Why I continue to homeschool.

This post isn’t actually about the broad reasons why I homeschool.  (If you’re truly interested, you can find that here.)

And, actually, the truth is I started out for simple reasons:  to teach my kid to read.  Six years (and three reading children) later, though, I keep finding reasons to continue.

Today, doing an experiment with the three boys, I was reflecting on the scientific method.  I don’t know how this happened, but I managed to graduate high school (and even attend some university) without the understanding that a failed experiment is not really a failure.  I came to this realization some years back, as a homeschooling parent.  I think it may have been while reading about Thomas Edison, who was a famous “failure.”  My pastor is also “big” on not letting personal weaknesses and even failure subvert The Mission, and encourages us to look for what God is trying to teach us in our failures.

Experiments that produce what you expect them to, are, indeed, thrilling.  But, what do you do when the results aren’t as predicted by the textbook?  Well, I used to just hang it up and say, “Well, that was a flop.”  Perhaps that lack of persistence is somewhat of a genetic weakness, because that attitude seems to be what comes most readily to my kids.  Somewhere along the line, though, through Edison, my pastor, and probably from my husband, I realized that I need more persistence, and I need to look for the things to be learned from failure.  So, now, I take great care to encourage my children to “try, try again” and to look for the silver lining in the cloud.  I admonish them to look for what we did learn (including learning what doesn’t work), even when the results aren’t the fabulous ones for which we were hoping.

On top of that, I was thinking about how my parents practiced what I semi-jokingly refer to as “low-impact parenting.”  They let my sibs and I sort a lot of things out on our own, acting more as facilitors (somewhat) in our own development, rather than teaching, guiding, molding, directing, showing or helping*.  Whenever some large project or assignment was given, to the best of my recollection, I was always the only child whose parents didn’t help — at all.  They figured, “Well, you were given the assignment, so you have to do it.”  From flour dough topo maps to science fair projects, from age 8 to age 15+, we were completely on our own.  And it showed.  I often felt like I got the short end of the stick when a friend — whose parent had been very involved in a project — took the blue ribbon, while my obviously unprofessional project languished, noticed only for its childish mistakes.

I sort of understand my parents’ motivations — they wanted us to be independent.  They didn’t think it right to do the work for us.  However, an 8yo needs some guidance from her parents.  For all those solo projects, I could have benefitted from having someone to bounce ideas off of.  It would have been helpful for someone to redirect me, when necessary, or to help me think through my decisions.  My parents didn’t do that.  Things were either dictated or left completely alone.  (This parenting style went far beyond simple school projects;  we were left alone on other issues — even really, really heavy and potentially devistating ones — to just “sort through” them on our own.*)

While I do have value for teaching my children to think, and not just expect the answers to be dished to them, I am happy to provide them with help to get them to a place of answers — very often in the form of Socratic questioning.  In other words, there are ways to help a child develop independent thought other than simply leaving them alone.

I had these thoughts, too, during the experiment.  When, on the 5th try, we finally got the expected results, we had a mini-marathon question-and-answer session, regarding what did work, what didn’t, why it did or didn’t, etc.

~giggle~ Homeschool as personal redemption.  Is it wrong?


*The…. “trauma” I’ve suffered from this (namely, feeling abandoned, left alone, uncared-for, uninterested-in, adrift, etc.) is one reason that I’m NOT a big proponent of unschooling.  Perhaps it can be successful if a parent is a super-facilitator, and very involved, but in general, I’ve experienced first-hand that a child needs actual guidance.  Guidance from adults.  Guidance from adults who love them, who are wiser, who have “been there and done that” and seen its fruitlessness.  (I put “trauma” in quotation marks, because for me, it wasn’t, in the grand scheme of things, the worst kind of trauma.  I’ve recovered.  Mostly.  But other of my siblings, especially my sister, have truly suffered long-term trauma over being forced to “work through” on her own even being a victim of some vicious physical attacks.  Some kind of rescuing can be over-protective and “enabling” things like co-dependency, but leaving a 9yo on her own to “deal with” abuse is just wrong, IMO.)

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on January 21, 2008, in Family, God/Christianity/Church, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Memories, Parenting, Sad Things, The Dear Hubby, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I always think of myself (rigidly religious upbringing – everything in our house was down to God and that was never to be questioned on fear of beatings, lengthy interrogations etc) was pretty grim but yours sounds appalling from the hints or fragments or stories you’ve positioned here and then. You have to give children space but clear structured support as well – such a tricky balance. And sometimes, they just want (and they need) unambiguous answers. Took me a while to work that one out.

    I’m a big fan of Socratic questioning with grown-ups. Actually, as a manager, one of the managers ‘managed’ (ha!) by me once complained that whenever she went to see me to solve a problem, all she ever got was questions, more questions and she always seemed to end up solving the problem herself. She nearly hit me when I asked why she thought that was.

  2. I was about to call my upbringing “rigidly religious” as well, but it really wasn’t. We were in church 3x/week, my mom read us 2 chapters from the Bible every night, but I didn’t feel like that part of my childhood was rigid. My father, however, was extremely rigid in his demands for our perfect behavior, and more than anything, that has really messed with me, both in my marriage, and in my relationship with God. It’s taken persistent effort to teach my mind and heart that neither my husband nor God is like what my father was.

    Last night, on PBS, my husband and I watched a show about the doctor who pioneered and proliferated the lobotomy in the ’30s-’50s. On the outset, the whole idea seemed tragic and preposterous. But, watching the show, we could see how someone could start with good intentions, but with a few character flaws and some misguidedness, have their actions and thoughts escalate into, indeed, the tragic and preposterous. But… seeing the show made the doctor seem more human and less monster. I’ve been pondering this, regarding my father. Really, I think his intentions were all right, but his methods, added to a few character flaws, made his parenting fall far off the right track and veer into a world that, if it had been brought to light, would have been seen as monstrous and tragic. Not that I’m justifying his behavior, but with the perspective of years, some of it becomes more understandable.

    I know you’re rather ambiguous with your religious beliefs… but seeing the healing power and intimate involvement of God the Father in my life — from mid-to-late teens onward — has settled it, in the deepest part of me, that, yes, there is a kind and powerful and lovely and just and merciful and redemptive God. And, if it hadn’t have been for what I’ve come from, I’d not appreciate God as deeply as I now do.

  3. I am so happy to hear your approach to teaching science with your children!! Please feel free to come by my website for more science activities you can do with your children.

  4. Either you’ve mentioned this before or I’m experiencing deja vu.

    I understand what you’re saying about kids needing guidance from their parents. I rode my kids’ rear ends when they were involved in things that required their participation, whether it was homework for school or their Wednesday night program at church or whatever. I wanted them to do well and didn’t want them to miss the boat on account of me.

    Remembering well the frustration and humiliation,


  5. Btw, you’re a great mother! Keep up the good work. 🙂

  6. I can so relate to your experiences as a child. In the end, we really don’t need them. Their wish came true. I don’t want that for my kids, either. I’m loving your blog, btw. Nice to “meet” you.

  1. Pingback: Answering Your Questions Part 2 - Why we chose to homeschool « Only Sometimes Clever

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