If aliens landed in America today and watched the local news, they could reasonably come to the conclusion that our nation is raising a society of young sociopaths and violent offenders. What else could they think after observing the mass prevalence of school violence? of 11-year olds with guns? of 13-year old rapists?
Sure, the aliens would learn about episodic tragedies such as Columbine. But what would they think about the fact that some high-schools in NYC are so dangerous that fully-armed policemen are stationed on the premises every single day? Or the fact that many schools are now forced to deploy metal detectors and security cameras? How could they envision students learning anything in this type of environment?
Every time I pick up the paper and hear about another episode of school violence in New York, I turn to the BossLady and tell her that I'm going to homeschool the Peanut. I have this romantic notion of structuring her education around the classics, centered on a healthy diet of Latin, ancient history, political science, philosophy and English literature. And what better place to homeschool a child than in Manhattan? I envision weekly field trips all over the city: the Museum of Natural History, The Guggenheim, Liberty Science Center, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, the Empire State Building, the Nature Conservancy. The list is literally endless! And to top it off, we could plan all our annual vacations around the Peanut's education. I'd take her to see the ruins of Pompeii, the path of Alexander the Great, the Galapagos Islands, Tiannemen Square and the Bolshoi Ballet. How great would that be?
Actually, in an ideal world, I'd send the Peanut to the same prep school in NYC that I attended. The school is an amazingly progressive institution that has a great reputation for academic excellence. In my graduating class of 120 students, about half the kids ended up at Ivy League schools. Most of the rest ended up at top institutions (Berkeley, Stanford, and Duke) or at outstanding liberal arts colleges (Vassar, Wesleyan or one of the 7 sisters.) The academic environment was (and I assume, still is) incredible. Though relatively small, the school is known for producing uniquely intelligent minds (alumni include Jack Kerouac, William Carlos Williams, Roy Cohn, and James Salter.) At the age of 12, we were immersed in intensive language classes that covered 6 different languages. Later, we would focus on one language, choosing among the standard romance languages but also from Chinese, Russian or Swahili. Aside from a weekly newspaper, students produced more than 20 other publications each year. The theater productions were legendary. Some of the sets and costumes rivaled those of some off-Broadway production. And the music program was so distinguished that several graduates ended up performing with the NY Philharmonic. The thought of someone bringing a gun to school was unheard of. We were all too busy studying to ever really have time to get in trouble!
So why don't I send the Peanut there? Well, I can sum that up in two words...CASH MONEY! The school's annual tuition is about $30,000/year. That's for a DAY school. And whether your child is a 3 year-old or a teenager, the tuition is the same amount! Sorry. But I just can't see spending that kind of money for the Peanut to play with finger paint all day. Maybe in a few years when I hit the Lotto jackpot. But right now? I don't think it's happening in our near future. Shit, that's more than my entire college education cost! Also, to be completely honest, I'd rather see the Peanut thrive in some of the renowned NYC public schools like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science. I like the idea of her academic career including a dose of reality (as opposed to an environment where 16 year-olds drive $50,000 cars.)
So where was I? Ahhh yes...homeschooling. I have to admit I'm semi-attracted to this idea. When I used to mention my potential interest in homeschooling the Peanut to friends, I wasn't really serious. After all, let's face it. The old stereotype of homeschooling was a bunch of overzealous religious isolationists who raised their children in the boondocks of Appalachia and taught them to read only the Bible, Treasure Island or Lord of the Flies. The old stereotype also conjured up images of unsocialized children, ill-prepared to deal with the world around them. Sure, homeschooled kids kicked ass at the National Spelling Bee but you'd never really want to date one, would you? The kids always looked so freaking weird. But times have changed. So maybe it's time to start re-evaluating the idea of homeschooling again.
Currently, over 1.2 million children are being schooled at home. The number seems to be increasing every year. And why not? Like me, many parents are either scared shitless to send their children to dangerous environments or are frustrated by the poor academic performance exhibited by the local public schools. The benefits seem relatively clear. Homeschooled children perform better on standardized tests, learn at their own natural progression, and have greater educational freedom. Instead of worrying about peer pressure, competition, boredom or bullies, these children can focus on their academics in a much more efficient manner. In many cases, the closer family relationships demanded of homeschooling tend to reduce the rebellious or self-destructive behavior that may occur from exposure to outside environments.
So what are the cons? At first glance, one might be tempted to say the socialization aspect would be a big one. But as I've learned from my parenting blog friends Jay and Kim, there are plenty of outside after-school opportunities to form bonds with other kids (Boy Scouts, church, etc.). Another criticism of homeschooling can be related to that old axiom about how an organization is only as strong as its weakest link. This metaphor is meant to convey the concerns about possible gaps in instruction and the potential lack of parent-educator's qualifications. In other words, if math is not your strong suit, how can you expect to teach it adequately?
Personally, I think these concerns are minor ones at best. Like every other single aspect of parenting, one has to decide what works best for you. And though I like the concept of homeschooling the Peanut, realistically I know this isn't going to happen for us. Firstly, we can't afford for the BossLady and I not to be working. We're a dual-income family who need every penny of those dual incomes. Second, I'm not sure how healthy it is for children to spend so much time with their parents. Sure, to a certain degree, it fosters a special closeness. But at the same time, I think it's important for a child's growing sense of independence to have that time away from mom and dad. Also, I think that a structured education will provide the Peanut with a more diverse education than might necessarily be possible at home. Teaching her myself, I might subconsciously emphasize my own interests, as opposed to letting her develop her own. And lastly, I'm a big proponent of team sports for women. Call me a Title IX kind of guy. I think women's sports are great and I want the Peanut to be involved in as many as she likes. I think that girls playing sports fosters a self-confidence that will help them immeasurably throughout their lives.
But as always, I'm curious to hear what all of you think about homeschooling. Am I missing something here? If you're for it, tell me why. If you're against it, explain your reasoning. An inquiring mind wants to know.
(p.s. Click here for my favorite homeschooling joke.)