Sunday, June 3, 2007

Thoughts about Lily and her education

We found out on the first of this month that we are having a girl. Lillian Grace is her name and I am quite excited about it ( I had guiltily hoped that she would be a girl... but I would have been happy with a boy too).

I know it is quite early to be planning and thinking about Lily's education, but I have been doing a lot of that ever since I found out I am pregnant. I have, for some time, believed that I will homeschool any children I have, and I remain pretty firm in that belief.

I know that many people do not agree with the idea of homeschooling, for many reasons, but I believe that it will likely be the best choice for Lily and myself (hopefully dad too :)).

I am not considering homeschooling for religious reasons. Neither myself or Eric are religious people (I'm agnostic and he's atheist). The reasons I hope to homeschool are more academic and... perhaps philosophical or general.

The first consideration is academic. I believe that, no matter what kind of child Lily is, Eric and I can provide her with a much better education (and more rounded) than any school could possibly do. By learning at her own pace and giving her the opportunity to help direct her own education I believe that we will be able to help her retain her natural love of learning and also build skills that traditional (well, contemporary) educational environments are not suited to. Namely how to learn independently and think logically and deeply about the things she is learning. Also, in terms of academic reasoning, it seems likely that Lily will be a gifted child. I know that many people believe that intelligence is not hereditary, but that it is nurtured and by chance, but the evidence seems to support the idea that IQ IS largely a hereditary thing, and both Eric and I have very high IQ's. Also, even if intelligence IS more of a nurture than nature thing, I believe that with both of her parents being very intellectually minded, that we will be raising her (even if unintentionally) in the sort of environment that would encourage the development of her intellectual gifts (and probably put her far ahead, academically, of the children she'd meet in school).

I guess a lot of my adamant desire to homeschool Lily has to do with my own awful experience with education. I was allowed, in the first two years of my education, to learn at my own pace in a private school. During those two years I finished the work for 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. The school wanted to advance me to 4th grade since that was the grade I would be working in but my parents did not want that to happen... so they put me into second grade in the local public school.

But I was not intellectually or academically a second grader. I was, at that time, reading at what is now a high school level (my mother's novels) and had completed several years worth of the work I was then forced to sit through in boredom.

I believe that the education I received was inappropriate and ultimately that it made me lose much of my potential, academically. I learned awful habits because I was never allowed to be challenged in my education throughout public school, and never had to work at all in order to get an A... thus I was forever bored and grew to dislike school.

Now some people tell me that the way to make sure Lily does not have this experience is to make sure that she is learning at the average rate, so that she will not be bored in school and become too far ahead as I was. I can see what they are getting at but I don't believe it is the choice I would ever want to make.

I want to allow Lily to learn as much as she wants to, and to never slow her down. If she wants to learn to read before first grade, as I did, I will encourage her to do so. I want to help her achieve her full intellectual potential and help her learn to always challenge herself intellectually as well.

Some people would call this pushing. I think that it can be for some people, some parents do push their children to do more than they are ready to do... I don't believe I will be that kind of parent. What I believe I shall do is ask Lily to enjoy and exercise her freedom to learn a wide variety of things and to enjoy the challenge of mastering new ideas and skills as she encounters them.

How do I plan to do this? I guess you could say in an eclectic unit studies sort of way.

A few years back I started an online community called "The Hypatia Society." Oneof our ideas was to create a gifted program for children that taught them to integrate all areas of intellectual thought through exploration of subjects from an interdisciplinary point of view. For example, if they are learning about ancient Egypt, they would learn math by exploring the sorts of developments the Egyptians were making in math, they might learn science by studying the process of embalming or other scientific achievements they made. The would learn about math and physics also through studying the plumbing systems and how they worked. They would explore the art of the Egyptians and try to recreate their drawings and pottery, perhaps, and read literature from or about the Egyptians through the many texts available... if appropriate or desired perhaps even try and learn heiroglyphics so that they could read a bit in the original.

This is basically, it seems, what is called "unit studies" and it is a popular method of teaching among homeschoolers. I don't know that I will use it "exactly" like anyone else, but I do believe that by teaching children in an integrated way, you can help them understand the interconnectedness of intellectual (and general life) endeavors and also to think about things in a more holistic way.

I hope to allow Lily to direct herself in much of her learning. I will give her the option of choosing what she'd like to learn about and also ask her to work in conjunction with Eric and I to plan a broad range of things to learn about within any given topic area. I believe that by guiding her own education in this manner she will learn confidence and freedom... two things that both Eric and I believe to be extremely important.

Of course this is not to say that she will start out being as involved in directing her education as she will end up. I expect that at first I will provide a few topics for her to choose between and have a general plan for her to approve and develop with me. Young children should naturally need more guidance in these ways since they have less experience to draw from in deciding on topics to pursue.

But by allowing Lily to direct her own education (while, of course making sure she is getting a well-rounded and broad base of knowledge) we can also ensure that she is learning things that are appropriate to her; that are challenging but not impossible, and help to foster a love of learning and intellectual growth that is, unfortunately, hard to find within young people today (which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest reasons so many parents are choosing to homeschool now).

But many people argue that homeschooled children are not properly socialized. This is one area that I think should be a concern for every parent, homeschooling or not, and one that I think can be more than adequately addressed by making sure that the cbhild has many opportunities to interact with both children their own age and also with people of all ages, races, abilities and belief systems.

Since homeshcooling has become a much more mainstream thing I think that the opportunities for meaningful social interaction on all levels have become quite available for any parents and children who wish to take part in them. Not only are there co-ops of people who are homeschooling, of many philosophies, there are also ample opportunities to volunteer and activities for the children to take part in, from band, to sports, to dance, to playgroups... all of these things are opportunities to socialize that seem to be of a much higher quality than just sitting next to other children at a school, or being forced to interact with the same group of people for years on end.

I don't believe that homeschooling is perfect... nothing is perfect. I just believe that homeschooling will be the right choice for my family, and that I am willing and excited to put in the time and effort needed to make it work. This may not end up to be what we decide to do. There are so many variables that it could be that public or private schooling is a thing that will be better suited to Lily's needs. If that is the case I will happily do so, I just think it is unlikely and am planning for what I imagine is the most likely thing to be the best option for us.

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