Homeschooling Is Crushing My Soul. Can I Just Ignore It?

A dad who has taken on teaching duty at home asks if all this work is even worth it.

Originally Published: 
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Dear Goodfather

I love our kid’s teachers, but they’re killing me right now with this homeschooling. The expectations on my first grader and fourth grader are really expectations for the parents and it isn’t fair. The school basically just dropped a bunch of crap in our lap when the school closed. I’ve had to sign up for half a dozen online learning webpages and my printer is smoking with the number of worksheets I’ve printed off.

I get that our teachers do a lot and I appreciate what they do, but I’m not a teacher and me and my wife definitely don’t have the time or patience to give our kids the kind of education they get at school. And when we lose our patience, so our our kids. Nobody is enjoying this at all.

So I ask you this: What if i just called it off for a few weeks? Called them in sick and came back when we felt we could manage it? Will this be bad for the long term? Otherwise I’m worried they’re going to be as stressed as I am and we’ll all hate each other by the end of this.

Homeschoolin’ in Houston

I need to start you out with an important correction. What you’re doing is not “homeschooling.” At least not in the pedagogical sense. What you’re doing is giving your kids a public school education at home. And that, I think, is the root of your frustration. Because what you’re being told to do is replicate the education your children would have received, but do it without the attendant staff, administration, assistants, and room parents who generally make sure this shit goes smoothly. Those folks have 8 hours to fill. If you happen to be working from home while trying to teach your kids, you don’t likely have 8 hours. And good luck getting your pre-tweens to give a wet fart and do any of the work independently. You see, school work is not natural for the creatures you’re sharing your every moment with right now. Neither is confinement. The deck is stacked against you.

That all sounds like a fine pre-amble to me telling you to give up. But that’s not what I’m going to tell you. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, your kids need to continue to learn. And because kids are kids, you have to help them learn. Luckily, there are a great many ways for kids to learn. Public school education is certainly one of those ways, but it is not the only way, and it’s pretty likely it’s not even the best way.

Children learn best through experience, play and observation. That’s how their brains are wired. The more grounded lessons their lessons are in doing, the better they will retain the information. This makes sense when you consider human development from an evolutionary perspective. Through the vast arc of human history, humans didn’t pass information to one another through worksheets or computer screen. You learned how to hunt a mammoth by going on a mammoth hunt. You learned how to weave a basket by sitting beside a basket weaver and weaving with them.

We told stories before we wrote books. We had apprenticeships before we had colleges. And all of that non-web based learning brought us to this moment. And while we’ve developed exceedingly clever and innovative ways to pass along information, or good ol’ brains have not evolved as quickly as our technology.

Research bears this out. When scientists delve into how children learn, they find that play is critical. Pretend play builds language skills and reasoning. Creatively stacking blocks in Kindergarten leads to greater math success and progress in high school. Study after study confirms experience outdoes telling when it comes to learning.

So why do we have the public school system we do? One that can be packed up into a bag or downloaded onto your laptop? Because our education system is less about learning than it is about making sure every child has a set of core competencies to ensure they can start earning money and participating in the economy as soon as possible. For some the path to that goal lies in low-skilled labor. For others it lies in University education and skilled labor. But the only way to make sure every kid can get to that goal, according to education policymakers, is to ensure learning is a streamlined and homogeneous experience. Standardized. Common.

But as is blindingly apparent in these pandemic times, is that life is incredibly messy. It is dynamic and strange and unpredictable and sometimes frightening. There is nothing common or standardized about it.

So, yes, please stop downloading worksheets and logging on to the e-learning sites if you are finding them stressful, unhelpful and not fun. But don’t stop teaching your kids.

The thing about homeschooling — actual homeschooling and not public school at home — is that it has a tendency to lean heavily on experience. It works best when it is led by a child’s interests and parents have an active stake in what’s going on. The lesson plans laid in your lap aren’t the lesson plans that are best for your individual family, because they weren’t made for your individual family.

I am going to encourage you to change the way you think about teaching your kid. Want to help them learn math and science? Get out a cookbook and make some food with them. They will learn about materials, and physics and math concepts like fractions, percentages, addition, and subtraction. Take them on a walk. It’s a great time for it. Spring is wildly dynamic and there are is a world emerging from winter. Why, in the last two weeks my kids have learned a thing or two about salamanders because they’ve been outside turning over rocks in the yard. And they’re doing that because I refuse to make them read about rocks in their science book. I mean they can if they want to, but I’m not forcing it.

There are tons of ways your child can continue learning without trying to make them sit at a computer screen or bend their face to a worksheet. Play some board games, for instance. Build some block towers or free build Lego. Run and wrestle and read. If they don’t want to read, then read to them.

Of course, you can always just let them play video games and watch TV. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but look — stress will kill you dead and this is no time to be stressed in your home. There is far too much stress outside of it.

Look, if you take an interest in your child’s learning, regardless of how you approach it, they will come out of this just fine. Every child in the United States right now is pretty much in the same boat. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by a system that wasn’t meant to be crammed into your home during a national emergency. Do what you can, get creative, and leave it at that.

You’ll get through this. We’ll get through this. We just need to be kind to our children and ourselves.

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