I've been gathering up all the goodies to begin our school year next week, and balance the needs of a self-starting (if grouchy) 5th grader, an ADD 3rd grader, a year-ahead-of-schedule kindergartener, and a crazy into-everything 20-monther. Exciting stuff. But you know what has come to me? In all of this curriculum wrestling, I've realized that public schooling is like shooting a shotgun. A teacher aims and shoots a bunch of tidbits of information at the class and hopes that some of it hits each student.
You also have classrooms that have been integrated. There's no money for kids of different levels and abilities to work at their own pace, so they're grouped together and that shotgun is fired in the hopes that the students who are behind or have a hard time working any way but one-on-one (like my 3rd grader) are hopefully pegged by a few bits of the blast. Conversely, the kids who are motivated learners may be hit by even less, because there's simply not enough time to aim in their direction. Each lesson has to be taught three or four different ways to explain the same concept, because we all learn best in different ways. That's why kids can spend 8 hours a day in school and come home with an hour or more of homework when they're in the first grade.
There are also children for whom English is not the language spoken at home. These kids, too, are now integrated into a classroom where they may have a hard time understanding the teacher speak, much less learn to their full potential. A teacher has to balance the needs of all of these children because a public education is just that : an education that applies to everyone. Our public is filled with such a variety of learners from so many different backgrounds and cultures; could you imagine entering a room full of adults taken at random from your neighborhood and trying to teach them all, in an hour spent writing on a board and looking at pictures in a book, how to change the brakes on a car? I bet not too many would be able to step outside and do it.
The moral of the story for homeschoolers is this : don't let the approach of public school intimidate you. You don't need 8 hours a day to instruct your student because you are instructing your student. Not the mass public. Not the greater good. Your student. If it takes 5 minutes to understand a concept, you don't need to approach the concept three other ways to get the point across. Books are important tools, but they are just that : tools. Real life experience is a bigger tool and as homeschoolers we're often afraid to think outside the public school box for fear we "aren't doing enough" with our kids. We purchase extensive, mind-numbing curriculum in the hopes that we're duplicating a public education, when in fact we should be diverging from it.