Monday, 27 August 2012

Homeschooling Hints Part Six - Fully Fledged

Warning: this is a loooong post!  If you're going to read it in one sitting, I suggest making yourself a nice cup of tea and finding yourself a comfortable seat to sit in, before you begin to read!

I fully intended for this post to appear much earlier than it has!  But there is a reason why it has taken me so long to put this all together.  You'll see as you read that I've been given the assistance of my children to write this post, and in so doing, we've had some very interesting conversations!  So interesting, in fact, that many mealtimes recently have lasted for far longer than usual, while we all sat together and discussed different points about education, faith, child training, marriage and so much more.  It has been a real eye opener for me - and made me realise just how very important it is that we make the right decisions about how to educate our children.  I'm so glad I brought this topic up with the cubs - it has really been a very interesting few weeks, here at our dinner table!

Our choices in deciding where and how to educate our children are based on many different factors - economy, location, the needs of the children, the quality of education available, the type of education desired.  But at the heart of all these choices, and what motivates us to make them, is the purpose.  What is the purpose of educating our children?  Of course, all the fators listed above will influence the purpose, but at its most basic, the purpose of any education is to equip our children to be able to function in society, as informed, effective, responsible, moral adults, able to make their own decisions and to parent their own children sucessfully.  Education is about all these things - not just about learning facts and information, or about developing skills and furthering talents.  It's about creating adults who can take the next generation into the future and contribute to the world in a positive and Godly way that will benefit all those around them, and society at large.  Today, in the final part of my Homeschooling Hints series, I'm going to look at the purpose of homeschooling - and its influence on our children once they reach adulthood, and are getting ready to "fly the nest".

As parents, despite having very similar upbringings in many ways, Papa Bear and I have had very different experiences of education.  Mine was - unusually for our culture - a formal, state school education, which finished at the age when compulsory education finishes - in England, that is at 16.  By then, I was already a married woman - something which in our culture is not unusual, however.  And in fact, looking back, I think that our parents were very eager and happy for us to be married that early, because they felt that the responsibility of marriage would be a stabilising influence for us, especially Papa Bear, who had begun to develop quite a rebellious spirit.  This came I think from his own experience of education, so different from mine.  Essentially, he was "unschooled" - a term which has become quite popular now, to describe a movement in home education in which the theory is that a child learns best through all experiences - not just formal education - and that play, social activities and other life experiences contribute to their learning just as much as the more structured, traditional approaches.  While we both agree that experiences like this are of course educational, we don't agree that this is sufficient, as unschoolers do, to educate a child to be a fully effective member of society.  And in fact, all children, home educated, unschooled, state schooled or otherwise, will have these experiences, whether purposefully or not.  They are just part of growing up, and even children attending state school have opportunites to play and have unstructured activities - I know I did.  Now Papa Bear is the first to agree that he had a great time growing up without any formal schooling.  He spent a lot of it outdoors, unattended by adults (other than his older brothers, who were also "unschooled"), roaming far and wide, and getting into all sorts of scrapes!  He loved being able to explore the world with no restrictions whatsoever.  But he grew up with some big gaps in his education. 

Until I was homeschooling our children, Papa Bear was not able to read or write (other than his own name).  He could not tell the time, nor recognise numbers, although he has an excellent mathematical mind, and can make calculations in his head that most people would struggle with even on paper.   But without these basic skills, he struggled at work.  He had to rely on his brothers to help him (they do not have dyslexia, so they were able to teach themselves to read and write) and he tells me that in shops and such like, he had to rely on pictures and familiar images to tell him what he was buying, and the shapes and size of the coins to know how much to pay for.  He says it was extremely difficult, not to mention alienating and humiliating.  This is why he was very strongly of the view, that he wanted our children to have a different experience of education than his.  And I felt the same - although I had mostly enjoyed my experience of state school, there were many negative influences that had tainted my learning and my values, and I felt that our children should get a better start - and a more thorough education, if they were to recieve it from the people who knew best what was needed for them - their parents.  So our choice to homeschool was made, and we have never regretted it.

