Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Four Things I Didn't Learn Being Homeschooled

Recently I've been hearing from a slew a homeschool graduates, my age and a little older, who have been griping about how they aren't sure that homeschooling is really worth the investment and energy that their parents put into it. Most of them, without having any adult experience with education system below a college level, have decided that homeschooling isn't going to be in their futures as it presents too many missed opportunities.

I feel like I have a little different perspective than most of these former students about homeschooling vs. real schooling.

I'm a homeschool grad and, with the exception of that one year that I attended kindergarten at a local semi-private school, I was homeschooled for my entire pre-college education. I've recently made the foray into a "normal" educational institution as my source of employment. In my short time there, I've learned a lot of things that I didn't learn being homeschooled. I always wanted to disregard the nay-sayers and believe that my elementary through high-school education was pretty complete. Frankly, I wasn't prepared for what my years of homeschooling didn't teach me. 

Buckle up, it's time for this educator to spill the beans on what homeschoolers everywhere could be missing out on.

1. The Importance of Schedules and Structure.
Saying we were relaxed and chill about our school day, is a lot closer to accurate than anything else I can think of at the moment. We had a rough start and end time for the day, but within that time we could basically do any subject in what ever order we decided.  We didn't have a firm plan. We didn't have blocks. We just rolled with whatever happened. Yes, I'm admitting that I was a rouge student subject to no scheduled blocks.

Finding myself in a school environment, I'm suddenly learning about what a completely structured school day looks like.  It's amazing the methodology that goes into this kind of thinking.  No matter what happens during the day you always know where you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to be doing. Your pace is always clearly defined for you.

Let me simplify this with an example. As a homeschool student, without the guiding influence of schedules and formalities, I could speed recklessly ahead through subjects that I liked, such as history, and use the extra time to either go on ahead of the prescribed lesson plan, or use it for subjects that I didn't care for as much, like math. How little did I realize the damage and hurt that caused me.

Now that I enjoy the elucidation of an enlighten education environment, I realize that there is a lesson plan and it must be followed at any cost, lest disorder and chaos reign supreme.

For all you uninformed homeschoolers out there, let me tell you what a structured day should look like. If you finish first, you must sit and wait until the rest of the time is up, be it 5 or 15 minutes while the slower two-thirds of your class muddles along.  If you're a slower paced student you can race the clock to try and finish those last few questions before time runs out. Sometimes you don't get all of the questions finished in the allotted time. Don't worry, that's okay. The rest of the class will move at the same pace as you, and maybe if you're lucky you'll finally get to understand it before the lesson plan says you have to move on.

2. The Importance of Deadlines in Elementary School
The funny thing is, I always thought I had deadlines when it came to school. In fact, I was pretty sure of it until another homeschool grad started complaining that homeschoolers couldn't possibly have them. After being in a school now, I know that I didn't have dead lines the way a proper school does them.

Enter the accountability of deadlines. For each week or month, there are a list of things that are supposed to be done at a specific time. No if, no ands, no buts. Just the cold hard fact. If you're a really good student, these are designed to motivate you to achieve higher and work harder. Which is as much to say that you were already going to get all that homework done, but now you're extremely stressed motivated to have it all done by that end date, or else your grade will suffer. This works best when you already have three hours of homework to do each night.

Of course, there are perks for other students too. For all the students who wouldn't normally get things done because they like to buck authority, and/or are lazy, and/or just plain don't care. Well it gives them one more thing to buck authority/ be lazy and/or just plain not care over. We always like to add another level of accomplishment for those kids.

Homeschoolers hear it ALL THE TIME. I mean people asked me if I was socialized to the point that I actually knew what the word meant by the time I was in first grade. I was always taught, apparently wrongly, that going and spending time with other homeschoolers on a regular basis counted towards socialization. Boy was I wrong.

School is primarily about socialization. It's great. Positively amazing. No lie.

