Homeschooling: It's Not Just for Crazed Religious Nut jobs

Bill Maher said something stupid again. (When does he not?) This time he claims that Rick Santorum homeschools because he wants to keep his kids in a “Christian madrassa”. Tina Korbe does a pretty good job ripping Maher apart but I want to share a couple of reasons why we homeschool. No one on the Left will care because I’m an evil, Right-wing, Mormon, Tea Partier but maybe it will help someone else understand why some people homeschool.

So many posts like this begin with the tired “I was opposed to it before I tried it” thing. This one does, too. My wife and I didn’t make the decision to homeschool lightly though she liked the idea. The person who got us to homeschool was my then-three year old daughter (whom I shall call R).

It was, as I said, three but rapidly closing in on her fourth birthday. My wife and I had talked a various times about what to do for schooling for our kids. The dilemma was that the local schools here sucked. (I used past tense here but the schools aren’t that much better today.)

I had a friend who worked in the local school district and was frequently in classrooms of various grades. He told me several times that if he hadn’t know ahead of time, he wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between the kindergarten and first grade classes. They were learning nearly identical things. Namely, the alphabet, numbers, etc. That pretty well jived with the rumor that had reached us that the local schools didn’t teach reading until second grade.

Appalled, we started looking at other options. Unfortunately, those were limited. There was a private school but from what we heard, it wasn’t much better. (Yes, a private school. It’s one of the drawbacks of small town living.) My wife brought up homeschooling but, as I said before, I was not excited about the idea.

We hadn’t gotten much closer to and decision when R, rapidly approaching her fourth birthday, came to my wife and said, “Mom, teach me to read.” How do you say “no” to that? We had been do the basics like reading with her (her favorite book was “Horton Hatches the Egg” which my wife and I both had memorized by that time), singing the Alphabet Song and little counting games. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for R so my wife put together a rough lesson plan and started teaching her in earnest.

Typically, my wife would spend 30 minutes to an hour per day teaching her. After a year, she was reading simple books, knew her colors and was counting and doing basic addition and subtraction. Our other daughter, C, though more than a year younger, would often sit in on the lessons and was starting to learn a lot of that, too. I was impressed with the results.

Remember that five is about the age that kids start kindergarten. However, R’s birthday was late enough in the year that she wouldn’t be allowed to start for another year. So, we homeschooled for another year.

By the time that year was done R was starting into third grade level material. Think about that a minute. R was nearly six and would have been going into kindergarten. If we had enrolled her in the local school, should would spend three years learning what she already knew. I had a hard time justifying wasting three years of her life. Besides, she was making wonderful progress at home and I saw no need to stop that.

I had one reservation and that was “socialization”. That’s the argument that always gets used because, in general, homeschool opponents can’t win based on academic performance. I didn’t want to lock my kids away from society. We found other ways to solve that problem through church activities as well as dance, tae kwon do, scouts and other things. But … there’s a reason I used scare quotes around socialization.

You see, I’m a geek. I freely admit it. Heck, my nick includes the name of my favorite programming language. (Perl, if it wasn’t obvious.) Unfortunately, being a geek in school was not a recipe for having a joyful time at school. I loved to learn. Heck, I still do but it would have been a lot more enjoyable if there were no other students there. For much of my time from forth or fifth grade on, I could count the number of friends I had on one hand and, more often, on one finger. Except for the trench coat, I was your prototypical Columbine-style high school shooter. I wasn’t the only one.

After the shooting at Columbine, Slashdot ran a series of posts called “Voices from the Hellmouth”. The series showed very clearly the type of “socialization” that I and others like me had to deal with. (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) My wife had a similar experience with school. Neither of us wanted our kids to deal with the type of “socialization” that we both had to deal with.

Even today, kids are ridiculed if they don’t fit the social norms. On of C’s friends was over for her birthday party and they were playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While they were playing, her friend said that wanted to play as Sonic the Hedgehog but that she wasn’t supposed to like Sonic because everyone at school said that Sonic is “for boys.” I don’t want my kids to turn away from their interests just because their classmates don’t like it.

As they got older and the material was harder for us to effectively teach, we (meaning my wife) did a lot of research and we enrolled them in a promising online program that allows them to advance as fast as they want. Today, R and C are excelling. Their percentiles are in the high 80’s and 90’s on their standardized tests and they are both on track to graduate a couple of years early.

Notice that nowhere in these ramblings did I mention religion though our faith is very important to us. That’s not why we chose to homeschool. We were going to teach our kids our faith through Church, example and regular family scripture study and we do. The fact that we can talk about religion in school is a benefit but it wasn’t a requirement. (There are parts of the New Testament that make a lot more sense when you understand the history of Rome.)

For us, the choice to homeschool was about academics and a desire to spare our children from the hell we both went though in school. It’s not for everyone though I strongly feel that most students would benefit from the online model, even in a classroom setting. People like Maher that continue to spread these lies about homeschooling are doing our nation and homeschoolers everywhere a huge disservice just so that he can score a few brownie points with ignorant Leftists.

(Originally posted at PerlStalker’s Ramblings.)