A Series of Homeschooling Questions

My mum is writing a series of homeschooling blog posts, and as part of that, interviewed all four of us kids about our homeschooling experience.

That is, she emailed us a list of questions and said, “I need a reply by Friday, please.”

Journalism is not what it once was!

However, I don’t believe in letting stuff go to waste, so I thought I could shamelessly repeat my answers and turn it into a blog post. Go to mum’s original post to read my siblings’ replies- they’re very good. Also- did you know just how many Croods gifs there are out there on the internet? Nomi does. Just see her interview!

Anyways- Eight Questions To A Former Homeschooler

Heading Off

How would you describe your homeschool years?  In the primary school years, I remember doing lots of classes directly with Mum and the siblings, including a lot of Bible studies, character traits, math, science and reading. The high school years featured mostly independent work, guided by Mum. There was always a lot of reading- books were a big part of my education and they worked really well with my words-based learning style. Homeschool co-ops with local homeschooling families were also important; group discussions on character traits (proto-philosophy classes, in essence!), public speaking training and perennial games of Cops and Robbers.

What was your favourite thing about how you homeschooled?  My favourite thing was learning to love learning, and then having the freedom to explore the areas that most excited me. Sure, I still had to do math and science, but I was also able to pursue my interests (writing, reading, history and philosophy) in far more depth than I could have tied down to a regular classroom and curriculum.

I think it also helped build strong family ties among us, which has been absolutely awesome in the post-homeschool years.

What was your worst? There were some public school guys about my age who I probably would have become really good mates with, but never did because we didn’t mix in the same social circles. That was a shame.  

How do you think homeschooling has shaped you as a person?  Besides the love of learning, homeschooling was also where I learnt to think for myself and test everything. At the same time, homeschooling exposed me to the importance of family and community ties, a vision of the good life which has shaped my decision-making process ever since.

What story would you like to ‘tell on’ your mum?  Be kind!  This question is rigged!  

What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of homeschooling with people who don’t homeschool?  It’s strange how adults can enjoy a long mature conversation with you and only begin to doubt your socialisation skills once you mention, 15 minutes in, that you were homeschooled as a child.
 
For kids, I think the biggest misunderstanding is their notion that being schooled at home actually means not doing any school, ever, and playing X-box in your PJs all day instead.

How would you answer the questions about socialisation?  Homeschooling made me more socialised, not less. Without a classroom of peers to keep me in my comfort zone, I had to learn to befriend younger kids, older kids, boys, girls, adults, and people with different interests to my own. I also had to be intentional about developing my friendships. In ‘real life’ those social skills are paramount, and homeschooling taught them to me.   

How has homeschooling prepared you – or left you hanging – in terms of further education?  The love of learning that homeschooling imparted for me is easily the best motivator to study hard and get good grades (or even learn something!) at university, where everything is self-motivated. The high school homeschool years also taught me to learn independently, and that’s crucial for further education, where they don’t spoon-feed you like most high school classrooms. 

On the other hand, I still had to learn university’s essay writing rules and how to answer pre-set questions, rather than just write what I wanted to talk about. That was a bit of a learning curve, but it didn’t take too long to adjust.

Simplifying, Polarising, Demonising: Killing Off Enriching Conversation

Conversations about ideas are glorious creatures, and everyone has them. Those ideas might be intellectual behemoths about the GFC and Keynesian economic theory or antithesis in Hegel, or they might be ordinary, down-to-earth conversations about what you believe, what is good, what is right, how we should treat people, how we should live. All human beings have those types of conversations.

However, when talking about ideas, it is easy to simplify, polarise and demonise.

Discussions don't need to look like this...

Discussions don’t need to look like this…

Often, we will simplify our, and our opponents’, views into a single, simple thesis, rather than recognise the diversity of ideas we are bringing to the table. An over-simplified idea is easier to understand, communicate and disprove, which is why they’re so tempting. We might claim a leftist has no time for personal liberty, or a creationist has no respect for science or a right-winger understands all social functions through the lens of the marketplace.

Admittedly, many ideas do err by reducing the universe to a few favourite hobby-horses. But if we fail to listen to what is really being thought, then we risk over-simplifying, and misrepresenting, the idea. This process is unhealthy because it strips us of intellectual creativity. It’s hard to think outside the box when we’ve over-simplified everyone’s contributions to conform to the familiar, pre-determined stereotypes.

http://warriorpoetblog.com/2010/10/08/agree-to-disagree-the-key-to-constant-conflict-part-2/

It’s “Us and Them”- or rather, “Us and Bull”

Over-simplification helps us to polarise the debate. It’s hard to pit two people’s contributions (let alone two whole groups of people’s contributions!) against each other if we recognise their nuance. But if we reduce them to single mantras, then we can create a contest between these ideas. That’s tempting because we know where we stand in a contest.  We also know deep down that there is absolute truth. There is right and there is wrong. Humans have a deep emotional desire to be on the right side of that fence. Polarisation assures us that we’re right, and they’re wrong, and assures us that we know where everything stands in this conversation.

