The more I talk with moms, the more complaints I hear about the public school system.  Most parents I’ve met are very, very unhappy with the bureaucratic nature of their children’s educational experience.  It’s just the way the system works — in order to serve such a huge number of children with such a tiny staff, individual needs and preferences must be ignored if not outright squashed.  I usually have a good time with these parents, poking mild fun at the intransigence of officialdom — until.  Until the parent remembers to whom he is speaking.  And then it’s a hasty, “oh, but I could never home school.  I really admire people who do, but I can’t.”  And I smile, and remind the amazing music teacher who inspires my children, the woman who prepares unimaginably effective and enjoyable lessons for children at church, the man who reaches tens of thousands with the ads he creates, the entrepreneur who has trained and mentored a team of workers to carry out his vision — I feel silly, but I have to remind these people, “yes, actually, you can teach your children.  After all, they’re not very different from all the other people you teach.”

Our society has led us to believe that there is some secret formula to reaching children, and really, schools do make it look incredibly difficult.  I believe that when most parents imagine homeschool, they see themselves sitting behind a desk calculating scores based on hundreds of assignments and exams, hanging over their eleven-year-old to ensure that she writes creatively and convincingly on an assigned topic about which the child has no interest and extremely limited knowledge.  I think parents see the homework that comes in the door and feel anything but inspired to help their children master it.  Imagine how the children feel.  They’re dealing with that nonsense a good 35 hours a week away from home and then, just when they think they’re free, they get more nonsense from parents.

If this is what you mean by “teach my children,” then yeah, you’re probably right.  I know I couldn’t do that, and I certainly wouldn’t do that.  But does what public schools offer seem like education, or more like training?  Personally, I train my kids to clean up after themselves, use the toilet, use etiquette at the table and on the phone, sit quietly at church to avoid distracting others, and to at least answer if not come when I call for them.  I hope I’m not the only mom who is having limited success with a few of these… especially the cleaning up after themselves bit, grumble, grumble.

I hate to toot my own horn (actually, I love to toot my own horn, but it seems polite to pretend I don’t) but when it comes to education, we are having unbelievable success in our home.  Education is different than training.  Education expands the mind, and if you’re trying to educate a child, you’re in luck!  Kids want to expand their minds like Mommy wants See’s Fine Candies for dinner.  It’s all they want.  It’s all they can think about.  They’re obsessed and they’re insatiable.  Just look at your 19-month-old, or if you don’t have one, remember your big boy when he was a wee thing.  What did he spend his little life doing?  Eating, filling his diaper and getting into everything, right?  He didn’t want to take a nap because he might miss out on something amazing, right?  Everything he could grab with those deliciously squishy little hands went into his mouth, got banged against every surface he could find, and if he was lucky enough to find the toilet or the dog’s water bowl unattended, it got dunked, right?  Did you think that was just his way of trying to pay you back for rice cereal and whirled peas?  Of course it wasn’t!  He was educating himself – learning what it looks and feels like when a pb&j is liquefied by his tiny fist, watching the shape of water take on the shape of his high chair tray as it left his cup, learning the effect that hair pulling has on his big sister, figuring out if peekaboo still makes you giggle in the car, at bedtime, during church, at the grocery store.  Unless you train a child to hate the process, he will never stop obsessing about cause and effect, never stop classifying everything in his world, never lose interest in the beauty that surrounds him, never tire of telling you, and eventually, everyone else, about what he has learned.

If you can read, if you can be interested, if you can be diligent and loving and committed to your kids, if you can see them as unique people with unique abilities and interests, you can home school.  They’re the ones doing the work; you just need to provide the tools.  But please, don’t wait too long.  Most public schools are training your children to hate the process, and kids aren’t dumb.  Once that 19-month-old learns for real and true that pouring his water onto his tray will earn him nothing but grief, he’s going to quit.  Once your 9-year-old learns for real and true that curiosity will ruin her life, she’ll abandon exploration.