Are homeschooling parents qualified to teach their children?
It’s a question that likes to jump out of the bushes and ambush unsuspecting homeschoolers on their way to the Shoprite or the library. I’m kidding. We’re always “suspecting” it. I got it a lot as a kid. People always asked me if my mother had a teaching degree. Actually, my mother didn’t go to college, but I usually didn’t say that. I was afraid someone’s brain might explode if I did. Sometimes I told the asker that she’d studied child psychology. Well, she had. On her own. When I got a little older I said things like, “She doesn’t really teach us. That’s not how it works.”
At which point I was either asked to solve a math equation on the spot or greeted with a completely uncomprehending look and a quick, anxious nod. Did that child just tell me that she doesn’t have to be taught? Dear Lord, what have they done to her?
A reader of this blog directed me to this discussion on Amazon.com’s Education Community forum. The post that sparked a very, very long conversation about homeschooling includes a quote from someone who expresses doubt about the teaching qualifications of homeschooling parents. Approximately a zillion homeschoolers chimed in. Some of them were talking about how school teaches that witchcraft is fun, which makes me feel like they don’t know much about school, and some of them were otherwise scary, but mostly it felt pretty cool to bump into this giant group of homeschoolers on the internet. Like, hey, what’s up guys!
It’s a little less cool that the question of qualification won’t go away. And that so many homeschooling parents feel they have to answer it by stating their supposed qualifications. “I have a Master’s in education, with a specialization in early child development.” Or “I am certified to teach K-8 in the state of Florida.” Or whatever.
I get that. When people ask me about my educational background and I mention homeschooling, I often follow it up with something about the Ivy League school I went to at some point after that. It still feels like I have to prove myself to the world in terms that most people can appreciate.
But the idea that learning is about people with degrees in things telling you about those things frustrates me. And the idea that the things that children are required to take classes on in school are the things that everyone should be learning is frustrating, too. As is the idea that the children who sit in those classes are always learning about whatever it is that they’re supposed to be learning.
I have two degrees in a thing, but I don’t feel like I even begin to understand it. I’m floating on the surface. It’s huge.
In college, I learned from some professors and didn’t learn from others, depending on how they presented material. Mostly, I didn’t really learn, even from the best professors. I just memorized and got good grades, because there wasn’t time to follow up and delve deeper and explore and try and fail. And that was college. Where you’re supposed to be able to do all of those things.
When will we stop thinking of learning as a transfer of static information from one place to another? When will we stop thinking of children as empty cups, waiting to be filled? When will we stop imagining that there are a set of experts who know what’s best, and everyone else can have very little to contribute?
This is one of my favorite comments from the Amazon thread (at least out of the fifty or so that I read): Fritz R. Ward says:
Speaking as a highly successful public school teacher, I can emphatically state that I cannot, at my best, compare with a caring knowledgeable parent. I have 32-36 kids in my classroom every day. I use a variety of strategies to teach the skills they need to pass master their math standards, but neither I nor any other teacher can compete with a parent who has the time, resources, and background to teach their child at home. At best, I think teachers should consider themselves a resource to assist parents; we are partners in raising children, not experts whose varied opinions should be treated with reverence.
Great point. Let’s stop pretending that some people have all the information and some people none of it. There’s nothing wrong with learning from someone who knows a lot about a certain subject. There’s nothing wrong with being taught. There’s something wrong with believing that learning doesn’t work any other way.
My brother and a kitten, learning about each other. Sometimes learning just happens naturally: