Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homeschool Dad

So, in a mere five (ish) days I am planning to submit a request to homeschool Son #2.  For the sake of convenience, we will call him "Norm."  The idea of homeschooling began to develop last year as the reality of my sabbatical started to sink in.  I thought it would be fun for me and good for him.  He would get a chance to get out of the structured surroundings of elementary school and I would have someone to share my sabbatical projects with.  My plan at that point (and the plan remains, more or less) was to go all "JS Henslow" and troop around New England experiencing the landscape that  has inspired so many scientists and mystics over the centuries.  I always wanted to be a 19th Century clergyman-botanist, and once you throw in those transcendentalists, how can you not have yourself a party?

More about all that later, but even this brief description (I hope) shows how much Norm might enjoy the experience.  Yes there will be boring times.  We have plenty of worksheets, benchmarks, and tests.  However, the field trip-to-class ratio is sweet.

That having been said, the work to get to this point has been tiring and a bit nerve-wracking.  There have been existential issues concerning my own confidence and competence.  There have also been moments when I have questioned my sanity.  There have been a couple times when I wanted to throw in the towel but Norm was insistent and I stayed the course. 

There have been even more moments when my sanity has been questioned for me!  I do get a lot of looks and a lot of questions when the subject comes up.  Church members mostly find my decision to be in character and family members (some of whom are homeschoolers themselves) do not find it odd either.  That having been said, I am different from the stereotype in several significant ways which, in the rather staid confines of Burbania, does cause some shocked expressions.  More casual acquaintances, I think, start to wonder who, exactly, I am.

So, here are some differences I have noticed between me and what seem to be the assumptions of my interlocutors. 

I Like My Public Schools

Nowhere in my reasoning for doing this is any sort of dislike for what is--frankly--one of the best school systems in the country.  Son #1 is quite happy in Middle School (which is a feat) and will be staying put.  One of the big struggles I had with homeschooling, in fact, is that Norm has been assigned one of my favorite teachers this year and now he won't get a chance to have her.  Also, I like the sex ed courses and the absence of religious instruction that the district provides.  When I read even secular material or talk to homeschoolers, many aren't so happy with the system.  In one apparently secular homeschooling book for parents that I am currently reading, there are many throw away lines about the evils of "AIDS Education" and such.  Really?  Homeschoolers don't want their kids to know about condoms?  I do.

I Love Me Some Natural Selection
Yes, I have struggled to find science materials I can trust, but the surprise over my evolutionist viewpoint is one that I have mostly experienced from the outside.  That is, people I don't know well know that I am a pastor and assume that I am a creationist once the "homeschool" piece comes out.  Of course, this is a problem for the religious liberal anyway.  Many non-religious people like to have things kept simple for them when they think about faith.  However, in my case, the stereotype just isn't true.  I love Darwin and A.R. Wallace (look him up smarty-pants).  Norm does too.  Hence the nature-focus.

I Am A Boy
Yes, most homeschooled children have dads and many of them are involved in some way I am sure.  But the books are all about (and addressed toward) moms.  So, too are the support groups.  In fact, the "in charge" parent is almost always the mother, at least in my admittedly limited experience.  I have met some dads who have homeschooled their children and they mostly come from my demographic.  They are academics or self-employed and they homeschooled for a year or two because they could and it filled a perceived need for their child. 

I Am Going To Only Do This for One Year (I Think).
What makes this possible is that I have sabbatical time.  Also, as I feel pretty comfortable with the educational options for Norm going forward, I do not find it necessary to make long-term plans as a homeschooler. This is a year for me and him to experience things we don't usually get to.  It is a time to be less Burbanian in our focus and perhaps a bit more eccentric and interesting in our pursuits.  Then we can return, reputations destroyed, to the normal world.

All of these things, of course, affect how we go about our year.  Norm has friends who he has gone to school with and will do so again.  These friendships need to be maintained somehow.  I expect that he will have social opportunities with other homeschool kids and that would be great, too, but these connections are not the priority that they are for some. Also, I have needed to have a fairly "standards-based" approach to his education.  I cannot take a year and let him explore one subject that he is really interested in.  He needs to be up to speed for middle school next year!  That is, the approach will be very different, but the subject matter needs to bridge the gap or even put him ahead.

 I will not be a homeschooler for long but I have goals for the year, too.  My goal is to learn something about educating children.  I want to learn something about this particular child.  I want to learn something about myself.  It will be an adventure that I expect will inform my interests, my faith, and my plans going forward through life.  This, I think, is enough for one year.


You can find Darwin on your own.  I don't have any Homeschool links worth sharing yet, but no doubt I will...eventually...

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