I am in my fourth straight year of homeschooling my 9-year-old son. He has been homeschooled most of his life, including preschool, having only attended a charter school when he was in kindergarten. I had spent numerous hours researching and then visiting schools before making our final choice, which ended up being the wrong one.
Even before his first school year ended, I decided to homeschool him because it was such a bad experience for him and our family. Some of the issues included an alcoholic teacher; the Jewish kids in the class were being singled out as Jews; two belly dancers performed at a flag raising ceremony; bullying, lying, and general disregard; and favoritism of the apparent rich.
When deciding whether he just needed to change schools, these other issues came up:
1. My son would presumably miss school because of the Jewish holidays, even the “minor” ones like Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Shavuot.
2. In regards to Jewish schools, I don’t like the private Jewish day schools in our area, and I really disapprove of the high costs (one has a $14,000 yearly price tag). Even with scholarships available, these schools do not meet our family’s wants and needs.
3. Equally, I am not thrilled about sending him to one of the numerous charter schools that continue to open nearby. These ubiquitous schools are not the answer for us, either. My husband especially is vehemently against the public schools in our state, which ranks 47 out of 50 in education.
4. I am even unhappier now that a majority of the schools have implemented the Common Core curriculum.
So we decided to homeschool. But our homeschooling journey doesn’t always go well. It has been a mixed bag of positives and negatives; some days are harder than others.
I have found the pros of homeschooling are numerous, like spending a lot of quality time with my son, bonding and watching him learn new things. We can accomplish in a few hours each day what typically takes a week or more to complete in a classroom. There’s a lot of freedom educationally (I teach according to his only his needs). We can learn about real life in real time, and it’s been a solid source of self-awareness in us both when it comes to maturity, confidence, and security.
Some of the cons include financial constraints (I don’t work full-time), too much togetherness, and not enough personal time for me.
But one of the main negatives of homeschooling is being Jewish while homeschooling in our mostly non-Jewish society.
Some of our struggles may seem familiar to Jewish families who send their children to non-Jewish schools, like scheduling things on Jewish holidays when we are unable to attend. For example, my son is attending a special homeschool class held every other Tuesday. Unfortunately, two of those weeks were on Jewish holidays, so he had make up work. Another time, my son wanted to attend an educational play with a homeschool group, but it was scheduled on Yom Kippur. I understand occasional oversights, but this holiday is on nearly all calendars, and the person who planned it is Jewish!
This past summer I attended a homeschool convention hosted by a non-profit corporation, run by a Christian board of directors and focusing on education, religion, and culture. Although all religions are welcome to join, a majority of its members are Christians. I attended with an open mind, intent on gaining new perspectives from the lectures and finding new, secular curricula, but much of it was non-Jewish based. I had no idea where to start, but luckily, a Jewish friend who also homeschools her kids attended. Together, we helped each other maneuver through the hordes of material available and focus on the secular.
In all of my years of homeschooling, I’ve only met a few Jewish homeschool families in our area, but not for lack of trying. I am not much of a “group” type person, and even though I belong to a few homeschool groups, I seldom socialize with them or do learning together.
But I have started a Facebook page for Jewish homeschoolers, mainly as a forum to express ideas and give suggestions.
Contrary to popular belief, homeschooling offers a number of social activities, if we choose, allowing for plenty of socialization. Unfortunately, there are no social Jewish groups for homeschool families in our area, something I have tried to organize but haven’t had much success.
But my son and I do go on field trips to museums, the Science Center, operas, symphonies, parks, and the occasional homeschool activity or event. Periodically, we meet a Jewish family that is homeschooling, but it is more of an isolated occurrence.
At this point in our journey, we will continue trying to meet other Jewish, homeschooling families. In the meantime, we enjoy and appreciate the friends we have, whatever their religion, homeschooling or not, and we’ll venture down this road together.