"I never let my schooling interfere with my education," said Mark Twain.
I have met lots of people who either home-school their children or were home-schooled. Some of them experienced powerful, effective learning. And some of them were poorly served by the process because of several factors. First was fewer opportunities for them to develop a healthy sense of skepticism. As well, some had inhibited development of their social and emotional intelligence. And homeschooling is a sterling opportunity for over-controlling parents to restrict their kids' inquisitiveness and stunt their intellectual growth. As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
I am a fan of Sudbury schools—kind of a blend of homeschooling and the classroom—which provide a learning community run by the students and staff. The Sudbury model removes restrictions on learning—the students (ages 5-19) and staff (in a ratio of about 1:15) run the school, including decisions about money, discipline, and even construction. Whereas homeschooling is restricted by the focus and values of the household, however, exemplary those may be, the Sudbury model provides an expanding universe of possible ideas and perspectives.
The model resembles homeschooling in the sense that the traditional, regimented spoon-feed that makes some public schools seem like incarceration is absent. Unlike homeschooling, the Sudbury approach embraces a chaotic shotgun of ideas not limited by the boundaries of the family's emotional, intellectual, and spiritual horizons.
As a student in public school, I didn't care for a lot of school subjects. Luckily, my education was wide-ranging and encouraged a lifelong curiosity about all things. I thank some great (and not-so-great) teachers, interesting friends, and a home that respected thinking and creativity while not focusing on the "right way" to think. My parents took us kids out of school for lots of trips. We had to keep a journal, maintain our studies, and do reports about the history of where we went, but none of our teachers made a fuss.
I suppose we’re all a product of homeschooling, as we learn at least as much at home as we learn at school, right? The larger community of a traditional school, with all its flaws, provides lots of opportunities that we might not get only at home. Those factors may not be available in homeschooling environments. Even though my teachers were a mixed bag, they were diverse and stretched my ability to question, think, and judge. Two parents, no matter how well-intentioned, may simply not have enough diversity to do that.
I also wish parents would take their kids OUT OF SCHOOL more often. Schools should never be more than a part of education. Much real learning occurs outside of the classroom anyhow, like at recess. The family part of homeschooling can be nourished for kids in traditional school by traveling together, spending the day exploring museums, environmental centers, historical sites and such. That exploration could be a part of education that bridges the current divide between home and traditional schooling. For families who cannot find the time to do things together, I suggest forming a co-op with other parents. Take turns being the guide/chaperone for day trips. And school districts can become more flexible, trusting that parents have at least as much interest in their kids’ education as teachers do.
We parents can be aware that we are always home-schooling our kids. We can take that part of our home life seriously enough to model active learning, curiosity, an interest in the world of ideas, and a passion for our own growth and development. The continuum of learning from homeschooling to traditional schooling does not have to be framed as either/or. Maybe we can all engage in a conversation about combining the models for our kids’ sake.
Mac Bogert founded AZA Learning to encourage teachers and students to become equal partners in the learning process, which he details in his book “Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education,” (www.learningchaos.net). He served as education coordinator at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and is still active in the arts for his community.