All day long, kids sit around in a classroom with other students their own age. They work on the same assignments, cheat on the same tests and walk down the same halls with these kids day in and day out. During school time the students pick on and trash talk  constructively help their fellow students and shape them into better human beings based upon their own level of worldly understanding, which considering they spend eight hours a day in school is a considerable amount.

During those excessive periods of the day where they get to stretch and have "self-guided" play, students are allowed to experience working out issues for themselves and learn about working together in groups. As a recess teacher, I learned a lot about the benefits of recess for child development in working out problems for themselves.

If you're in the younger grades, it means running to the teacher every five minutes to tell them you suspect your fellow student might possibly be considering thinking about not playing the game that you want to play with him or her.  By the time they reach an older elementary age, they've learned to handle things more efficiently. Now they go to the teacher and demand they do something about that fellow student who you suspect might possibly be considering thinking about not playing the game you want to play and you tell the teacher to deal with it for them. Ah, the responsibility they learn. Of course, there are a good many students who have advanced beyond the need of teachers and work it out themselves with loud words and physical contact. Which leads me into my next point.

4. Vocabulary
As a kid, I sat and read the dictionary for two reasons. One, I thought that it would help me to sound extremely smart, and two, I helped me to be a kick-butt Scrabble player. Ah, those foolish homeschooler priorities. I've since learned that having a voluminous understanding of words and applying them in their proper grammatical context lacked sagacity as most people found my speech to be flamboyant and, at the very least, completely impractical. Over time, I've wheedled down my excessiveness and switched to a more common vernacular.  (I have, however, retained my Scrabble ability.) At this point I've diverged from my original train of thought.

Were I only able to go back and tell my 5th grade self what having a really well rounded understanding of language and how to use it meant, I think my life would have been very different.

School has versed me the wide, wide world of wonderful words which were absent from my formative years. The vocabulary I didn't learn consists of an abundance of short but colorful words such as &*@% and #*%&@. How little did I know the importance of being able to include these in my day-to-day speech.

* * * *
Maybe you're sitting at your computer, sipping your preferred hot beverage and wondering, "Why would she feel like she was missing out on these things?" That's great question and I'll answer with the immortal words of Tevya, "I'll tell you.... I don't know."

I'm sure that it's just a side-affect of my homeschoolerishness to not completely understand. You see, I was a happy homeschooler, living a happy, albeit sheltered, life. I thought I was well educated and prepared for life. I didn't realize what I was missing, and because I didn't know, I didn't miss it. By the time I was in high-school, I suddenly started to hear rumblings of things I was losing out on. Still I wrote it off as being unnecessary for a well rounded education.  Even now, I'm not completely positive that I understand the full weight that missing out on those life lessons will have in store for my future. All I can say is thank heavens that I've had this opportunity to amend that loss and move on.

Though amazing to me, and I'm sure to the educational staff as well, my actually knowledge of math, grammar and other academic subjects were, in all ways, comparable to those of educators who had the benefits of the system to educate their early years. Obviously they thought they could see something beyond my lack of worldly preparedness and thought that I was academically qualified for the position I was hired for. (Suddenly I feel the need to apologize for this, it must have been a complete fluke. How I ever learned actual subjects when missing out on so many other things is entirely mystifying. They clearly never should have hired me.)

If, after reading my four rambling points above, you're absolutely convinced that you're child is missing out, then drop everything and get them into the nearest "real school" let their "real education" begin at once. You can't provide that as well as the schools and why would you even compete with something that has perfected the methods of teaching these things so many times over.

If instead you sit there, cup in hand, pondering over again that you're okay with depriving your students of these experiences, then at least stop and think for a moment. Contemplate over again what it means to homeschool. Why are you doing it? Are you sure that it's really in the best interest of your children? Are you really preparing them for life in the real world? Are the things they're missing out on really so very important? If you can answer those questions knowing in your heart that you're still committed to homeschooling, then in, all seriousness, Godspeed.

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