Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Why I homeschool

I've been thinking about this post for a long time. I want to tell you why I home school.  If you are serious about reading my blog, that's one important thing you should know up front.  People ask me  this question all the time, and I've learned that most of the time, they don't really care.  They are looking for the short answer and they glaze over after the first sentence.  So usually I just give the shortest answer possible and then shrug it off.  You can't talk to someone who isn't really interested.  There's too much to say.  So maybe now when people ask I can just refer them here.  Those who are really interested may read the whole thing.  Those who don't really care will stop reading right about here: ----->  Let's start at the beginning: 
When Dev was born, I had no intention of homeschooling.  In fact, I was very turned off by the idea  because I KNEW that only weird people homeschool.  I was going to send her to school, starting with kindergarten so that she could lead a normal, healthy life.  That's what everyone else does.  I was going to be like everyone else.  I actually didn't even think about it as an option at all.  When Dev was 4ish and Calvin was 2ish, I started doing preschool type stuff with them. It wasn't a major decision to keep them home for that.  But what happened that I didn't expect was the absolute satisfaction I got from finding unique and fun and interesting ways to teach my kids at home.  I really, really, really truly enjoyed their company (disclaimer: this is not to say that I never get angry or frustrated or demand a break now and then.  I am human, but overall, I enjoy their company.) 
When Dev was 5 (and I had Bogey by then) the option came to send her to kindergarten.  She was old enough.  I was sad.  I had enjoyed so much the time we had together every day.  Now I felt like I was handing her over to someone else to raise.  It didn't sit right with me.  Then I read the law for my state regarding public education.  It said that children ages 6-16 were required to go to school.  Wahoo! I thought, she's only five!  I can keep her home and then next year I can put her right into first grade.  So I "homeschooled" her for kindergarten, although that is a loose definition.  We just kept doing what we were doing: going to parks, visiting friends, going to gymnastics, reading books, playing on the computer, working in the kitchen know, everyday life.    In the back of my mind loomed that distant day that I would have to send her off to first grade.  I began to look for a school to send her to.  I was picky.  I have some qualms about public school (which I will get into later) and I wanted Dev to experience good things.  I also didn't think it was right for a 6 year old (or even a 10 year old) to be away from home for so long during the day. Home is a place of education, too.  That's the first time homeschooling entered my mind.  And I did entertain it for awhile, but I didn't want to be like all those homeschooling "weirdo's" so I ultimately dismissed the idea.  I finally put Dev into a charter school that was just a block from our house.  It was an awesome school.  She went to school from 8:30-2:30 (the shortest school day I found anywhere), and she never had school on Friday (also unheard of elsewhere.)  Her teacher was a-maz-ing! I really, really, liked his teaching style and the connection he had with each of his students.  Class sizes were small: only 12 per grade, and there were two teachers and two grades per classroom (so Dev was in the first grade/kindergarten class.  There were 12 kindergarteners and 12 first graders.  The next year, a kindergartener who might still be struggling could stay in the same classroom for another year as a first grader.  Dev was set to move on to the 1st/2nd grade room)  It seemed to be a pretty good deal.  Except this nagging feeling I had everyday when I dropped her off--feeling like it was not right to give her up for so many hours during the day.  I wished, very hard, and often, that I could find a mixed school--half school, half homeschool (as I understand, some cities have those now) where she could go to school for a few hours, and then also be home.  But I ignored it most of the time until a few things started to happen.  Dev started to tell me little things that didn't sit right:  she had a long art time because there was nothing planned for her to do.  And the teachers made her stay in the craft room and do something even though she was done with her craft and wanted to get a book from the bookshelf in her classroom.  There was no PE today because nothing was planned.  One thing that irked me was that they sent my little 6 year old home laden with lots of homework.  Not just things that she needed to know, but busy work.  Stuff she already knew and just had to get done for the grade.  I started to write notes to her teacher on the homework, "I'm sorry.  Dev has things to do at home.  She already knows this material, so I excused her from doing it."
That was another thing.  As her mother, I felt it was my responsibility to teach her things at home.  Life isn't only academic (although that is definitely important.)  I wanted her to learn to do her chores, make her own lunch, clean up after herself, cook, sew, garden.  By the time she got home, overwhelmed from all the information they were feeding her all day, and tired of just sitting at her table for 6 hours, she just wanted to play.  And I usually let her, for a little while, but I had things I wanted to teach her, too, and her school, plus all her homework, were cutting into that time.  I felt jipped.
