By Blair Lee, A Voice from the Middle
There is a revolution going on right now in education. It’s called homeschooling. I am part of a fringe group in this revolution. You don’t hear a lot from us, but there is a group of homeschoolers who consider our style of homeschooling as secular, eclectic, and academic. You don’t hear from us because on the one hand we are the unloved mongrels of the homeschooling community so we keep a low profile, and on the other hand we are too busy figuring out how to best facilitate our children’s education. We spend too much time on academics and have too much structure to be considered unschoolers or child-led learners, and too little time on traditional academics or have too little structure to be considered classical homeschoolers.
Many secular eclectic academics pull their children out of traditional school or never have them attend it because, although like traditional schools we believe in the importance of academics, we do not believe in the way the academic subjects are being taught, the testing culture, and/or we disagree with the subjects that are being taught. For example, I believe there are certain subjects that should be taught less so that there is time to teach subjects such as computer science. (And I am not talking about less time for science or history when I say this!) I think that subjects such as math and some writing could be incorporated into history and science so that there would be more time for these two very important subjects and so that writing and math could be taught in a way that makes them more relevant.
America is a funny country when it comes to academics. We want to be at the top academically when it comes to things like beating Singapore’s test scores in math or scoring as well on standardized tests as Finland does, but we don’t have a lot of appreciation for academics in most of our communities.
There is a focus on winning and having the top scores on tests, but there is a lack of focus on the sheer beauty of learning. I think the disconnect between school and the inherent beauty of learning comes about because of the misguided focus on “winning” (AKA having the highest test scores) versus getting a good education so you can be intellectually engaged. As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the constraints placed on schools. Schools have to have performance mandates because they are using tax payer dollars, and tax payers want to know that their dollars are being well spent. So… testing happens. That is how schools show they are performing well. Most eclectic, academic homeschoolers think there should be less focus on testing and more focus on having intellectual discussions about issues both big and small. Not because they will solve any problems (or maybe they will), but just because they are interesting to engage in. Interesting people have interests; it is that simple.
The academic benefits of homeschooling when there has been a focus on academics are impressive. I am blown away by the wealth and richness of my son’s education, and how it has led to an intellectual engagement with his academics and his passionate love of learning. He still thinks I am smarter than him, and he is right about some subjects like chemistry, but in other areas he has surpassed me. He has been given the time and resources to delve into his passions. He doesn’t appreciate it yet, but I think he is already standing on my shoulders. By the way, if you think that my son is a gifted student, he’s not. He is a pretty average, typical 15-year-old who happens to be growing up in a family that places a lot of value on the love of learning.
The homeschool community is not necessarily warm and accepting of secular eclectic academics. I have been accused of being a “Teachey teach to the textbook type” and a “school at homer”, both of which are derogatory phrases in the homeschool community. Neither is accurate, but even if they were, big deal. My child is happy and well-adjusted. We all like the way education works in our house. I don’t know why anyone else would care. On the other side of it, I have been asked by classical educators if I wasn’t worried about Sean being able to get into college. The answer to that question is, “No.” My purpose with my son’s education has never been so that he could get into a good college. That will be a natural outcome, but it is not the purpose and that gives me much more flexibility with his education. I started as a student at a community college, and it is a perfectly good path to getting a college degree. College is not the focus or the end-goal for my child. We focus on academics because I want my child to be well educated. That to me is the purpose of an education. And then there is the issue with being secular. Does that mean we are anti-faith? The answer to that is no. It means the materials used for learning present the facts, theories, principles, and models as recommended by a majority of experts in the field being studied. Unless the subject is philosophy, secular academic materials do not take an individual’s philosophy into account. It is not anti-faith. It is pro-learning with minimal bias from the author’s worldview.
The lack of acceptance does not bother me, as you probably guess, since I blog about being an eclectic and academic homeschooler, and I am a scientist who writes secular academic science books. Actually that’s why I decided to write about homeschooling high school. I wanted to help my fellow homeschoolers who are trying like I am to negotiate the path for providing a unique academic education for their kids, while making sure that they have plenty of time for socialization, video games, and all the rest of the things teens are into these days.
I write for the fringe group of us in the middle, who believes there is real value in academics, but who are looking for something more innovative and individual than what is being done in traditional schools. Those of us in the middle think one of the main purposes of an education is that at the end of it a person is well-educated, with the caveat that we define what well-educated means in our house. We also think an education should lead to a person who loves learning and who understands how to learn. We are trying to figure all of this out organically using innovative and eclectic approaches.
Until a couple of days ago, I thought there were only a few of us. I was feeling lonely. I wanted a community of people to brainstorm with, so I put a message out on two Facebook Groups. I was hoping to find the 10 other (or maybe there were even fewer, I worried) secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers out there. The response to my post has been overwhelming. There are quite a few more than 10 of us, and we need each other.
There are two main reasons we need each other. The first is so we can have a community of like-minded people. Homeschooling is done at home with just your family, so it can be isolating, especially if you don’t have a group that you identify with like unschoolers and classical homeschoolers do. The other reason we need to form a group is ironic. We are academic homeschoolers, but we want to be innovative and eclectic with our academic homeschooling. Because of this there is no book or set of guidelines we can refer to. We are just winging it most of the time. We need to form a group for the same reason that teachers in traditional schools need to get together and talk about what’s going on in their classrooms. We need others to strategize with. We need a forum where we can discuss what’s working and get help on what’s not. We need a place where we can find others to form online co-ops with. Basically we need a group where it feels safe and comfortable to discuss academic issues as they relate to our situation. We need other people who feel the way we do about academic homeschooling to use as a sounding board when we’re figuring things out. We also need a place to be able to come to so we can tell others when we figured it out and it really worked. This helps others, but it’s also nice just to be able to say, “Guess what wonderful thing my child achieved academically,” and know that these other people are going to be proud of the academic achievements of your child, because like you, they care passionately about academics.
This group is going to be about educating and about innovative academics. The emphasis with it is not going to be about how to get your child into college. Getting into college will be a result of this process, but for the purpose of this group it’s not the purpose of the process. I know a bit (but just a bit) about this, because a very well-regarded university reached out to my son in January asking him to apply to their summer program. We did not solicit the application. They solicited our participation. When it comes to college, I am beginning to feel like Kevin Costner standing in a field, “Build it. They will come.” (It being my eclectically educated son) ? There will be colleges that don’t agree with me on this. That’s okay. Not every college is right for every person. Eclectic, academic kids should probably seek out eclectic, academic colleges. (Now if we can just get those same colleges to waive standardized test results as part of our child’s college application, Hmmnn…… The way I see it, schools looking to attract homeschool students should rely mainly on portfolios of work from a homeschooled student when deciding if they want to admit the student.) Maybe when Sean goes to college I should work on that instead of joining the Peace Corps. Yes that is one of the things my husband and I are thinking of doing, the Peace Corps I mean, when Sean goes to college.
If this post resonates with you, look for the Facebook Group “Secular, Eclectic, Academic, Homeschoolers,” Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers closed group. It is open to any homeschooler or educator who considers themselves a secular eclectic academic, who appreciates the value of an academically-rich education that is innovative, and who wants to promote that within our homeschool community. There will be no selling on this group. That is not its purpose. This will be a positive force, and only those people who want to have a constructive discussion should sign up for it. The group is open to people of any faith, or lack thereof, but we will not allow any proselytizing. The academics we will be discussing in this group will be secular academics. That does not mean people cannot discuss religion within education, but it has to be from the perspective of academics, and all science discussions will be strictly secular. I look forward to meeting my fellow secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers!