We homeschool for a wide variety of reasons...academic, religious, lifestyle...and have been doing it since 1996. So, for us, the question becomes-- what reason would we have for needing or wanting our children to attend school? (For any of you who aren't regular visitors here, we have three daughters who have always been homeschooled. This is mostly about our oldest, who's known as The Apprentice.)
I can pinpoint one of the lines I read, early on, that propelled us towards homeschooling. I had borrowed Nancy Wallace's account of her own family's unschooling journey, Better Than School, from the library, and I came to the part where she described their son's classroom experiences in first grade. It wasn't a good year; her son was exhausted and unhappy, and when asked what the problem was, he complained that he no longer had enough time to read! (The link is to a 1984 Mother Earth News story about homeschooling; if you scroll down far enough, you'll see some excerpts from the book.)
I related to that. I remembered being yanked down by my jumper straps when I tried to climb up to an above-my-grade-level library shelf in the first grade. (Did anyone else go to a school where the books were actually arranged by grades?) I remembered having to use second-grade readers two years in a row (it involved a move from a school that encouraged "enrichment" to another one that didn't). I remembered doing many, many spelling lessons that taught me absolutely nothing (I was already a good speller. I was lousy at handwriting, but spelling lessons didn't improve that). I remembered getting to staple the teacher's papers as a reward for getting my work done early. (What a motivation.)
I also remembered the darker side of school--the pressures, the bullies, the unhappiness when you can't seem to find a place to fit in. I was a geek from the get-go. Many of us have been there and it's not a memory we'd want to spend much time musing on.
And right at that time (when we were thinking about homeschooling), our flavour-of-the-month provincial ministry of education announced a brilliant idea. They would provide optional junior kindergarten not only for the four-year-olds (that was already in place) but also for the three-year-olds. Moms who wanted free babysitting cheered. Everyone else seemed doubtful, including Mr. Fixit's cousin who was teaching JK and had had to buy a supply of changes-of-underwear for her classroom already. And we had a child turning three. Oh but wait--a change of government came in right then and axed not only that idea, but also four-year-old JK. For a little while. Then JK came back (but not for the three-year-olds).
Oh, and then there was the common curriculum that our province brought in (like the "standards" some other countries talk about). And there was a teachers' strike. And there was provincial testing for grade 3 and 6 classes. And the whole idea of self-esteem (that is, spending time on how special we are instead of on math) and values clarification (whatever its present-day name is) and groupthink and not hurting a child's feelings by saying that his work is careless or his spelling is wrong.
In short, we had no intention of allowing The Apprentice to become a guinea pig for some government's idea of what her education should be. Or shouldn't be. Or might be for six months until the latest greatest idea came up. (The newest thing in our school system is that children don't have a lunch hour anymore. They have two "nutrition breaks" during the day instead. This was sold to the parents as something that would encourage better nutrition and more time to play outdoors, but it was actually prompted by demands for longer breaks for the teachers.)
And I wanted her to have time in her life to read.
The Apprentice has never become what you'd call a bookworm. She prefers to make things (like bead jewelery or knitted Barbie skirts), or help Mr. Fixit build CB radios and install computers. But when she does read...she knows what's worth reading, what's middlin', and what's garbage. Would she be better off in a classroom, now that she's getting close to the usual high school age? Maybe...if we can get enough of the important stuff covered first. Does she want to go? She's not sure herself. It would be sort of fun...but right now, she says she likes being at home.
[Update, May 2007: This was first posted in January 2006, when we were tossing around the possibilities for The Apprentice's future education. In September 2006, she enrolled part time at the local high school, and she has spent two interesting semesters there taking all the hands-on things that she enjoys--plus science and French--and I get to brag that she's on the honour roll too. She's planning on continuing there, still part time, next school year. Beyond that, she's looking at apprenticeship possibilities in a couple of the trades that interest her.]