Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Homeschooling - why, oh, why... do I?

There are so many things in our lives that I ask myself, would I still do them the same way if we had money.
(is that a grammatical sentence? prob'ly not!)

Let's start over.

With many things in our lives, I ask myself if I would still do them the same way if we had money.

Much better!

Shop at Value Village?
Compost and scrimp to garden as economically as possible?
Keep the kids' allowances low?
Keep a lookout for truly excellent curbside finds?
Live in a leaky house full of mold?

Okay, probably not the thing about the house.

Homeschool?

Hmm.


Because people are asking us! Gosh, what a rude question. Of course, they don't come out and say "WHY did you decide to homeschool?"
More like... and here's the "polite" way to be rude, if you want to know: "What made you decide to homeschool?"

Now, I admit, there is a nice way of asking the exact same question, with exactly the same words. I'm sure this is something homeschool parents discuss among themselves plenty (or maybe not). But when the question is coming from someone who doesn't, and coming with the kind of "smelly-thing-I-don't-want-to-touch" sneer that usually accompanies it, no, not a friendly question.

I asked in two online forums and received a range of wonderful, thoughtful, helpful answers. Many were variations on their kids' special needs, schools not meeting kids' needs, etc., which doesn't really apply in our case because we have never tried sending Naomi Rivka to school. In fact, based on her enjoyment of classes she's been to, she'd probably love it and thrive, in a nice, average, middle-of-the-road kind of way.

Beyond the special-needs explanation, I found two categories of answers: the snappy one-liner, and the well-thought-out philosophical answer.
I love them both!

Here are a few great one-liners from one brilliant parent:

~ "Bais Yaakov is overpriced, and judging by the quality of its graduates, it sucks." (oooh! I love it! I wouldn't have the guts to say it, though!)
~ "I don't want her (my almost-3 DD, who is this close to reading), to be bored."
~ "I like having them home with me."
~ "I was homeschooled for a year--best year I ever had."
~ "Why be a stay-at-home mom if you send your kids away?"

But most resonant were these two simple points from someone named Karen:

"1.) When I became the parent of these children I entered into a covenant with them, that I would do everything in my power to make sure they were cared for properly and that they never had to doubt that I wanted what was best for them. Dumping them into a public school system which is overburdened, underfunded, and overcrowded is not in their best interest."

You could probably say the same thing - if not more so - about the overburdened and WAY underfunded Jewish education system here. She also added:

"2.) Learning happens best when it is organic and child led. Public school panders to the lowest common denominator and my children aren't part of that."

Well, anyone paying thousands and thousands of dollars for Jewish education isn't going to want to hear that it panders to the lowest common denominator. But do the Jewish schools? Almost universally, either Jewish or General Studies has to suffer at the hands of the underfunding and dual curriculum. Which of the two is usually parents' choice: if you value General Studies, send your kid to a school that skimps on Jewish Studies. Or do it the other way around.

Do any of the Jewish schools here excel in both Jewish and General Studies?
Maybe. Definitely maybe.
But once you've factored in which schools your family feels comfortable considering, along with which schools will believe you're a good fit for them, the field will probalby have narrowed to only one or two schools.
There's not a lot of choice.
And what are the odds that one of those one or two schools - which will accept your family and you, them - is one of the rare ones that offers excellent education in every single area?
I figure, pretty slim.

In Israel, I hope, desperately hope, that trade-off doesn't apply. And that with more nuance to the Jewish experience there, it will / would be simpler finding a school which is compatible with our family's hashkafa. But in the meantime, here in Toronto, yes: I believe the schools are pandering. Least Common Denominator is usually the bottom line.

Of course, in terms of an answer to my original question about why we homeschool, several parents suggested offering the simple, and generic, "this just fits best for our family."
I like the simplicity of it.
That is probably the line I'll use most often.

Of course, once I'm convinced that someone is asking out of deep, genuine interest, then we talk specifics.

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