This question has surfaced lately, and not as a casual question by a stranger, but a seeking-to-understand loved one. Sometimes my head gets so full with facts, information, theories, etc that I forget that not everyone has a basic understanding of why we have chosen to live and learn this way.
There is an old (poignant and lovely) story from RZ Greenwald that says the following.
Once upon a time the animals had a school. They had to create a curriculum that would satisfy everyone, so they chose four subjects.... running,
All the animals, of course, studied all the subjects.
The duck was very good at swimming. Better than the teacher, in fact. He received passing grades in running and flying, but was hopeless in climbing. So they made him drop swimming so that he could practice climbing. After a while, he was only average at swimming, but average is still acceptable, at least in school.
And nobody much worried about it except for the duck.
The eagle was considered a troublemaker. In his climbing class he beat everybody to the top of the tree, but he had his own way of getting there that was aginst the rules.
He always had to stay after school and write "cheating is wrong" 500 times. This kept him from soaring, which he loved, but schoolwork comes first.
The bear flunked because they said he was lazy, especially in winter. Summer was his best time, but school wasn't open then.
The zebra played hooky alot because the ponies made fun of his stripes, and this made him very sad.
The kangaroo started out at the top of the racing class. But became discouraged when told to run swiftly on all four legs the way his classmates did.
The fish quit school because he was bored. To him, all four subjects were the same. But nobody understood that, because they had never seen a fish.
The squirrel got an A in climbing. But his flying teacher made him start from the ground up, instead of from the treetop down. His legs got so sore from practicing take-offs that he began to get C's in climbing, and D's in running.
The bee was the biggest problem of all. So the teacher sent him to Doctor Owl for testing. Doctor Owl said that the bee's wings were too small for flying, and that they were in the wrong place.
The bee never saw Dr. Owl's report, so he just went ahead and flew anyway.
I think I know a bee or two, how about you?
I realize that any even somewhat- intelligent person can find stories and facts to support their theory. It is not my intent to convince any or everyone that I am right. I don't much care what people think of my theories, as long as they allow that my children might be intelligent, that they are learning, discovering, configuring, experimenting, growing, and happy in the life that I provide for them.
When I was first asked why I homeschool, or wanted to, whatever, my thought was that it was my responsibility. It is my responsibility to pay attention to my children, the way they learn best, the things they are interested in at any given time, to inspire them when they are in a slump, to remind them of something when they go astray, to help them become the best of who they are, to assure (and show) them that they are capable beings.
It's my job as parent to prepare my children for adulthood, and with the principles that I have, that preparation includes raising them to be seeking, thinking, empathetic, compassionate, aware, responsible (realizing the decisions they make have direct effect on their lives), kind, honest, loving, well-adjusted and happy beings.
I think whatever else they are is theirs to decide. It's subject to judgment. I figure if I can manage to get these principles instilled in them, to have them understand the benefits of living a life of integrity, valor, and authenticity, then I have done my job well.
Therefore, providing an educational environment for them where they can flourish, thrive, and shine is why I do it. The two things seem to blend together naturally for me, and I believe it's the right thing to do.
I think that sometimes we get used to an idea, theory, or way of life, and just accept that it's the way things should be done, just because it's the way things have always been done (at least, in our experience). To me, that doesn't make it right or automatically the best way. For instance, I don't spank my children. I believe it's violent, and it sends the message that if you're stronger or bigger you can force your will on others. That hitting solves problems. That might makes right. It certainly doesn't make them think "mommy is so wise, and she is right, I might have chosen a better way of doing that." Thinking that it does is ridiculous, just as if my husband or friend beat me, it would make me distrustful, afraid, angry, and hopefully more careful the next time of not getting caught, it will also so teach the child.
Schools were began a long time ago for poor children. Before that, (aside from universities) priveledged children were always tutored at home. By family scholars in less wealthy homes, or tutors were brought into the school room for the wealthy. Many famous, intellligent people in history were taught at home - here are a few: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, William Henry Harrison, Theodore F. Roosevelt, Patrick Henry, Booker T. Washington, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court: John Rutledge, John Jay, John Marshall; College Presidents: John Witherspoon -- Yale, Timothy Dwight -- Princeton, William S. Johnson -- Columbia; Women: Abigail Adams, Mercy Warren, Martha Washington, Florence Nightingale, Phyllis Wheatley, Agatha Christie, Pearl S. Buck, Artists: Rembrandt Peale, Claude Monet, Ansel Adams, Authors: Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Irving Berlin, Charles Dickens, C.S. Lewis
If you take a step back for a minute, and don't view "school" as the end all-be all, (try to look at it objectively for a moment) you might get a different perspective on it. The public (and private, for that matter) education system is/was built to mass produce educated children. It's not tailored for the individual child. It's made to teach 30-40 children at a time about a single concept as quickly and efficiently as possible. It does not allow for time spent on special problems and custom assistance.
