|Benefits of Homeschooling|
This article will hopefully address some of the reasons why homeschooling may be good for a Jewish family in the 21st century.
Benefits of Homeschooling, a Jewish perspective
by Sarah Carpenter
As the number of Jewish homeschooling families is on the rise, many people often ask what are the reasons for homeschooling? No two Jewish homeschooling family is alike, but I would like to share with you some of the benefits of homeschooling. Here are some of the values that we would like to preserve in our Jewish homeschooling family.
Keeping the family together
As many families find it the norm to have two working parents instead of one, we find that it is worth the mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) of one parent losing an income (mostly the mother) and raising the children with the gifts that Hashem has endowed the parent to nurture the children starting from birth. Children need dedicated care-givers the most whom they can trust and build secure attachments to.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is not uncommon for a working mother to leave her infant to a stranger since infant hood and lose all possible ties of bonding and relationship with her infant. Children also need their parents beyond the toddler stage and continue to yearn for a good relationship with their parents at various stages of life.
When a family homeschool, their interaction with their children increase and they gradually build a strong family unit. They have lots of opportunities to learn together, work together, and play together.
In addition, not every Jewish mother has in her the desire to spend so much time with her family. I have had occasion to speak with other Jewish mothers from various professions. A Jewish parent told me that she cannot possibly spend so much time with her children as she has no patience for her children. Ironically, she is an elementary school teacher in a Jewish day school.
The most common answer that Jewish mothers give to me about not homeschooling is that they feel unqualified to teach their children Limudei Kodesh (Torah subjects). Many Jewish homeschooling families hire a melamed to handle this part of the curriculum. In fact, many of our Jewish sages including the Vilna Gaon hire melameds for their sons. The Vilna Gaon was taught by his father. The Rambam also was taught by his father. For some Jewish homeschooling families, the parents are actively involved in learning and teaching their children at the same time, be it Jewish or secular subjects. It all depends on the desire and the commitment that the parents are willing to do for their children.
It is not uncommon in yeshiva circles for parents to send their children off to faraway places to learn Torah since six years of age. They only see their sons during holidays and some off-Shabbos. I cannot fathom such actions.
Chana, the prophetess, who longed for a child for many years, and had one after davening to Hashem, agreed to return her son to the service of the Bais HaMikdash after she weaned him at three years old. This is rather an exception than the normal. When Hashem gives us children, He wants us to raise them properly as they are our future, the guarantors of the survival of the Jewish People. The prophet Shmuel, the son of Chana, was an exception.
Preserving good behavior in children
Schools do not take care of everything including nurturing our children. When children are left to the charge of a teacher or a baby sitter who has to watch a group of children who is not his/her own, you cannot expect this teacher to raise your child to your liking.
You are exposing your children to the undesired behavior of other children as well as other adults and there is plenty of undesired behavior out there. Children likes to mimic behavior whether it be your own or someone else's. If you don't catch any undesired behavior (which may only be displayed when you are not looking) when they first appear, you lose the opportunity to nip it at the bud.
Bullies are common in schools, among both boys and girls. Girls bully their peers in a different way than boys. Girls hurt their peers verbally whereas boys use their physical size to intimidate. If you see that type of behavior in your own children, you have lots of opportunities to curb it and end it once and for all. Unfortunately parents of abusive children are defensive about the whole matter when they are notified of their children misbehaving. Some of them are even oblivious to the whole thing.
At a Shabbaton that I once attended, I was shocked to encounter two little cute girls who were dressed very "frum" (long skirts and long shirts) who had problems with teasing other children, destructing property and rude to adults. Their Mom was pregnant at the time, totally oblivious to her daughters' misbehavior.
Preserving healthy eating habits
A school is not a place where you will find healthy food being served in the cafetaria or at social functions in the school. Junk food or food laden with high cholesterol is usually the norm. If you want to preserve healthy eating habits for your family, you will be challenged when you send your children to school, or to a social function outside the school. It is a rarity to find other parents who value healthy foods.
Building good lasting social skills
It is a myth that people should only socialize among their peers. My personal experience is that you don't need to have so many friends who are your peers, you need good friends and they are hard to come by. Good friends can be found from the older generation who are wiser than you and who have been there, done that. That's my advice.
