Homeschooling as a Way of Life
The joy of education outside the loop
As German dependent clauses using double infinitives took form in the beach sand that evening on the Monterey Peninsula in California, I suddenly experienced a startling revelation, a minor epiphany, whose memory has flavored my views on education ever since. The incident occurred during a three day backpacking trip organized and led by an inspired Community College German teacher and attended by three students including myself.
The situation wasn’t really new or unfamiliar, indeed we were used to working on such problems in the classroom and had been on a number of outings with Herr Meyer in the past, but it was only on this occasion that, to the roar of the surf and the glow of the sunset, I realized just what we were doing. He was not functioning as a minion of the college, playing the pedagogue pursuant to some contractual mandate, and we were not students struggling for a grade. We were all freely and voluntarily discovering and exploring the joy of imparting and acquiring knowledge. This was real education.
Later, as a college professor myself I always tried to keep alive as much as possible the concept of taking charge of ones own education. I was not homeschooled myself, something that I seriously regret and would resent if that alternative to compulsory schooling had been plausible at the time, for I am convinced that my parents would have given me a far better education than I received from the public school system.
Though about 95% wasted time, my schooling experience was not entirely negative. Most of the tired and slogging teachers, though woefully ill equipped to provide any meaningful education to the vast majority of students, were generally well meaning and (with a few notable exceptions) at least marginally competent. A spate of uninspired mathematics teachers quickly killed that subject for me but here and there I found a gem. For one year my parents were subjected to the cadent refrain “Mr. Culbertson said …” or “Mr. Culbertson thinks …” Mr. Culbertson was a high school water polo coach who, in those days of extremely flexible credential requirements, had been put in charge of a physical science class I was made to take. His wide ranging general knowledge was remarkable and his enthusiasm was infectious, at least to me. His presence almost (but not quite) justified that otherwise bleak and valueless school year.
My homeschooling only started when I got to college but it is only in retrospect that I realize that was what I was doing. Enrolled as a fine arts major (which required no mathematics), I did attend community college and university, taking required classes without much enthusiasm and relying more on talent than hard work to get through. One day I met a frizzy haired gaunt and goateed student about my age in the dormitory common room who was enthusiastically scribbling down and animatedly explaining a contradictory syllogism to someone. We got talking and I started to understand his fascination and enthusiasm for this field of mathematics to which I had retained such a staunch aversion for so many years. This was the beginning of a period of “dormschooling.” We realized that we were blessed with being surrounded by dedicated fellow students each of whom was pursuing some field of study about which we knew little or nothing. Why not share our expertise? Dorm balconies, common rooms, or unused classrooms and lecture halls in the physics or statistics buildings became the venue for informal all night sessions on mathematics, programming, logic, music, physics, language studies and other subjects. I delighted in organizing these romps, cajoling would-be instructors and recruiting students.
College ended and I took away with me the all important but somewhat irrelevant pieces of paper — all important because they provided me with official authority to teach; irrelevant, because they had little or nothing to do with my education. After some years of practical experience, I found myself teaching community college, not in my official field of study but in computer science — a direct result of those midnight dormschooling romps which were the source of my real education. I may actually be unique in having taught very successful college computer math classes without ever having officially taken so much as an introductory high school algebra class.
I was determined not to inflict upon my children the drudgery of high volume undifferentiated cookie-cutter schooling as provided by our public school system. Worse yet, images of professors I have known come to mind, Business Ph.Ds who couldn’t possibly write a cogent business letter, instructors who expect students to spend their class hour laboriously copying lessons off of the chalkboard (honestly, I’m not just making this up), and the rather generous percentage of teachers who are simply marking time until retirement. Fortunately, educational choices have broadened since my school days.
My wife and I are proudly homeschooling our children while helping other homeschooling families with scheduled informal educational romps through English, mathematics and test preparation in association with Excellence in Education, the definitive homeschooling resource center in Monrovia California. We chose this route not just because our respective experiences with educational institutions had convinced us that we could do a better job ourselves, nor even in order to give them the type of educational opportunity that I craved myself and missed out on. We homeschool in order to preserve the love of learning (and teaching) for its own sake, free of the proscribed boundaries and practical limitations of institutionalized education.
It is my hope that, thus equipped with an appreciation for the delights of education, my girls and other homeschoolers with whom I have worked will be able to make a learning environment out of whatever situation they find themselves in. Universities are wonderfully fertile fields for this as they tend to attract those with intense intellectual curiosity. One may even find superb true education taking place in the classroom from time to time (I saw some excellent instances) but it’s not wise to set ones expectations too high — I wouldn’t count on it. As a rule it seems that homeschoolers who have had a touch of real education have a much better chance of making a university of whatever world they encounter than those whose tutelage was more rigid and pedantic. It has also been made very clear to me time and time again that the official qualifications of a teacher, or the absence of same, are neither an endorsement nor an indictment and are very frequently misleading.
An occasional participant in our home study is the girls’ favorite “uncle.” No longer goateed and now far from gaunt, they love it when he leads them through his logical and mathematical worlds. Other dormschooling uncles, now physicists or vice presidents, have also participated from time to time and even Herr Meyer has contributed his beautiful German pronunciation to our informal curriculum on occasion. I cannot imagine willingly forgoing the experience of personally sharing knowledge with my children and I find the thought of relinquishing their education to the public school system utterly abhorrent.
It is always a painful watershed when offspring leave home to make their own way in the world but, whether in college, industry, or even retirement home, homeschooling need never cease. It is possible to take college classes while homeschooling or even to homeschool all the way through to a degree. Here is a partial list of online college campuses where classes are attended and credits are earned completely online. Taking online classes can be tricky and require a great deal of dedication — share the experience with others and everyone benefits.