Monday, November 22, 2010

Family Matters

Another book I like but can let go now.  

Family Matters:  Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson

David Guterson happens to be a first-rate writer (novelist and essayist) who also worked as a high school English teacher for several years; at least partly because of these credentials, his book on homeschooling is often recommended as a resource for the skeptical people in the homeschooler's life.   Indeed, the (second-hand) copy I have has a note on the front-cover--

Dad, I hope this book will give you better understanding into a different perspective.  We value your support...
The book does what it sets out to do -- present a balanced, thoughtful, substantial picture of what leads a family to undertake the challenge of homeschooling, as well as portray the rewards involved in the effort.  It also attempts to put homeschooling in perspective as a social movement.   What motivates the homeschooling parent?  What problems are present in schools and society that homeschooling attempts to address?  What can homeschoolers offer the larger community?

The author doesn't reach quickly for answers to these questions but instead, dwells on them, showing the strengths of the critiques against homeschooling, bringing in research and dialogues with neighbors, family and schoolkids to point out different aspects of the phenomenon.  His main points in support of homeschooling have to do with the weakening of the family unit and the ponderous, distancing nature of most institutional schooling which brings kids out of an organic community into an archaic, often mechanical setting.   He brings in research from anthropology, our country's history, and the psychology of how we learn to show that the more successful forms of education throughout time have included a strong component of relationship and intimacy which is best achieved when the family is closely involved in educative pursuits.   He showcases a few school districts which have made serious endeavours to support and encourage homeschoolers in their midst by flexible charter-type programs.  At least here on the West Coast, there are a lot more of these districts now than when he was writing in the early 90's.  

I first read the book when I was just starting homeschooling in the mid-1990's, when my kids were about the age of his.    It affirmed my intuitions about the importance of family and community and this is still probably the biggest thing I carry away from the book.

I couldn't find out whether his boys ended up homeschooled throughout but I did find a couple of more recent updates about his novel-writing.

I've read Snow Falling On Cedars (a very long time ago, before I even read his homeschooling book) but none of his others.   The second link says that he is a "writer's writer":
Blessed with almost preternatural descriptive skills, he is known as a writer's writer, polishing sentences to pristine perfection and creating stories of elegiac grace.

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