Spending time recently listening to Young Heretics, combined with the wonderful education our younger children are getting in their classical Christian school, has inspired me to discuss, very briefly, our family’s educational journey.
We have a rather low regard for government schools now, but that has not always been the case. We have three children who spent their entire elementary and secondary school careers in the government system. When our youngest two children were born, we made the decision that they would not ever attend government school, for reasons that have actually become more acute as the years have gone by.
When our first child was born, I was in my early 20s. I was a year older when the next two were born (twins). We were young, inexperienced parents, and we’d received what we thought was a perfectly adequate public school education. So when each of our children turned 5, I dutifully enrolled them into our local government school. It was a very good school, as schools go. The teachers were welcoming, the parent community was vibrant and engaging, and I volunteered a lot of time at their school. We were quite happy there.
After a move, we enrolled them in another local school, and the experience was equally rewarding, perhaps even more than in the first school. I was spending so many volunteer hours at school that I was considering becoming a substitute to receive remuneration for some of my efforts. Again, we were happy with the education our children were receiving.
As they rounded out their elementary education, there was a sudden shift in the atmosphere of the schools. It seemed as if simultaneously, several more family-centered principals began to retire and were replaced by younger, more bureaucratic minded administrators. They were nice enough, but they were sticklers for rules, quickly reining in the long rope of access and influence that parents had enjoyed.
Our children remained in school, but we were more vigilant than ever about what they were taught, and the ways they were being taught. We decided it was best to let them finish out their remaining 4 or 5 years rather than starting over with a new system. As it turned out, high school was markedly better. Parents and students have a lot more control over the classes their children take, and with that, the caliber of their classmates.
Around the time that those children graduated to middle school, our 4th child was born, followed quickly by the 5th. We were older and wiser then. Our growing dissatisfaction with the change in public school atmosphere and policy, combined with a few other variables, sent us on a search for alternatives for those two children. There was no way we were going to start the government school journey again. One of the things we explored was homeschooling.
When it was time for those kids to start school, armed with all my curriculum and research, I began homeschooling. The first two or three years went well. I taught them to read and count and we had fun science experiences, mostly nature based. Around the 4th year, I started feeling a real need to connect with other, more experienced homeschooling families. We needed community, so we joined a co-op which we loved, for 3 years.
The kids made friends, thrived, and took rewarding classes. The only problem was that the sense of community that I’d experienced growing up, that our older children experienced through their school experience, was missing. I was ill-prepared to deal with one of the bedrock, foundational characteristics of homeschooling families; a fierce sense of independence and a willingness to quickly change course in order to meet their specific goals and needs. It’s actually admirable and understandable. It just makes it hard for kids and families to put down roots and build relationships in the ways that the geographical commonality of a neighborhood school provides. Nevertheless, we refused to go back to government schools. They’d only grown worse in the years since our first “set” of kids had graduated from them.
In God’s Providence, a dear friend of mine had joined a community of like-minded homeschooling families with a passion for classical education. These were families who had not only committed to the true purpose of education, they had committed to each other, and they were taking steps to move from being just a co-op to an actual school. We joined them the next year, and we’ve been there ever since. The kids attend school two days a week, and it’s the perfect blend of time in school and time homeschooling.
Not only are our kids studying classic literature, art, and music, but they are learning history that reflects a positive message about our country. The painful realities are not omitted, they are just not held out as the defining characteristic of America. They study logic, read and perform Shakespeare, and have made real, lasting friendships.
The past four years have truly solidified my belief in the power and promise of a classical education. Education is about more than memorizing random facts and passing standardized tests. Education is about becoming a well-rounded, critically thinking, fully formed individual who can contribute to the world rather that expecting the world to give you everything.
This experience has inspired in me a desire to educate myself more deeply, reading classics, and at the very least learning about classics that to date, I haven’t yet read. Hence my promotion of Spencer Klavan’s Young Heretics. In addition, I strongly suggest Michael Knowles book club, courtesy of Prager U. You may not have time to read lots of classic literature, but you can be exposed to a lot of it as you decide which ones are worthy of spending the time to read.
Well, that’s our educational journey. I’d love to hear about yours (or your family’s!)