We are homeschoolers. I can’t present some big treatise on why we choose to do this utterly crazy thing. It isn’t because we are appalled by the quality of our public schools (they are evidently pretty good); it isn’t because we are trying to protect our children from corrupting influences (unfortunately my five year old already cusses like a sailor); it isn’t because I can’t stand to spend a moment alone in PEACE. After all, my idea of a perfect Mother’s Day is one spent on a beach. BY MYSELF. We support sex-ed and learning the tenets of every major world religion. We believe in dinosaurs and climate change. We let our kids listen to music with explicit lyrics (as long as it’s a good song).
I guess we homeschool because, no matter how much those little demons get on my last freaking nerve, no matter how much I’d rather be locked in my library writing to you or reading something sublime (or simply entertaining), no matter how much I’d like my house to be a gleaming example of organization – I enjoy watching my kids LEARN. I love watching their eyes light up when they get it, when they are begging to go on the internet to learn more. And, let’s be honest, I love taking responsibility for having lit that fire. I would be remiss if I didn’t also cop to loving not having to get up at 6am and struggling through homework until 9pm. Details. The devil is in them, people.
But it’s a huge responsibility. If my kids fail, I can blame no one but myself. If they aren’t exposed to enough art or music or technology, I can’t point the finger at a deficient state budget. Though, God knows, I could do amazing things with the $10,000 per year spent on each student in our state.
Regardless of my budget, as a homeschooling parent, I am the one responsible for finding or creating a curriculum that I think meets the needs of my children. That’s hardcore, folks. What would you pick if you didn’t have to adhere to prescribed curriculum? What do you think is important, and why?
We’ve finally settled on a curriculum that is academically intense (yet surprisingly gentle, go figure) and diverse. My kids are studying the basics (arithmetic, composition, spelling, literature) along with Latin, Greek, Astronomy, Botany, History, Mythology, Poetry, and Christian Studies (i.e.: the basis of the Western World). Nearly everyday my kids make some comment about how “smart” they feel. And yet, everyday, someone asks me “When will I ever use this?!”
I resist the urge to say, “Being able to quote Chaucer or Shakespeare will totally get you laid in college,” and instead fall back upon, “Latin derivatives will help with SATs. Those who do not study history are destined to repeat it…”
All three of these things are true, by the way.
But really, I think my kids’ question points to a bigger issue in modern education. “Is this going to be on the test?” is the question of the day. Why bother learning it if it’s not going to be asked? Why expend the effort if it isn’t going to gain us a few percentage points? Knowledge, thought, creativity, seem to have become very utilitarian pursuits.
This week my daughter had to take the TN standardized tests. It’s a requirement for homeschoolers in 7th grade who are registered through the state. She was dismayed that we didn’t do more to get her out of them. “But other kids have been studying ALL YEAR to pass these tests! I’m totally unprepared! I don’t even know what’s going to be on them! You didn’t tell me what was on the test!“ she whined.
That’s right. I didn’t tell her what was going to be on the test. I didn’t know. I didn’t spend even an hour of our day figuring out what she was going to be graded on. I’m sure I would have been less laissez-faire if this had been the SATs, or some other college entrance exam. After all, there’s a reason for us to to be worried about what is on THOSE tests.
If Zoë bombs these TCAPS (along with 80% of the school population… it’s a new test this year) the worst thing that will happen is that the state will contact me and tell me that I’m “falling behind.” They will tell me that instead of spending time conjugating Latin verbs, I should be spending more time going over algebraic equations.
I will feel slightly shamed for about fifteen minutes and then go right back to helping my children memorize 24 stanzas of an epic poem, and the names of the 15 brightest stars. Neither of these things is likely to ever appear on any standardized test. Just as it’s unlikely that they will ever be asked to give an account of the Trojan Wars, or translate E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one) even though it’s inscribed on the money they use to buy their Frappuccinos. Yet, these were the things that our forefathers studied – those men we hold up as shining examples of democracy and forward thinking. Those men studied Plato and Aristotle and Socrates. They learned Greek and Latin and read the Bible in both translations, fully aware of the discrepancies. They looked into the night sky, pointed out Orion and his two dogs and knew it was summer.
Of course they didn’t know how to create a clone. They didn’t know how to manipulate 1s and 0s into information that could fly through space in an instant and calculate the temperature on Mars. But they also didn’t think that they were the first humans to ponder the big questions. Our founding Fathers looked to the great philosophers, and not the Kardashians, to light the way. As my mother often said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
So I choose, at this moment, to educate my children in the disciplines under which the great minds of our millennia have been educated. The tutelage of the teachers of Franklin and Hamilton, and Edison. I choose to school them in the ideas of great thinkers who have come before them, so that they do not have to reinvent the wheel, so that they can call out a broken spoke for what it is. So that the answer to, “When will I EVER use this?” is: Every single time you must answer a hard question. Every time you must weigh the heft of history against the weight of popular thought.