Today I bring to you a slightly different post, but that deep down is related to the subject of this blog, since it’s about nothing less than the mental and spiritual health of our children. Education plays a major role in that and, from my point of view, the model that can contribute most to promote it is homeschooling. At least, after observing so many families doing it, I’ve realized it’s the one that fits best with my educational ideals, and the one I desire to practice in the future when I raise a family.
I don’t usually talk about this topic because I’m scared of what people might say, of being judged, of the critics… but some days ago someone asked me and that way I had the chance to systematize all the reasons why I’m attracted to this educational style, or better, lifestyle.
1. The Domestic Church
I believe that, given the current state of the eductional system, homeschooling is practically the only way to provide children with a true Catholic education, that isn’t just about religion classes —which can be better or worse—, but something that should be present in the whole life. A family is first of all a Domestic Church, and our duty as Catholic parents is to help our children achieve sainthood so we can get to Heaven together.
Faith can’t be conceived as a closed compartment, but it must penetrate every reality. It isn’t just one subject more, but something that can be learnt in and applied to every subject, from appreciating the wonders of the Creator in Biology to contemplating the monumental devotional works in Art History, from taking care of the Temple of our body in PE to putting into practice our gifts for the glory of God through artistic activities.
Something even more important is the practice of the virtues in the study environment: looking after every child with patience and love, letting them learn the value of both collaboration and sacrifice for each other, etc.
And, going to the most specific level, at a school, even if it’s a Catholic one, it’s very difficult to guarantee the orthodoxy of the religious teachings or, at least, that they aren’t watered down or downplayed to fit what’s politically correct or because the spiritual skills of children (and teens) are underestimated. It’s normal that someone stops believing if the image of Jesus they’ve been transmitted isn’t much deeper than the one of the Tooth Fairy and religion is reduced to “being good people”.
Another fundamental aspect for me is being able to offer an individualized education, adapted to the needs, interests, gifts and talents of each child. It seems to me that at school they want to cut all of us with the same cookie-cutter, treating us more as numbers than as people, as if it was a factory.
It’s not only that they teach the same subjects to everyone, which can make sense at first to provide a general foundation, although outside of the basics, there should exist more margin to explore your own interests. But, what’s more, they are taught during the same time, at the same level and with the same workload. That way, all the children are forced to go at the same pace, without being able to slow down if they struggle with something or want to go in depth, or on the contrary move forward when they consider something done. Seeking normality, they forget that almost no one is “normal”, because there isn’t a standard kind of person, so they create a model that isn’t satisfactory for anyone.
An only and outdated way
Moreover, everyone is taught the same way and assessed the same way. This shows that the system is absolutely outdated, blatantly ignoring the existence of several learning styles and types of intelligence, all of them valuable. Penalizing a child with a low mark simply because his brain works differently is cruel. As it is forcing him to attend classes or study lessons in a way that doesn’t go with him, that his body rejects, and therefore takes away from him both the learning he could get by other means and the hunger for seeking it.
Education at schools is in addition clearly oriented towards one and only one path: first college and then a conventional job. Well, if they consider you smart, they’ll want you to study at college no matter what; if not, you’ll go to vocational training. They can’t fathom that someone who could do the first wants to do the second, for example. And students aren’t trained for the new ways of the world, like the possibility of entrepreneurship. And that’s important, not because now we should all be entrepreneurs, but because even inside the normal business structures it’s very valuable to have an entrepreneurial attitude, being an intrapreneur.
3. The pleasure of learning
It’s such a pity, but schools “kill” the pleasure of learning that’s natural in children, turning it into a tedious task. We are born with an innate curiosity, a desire to know the world and ask the whys, but in the educational system those impulses, instead of being promoted, are cut. The child is given some prefab and deficient answers and his horizons are limited.