In a school setting, where your child spends most of his time socializing only with his peers, he most likely will adopt whatever peer pressure from his class if he is not mature enough to know that he can be different and stand by his convinctions.
Some homeschoolers tend to be those who have strong convictions (opinions) of their own and are not afraid to do what's right for their family instead of copying their neighbors and fall into peer pressure. Your children follow after you, if you raise them in an environment where they can be easily influenced by the peer pressure of their environment then, they will be blind followers. However, if you raise them to utilize their sechel (brains) to think for themselves and raise questions and not be afraid to ask, then you are building "leaders" who can lead, instead of just following blindly.
Building good learning habits
When you homeschool, you are not confined to a "classroom". The world is your classroom. You are also not confined to a 9-month academic calendar, where you have to be pressured and squeezed to learn a limited amount of material from over-pressured, under-paid school teachers. Usually the depth of learning under this time pressure is not sufficient and often produces mediocre results from the students. See my other article on this regarding Limudei Kodesh curriculum .
You may also find the quality of today's Torah teachers as poor. Examine their worksheets and you might find some of them being sloppy (illegible due to handwritting and not computer-processed) and replete with mistakes. Spelling mistakes are abundant. Either our Torah teachers are not trained to utilize the computer to produce efficient, reusable, editable Torah content or that they do not take pride in checking their work before distributing them to the class. This is a common complaint among other parents, who are not homeschoolers.
Homeschoolers tend to learn all year long and are free to adjust their daily schedules to meet the unforseen circumstances of life changes such as birth/death/sickness in the family, moving, etc.
A typical school child expects to "play" only in the summer months and be entertained. Homeschooled children tend to be more mature in that learning and playing tend to come together in their lives. They can find activities to entertain themselves without having to have their play time all scheduled for them by parents or campers. Homeschooled children tend to learn about responsibility for their lives much earlier than their non-homeschooled peers.
Homeschooling under responsible parents is a very good thing. Every child is different and learns differently. Our educational system is broken and has been broken for decades. Rabbi Rietti, a professional educational consultant, explains that our educational system has been focusing on only one type of intelligence (mainly text-based learning) and ignoring the various other types of intelligence (audio, visual, musical, artistic, kinesthetic, etc.) and have failed parents and their children miserably over the generations. The over-emphasis on "success" of a student based on the number of "A"s obtained from book learning and correlating one's success based on one's achievement in school is totally erroneous.
Success as a human being is under-emphasized, i.e. be a kind and moral person, be sensitive, be a good person, etc. Secular society correlates success with material wealth, whereas our Jewish society should regularly emphasize success with spiritual wealth - Torah, good middos and acquiring of mitzvos to help us build a better place and world, here and in the next.
Learning from the right sources
Learning to vocalize Hebrew accurately is important. One needs to enunciate each word properly during prayers and during Torah study.
In the Ashkenazic setting, you will find common emphasis on the wrong syllables. For instance, the common emphasis on the first syllable of a word such as "MA-zel tov" instead of "ma-ZAL tov". Another example is the name "David", which is commonly mistakenly vocalized "DA-vid" instead of "da-VID". A third example but not the last is the word "blessed" which is mistakenly vocalized as "BA-ruch" instead of "Ba-RUCH". I could go on and on but you get the picture.
The Vilna Gaon is known to acknowledge this problem widespread among the Ashkenazic community of his time in Europe. Unfortunately, this problem is still evident in this generation.
Personally, I think the best way to learn Hebrew vocalization is through an Israeli pronunciation. Listening to Torah lectures delivered by purely Israeli-speaking Torah teachers is a big plus.
When you homeschool, you have to consciously make the right choices for your Torah sources. Baruch Hashem, Hashem has afforded homeschoolers the opportunities to evaluate Torah sources for themselves.
This article is not in its final form. You will probably see additional edits in the future, subject to time available to the author, iy"H. I hope you will find this article useful for those of you considering homeschooling. You should know why you need to homeschool, and what values are important to you.
Your opinions are welcomed on this article.
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"Your son is at five your master, at ten your servant, at fifteen your double and after that your friend or foe depending on his bringing up." --Hasdat ibn Crescas, c. 1230
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