I know that many parents choose home schooling and I completely support a family's right to do so. Until the last 200 years or so, home schooling was the norm. Consequently, many, many intelligent and revolutionary thinkers throughout history are products of homeschooling and tutoring. It is a well established and successful way of imparting education for those who choose to devote themselves to it and believe in it. Meanwhile, universal public education is a fairly new enterprise. It wasn't until 1918 that all then existing states here in the US had laws making school mandatory until the eight grade or age 16. So, public schooling is really still a fledgling project. Institutionalizing education has had a profound effect on it and, many critics argue, a detrimental one. You only have to rent Waiting for Superman or watch any investigative report and you know that our public school system is struggling. Currently, even though my son is only two and is likely four years away from any kind of kindergarten decision, my husband and I have been house hunting and struggling to find the school district we feel we could entrust our son's education to and, frankly, the search is enough to drive us both crazy. Meanwhile, I listen with envy to my friends who are home schooling or are planning to home school and absolutely believe that they have made the right choice for their family. I just don't feel that kind of conviction to home school myself. (I haven't completely ruled it out, either. I feel more than capable enough and willing enough to do it in the right circumstances and whether or not my son goes to school outside the home, I am completely devoted to his education.)
The truth is, there is a part of me that still has a soft spot for the great project of public education. Call it patriotism, call it idealism, but part of me (maybe the same part of me that caused me to work in a public school for four years in a low paying paraprofessional position and to ultimately get my teaching license) is still impressed with a social goal of providing education to all children regardless of race, class, "ability," or gender., (I am a licensed (although that license is about to lapse because of my current devotion to being a stay at home mom) special educator, so accessible learning for students of all capabilities is a special passion of mine.) Compulsory, free, public education was a way of making it possible for even children of parents who could not afford for someone to stay home and teach to still learn from dedicated adults. We may not be meeting all of our reading level goals here and we are struggling, but we enjoy a much more literate society than we did one hundred years ago. It was a revolutionary idea to say that no matter what education level your parents or grandparents obtained, we will try to provide an education that will level the playing field and whatever else motivations that caused compulsory education to become reality (including eliminating child labor competition in business), that was still a prevailing goal of compulsory education.
Furthermore, I can't help but think that I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone to school outside the home and frankly, I'm saying that even though the school I went to the longest during my thirteen years was not even that good. Of course, I had parents who read to me, supported me, and encouraged me to learn outside the home, too. (Just as my son will have.) What strikes me most when I think back on my education is the access I had to people and ideas I never would have encountered ordinarily. Many of my classmates are ones that helped me find my way to attachment parenting and whose friendship has helped me immeasurably in my ongoing journey into motherhood. Where would I be without them? School is doorway that opened up new worlds for me. Did I run into people who challenged the world view my parents subscribe to? Yes. However, I think that was a good thing. Because my beliefs were challenged, I had the opportunity to critically decide whether or not they were beliefs I wanted to own and integrate into my life. I feel like they made me stronger, and I would love for my son to have the same experience. I know that if he goes to school, he will be impressionable, at first, and that is why it will be just as critically important for me to be part of his public education as it would be for me to be a part of his home schooling education. He will still need me to help him discern real argument from propaganda and he will need me to model critical thinking. He will also need me to model strength in convictions and a level of participation that is exhausting to even think about, but that will be true no matter where he learns.
I also must admit that general book learning was easy for me and maybe that is part of why I feel a connection to public education. My primary methods of learning (reading/listening) are the traditional and most prevalent methods available in classrooms. However, after sitting in education classes, I know the traditional school environment I went to is not necessarily the one that my child will go to. There has been a shift in most education communities toward more progressive, constructive learning that encompasses more hands on, real world application, and self-directed, creative projects. Am I saying that is absolutely true for every school? No. But a part of me feels like if that is not the case, especially in a community funded public school, than everyone in the community should get involved until it is. Now, I am a realist in that I know there are many parents out there who do not want to have anything to do with their children's education, but for those of us who do, we can make a difference in the education of both those children and our own children if we make our doubts and criticisms heard. I feel like the last thing a school needs is docility in its parents or in its students and a part of me can't help but feel that if I do choose to home school, I'll be absenting myself from the fight. One of my main reasons why I feel I want to give public schooling a chance is because I do not want to accept the idea that the public school project should be abandoned. Call me vain, but I don't want my family's educational beliefs, our social beliefs, our environmental beliefs, our religious beliefs and even our parenting philosophy to be absent from the lives of the children in our community. I want my son to share his life, his philosophies, and his ideas with people I would never even know to introduce him to and I want it to be while I am still in a position to defend him and to help him stand his ground.
Thanks for reading,