This is a false confidence. I strongly believe that there are right ideas and wrong ideas, good proofs and weak arguments. But it’s illogical to assume that rightness always sits with one group of ideas and wrongness on the other. That’s the bitter fruit of over-simplification. It’s very unlikely that either side has a monopoly on truth, but it’s easier to believe if you’ve reduced each “side”, or collection of ideas, to a single entity. Then, if there are only two ideas in the conversation, we think one is right and the other is wrong.

This false confidence encourages demonisation. If people who believe in the existence of right and wrong ideas stop thinking in terms of ideas, and start thinking in terms of sides, then our “right-wrong” reflex inevitably follows suit. Now, whole sides are right or wrong, regardless of the various ideas and nuances that exist inside that idea. Our focus is on sides, rather than ideas, so we become emotionally invested into defending our side’s entire plethora of ideas, rather than treating each idea on its merits. We subconsciously slide from intellectual rigour to partisanship and bias.

It's amazing how often our opponents are actually dark lords attempting to dominate all life in Middle Earth...

It’s incredible how often our opponents are really dark lords attempting to dominate all life…

Over-simplification handicaps our understanding of the universe. Polarisation creates false loyalties to a group, rather than a commitment to the truth wherever it may be found. And demonisation creates unnecessary, unfounded conflict that distracts us from the honest appraisal of ideas.

These habits are instinctive to all of us. I think we’re trapped in this cycle already. And it can kill honest, vigorous, civil, effective debate about ideas. As anyone who’s participated in a civil, honest discussion can testify, this is a grievous loss.

THE BOOK OF TIME

One of the perennial questions I ask myself (and, if you trawl my archives, blog about) is how to spend my discretionary time wisely, and not waste it.

To that end, I have created THE BOOK OF TIME.

 Despite the glorious title, it’s simply a folder with a piece of lined paper for each type of activity I like doing during my discretionary time. Each paper has a column for date, activity and time spent on that activity.

THE BOOK OF TIME

It’s handwritten because I find it easy to forget and ignore files squirreled away somewhere on my computer. Instead, this will sit on my desk or in my bookshelf, where I see it every day. I chose a dark and ominous folder to give it some gravitas- which is why I call it THE BOOK OF TIME. Over-glorifying it is partly a trick to ensure I commit to it, and partly because it’s a fun title. Who doesn’t want something as majestic and doom-laden as THE BOOK OF TIME sitting next to them on their desk?

The idea is that every time I play a computer game, or read a book, or do some other discretionary project, I record the date, what I did, and how long I did it for, on the relevant paper. I also have a “General Log” page where I enter all activities organised by date.

I am hoping for three advantages.

Firstly, seeing a long list of all the time I’ve spent toiling away on various projects will help me appreciate the progress I am making- especially for those less tangible activities like fitness or shorthand practice where progress can be a little harder to measure than say, “reading one book a month.”

They say you can get really good at something if you spend hundreds of hours on it- well I won’t know that I’ve spent hundreds of hours if I don’t record those times.

It’s also useful for computer games. I find that my discretionary time is more pleasurable if it is memorable; but computer games can easily be forgotten in a sea of gaming. Recording my activities helps me remember where I have been and the fun and the productivity I have had in the past.

Secondly it will help me work on a variety of activities, rather than gorging on computer games all the time. I can flip through the book and realise that I haven’t spent any time on my blog lately, while my “computer game” entries are growing rapidly. That’s one of the motivations that drove me to write this post!

Thirdly, it gives me some personal accountability each day. This is why I created a “General Log” for all activities organised by date. Yes, it does mean writing two entries for each activity, but it allows me to see every discretionary project I’ve done today in the one place. Thus I can review the day and see if I was productive and wise with my free time or not. If I am, then that’s the encouragement I need to keep it up and build some momentum. If not, then it gives me the chastisement I need to tighten up my act.

Things THE BOOK OF TIME is not:

It’s not a diary. It doesn’t do forward planning. It’s a history book. 

It does not record everything I do- only particular projects I want to do in my discretionary time. Still, ‘tis a pretty broad list- I added in “social stuff” because I want to spend some discretionary time that way, and I added “computer games” because I’m not trying to delete them from my discretionary time, and incorporating it allows me to monitor my time use. I haven’t added university studies because it’s a record of the time I can spend at my discretion, not the time I spend on my external commitments.

It’s not a complete solution. I still need a diary, and the book will only work if I actually use it. Nor does it magically force me to be productive. I could have a BOOK OF TIME and only ever enter computer games. It’s merely a tool I can use to monitor and record my free time usage so I can improve it if I so choose. The choice rests with me.