Wednesday, July 09, 2008

How do you school?

Our family's idea of how to school has been turned on its ear these last few months. I never imagined that I would ever seriously consider homeschooling. I've admired people who do, I've wondered "how do they do it?", I've had all the usual arguments about socialization, school activities, influence of other wise adults, "I'm not cut out for it", "my kids wouldn't like it", etc. I've always ended those discussions with "But, if God were to call me to it I would do it, I just don't feel called to do it right now."

Well, God seems to have called me to it. Much to our own amazement.

Here is some background for you. Our girls have been at a wonderful Christian school that cares very much about their character and the way they live out their own personal faith. Through the school our girls have gotten a very good start with A Beka's curriculum. It is affordable (as far as private school goes....).

But, we've always had in our hearts that we'd like to do a more Classical style of education. (If you'd like to learn more about it there is a great article about Classical education here.) We have prayed for our girls to have mastery of the tools they will need to learn anything as well as the ability to logically and articulately share it with others. We believe the ability to learn (or teach yourself) is a skill that is not valued in today's society. In today's world our information to comes in little, easily digested, sound bites and videos, rarely unbiased. The ability and desire to pursue knowledge and discover fallacies is disappearing. If it isn't on CNN or the Yahoo news page it isn't known. When you learn how to learn the dependence on others to tell you what you need to know is lessened. You are more able to discern truth from well constructed lies.

The world is becoming more and more about relativism with no absolute truth. The ability to discern truth and share about it articulately is not valued anymore. But it is vitally important if you are going to be able to stand firm in what you believe, not swayed with every new thought and theory that comes your way. It is the way many of the bright minds of the past were educated - think George Washington as one example. Just a short survey of the writings from the time of the American Revolution shows how well educated and grounded in their faith and beliefs our founding fathers were. (The Patriots Handbook by George Grant has some great examples.)

When children are born, they are born as sponges, ready to soak up and learn everything that comes in their path. They are particularly designed to memorize information. They memorize their mother's facial features as infants, they internalize the rules of how their family operates, they learn thousands of new words in short amounts of time. Memorization at this age, when they are adept at it, helps them to build those neural pathways that make learning easier the rest of their lives. It teaches them to store and easily retrieve large amounts of information. From the parts of speech, to the multiplication tables and on to the Periodic Table of Elements. All that information is permanently stored in their brains, ready and waiting for when they are in the "why" stage (middle school) and can logically piece it all together. Much in the same way that we know our ABC's and or the colors in the rainbow (ROY G BIV anyone?) they can learn a multitude of facts at this age.

We first learned about Classical Education when we were in Fort Worth, TX. Our hope has always been to find an equivalent school here in Florida. Unfortunately, the closest private schools that teach this way are an hour or more from our home, so it has been an impractical choice for our family. We've prayed about a school to open here, we've talked with our private school some about it, and we've even considered starting our own school (a very short discussion!). We actually thought we would be returning to Texas by now, so in the back of our minds we had hopes that we'd be in an area that had a classical school by time our oldest was in 3rd grade.

Obviously plans have not worked out as we expected. Mike is currently in a position that will leave us here for another several years. There still isn't a private school. But, there is a new homeschool option for Classical education called Classical Conversations. It is a co-op, kind of, where families work together to accomplish solidly nailing down what is needed in the "grammar stage": the vocabulary and grammar of math, science, history, English, Latin, music, and art. They'll also get to do some public speaking, science experiments, and participate in art enrichment as a part of a larger group of people. It meets once a week and the rest of the week is at home doing math, language arts, history, languages, and whatever else you want to supplement with. This group suddenly made the idea of teaching a Classical curriculum at home look "do-able" to me!.

This past year I have observed a good friend and neighbor while she taught her kids (ages 5, 8, and 11) this way. They have learned an amazing amount of information in a short 24 weeks. They readily and easily share what they've learned (the whole years worth!). I would have thought the kids would be bored with learning nearly a thousand facts but they have only good things to say about their experience.

I'm certainly aware of how much work this means for me. I also know that there will be bad days when I'm wondering why I signed up for this. But I also know that the call to do this is clear. I have no doubts (anymore!). We aren't looking to create little clones or intellectual snobs. We are hoping to impart a real love of learning along with the tools to do so. We want them to know that Christ is in everything, even math. I am excited about knowing well what my girls are learning each day. Being able to learn along with them in the areas where my own education has gaps. Teaching them things that excite all of us. Having more control of our schedule and the freedom to travel more often. Spending less on school expenses each year! Being able to move at the pace of learning that suits them individually (whether faster or slower). These are just some of the benefits I can see for our family. The homeschooling community here is strong and has great support from the community at large. I definitely won't have to go far when we need help.

So, our school this year will be at our dining table in the morning. Afternoons will be for PE, field trips, and extra-curricular activities. Our own little one-room schoolhouse.