Some homeschooling families find that they do not wish to continue with home education throughout the entire of the children's compulsory education years, and will instead turn to state or private schooling outside the home, when the child reaches an age where they feel their own knowledge is insufficient to teach them adequately, or where they feel the child needs the experience of learning among others to fully benefit from their education.  For us, we felt that homeschool until our children had reached A level standard was our goal, no matter how many years this took, and I am pleased that we were able to reach it, although it did mean that I had to "go back to school" myself to make sure that I was able to teach our children sufficiently to reach A level standard - and pass - at a younger age than they would have, had they been educated at a state school.  Beyond this level, we then needed to sit down as a family and think about what steps to take next.

To return to what I say about the purpose of education, it became very apparent that if our children were to achieve all the goals that we had initially had for them, when we became parents, they would need to continue in education for a little longer, and that this education would need to be of a higher level than I could reasonably provide for them.  We felt it would be doing them a great disservice, to have me try to carry on teaching them past A level standard, when there were so many different courses and ways of learning available to them as older teenagers, that had not been available when they were younger.  Now some parents prefer that their children remain at home for this stage of their education, and would have them learn from home, online or through tutors, rather than attend college.  But we felt, as parents and as a family, that the experience of going to college - just as the unschoolers say - was part of the whole learning package, and that it would be beneficial to our children to participate in this.  Some may say that we were taking a huge risk in doing this - especially, knowing as I do from my state school education, how negative the influences of the wider culture we live in can be to young minds, and there could be a danger that we would be undoing all the good work that we had put in already, by sending our children out to college, where there would be no way of monitoring the environment they were in.  In fact people did actually say this to us - especially some of Papa Bear's family, who were very opposed.  However, our strong feeling was that we were confident enough that the solid grounding our children had recieved during their homeschooling, both educationally and more importantly, spiritually, was sufficient to protect them from being damaged by these negative influences.  In short, we were so trusting of our children's ability to make the right choices when they were out in the wider culture of college and all that this would entail, that we felt brave enough to allow them to do this, knowing that there was indeed a chance that they would encounter things that made them question what they had learned, or what they believed.  It was a risk we felt prepared to take.

We are so glad that we trusted them!  So far, we know we have made the right decision.  Our cubs are doing brilliantly well at college.  They are getting excellent grades, are well liked by their peers, and have not once wavered in their beliefs or in their ability to make right choices.  We are so very proud of them, and feel that their education, far from making them narrow minded, has in fact equipped them to make the right choices, because they are so certain of what they believe, that there is never any question for them, of what they should do.  We are very glad indeed to have been homeschooling parents!

But what about our cubs?  What do they think about their education?  Do they feel it has helped them to make better choices as young adults?  And how has it measured up, now that they are college students, with the education of their peers?  Well, how better to find out, than to ask them?

Over to you, cubs!

For this section of the post, I'm going to present a question-and-answer session which is a summary of some of the discussions we have had recently about this important topic.  My questions are in bold, the cubs' replies are initialled (LB for Little Bear, CB for Cubby).

1.  Cubs, when you first went to college, what were your first feelings?  What were you expecting it to be like, after homeschool?

LB: I was expecting it to be quite busy and noisy, with lots of different people all trying to talk at once.  I was worried about seeming to be immature and quiet compared with the others, and that they'd seem really cool and sophisticated beside me, but that's not how it was at all.

CB: I found the other students to be quite immature compared with me.  I feel that they have a different attitude to work.  Their reason for being at college is all about getting away with doing as little as possible, so they have more time for having fun.

LB: yes, some of them seem to be very disorganised.  They get to lectures late, and don't hand in their coursework on time.  I find the boys seem worse than the girls! 

CB: I think I was expecting everyone to be smoking and drinking and taking drugs, not being very responsible, and some of them are, but the friends I've got, aren't like that.  We're in a minority, but there are lots of students who don't go to parties and do wild stuff, though some do.

