Homeschool: The Great Educational Institution
- 2003 28 Oct
A few days ago as I was working on a math lesson, (my daily dose of veritable torture), my eight-year-old sister came to my desk, requesting help with her own math. I explained the problem in question, and turned to my notebook. Just as I became once again absorbed, however, my other sister--who is four--informed me that she desired to tell me about something. After she had finished presenting a perfect jumble of partial sentences and unrelated facts, as unintelligible as only a four-year-old could make them, I was beginning to feel a bit stressed. I thanked her politely for I knew not what, and returned to my work, only to be interrupted once again by one of my brothers.
My brain now confusedly throbbing, I picked up my textbook, notebook, graph paper, and pencil, and sought refuge upstairs. Alas! In that part of the house the walls rang with a "song," obviously beautiful in the ears of an oblivious, vocal toddler, but simply unbearable to a desperate student. I regretfully put away math and set to work on a less trying subject--thoroughly convinced that even Alexander the Great, conquerer though he was, could not have successfully engaged algebra and siblings simultaneously.
Yet while I was something less than happy at the time, I recall this instance fondly, for it reflects an aspect of homeschooling that perhaps teaches me more than any book is able. I have always homeschooled, and I have learned that though many claim homeschooling is more effective than other systems educationally, its purpose goes far deeper than science or grammar. It is a school where one is instructed in daily life. The homeschooler graduates not only as a scholar, but as a man or woman as well. In this great institution, one acquires not merely erudition, but also morality and maturity. A great portion of this beneficial training is a result of simply doing what most of historical mankind has always done: living with one's family. What I speak of is not a meal together every day. Rather, it is the cooperation that necessarily arises from constant contact--not living with a family, but as a family.
A year or two ago, as my brother and I entered higher grades, with different interests and responsibilities, I found a small distance growing between my siblings and myself. I did not realize how serious this was until my mother recently began to make us participate in several family activities. I admit that it took a while for me to appreciate the value of these. I complained about the time we spent together at breakfast. I inwardly sighed at being made to sit down and help a six-year-old brother read. But the knowledge finally came to me of how relationships grow--not by avoiding people when difficulties arise, but in sharing and assisting. If my brother is behind in his grammar, doing my own work is not enough. I must patiently offer my help, and work with him until he can recite that list of prepositions. Instead of using my free time to curl up with my book, I should have him come outside and weed the garden with me while I drill him on his multiplication tables. Sometimes it is hard to be with the same people interminably, to rarely find an hour under a different roof than a family member, for people are not perfect; but a relationship needs some disagreements, some hasty quarrel and tearful penitence, some sight of what a person really is, even when he thinks no one is watching, to make it strong. Homeschooling allows all this, by the one fact that its disciples must live as a close-knit, single-team, caring, loving family.
Homeschooling also brings responsibilities. As the oldest sibling, I am perpetually embarrassed by the degree that my brothers and sisters look up to me. This fact alone has withheld me on many occasions from a near-wrongdoing. The same situation extends into my life as a student. I have often noticed that when I make an earnest effort to study harder, younger minds are observing, and ready to imitate my actions. Additionally, I am privileged with duties that many of my peers are not. I frequently find myself teaching the younger ones, and thus improving my own skills. I am always being taught patience, as my schedule is undesirably interrupted. How many students of public or private schools halt lessons in the morning to clean house, or visit relatives? Such circumstances, while not benefiting the mind, mold the character. In twenty years I might forget what treaty ended the Mexican War, but I shall never lose need of a flexible, cheerful, optimistic view of Providence's unaccountable but flawless turns.
I must admit that there have been times--such as when I saw friends enjoying a summer break instead of rushing to finish undone textbooks, or peacefully attending class in what I deemed to be a distraction-free environment--that I wished to school away from home, insensibly yearning after the organization of professional or government education. But now I shake my head as I look back on this foolishness, and I wish more would homeschool. I wish that more people, instead of spending the greater part of every school day among a circle of acquaintances or digging through piles of homework, would know the time spent in the true love and friendship that I receive from my mother constantly. I wish the number could be lessened of those who must listen, for hours every morning, to teachers who wish to infuse their own view of morality into every student. I yearn for these people to experience what I have: how my parents are the primary, unintercepted influences in my life, and I do not have to bother listening an hour per day to anyone who may be teaching me contrary to this influence. And then I thank God that He gave me the inestimable privilege of learning at home.
Yet even in the academic realm alone I find homeschooling infinitely preferable to other means. In my own life, I believe that my school rests on one basic tenet: the importance of self-motivation. With a house of children, my mother has little time to spend teaching me each day. If I had no desire to learn, I would not. I grade my own work, and I rarely have accumulative tests. If I do not exert myself voluntarily, I do not learn.
This independence is probably the most desirable educational gift that my parents have ever presented me. Of course, there have been times that I have abused my freedom, (my parents once had to find consequences for my spending three years in one math book), but in the end, I have imbibed a passionate love for learning. I am now doing a course on Greek that was not assigned to me in my regular curriculum.
For a couple of years, we used a program that utilized teachers who had been filmed. The teaching and videos were excellent, and they served the purpose of giving us some standard courses required for high school. However, I now believe that our present system is a great improvement over the methods that large schools are driven to by their great number of students. I found that I was far less captivated by history when it came out of a textbook with certain daily assignments. How much better is the course I have now, reading numerous books written by the people that made history! A measured amount of time spent on a subject daily, with unalluring lists of facts, exercises, and homework on what is known or unknown alike--all these do, in my eyes, create naught but animosity with learning. True education, I hold, is a desire to learn, and the means of learning. If I want to learn Greek, why should I have a rigid amount of it allotted to me regularly, rather than having it all at hand, ready to be absorbed according to my time and ability? If I know a chapter in English grammar, why should I not skip it? I do not learn by laboring over material that I know. Yes, there are things that must be learned whether the student wants to or not, and daily assignments are often the surest means of learning them, but these can still be cut to fit the student's individual needs. I have some courses that I do merely for the sake of being well rounded and graduating from high school. I find that I can enjoy even those, if I set about them in the right way--with a simple desire to learn, and the means of learning, unhindered by predetermined methods of absorbing information.
Much of the lore that I toil so hard to acquire now, I know I shall likely forget later on in life. But that is not of any great importance, for one of the reasons I study it is simply to learn how to learn. If I secure early a love of knowledge, and the skills and discipline needed to gain it, I shall have accomplished a major goal of my present education.
Later in the day mentioned above, I took out my unfinished math lesson. It was naptime now, and the house was quiet. I smiled, for the assignment had brought me not one, but three lessons: the evident lesson in algebra; a lesson in family life, and the blessings of learning at home; and finally, a lesson in self-discipline and motivation--all lessons that I will carry for years. I closed my eyes, and thanked God for letting me homeschool.
Matthew Watson is fifteen years old and has six siblings, two sisters and four brothers. He has always homeschooled, and loves to learn. He enjoys writing and considers majoring in it.
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