Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why do we homeschool?

Sy contemplates his homemade "light saber" complete with a fleet of flying "attack mice."

Like so many other parents who homeschool, we are regularly beset with questions regarding our decisions to do so. And, while I often welcome the opportunity to explain to others the potential joys of keeping your kids at home and allowing them to "grow without schooling" (which is what they've been doing successfully so far), it is a near impossibility to explain this in the 10 minutes or less that most people expect. One of the unschooling blogs I've recently discovered has a very succinct answer to this question.

Like this homeschooler and many others, there are hundreds of reasons why we choose to homeschool, and why we have decided to unschool in particular. Here are just a few of the reasons why we choose to homeschool:

  • School is authoritarian: schools are designed "for the scientific management of a mass population. Schools are intended to produce . . . human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled" (Gatto Dumbing Us Down 23); in school, children are discouraged from questioning adults and school rules, and are often punished when they don't obey.
  • School is contrived: learning takes place away from the real world, and children often have difficulty making connections between what they learn in school and how that knowledge can be practically applied in the world around them (my own experience with math attests to this).
  • School segregates: children are grouped by age; class and race divisions in the community often determine that most schools are homogenous, rather than heterogenous; and adults are present as authority figures, not as friends or allies. Thus, children's socialization is artificially homogenous in comparison to the diversity of ages, classes and races they will come into contact with upon leaving school.
  • School does not provide children with healthy lifestyle options: children (even Kindergarteners!) are tied to their desks for many hours per day, recess and physical education are being reduced and in some cases eradicated all together, school food is over processed, fatty, loaded with sugar and has little nutritional value.
  • School encourages consumerism: in addition to the fast food options available at lunch, children are the targets of marketing everywhere in their schools, from the vending machines, to the curriculum materials, to the advertising on their sports equipment, to bus radio.
  • School is not for learning: children are forced to read and perform according to a uniform curriculum - they have no voice in curricular choices; their intellect is not respected nor is it encouraged; their love of learning is strangled and "learning" (facts, dates, correct answers for standardized tests) becomes work; they focus on extrinsic rewards, which inhibits learning and makes what they have learned difficult to translate into practical situations.
  • School teaches competition, rather than collaboration: "Researchers have found that competitive structures reduce generosity, empathy, sensitivity to others' needs, accuracy of communication, and trust" (Kohn "Is Competition Ever Appropriate"); this seems contrary to their development as caring, helpful and sensitive family members, neighbors and citizens.
  • School encourages the pseudo-diagnosis of attention disorders and the overmedication of children: forcing children to conform to the unnatural context of school (sitting still for long periods of time, forcing direct attention) and neglecting their inquisitive, explorative, demonstrative natures.
  • School teaches patriotism (read "nationalism"), rather than civics: if a thriving democracy depends on it citizens to be critical thinkers, who understand the necessity of questioning, critiquing and, when necessary, actively seeking change, then patriotism is a thorn in the side of democracy.
These are some of the many reasons why we have chosen to grow without schooling. Next up: why we think "unschooing" is for us.