Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Unsupported Belief

I am so glad to be an atheist. Life really makes so much more sense now. It’s as if my heart and mind were in a cage all along, one I wasn’t even aware of, so focused was I on the size of others' cages.

All those years (decades!) of practicing what I called faith, I never accepted what I found unbelievable. I had a reason behind every belief I held. I rejected doctrines or ideas I found unsupportable or incredible. However, my upbringing severely limited my sources of information. I had a strong acceptance of the truth as I knew it. When I began to think and question freely, each of those reasonable supports to my belief cracked and fell away. I accepted the evidence of history, of science, of experience—evidence that had been withheld or explained away before. My “faith” vaporized. What value is there in clinging to “truths” after reality has given them the lie?

Please don’t feel sorry for me, don’t be sad that I don’t try to accept what is unbelievable. I never did, after all. Pray for me, if it makes you feel good. I wish you the very best things for your life; I can offer support and sympathy when things are tough, but I am prayed out.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Effects of Homeschooling

Someone asked me about the long-term effects of homeschooling vs. public education, and it got me thinking. I won't consider secular private education in this article, mostly because I don't have firsthand experience.  I have enjoyed teaching my young children at home, but we have decided to send them to public school while they are still in the elementary grades because of our observations over a generation of homeschooling.

Effects on Society

Certainly homeschooling promotes elitism. Even without religious motivation, announcing that you can get a better education from your mother than from certified degreed professionals has an air of snobbery. Socially, the kids can hardly escape the inference that they are too good (or smart, or rich) to rub shoulders with the inferior proletariat, especially when they are repeatedly told their home experience is superior. Latin for kindergarteners, anyone?

Public school introduces children to others who are like, yet unlike, them at the same time. It broadens their understanding by allow them to work and play alongside real people of other races, other religions, other languages and backgrounds. When conflicts arise, involved parents have an opportunity to encourage cooperation, sensitivity, and compassion, as well as personal boundaries. My children are learning to respect diversity in a way that would be impossible if they only played with kids from their own neighborhood. And they see that excellence is a personal choice independent of circumstances.

Our public school welcomes parental involvement. Teachers are thrilled to have parents volunteer in the classroom and the principal has always had an open door when I stopped in with a question or concern. When I spend an hour helping my daughter's classmates practice multiplication, I multiply the teacher's efforts and support the cause of education far beyond my own children. Our school truly belongs to the community and it is what the community makes it.

Government policies and education budgets now affect my children directly, so I have heightened interest in the issues. I better understand what educators do, helping me relate to a much larger group of society. When teachers and professors in my book club begin to discuss particular stresses on public education, I can participate. Rather than supporting divisions based on class and ideology, I can connect differing perspectives to broaden people's view of the big picture.

Effects on Students

I maintain that it is neither normal nor traditional for boys to spend their days under the tutelage of their mother after they reach double digits. In the days of the pioneer, a boy might grow up isolated and self-taught. He was prepared to explore the frontier, self-reliant and independent. Those are hardly the skills needed by adults today.

It would be interesting to hear from men how they think homeschooling affected them emotionally. My hunch is that all that time at home with Mom often stunted their decision-making and negotiating skills and either increased their susceptibility to manipulation or their ability to manipulate, or both.

Boys--and girls in contemporary society--need to learn goal-setting and negotiating skills. School exposes them to a range of leadership styles and personalities and varied levels of accountability. It helps them build a portfolio of social skills (and coping mechanisms) that can serve them in the work force when they have to deal with cranky managers, lazy teammates, and charting their own professional course.

Even in modern homeschooling, with its drama groups, advanced math co-op classes, and sports teams, families tend to be overly flexible, to lack commitment to schedules, and to make sacrifices for one child at the expense of the others. In spite of its flaws, the school system does allow for a more level playing field that offers individual choice and rewards accordingly.

Effects on Family Dynamics

Family dynamics are the primary reason I decided against long-term homeschooling. Put simply, my daughter appreciates me much more when she doesn't have to spend all day with me! Though we spend less time together, we use that time more efficiently, deepening our relationship and helping her develop emotionally and socially. Homeschooling strains the parent-child relationship unnecessarily. It is unfair to a teenager for one or two adults to hold the keys to his education and grades as well as his: social life, access to transportation, food choices, access to employment, daily schedule, recreation, healthcare, and moral guidance. This absolute power tends to corrupt parents, or simply exhaust them.

How many moms have "burned out" on homeschooling, devoting themselves to their children's needs or success while ignoring their own? If she has her own dreams, the teaching parent may resent the inefficiency of spending so many years as a caregiver and educator for a handful of children, when she could be pursuing a satisfying career while sharing the educational responsibility with professionals who chose the job. The early homeschool movement seems to have coincided with an era when technology and a stronger economy had recently reduced the load on stay-at-home moms. Homeschooling may be a healthy alternative to watching soap operas, but it can be a real financial hardship for some parents--contributing to marriage and family stress.

Adolescence is a time for widened horizons, a time to experiment with choices and learn specific cause-and-effect sequences, with the home as a physical and emotional safety net. When teachers reinforce what parents have been telling their kids, the whole family benefits. Feedback at regular intervals gives kids a chance to test different approaches to learning and meeting goals. When they struggle in one area (academics, social relationships, or family issues, for example), they can lean on other networks for support and hopefully build confidence by succeeding in something else.

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As the product of homeschooling, and a homeschooling parent myself, I think the benefits of homeschooling are usually overstated. Certainly religious motivations have driven the movement's growth, but weighing the social and educational results does not convince me that homeschooling prepares people to better thrive in their society.