What homeschooling parent doesn't consider sending their kids to "real" school this time of year? The Christmas season has passed, the bills are due, the winter doldrums are setting in and most of all, we look at our progress for the school year and compare it to our goals at the beginning of the year and we judge ourselves failures.
Welcome to my world. I have the advantage of doing this on a regular basis for the past 20 years, so I know there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Just as I know the days are starting to get longer and before I know it, summer will be here; I also know that we probably won't finish every book I'd planned on reading, or achieve every educational goal I'd set for ourselves.
I can handle that knowledge because I've also learned to look realistically at what we have achieved. Because I made some modest as well as challenging educational goals at the beginning of the year, I can see that my kids have accomplished many of those goals already. Some we will likely carry over to next year.
But what about the parent or the kid who considers going to a "real" school as a remedy for what is apparently lacking in our homeschool? What makes a "real" school better? What makes a "real" school more real than what we do every day in our homeschool?
I don't believe "real" schools are any more real than homeschooling. In fact, I would argue the opposite. Homeschooling is where "real life" takes place, while brick and mortar schools are contrived, unreal examples of man-made social groupings.
The family is the cornerstone of society. The push by the progressive main stream media notwithstanding, western civilization has thrived these past two millenia because of the stabilizing influence of the family.
"Real" schools have problems of their own. First of all, they have security problems. The sheer size of a student body in a "real" school is likely going to be greater than even the largest Duggeresque homeschooling family. As a result, they have to implement measures to ensure the security and integrity of their schools. Lockdown drills are held. Hall passes must be issued. Role must be taken. Kids have to line up and wait to be called upon and wait for the teachers to dismiss them. Prisons come to mind. Sunny, colorful and faux cheerful maybe, but prisons all the same. They have to make rules and enforce them. The bigger the schools, the more complex the rules. Enforcing these rules takes time away from educating the kids.
Another problem that "real" schools have to face is the fact that the kids don't all learn the same way or at the same pace. Some kids forget to do their homework, while others work ahead and always seem to know the right answer. How's a teacher supposed to effectively teach when she has such a diversity of students? She often teaches to the middle group, leaving those who are slow to become further and further behind and those who are advanced to become bored and disaffected with school. Result: not all the kids are getting the educating they need or deserve.
"Real" schools divide kids into groups according to age. They reinforce the idea that your peer group contains the most important and influential friends you're ever going to have. What they think about you and what they say about you is of greater importance than what your parents or siblings think or say about you. The result is the rise of the idea that teenagers have their own culture, their own ideas and their own way of dealing with the world. Instead of teaching our children to become adults, we're teaching our children to become teenagers and stay there as long as possible to avoid becoming adults. Adults continue to pay for all the things the teenagers want (iPods, cell phones, cars, clothes, piercings, hair colorings), but don't require they have the responsibilities of adults. We let the teenagers make the rules. A "real" life example of this is from a local charter high school that has been rated very high academically. All freshmen are required to take a class called "Teen Choices," which indicates to me that "teen choices" are somehow different from "adult choices." I'm not sure I want my teen making choices that I wouldn't make as an adult.
"Real" schools teach kids that following their rules and conforming to their expectations are the most important thing to do during your formative years. Turning in your assignments, doing the extra credit, pleasing your teachers and being recognized by your peers as being "cool" are the "real" life lessons taught in school.
On the flipside we have the life of a homeschooling family. Family life is messy, noisy, dramatic, chaotic, emotional and very, very real. Our kids don't always get up at the same time every day. They don't always turn in their homework on the day it is due. They have to work at getting along with their siblings. They have to learn to apologize. They sometimes have to do chores or help a younger sibling instead of doing their own math lessons. They sometimes take the entire day off to go exploring the drainage ditch down the street or to learn how to play cribbage with Grandpa. They sometimes spend so much time engrossed in one subject that we run out of time to do anything else that day. And we parents sometimes spend so much time working on discipline and character issues that it seems we haven't accomplished anything academically.
It's amazing our kids learn anything at all. How is it possible that homeschoolers often score higher on standardized testing even when they spend their days like this?
My theory is simple. We don't go to "real" school because life is real. Family life, with all it's interruptions and inconveniences is real life and our kids are learning exactly what they need to know to be real men and women.