Worried about sending their kids back to school this fall with the pandemic still going on, many parents have decided to homeschool/unschool or are considering it. I’m all in favor.
I believe homeschooling has the potential to be good not just for kids and their parents, but for the social fabric of neighborhoods as well. Right now in some neighborhoods in my city (and maybe in yours too), we have kids who are the same age and live in the same neighborhood but are being bussed to different schools far away. (The neighborhood I heard of is one where multiple school-district borders come together. It also happens to be a historic Black area of town that is economically disadvantaged, which would merit anything we can do to improve quality of life for kids and families. And one of the best ways to improve quality of life for households with school-age kids is to have good schools in walking distance of their homes. This goes for households in any economic bracket, not just low-income. That, and support homeschooling.)
With more people homeschooling, kids from the same neighborhood might get a chance to bond more. Also, if homeschooling gets really popular, maybe we will start to see more kids’ activities available right there in each neighborhood, such as a swimming pool and a sports field every few blocks, so kids can get to activities without the parents having to drive.
Speaking of activities, neighborhood-based homeschooling could include empowering kids to start micro-businesses with other kids in their neighborhoods. Errand-running, community gardens, dog-walking and pet-grooming services, you name it — all offering abundant opportunity for learning math, reading, and science, as well as developing common sense and social skills.
Neighborhood-based service activities such as picking up litter, monitoring algal growth in canals, and cataloguing plants and wildlife would be another rich addition to the curriculum, while providing valuable services to the community. Kids would gain self-esteem and personal responsibility from knowing they’re essential to their local economy and society — something every bit as important as academic learning.
Many parents like the idea of homeschooling but aren’t sure they can handle it. This past week the City of Daytona Beach radio show focused on homeschooling. Featured guest Dannette Henry, a City Commissioner who is a former schoolteacher and a longtime homeschooling Mom of several kids, offered many reassuring pointers.
I’ve provided a link below to the recording of the show. And in case you can’t access the Facebook Live recording, here are some of the main takeaways:
• You can homeschool your child in just 2-1/2 hours a day! And it doesn’t have to be during typical school hours; it can be in the early morning, evening, or whenever works best for you and your children. So, working parents, put your minds at ease.
• Don’t worry about not being able to make your child sit at a desk or table for hours every day. In fact, that’s a bad idea. Most learning will take place through activities beyond the desk.
• Let your child sit where they’re comfortable working. Also: Give them a certain amount of work they have to complete each day, but let them eat when they’re hungry and take breaks when they choose. This teaches self-regulation.
• You and your children will probably have to go through a “de-schooling” phase. This means dismantling your institutionally conditioned ideas of what school and education are “supposed” to look like. Homeschooling is a whole different ballgame.
• In Florida (and I imagine most if not all other states), you need to notify authorities that you’re homeschooling your kids; otherwise you might get a visit from a truant officer.
• Don’t go it alone! Form a co-op or support group with other parents. There may already be such groups in your area that you can join. One such group in Daytona beach is the Mocha Homeschool Collective, founded by Commissioner Henry. (And an idea from me: If you have tween/teenagers, encourage them to teach and help the younger kids in the family, and in the neighborhood.)
• Can’t afford fancy educational materials? Save your money; lots of excellent materials are available for free.
• And a suggestion from me: Start a little fruit and vegetable garden if you haven’t already. Even just a few veggies or dwarf fruit trees growing in pots on a balcony or patio can offer a wide universe of learning opportunities in math, science, reading/writing, social sciences, art, home ec, and more; as well as foster organizational skills. If you want to get really ambitious, look into raising bees or chickens. (When I lived in Japan, I was impressed to see that most elementary schools even in population-dense Tokyo have gardens and chickens, which the students are responsible for taking care of.) Or raise monarch caterpillars — some friends of mine raise them in a safe enclosed space like a screened patio. Kids (and adults) love watching the butterflies emerge. You can also plant wildflowers (be sure and choose ones that are native to your area) and observe the native bees and other wildlife they attract. Don’t have expertise in gardening? No worries; there are lots of free resources out there, and you can learn alongside your children while also leading them; nurturing their spirit of inquiry and observation.
Another note about school in the time of Covid: Various political leaders and special interests are pushing hard for kids to go back to school “so we can save the economy.” In other words (as I interpret it), kids need to get back to the kid-holding tank — the de facto daycare — so corporate America can have its profit-generating wage-slaves back. At least that’s how I can’t help but interpret it.
School shouldn’t be a thing parents need to send their kids to so the parents can go to their jobs. This dynamic has been going unquestioned for too long. We need to figure out real solutions, be it ensuring affordable daycare or making it feasible for parents to stay home and raise their kids if they want to; not have to work outside the home.
Another thing school shouldn’t be is something parents rely on to supply their kids with a free meal, because the parents can’t afford it. In the wealthy USA, where most of us have access to way more calories than we need, we have to figure out how to make sure every household has all the healthy food it needs.
School is for education. And, there are many ways to educate our kids other than the traditional model of school. I hope that one of the silver linings of Covid is the popularization of homeschooling as an option.
Public education in the United States is afflicted by many ills. Euro-centric curriculums, and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” are two that come to mind. Such systemic problems are hard to cure from above, via the same system that created them. But a large-scale grassroots migration to homeschooling might well help fix them.
Finally, on a green note, homeschooling has the potential to significantly reduce our eco-footprint. Transportation, mainly car and air travel, is a big component of our collective footprint. And the clearer skies, cleaner waters, and more-abundant wildlife we started seeing during the strict shutdown period give me great hope that we can heal planetary ecosystems faster than we think, by significantly reducing our car travel. Homeschooling could help with this, in addition to its many other benefits.
Facebook Live recording of Daytona Beach City Commissioner Dannette Henry being interviewed by show host Dr. L. Ron Durham, Community Relations Director of the City of Daytona Beach. I’m pretty sure it’s accessible to the general public, not just Facebook users.
Also, here is the website of the radio station itself, WJOY 106.3 FM. I couldn’t find a way to listen to past shows, but maybe you can. The Homeschooling segment aired Wednesday, June 29, from noon to 1 on the City of Daytona Beach radio show.