational path.

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