The real world that roars around the child as he goes to school is an utterly anti-educational world. If the school is really giving any education, the world is certain engaged day and night in ruining his education. For the world gives him things anyhow, in any order, with any result. The world gives him things without knowing that he gets them; the world gives him things meant for somebody else; the world throws things at him from morning till night, quite blindly, madly, and without meaning or aim; and this process, whatever else it is, is the exact opposite of the process of education. The modern child spends about three-quarters of his time getting uneducated. He is educated by the modern state school. He is uneducated by the modern state. —G. K. Chesterton
Our Homeschooling Philosophy
The previous quote summarizes in few words one of our most important reasons for homeschooling our children.
Like all parents, we have many fine aspirations for our children. We’d like them to develop both mentally and spiritually, and to use their talents to good purpose. There are many opinions, even among homeschoolers about what constitutes a proper education, and a great variety of curriculums and learning styles to consider. However, we believe that before focusing on what we’d like to teach our children we need to first create an environment in which they can learn effectively, and we have tried to make our home such a place.
Modern child development specialists, and some well-meaning parents worry about keeping children “stimulated” and “challenged”, but we are more concerned about the opposite problem. Many children, even those from privileged backgrounds, are bombarded with so many conflicting, incoherent influences that what they learn in school is just a drop in an ocean of competing “messages” and diversions. Who can blame them for “tuning out” much of what they hear and see; and who can predict which siren call they will follow?
In an affluent country with advanced technology and a free flow of information—all features of our civilization that we do not wish to suppress,—there is no way of “fixing” what is wrong with the educational system for children, except by homeschooling. What we hope to give our children, by providing a private, home-based education is simply a short reprieve from the tsunami of dubious distractions and misinformation that awaits them in the wider world.
We are not paranoid or fearful, and our family takes delight in some of the more creative, less decadent facets of popular culture. There is great good as well as great evil in all societies, and true liberty always includes the freedom to do wrong. The problem with the modern world is not sin, which will always be with us, but suffocating abundance, which young minds are not equipped to deal with. We do not seek to eliminate outside influences, but only to restrict them to a manageable, spiritually healthy, level.
We want our children to enjoy the independence and opportunities that await them as mature adults and try to use the time we have to help them learn to distinguish between things of permanent value, and those of fleeting interest. While they are young, however, we believe that limiting their exposure to the tempting time-wasters, soul-destroying sophistries, and deluge of diversions promoted by our consumerist culture is fundamental. We cannot give our children the best possible education, without first attending to the bane of “uneducation”.
Our Homeschooling Methods
I once read a blog whose author describe her method of homeschooling as: “Some traditional material combined with Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Classical Curriculum, and unschooling approaches.” Throw in a few tutors, computer programs, and homeschool co-ops, and I thought that summed up our method of homeschooling quite well.
We have been homeschooling for over fourteen years and during that time have experimented with many curriculums and methods. However, when people ask what curriculum we use I still find it difficult to answer. Certainly, there are a few subjects, such as algebra, high school science and foreign language, that require discipline and adherence to a predictable schedule of learning. But there are many others,—history, literature, religion, geography, civics, art, music, philosophy, writing, speech, poetry, economics, debate, technology, and natural science,—that can be studied using a variety of materials and methods.
Although many homeschool families prefer to have these subjects packaged in some form of structured curriculum, we prefer an ad hoc method. In general, our makeshift learning methods rely heavily on reading exceptionally good books, and I spend more time that your average homeschooling mother ferreting out good reading material. This works well for our family, because our children tend to be enthusiastic readers; it is not an approach well suited for struggling readers, or for mothers who prefer highly structured, predictable programs of study.
In spite of this less-than-perfectly organized approach to learning, we are making steady progress towards employability. The morning is usually dedicated to structured programs, such as math, science, and foreign language, while the afternoon is a combination of reading and miscellaneous projects. I require my students to read books that are assigned by their co-op classes but make sure they have plenty of time to read selections of their own choosing as well.
It is into this general afternoon reading period that we fit most of our history reading. Each academic session, we study a particular historical subject such as Ancient Greece, or Exploration, but a movie, geography assignment, language lesson, or curious whim can send us down unrelated paths on short notice. This is why we think of history in terms of a “library” rather than a set of predefined texts. Any curriculum that doesn’t allow us to switch subjects on a moment’s notice seems too limiting.
In a sense, it is this very curiosity, this willingness to “look it up” and research a wide variety of topics that I most want to instill in our family. We want our children to see that there are a wide variety of sources of information and that they need to be willing to seek out trustworthy sources if they are to know the truth.