Last weekend I was asked by a friend about homeschooling. Do I stand up at a blackboard and lecture? No… I said. Recently my son, reading Steve Jobs’ biography, has realized that his past might someday be scrutinized and analyzed, so he expressed concern about being seen as having a “whacked out childhood” since he was homeschooled. His image of homeschooling is not based on his own experience as much as a media representation of homeschoolers as fundamentalist extremists. Maybe nothing shows what homeschooling is like better than the following joke:
Question: How does a homeschooler change a light bulb?
Answer: First, Mom checks out three books at the library on electricity, then the kids make models of light bulbs, read a biography of Thomas Edison and do a skit based on his life. Next, everyone studies the history of lighting methods, wrapping up with dipping their own candles. Then, everyone takes a trip to the store where they compare types of light bulbs as well as prices and figure out how much change they’ll get if they buy two bulbs for $1.99 and pay with a five-dollar bill. On the way home, a discussion develops over the history of money and the Federal Reserve System, and also Abraham Lincoln as his picture is on the five-dollar bill. Finally, after building a homemade ladder out of branches dragged from the woods, the light bulb is installed. And there is light.”
You can tell the joke is old, because now there would now also be a discussion about LED lightbulbs versus fluorescent ones, compared to incandescent ones. What a perfect opportunity for a compare or contrast essay! A whole discussion of environmental impact would ensue, including a study of waste management, recycling, morality and stewardship, kilowatt hours, sustainability, efficiency, public policy and conservation… Every side of the issue would be considered and could result in advocacy, scientific research, opinion papers, letters to the editor, a bulb collection drive… or deciding to use more candles!
This stereotype is much closer to the truth than a ramble at the blackboard, or a narrow platform of indoctrination! Last night, I went to a “Homeschooling High School” meeting and was surrounded by earnest parents, pouring their heart, soul and resources into what they hoped was best for their children. Everyone here was homeschooling for academic reasons, not religious nor social reasons. We come together to look for community and curriculum ideas, but mostly for solidarity; we wish to be better able to serve our kids. Homeschooling is for the courageous, because you never know specifically where it will lead, but done conscientiously, it develops deep authenticity in kids – reverberating with opportunities and discovery – not found in a top-down approach.