LB: at first I found learning with lots of other people quite distracting.  Everyone talking at once!  It seemed like no one actually wanted to listen and find anything out.  Everything takes a lot longer to do, because there are so many of us.  I found all the breaks between the teaching quite difficult to get used to as well.  At home, we had homeschool all through with only small breaks, then we were done for the day.  Here you have long gaps between sessions, where everyone just seems to mess about and sit around talking.  It feels like you're wasting a lot of time.  I like to go to the library, but even there, people seem to sit and talk.  I find that distracting. 

2.  How do you feel your education compares to the education your friends who went to state or private schools have had?

LB: some of my friends seem to have learned more subjects than I have.  They seem to have done things that aren't so formal, like one of them who did dance.  Lots of them did cooking and so on, but the strange thing is, none of them seem to actually do it now, whereas I spend a lot of time at home doing cooking and helping with other household chores.

CB: what I find strange is that my friends who weren't homeschooled seem so much younger than me, even though now, they are the ones living away from home, on campus, and I'm the one living with my parents.  They get into a muddle with really simple things like bills, they're always running out of money, and one of them didn't even know how to turn the cooker on in his digs!  They all eat terrible food, too, just junk, and most of them don't have any kind of routine - they're up all night and asleep most of the day.  It seems like they're not able to plan ahead very much.  Although they've said that they're independent now, I find that some of them seem a lot less independent than I am.

LB: yes, I've found that too.  I do think that for subjects like maths and so on, mostly,their education was as good as ours, because they had exams to pass.  But socially, learning all the other skills you need when you're an adult, like how to manage a household or a budget, they don't seem to be as well educated as we are.

CB: most of them don't have part time jobs either - but we do!

LB: I think when you are at school there is a lot more pressure on you to conform and be part of a gang.  At home you don't feel that way, so you can concentrate more on learning, whereas at school it is all about surviving, fitting in.  One of my best friends at college was badly bullied at school.  She had a horrible time, and ended up being homeschooled instead by a private tutor.  She says she wishes she'd been homeschooled like me.  She says the bullying has affected her really badly, but being at home was much better.  I think the attitude past school, when you are at college, carries over, so a lot of the time, people aren't really focussed on their work.  They're too busy trying to fit in.

3.  How do you cope with that sort of pressure - the peer pressure?  Do you get any comments because of your faith?

CB: I got teased a bit at the beginning, when I said I didn't want to join in with a couple of parties because I knew there would be drinking and possibly drugs.  When I was asked why I didn't want to join in, I said it was because as a Christian I didn't do that sort of thing.  Some of the other lads teased me and started calling me names like "God squad" and so on.  But a couple of other people said they were Christians too, and they were glad I'd defended my beliefs.  We found out about the Chaplaincy (a multi-faith meeting place) where we can get a cup of coffee and meet with other Christians, and now I know I can go there and be with other Christian students, I don't get teased.  We still have some good arguments though!

LB: there's a lot of pressure to have a boyfriend at college.  It's all lots of people talk about.  They get really caught up in the whole falling in love, relationship thing, and they seem to feel like you're a failure if you don't have a boyfriend.  When I showed my friends my purity ring, some of them were very critical.  They thought it was really weird.  I told them that I wanted to wait for the right person, and that when he came along, we would have a proper courtship, not date.  They said I was being old fashioned, and that how could I marry someone I hadn't even had a physical relationship with.  They said, what if after we married I found out he was really horrible?  I explained that it wouldn't be like that, as my father wouldn't allow me to marry someone he wasn't sure would be able to take good care of me.  I said my parents had a courtship, and they were still very happily married!  As far as I can see anyways .... (yes, we are, thank you very much, Little Bear!).

4.  You've brought up another good point there, Little Bear.  Have you found that the attitude of some of your peers to marriage and the roles of men and women in society, has been a challenge to your own beliefs?

CB: not really.  Us lads don't really talk about that sort of thing!  I was surprised by how much talk about physical relationships there is though.  A lot of the lads seem very disrespectful of women.  Some of the stuff you hear them say is really shocking, but I've learned to close my ears to it.  And some of the girls are very forward.  That shocked me at first too.  I think I've managed to get the message across that I'm not interested now.  I'm surprised at how promiscuous a lot of students seem to be - I really wasn't expecting that - not to the extent that you hear about it at college.  I'm glad I've got a purity ring, I'm not ashamed to tell people about it and what it represents.