The aim is to get them all through a subject quickly. A subject is studied and tested, and usually promptly forgotten. Why don't we take exams six months after we study a subject, instead of immediately after? Because we forget. Our brains deem it as unimportant, we are relieved that we pass the test, it's over, we move on.
Think not? What's an ion? What is the smallest life form that we know of? What was the first mammal? What's the symbol for pi? What's the equation? Where is Cameroon? What's the climate like? What sort of animals live there? What is the largest planet in our solar system? What's the second largest? How big is it? What are the three basic ingredients that spur all life form? What's the capital of Maine? Ah, yes, Augusta! Now...why do you need to know that?
That is not to say that knowledge or facts are unimportant. I find great satisfaction in knowing things. My point here is why we have chosen what is called "unschooling". Because if you knew the answers to any of these questions, I will bet that it is a subject that you are interested in. Science lover? Here are some non-science questions for you. What's the economy in Rowanda like? What is the main religion? Who were the main players in the War of 1812? What specific effect will baking soda and eggs combined have on a recipe? What are the main flavors in rootbeer? What year did the Wright Brothers travel to France and prove they were the first to fly, and well? Who are the current leaders of Latvia? Chances are, if you don't know then you either don't need it in your work, or you just are not fascinated by such things. My point is that if you are interested in a subject, then you will retain the information. If you are not, either you shrug it off as "unimportant" if you are an adult, or if you are a child either fake it, or if you are "good student" then you try to memorize all the facts you can so you can pass the test.
It's a fact that children want to learn. They (we) come wired that way. They have a burning desire to make sense of their world. (thus we learn to walk, talk, climb, explore, run, count cookies, judge what is big and small, etc) We are all learners and seekers until someone or some thing stamps out that desire in us. (makes us feel stupid, inept, or like we are incapable of learning simple concepts) For a whole lot of people, that's what happens in school. Think about how many kids thrive in school. And by thrive I mean get straight A's, are involved in groups, have a happy social life, love school, love their classes, and look forward to it every day. I would venture to say not very many. It's not the greatest system for everyone.
This carries us to another matter. The thought that "We all have things we have to do!" I know this opinion is common, but I still flinch when I hear it. And if you take this literally, truly the only thing we HAVE to do is die, not even really pay taxes, as you can go to prison instead.
If you've lived on this planet longer than just a few years, and if you are at all observant, you can't help but notice a few things. Things like.... things cost money. If you don't have enough for something, then you have to save for it, steal it (which will most likely get you put in jail), wait til another day to buy it, or hope someone will gift you with it.
When it rains, things get wet.
If you eat too much junkfood you get a stomach ache.
If you don't clean up your house, it just gets worse.
If you don't take a bath, you eventually will feel and smell pretty grimy.
And if you leave your toys out, a giant Saint puppy might eat them.
If you stick your remote control T-Rex in the bathtub, it might not work any more.
I don't believe the wisdom lies in making my children do something. I believe it's my job to point something out that has subtleties that may have escaped them, and to aid them in making good decisions for themselves.
I'm not always going to be there bashing my ideals over their heads. Nor do I want to be. I want them to have good reasoning and observation skills.
To say that a child needs to be exposed to the real world, and needs to be made to understand that bad things can happen, life is tough, or it's not all sunshine and roses is for those that don't understand that these things come up in every day life. Children see people and animals called names on television. They see unkind acts in the grocery store. They hear tales of evil deeds in their story books. They get dragged to the doctors office. You always have to leave the park eventually. Friends go home. They hear about Daddy having a bad day at work, Mommy being grumpy at a guy that cut her off in traffic, they get told "remember that when your birthday comes" when they spot a $60 toy they want, and many, many other things every day.
There is no way I could shelter my children from life's disappointments. (Nor would I want to, we're much better off recognizing where we went wrong.)
But I happen to believe that life is pretty fair, and that we make our own choices. Sometimes we don't know the reasons why things turned out the way they did, but I'll bet that the outcome isn't totally disconnected from one decision or another that we made.
Why on earth would I want to teach my children (by preparing them for) a miserable life?
Who in their right mind would do that?...
"Listen hear, Son! Life sucks. Enjoy being a kid while everyone you meet disrespects you, no one takes your feelings into account, nobody believes that you are entitled to an opinion, and people tell you you're too small or insignificant to do something important. Enjoy it when people tell you to hush when you scream with joy, frustration or fear. Be thankful for their wisdom when someone tells you that you shouldn't be happily celebrating your childhood. Be glad when every adult you meets thinks he has the right to order you around. Be thankful that someone cares when they try to make you eat something that is making you sick. Be gracious when folks tell you how to slide down the slide at the playground. Be appreciative when every one you meet knows better than you what is good for you, and what makes you happy. Oh, and remember, this is the best part of your life, so enjoy it."
That's how I see it.
And that's why I've chosen a different way.