Reposting an essay I wrote five years ago for a friend who just began the homeschooling adventure.  Now that I’m down to two kids in the last years of high school, I’ve got so much more to add.  That will be for another time.  Here’s part one:

Home School–What it is and what it isn’t

First and foremost, it is a choice in which only one voice is mine. It is asking the question at the beginning of each school year, “Would you rather go to public school?” It is a very personal decision that I would not dare try to impose on another soul. It is a decision most often made by people who enjoy being with their kids more than they enjoy being away from them.

Home school for us begins with a list of curriculum objectives from our school district each year for each grade level represented at home. It is designing our own eclectic curriculum (for those who feel better about school-house terminology) based on what offers the best material for each given course. We have been completely satisfied with Saxon Math for 10 years. It is the only textbook we use for good reason–and I only speak of our experience. Most textbooks we’ve tried are watered down versions of what someone else determines is appropriate for kids of a certain age to learn. They simply bore us.

So…we read tons of books filled with the finer details of History and Science. To bring it all to life, my kids have an amazing Grandfather who planned road trips filled with thoughtful history lessons that varied for each kid. History for us is walking the nature trails, once swampland, in the very place where the most eclectic army of soldiers, Frenchmen, Spaniards, Kentucky river men, Irishmen, Slaves, Freemen of color, and Pirates all worked side-by-side to kick some serious British butt in a plan cooked up by Andrew Jackson and the pirate, Jean Lafitte in the war of 1812.….and then stopping for a cold drink at an establishment rumored to be the very place where the battle plans were made…..and later in life reading through a book and seeing that the Slave Exchange was held in the very spot where you spent a lovely afternoon swimming one beautiful April day and feeling mixed emotions that the place that gave you such joy brought unspeakable heartache to so many others.

Home school for us has always been freedom. It was once the freedom to take books to Grandma’s bedside in the last year of her life when most of the senses that gave her pleasure were beginning to fail and all she had left was the joy of feasting her eyes on the people she loved most. It was the freedom to be useful in real life ways…like mowing her lawn and cleaning her house each Thursday in exchange for pizza that you enjoyed with Grandpa at the end of the day when you sat together for the last ritual that all of those Thursdays brought: watching WWE Smackdown.

Home school is going to the air force base track for a 3 mile run in the warm seasons and changing the workout focus to weight training in cooler seasons. It is having a stepfather who participates in Martial Arts classes with you twice a week…or taking as many dance classes as you care to take. It is incorporating fitness as a way of life vs. extracurricular activity that comes to a stop once public school life is over.

It is allowing the ninth-grader who is uncertain to go back into the public school system. It is hearing him debate with himself and then helping him make the decision because what home school *is not* a dictatorship. It is meant to nurture potential to the best of your ability and if that means letting them go, then so be it.

It is designing lessons around different learning styles and recognizing strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and talents. It is placing no limits on the clock when someone can pick up a guitar because inspiration sometimes hits hardest when you least expect it.

It is turning Nature Trail hikes into adventures with Aunt Terry or working with her in her vegetable garden. It is late night phone calls from Heath inviting his younger siblings to go on that very same Nature Trail and it doesn’t matter that it is past 10 p.m. because you are not required to be at a desk at 7:45 a.m.

It is a natural process that does not include force, bribery, tricks, or coercions that go against a child’s innate, powerful, brilliant, and unique, God-given intelligence….because all children were born to learn.

It is delivering puppies, running a seasonal home business, and being able to answer those who ask “…but what about real life preparation?” Real life continually changes and home school has provided us the flexibility of changing right along with it. For us, it has meant being there for both birth and death and all the life that happens in between. Rather than sitting in a classroom of age peers, you socialize with babies, folks in their nineties, and every age in between. Rather than sitting at a desk for the better part of six hours each day, you are living life and learning all the time in a variety of locations.

Home school is using your math skills to build sheds, fences, and patio covers. It is using your creativity to put together color schemes for the interior and exterior spaces you paint. It is peace of mind for the home school mom who works nights to know that all is well if she hasn’t had time in the day to cook supper….because the kids have already had nine years’ experience cooking….so she is confident that no one will starve.

Home school *is not* dropping out. The absence of a cap and gown ceremony *does not* mean you did not graduate (which is defined first and foremost as completing a course of study). Home schooling for my first homeschooler meant *completing* his basic course of study with 61 credits when only 48 credits were required. A diploma is replaced by an impressive portfolio that reads more like a scrapbook filled with so much more than codes and numbers. It contains detailed information of course material, letters from employers, essays, photographs, and trip reports that give great joy to all those who were engaged in the education process.

It might mean taking a GED for the sake of those who need to measure your intelligence 7 years after cracking a text book….and then scoring 95%….or becoming a project manager at age twenty-three.

And finally, it is confirmation that it really does work when you listen to the one who chose to go back into the public school system say, “I wish I had never gone back. I learned so much more at home.” After already having had the freedom to play with theories, words, materials, and concepts, he understood all too well that he was bored, disrespected, misunderstood, and warehoused. Winston Churchill must have felt similar emotions when he said, “I love learning but I hate being taught.”

I somehow doubt I will ever hear a homeschooler say, “Damn….I wish I had spent those 14,050 hours of my life sitting in a desk.”

In closing, John Holt summed it up the amazing and natural potential of the teaching/learning process when he wrote:

In practice, educators who worry about “unqualified” people teaching their own children almost always define “qualified” to mean teachers trained in schools of education and holding teaching certificates. They assume that to teach children involves a host of mysterious skills that can be learned only in schools of education, and that are in fact taught there; that people who have this training teach much better than those who do not; and indeed that people who have not had this training are not competent to teach at all.”

“None of these assumptions are true.”

“Human beings have been sharing information and skills, and passing along to their children whatever they knew, for about a million years now. Along the way they have built some very complicated and highly skilled societies. During all those years there were very few teachers in the sense of people whose only work was teaching others what they knew. And until very recently there were no people at all who were trained in teaching, as such. People always understood, sensibly enough, that before you could teach something you had to know it yourself. But only very recently did human beings get the extraordinary notion that in order to be able to teach what you knew you had to spend years being taught how to teach.”