LB: neither am I.  I think it has protected me from unwanted attention at times, too.  Some of the lasses at college are a bit shocked when I tell them that I won't be working when I finish my course.  They ask me why I'm bothering with the course, and when I say it is so that I'll be able to teach my own children better, they're really surprised to find that I'm planning to be a stay at home mum and homeschool my children.  It's started lots of conversations.  Some people have told me they think it's sad that I'm not going to "go out into the real world" after I finish college, but others are quite curious and one or two people have said that they envy me because I already have my whole life mapped out and they don't have a clue what they want to do.  Some of them have even said that they wish their parents would encourage them to be a homekeeper and not have to have a career, as they would much rather be at home and have children and take care of the house, than go out to work.  I do know a couple of girls that are unmarried mums, and they say life is really difficult, and that juggling child care and college and keeping everything going with not much money is really hard.  One of them said to me she wished she'd waited, and that she admired me for having so much self control!  I think a lot of my friends really respect my decisions, and I don't feel pressurised to change.  I wouldn't even if I did - seeing how it is for people who don't share my beliefs has just strengthened my faith and made me realise how much better God's plan is for me than just following my own ideas.

CB: lots of the lads at college don't seem very focussed on getting a job either.  I don't think that there is much pressure on them to take responsibility for their lives.  It seems like their main goal in life is to have fun, not to earn a living.

LB: I think in general there is a lot of irresponsiblity.  On the one hand everyone thinks it's great because all of a sudden they've got all this freedom that they didn't have before, when they were living with their parents, but it's like they don't really seem to know what to do with it now that they've got it.  To me it seems like a school education is more about getting the best grades in the exams, and not so much about learning to take care of yourself and be responsible.  My friends who weren't homeschooled don't seem to know much about running a home, or actually living as an adult.  It's like being a teenager is different from being a child, but not the same as being an adult, and no one really seems to want to stop being a teenager and start acting like an adult.

CB: yes, I think you're right, Little Bear.   I know that homeschooled kids like us are supposed to be really sheltered and people don't think we can have seen much of the world, but compared with my mates who weren't homeschooled, I think it seems like we've had more life experience, not less!

5.  Finally, then, cubs, would you say that you were glad you've been homsechooled - or do you wish you'd been able to go to a state school, like I did?

LB: definitely not - I'm so glad I've been homeschooled!  I think my life now is much fuller than the people I see around me who haven't had the benefit of growing up and learning in such a caring and loving environment, taught by the people who know me best, and know what's best for me.  I think that being homeschooled has given me stronger convictions too - my Christian friends who weren't homeschooled have a much harder time sticking to their convictions, and I've seen people waver and even leave their faith because of peer pressure. I haven't had this problem.  I think that feeling so much part of my family, growing up and learning side by side with my parents and my brother, has made me much more grounded in my beliefs, and in knowing who I am as a person, and being sure of my ambitions for the future.

CB: I'm glad too.  I think if I'd been sent to school I would definitely have gone off the rails.  My dyslexia probably wouldn't have been diagnosed, and even if it had, I would have been labelled - and been made fun of.  I'd probably have been bullied, and even if I wasn't, I can see that I'd have got bored at school, or frustrated when I couldn't keep up with everyone else, and I probably would have been rebellious, or disruptive.  I think I've learned far more at home than I ever could have, at school.

The cubs ended their question and answer session with a big THANK YOU, MUM AND DAD! 

What a wonderful testimony to homeschooling - and thank you too, Little Bear and Cubby, for sharing your experiences, and agreeing to let me post them here on the blog.  I hope prayerfully that the experiences I've written about here as a homeschooling family will be of use to others - particularly those who perhaps haven't yet made the decision about whether or not to homeschool - or maybe who have made the decision, but are struggling and having doubts.  We don't regret our decision at all - and although it wasn't always easy, and we did have times when we wondered if there were better ways of doing it - I can truly say that now, if we could do it again, we would - without hesitation!

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