 Then there were times that I had to take her out of school.  I had to fill out a form--list the reason why I came to get her.  Doctors and dentists were appropriate--special lunch dates with mom were not.  It was frustrating to need permission from someone to do what I thought was right for my own child. 
Later, her teacher was suddenly fired in the middle of the school year.  No warning.  Just one day Dev announced at dinner that the student teacher, the one who had graduated only weeks before, was her new teacher.  Dev was distraught.  She really loved her teacher and the new teacher, she said, was mean, and got frustrated and yelled a lot.  I went to talk to the principle and she informed me that legally, she couldn't tell me anything about the situation.  She assured me that there was no harm done to the children, but that was all she would say.  I was furious.  I have a right to know the details of something that happened with my kids.  She also assured me that the new teacher was "qualified."   I went in to observe in the class room and I was less than impressed.  I did eventually find out what the issues were.  It was so stupid.  It was a lot of politicking and power struggles.  Trying to climb the career ladder and assert programs that some didn't think were a good idea...blah, blah, blah.  As I walked home that day, thinking about how sad it was to have lost such a good teacher, it occurred to me that even the absolute very best teacher out there is still doing their JOB.  That is, they are climbing the career ladder, trying to advance, get that promotion, submit and develop their ideas, etc.  And I asked myself, "Is that REALLY the BEST form of education?"  and, for my family, I had to admit that the answer was no.  So then I thought, "wouldn't it be nice if I could find a teacher who didn't care at all about a pay raise or a promotion, one who truly loved the students, one whose only interest was in educating them and helping them develop into mature responsible adults?  That would be so great!
....until next year, when they advance and get a new teacher."  (shoot)
Then it dawned on me that such a teacher existed, and could be with the students everyday, indefinitely.  She could teach without worrying about the career ladder.  She could truly love and cherish the students and only keep their best interest in mind. 
She was me. 
I realized that I was the teacher I wanted for my kids.
Since then, I've only added support for my theories.  When I started out in the beginning, I doubted myself at every turn:  "Is this right? Am I ruining them?  Can I make this work?"  blah, blah, blah. . . . we are so good at chopping our feet out from under us.  I don't worry about that as much anymore.  I feel very happy with the direction we've taken.  I don't question my whole system anymore when someone looks at me (wide-eyed and bewildered) and blurts, "you homeschool?!  how weird!" 
  I realize it's not the norm.  Sometimes you have to go against the norm solely because you know it's what's right for you.  That's how this is for me.  I could go into all my opinions and ideas about the public school system and all its many and varied problems, but it doesn't seem productive right now.  Maybe another post.  But I think we can all agree that public school is not only NOT what it used to be, but also is not the best way to learn. 
Before I had kids, I spent time as a private tutor (which I loved)  and I spent a good chunk of the time with the students UNDOING all the turmoil and false premises put on the kids (and some of them were adults by the time they got to me) in school.  I wish I got a bonus for every time one of my students said to me, "I'm just not good at writing."  my response to that was, "who taught you that?"  A parent? a teacher? a friend?  because writing, like all other facets of education, is not a talent you either have or you don't.  It's a skill that you work at to improve.  That's something I didn't know when I was in school.
 I want my kids to be taught that they have powerful minds that can work for them in whatever they decide to learn.  I wasn't taught that at school.  Were you? 
I love to write.  I study words and grammar.  I love to read and write poetry and stories.  I used to slink through school, just to get it done, and then go home and spend the rest of the day in my room writing.  Where was the education taking place?  Not at school.  My life-changing college professor was the one who showed me that the writing I was doing at home was education.  It was a revelation my life had never known.  
I want my kids growing up not differentiating between learning new things and being educated.  I don't want them to think that education is something they endure until the bell frees you.  I want them to live it and love it, and truly make it their own.  That's the only way to learn things anyway.  You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.  No one likes to be forced.  No, more than that.  You cannot (as in it's impossible) force someone to learn something.  Learning can only happen when the student is willing and ready. I firmly believe that.
 And that environment is rarely present in public school. (probably more in grade school, but I'm gonna say it's darn near non-existent by the time you get to high school.) 
If your feathers feel ruffled, I'm sorry.  I wanted to post this now because I have felt many times the need to vent these opinions somewhere. 
This will not be the last post about homeschooling.  So, if your interest is piqued, pull up a chair and join the conversation!  I could talk about this for a long time.