In general, children want holidays, weekends, no homework, getting out of class early… and it shouldn’t be like that! That shows clearly that the child conceives learning and the rest of his life as separate spheres, the first one being something isolated and annoying, that prevents him from doing what he really likes. To me, that’s a sign that something has gone very wrong. Formal study time should be shortened and exploring time increased; but of course, if children are taught that only what’s assessed is valuable, and the culture of minimal effort says that you don’t have to study (read: learn) more that what you need to pass…
That’s not how we learn
Learning is wonderful, but you can learn very little with weak textbooks that one memorizes for an exam, instead of for his personal enrichment. Granted, with the organization that exists nowadays, it’s complicated for a child to see this. Each subject is conceived as independent, instead of promoting holistic projects, like studying an interesting topic from the perspectives of multiple subjects (unit studies, a method that’s very popular among homeschoolers).
In addition, the proximity to original sources has been lost. One example of this absurdity is how in Literature classes one memorizes lists of authors and their books, what they’re about and the characteristics of their time… without reading any of the books! And when finally they’re told to read a worthy book and not silly things, it’s done in a way that the student ends up hating reading instead of being attracted to it. The pleasure of reading is turned into just one more structured and assessable field where it’s better to try not to read and yet pass.
In a nutshell, learning should be something as natural as life, something that happens in the daily environment and of which formal study is just a part. A prize and not a punishment, something exciting and not something that makes a child roll his eyes.
4. Family time
Another reason, of course, is to be able to spend more time living as a family. In the end, between classes and extracurriculars, children spend more time with teachers than with their parents. We’re told that parents are the first educators of their children, but every day this right is taken away from them more and more. It’s not the schools’ fault, but we have to blame the pace of life that’s promoted in this society and that schools have to adapt to.
Maybe we can’t go back to previous models, but fortunately the progress of new technologies allows us to move towards new models of working much more human and fitting for the family life. I don’t want my house to be a place where my children come after school, I want it to be a home, the centre in which life happens. I want to be present as my children learn, which is one of the most fundamental facets of their development, I want to be able to be with them through their joys and sorrows, and support them in everything they need.
Perhaps this reason seems surprising, since it’s usually adduced as an argument against homeschooling. However, I consider that with it we get a healthier model of socialization. Whatever they say, spending hours in a classroom with 30 people born in the same year as you isn’t natural or prepares you for real life. Linked with this we find the whole bullying issue, peer pressure, etc., that not only cause serious harm to the person and psychological disorders, but also in general make children believe they need to be a certain way, wear a mask, in order to be “cool” or merely accepted. That restricts the creative development of their personality.
Co-ops and more
The first relationships that must be nurtured and cared for are the intrafamilial ones, which parents and siblings and, if possible, grandparents, etc. But, obviously, we mustn’t have our children locked up at home (neither do I know any homeschooler family that does so). I believe that for socialization the best solution is to create small communities —called homeschool co-ops in USA—, where parents are really the first educators, and families get together and help themselves mutually in order to socialize, so each parent can teach what he knows best to all the children… everything is kept in a more intimate and trustworthy environment.
It’s not like a Parents’ Association at a school, but here the families —parents and children— build everything on their own; and each family can take what they want from the group, and leave what they don’t, they aren’t forced to accept things that don’t match their lifestyle or educational style. There are much more freedom and flexibility.
On the other hand, since homeschooled children enjoy much more free time, they can take part in varied extracurricular activities and groups, according to their interests, where they’ll connect with other people (children and maybe adults), as well as playing at the park and visiting all kinds of places full of people, such as museums. Apart from the parish, of course. I believe the opportunities of socialization will be more numerous, more varied and more significant than in the school environment.
This educational option is becoming more and more extended in USA (sadly not in Spain, where I live), and it’s very applauded by colleges because of its benefits, that go far beyond what I’ve been able to write on this short post. How many times we think something’s stablished and it’s the only way to do things… well, there are other possibilities of education outside schools. I won’t force you to accept them or apply them, but next time you hear about them, dare to think beyond conventionalisms!