I've had an unorthodox education. I don't think there's really such a thing as "normal" when it comes to education, but even as a youngster I could tell that my school time was different than most (mainly because I did most of my hanging-out with other kids after the bus came back to my neighborhood, and I only recognized one 6 o'clock per day).
As I've grown up, pursued creative projects, and headed out into the work force, I've become increasingly grateful for the odd, challenging, often exciting, sometimes chaotic atmosphere of home-education that launched me on a journey of constant learning.
I've also become a bit introspective. I've been looking back on my life and trying to figure out exactly how I got to be the person that I am. What were the factors? How could I possibly hope to replicate -much less, improve upon- this incredible gift that I've been given if I can't put my finger on exactly what happened?
Luckily, I have VIP access to an expert on home-education and an expert on my personal past. Below you'll find an interview that I conducted with my mother, in which, I try to get her to answer the question "What did you do to me!?" (i.e. "What is homeschooling?").
Me: So, why did you start homeschooling? When did it occur to you that public school wasn't the way to go and you needed to find a different way?
Mom: Well, your dad and I first decided to start homeschooling before we even had kids, when your Aunt Heather was little. We had just gotten married and Heather was about to start kindergarten when my mom told me "Oh, we're gonna homeschool her". To which I replied "Um...what? That's something you could do?".
I had never heard of it before. Just the possibility filled me with... *inaudible, exited gestures* It was a revelation! I wish that I could have been homeschooled because, as much as I loved education, the part that I struggled with was being in a classroom with a bunch of other kids where I had to go as slow as they were going. And the distraction of the other kids. So it appealed to me.
Both you're dad and I had not had enormously positive experiences in school, so that was like the "ah ha" moment of "There's an alternative. There's something else that we can do".
Me: So, I was your experiment child. What was your plan with me?
Mom: Well, it became an entire philosophy for learning and education. It was the idea that your parents were your first and foremost teachers, not that you had to wait until you were five years old and going off to kindergarten to start learning. It was from birth. You start teaching this child even as baby. You're singing them their abc's and you're pointing out everything to them. You were such an early talker and an inquisitive child, that it naturally came out of that. Its like a continuation of what's natural.
Me: So before you even started having children you already had this philosophy, you had this framework of responsibility in your mind of what it meant to be a parent before you were a parent?
Mom: Right. I knew what I had seen and what I didn't like and what I observed that didn't work and I knew, "I'm gonna do something different".
Me: That's interesting. I've noticed that people tend to have wildly varying definitions of what it means to be a parent, and it seems like a homeschooling philosophy starts off with building "educator" into that definition rather than keeping it separate.
Mom: Over the years, there have been so many people that have been curious about homeschooling and they'll come ask me about it. Because in their mind their thinking, "I could never do that. What makes you think you could do that?"
Me: "What makes you think that you couldn't do that!?" I'm sure you have to explain your philosophy before you can explain anything else because it comes down to your initial definition of what a parent is, right?
Mom: Oh, yeah. So even the parents that say to me "I could never do that, I could never homeschool", I have to have them clarify their definition.
So I'll say to them, "You understand, even if you hire somebody else to tutor your child and you send them to a public school, or you send them to a private school, you are still the one who is ultimately responsible for this child's education? Even before they go to school, you're the one that's teaching them their abc's. You taught them how to dress themselves. You taught them how to eat. You taught them their manners. You're the teacher, you've just decided to supplement by engaging other teachers."
But somehow, in other people's minds there's this idea that "I just have to get them to kindergarten and then I send them off to someone else and they're the teacher." And it doesn't work like that. Your job for the rest of this person's life is teacher.
Me: That's another important definition, the definition of what a teacher is. I've noticed a lot of people see teaching as an isolated vocation. Like there are people who are plumbers, and then there are people who are teachers. But it's not, it's a part of being human. We are social beings, and part of being a social being is the transfer of knowledge to other people.
Mom: Of course. And, I'm humble enough to know that I don't know everything! But here's where the teaching comes in, I teach this child how to find the resources and how to use the resources to do the job. I don't know everything about math or science, but I go and find who does and I bring the child and the teacher together.
Me: So the question is not so much "How dare you think you're qualified to be a teacher?" as much as "How dare you think you're somehow not a teacher just because you haven't been trained to lead a classroom?"
Mom: Right. I think of it like this, there's a difference between education and schooling. Schooling means you are in a specific location, you have a teacher, there is a curriculum, and you get a grade. But education is something that happens in your life.
Me: A transfer of learning.
Mom: That's it! Exactly. A transfer of learning.
Me: It's not like you can't learn through school, but schooling is more of a framework that's supposed to create an atmosphere for learning.
Mom: I have no problem with schooling! But I have a problem with the philosophy that says you can only learn through schooling. I believe that's a fallacy.
Me: So what would you define homeschooling as, if you had to make up a quick blurb?
Mom: It's about creating an atmosphere for learning. That's the short, short version. It's an entire philosophy of "How best does this child learn?" And it takes in all those aspects of a child's learning style, the times of day that they're most open to learning, all of the resources that you have available to you -museums, libraries, and field trips- you bring it all together to best suit that child's needs as they learn to learn.