Monday, January 11, 2010

Real Educational Freedom

Educational freedom does not come from the type of schooling so much as determining what style of schooling would best suit your child. Closely observing your child and their personality traits will help to determine if either a public school or homeschool setting would provide the best learning environment.

Homeschooling laws are such in this country that anyone can choose to teach their children at home rather than send them off to school each day. While homeschooling laws vary from state to state, ranging from high regulation to none, it is relatively easy to stay within the guidelines of homeschooling regulations. Much more difficult is to understand the many different types of homeschooling and figure out where you fit within the framework. From radical unschoolers to those that do school at home, wandering the maze of options can leave one feeling unhinged.

Unlike homeschooling, public school options take the mystery out of figuring out how to operate within compulsory school requirements, and there are many different types of public schools available- from large urban to small rural- all with a distinct flavor of their own. Private schools offer up another array of additional options to consider. Deciding if your child should attend a small private school or large public school can be a complicated decision as well.

As a parent, how do you know whether to send your child to public school or to homeschool? Further complicating the decision is that most parents of each camp feel extremely attached to their mode of schooling. If you ask a member from either camp why they chose the schooling option they did, it will be because they personally feel it is the best option available. There is very little flexibility or understanding between homeschoolers and those who send their children to public schools. I have heard homeschoolers say they are misunderstood by the public school folks and are tired of their children being labeled as unsocialized, while I have heard public school folks say that homeschoolers feel their kids are too smart for the system. Even within homeschooling itself, there are differences in philosophies which lead to conflicts. Radical unschoolers feel their children learn best by child led learning while traditional homeschoolers feel unschooling is lazy parenting.

While parents of the different camps spend vast amounts of time defending the schooling decisions they have made for their children, I wonder if the children themselves and their schooling needs have been left out of the equation? It seems parents quickly jump to one form of education or another because they like how it sounds, but is it really the best option for their child? Homeschooling proponents explain that their method supports freedom in education for their child, but what if their child would learn best in a school setting surrounded by their peers? Public school folks are in the same boat. What if their child would thrive in a situation which would allow them to study at their own pace and tailor their learning to their interests rather than sit in a classroom all day?

Having had my child in both homeschooling settings and public school settings, I don't write this because I believe one version is better than the other, but because I believe parents are not fully determining what their child's schooling needs are when deciding which type of schooling to pursue. Parents will tell you they made the choice they did because of their child, but the negativity shown toward those that choose the opposite option tells me they choose their method because it most adheres to their lifestyle values, not their child's real needs. If school choice was being made based on needs rather than values or preconceived notions, then there wouldn't be any animosity toward those doing things differently. Why are homeschooled children told that being in school is like being in prison? Why are schooled children told homeschooled kids are weird misfits? Children hearing these words are being molded into a certain way of thinking...homeschoolers being taught to never want to try school, and public school kids being taught to never want try homeschooling. Each camp teaching hate rather than tolerance.

Really, again...what about the kids? What would work best for them and their needs? Look closely at your child. Do they seem unhappy as they head out the door for school each morning, like life has been sapped right out of them? Maybe a few years spent learning at home would suit them well. How about that homeschooled teen, sitting in his bedroom playing video games all day? Wonder if he would like to spend a few years at school, investigating some new learning avenues you or he never thought of? Lets get rid of the homeschool or public school labels and pursue real educational freedom with the kids in mind.

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