Wednesday, August 29, 2012

In defense of homeschooling.

I’ve been confronted recently by several non-homeschoolers, who seem to be offended by my decision to teach my own children. I’ve discovered, through these encounters, that I’m too polite. I stand there, quiet, and acknowledge their opinion and their right to it. But I don’t argue with them, because I’m not good at arguing. And I wondered this morning, whether my silence might be taken as agreement, an idea that horrifies me. Because I don’t agree. Not only do I not agree, I am offended by these nosy nellies, who think they’re going to convince me to abandon the choice I made after much consideration and prayer to do what they want. Well, guess what, nosy nellies! I won’t.

First of all, my decision to homeschool is not a condemnation of your decision not to. If you don’t believe you can, you probably shouldn’t. But know this, I have no more patience than you do…unless you have as much patience as my husband, in which case, I do. My children do sometimes drive me crazy, just like yours do to you, but that doesn’t preclude me from keeping them home and teaching them. In fact, I see it as a challenge. I will get through to them, and help them to become responsible. By the time they leave home, they will know how to behave properly in various situations; whether or not they choose to at that point is up to them. They will know how to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds; they are already more proficient at it than I was as at their ages.

I homeschool for many reasons, so the likelihood of your convincing me not to, based on one or two arguments is slim to none. I enjoy teaching my children. I love it. When their eyes light up and they say, “I get it now!”, it’s like no other feeling in the world. I have successfully taught three children to read, including myself at the age of three. My youngest daughter is in the process of learning to read now, and she is taking to it a bit more slowly than her sisters did. That doesn’t mean that I’m not succeeding, it means that we need to move more slowly. And we have the freedom to do that, because we have a classroom with three students instead of thirty. Each of my students can work at their own pace, without any stigma attached to taking their time. They don’t have to feel bored when they finish earlier than their classmates, like I did…or take that extra time thinking up trouble, like my brother did. Yes, my siblings and I were in public school for a period of time, so I know whereof I speak when I talk about the drawbacks of the public school system.

I attended public school for six years. In that time, I had some good teachers, and some bad. Miss G, my first grade teacher, was very understanding when I let her know on the first day of school that I could already read, and had been doing so for three years. She gave me more challenging books, and essentially let me work independently, so that she could focus on the students who needed more help than I did. I loved Miss G. Mrs H, my second grade teacher, was not as understanding. She saw me as just one of many students, and didn’t have the time or inclination to give me more work. So while I did still learn because I was determined to do so, I wasn’t as encouraged as I had been in first grade. I call Mrs H an average teacher. My third grade teacher, Mrs C, was one of the bad ones. She routinely lied to parents about what she was teaching their children. She had everyone do exactly the same work, regardless of whether they needed to spend more time or less time on a subject. She had certain students to whom she showed favoritism. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs W, was fresh out of college, and had never been a teacher before. She seemed overwhelmed by the size of the class, and while I’m sure she did her best, she was out of her depth. I call her an average teacher; my mom calls her one of the bad ones. My fifth-grade teacher, Mr G, was the worst one I had. He was very much into “New Age” and Native American religions, and he felt it was his job to teach these to his students. He was more concerned with students’ penmanship than with their understanding of math and science. In fact, he threatened to hold back any students whose handwriting didn’t meet his standard, which was very high. I don’t know whether he actually did; I barely got a passing grade in penmanship. My sixth grade teacher, another Mrs W, was an excellent teacher. She encouraged students to do extra-credit work, and spent extra time with those who needed it. Strong work ethic was rewarded in her class.

When I was in sixth grade, my little brother was in third, and was assigned to an experimental combination class “taught” by two co-teachers, one of whom was the same Mrs C I’d had in third grade. My mother stopped by that class one day to take T to a dentist appointment, and was shocked to see sixty third, fourth and fifth grade students in an uproar and not a single teacher in the classroom. The room was chaos, and it was a while before the teachers returned from wherever they’d been. Mom decided then and there that T would not stay in that class if she had anything to say about it. She requested that he be moved to a traditional third grade class, of which the school had two. The principal refused, saying that there was no room in the other classes. My mother responded by taking T home, and teaching him herself. After three weeks, the principal “found” room in one of the classes for T, and my mom graciously returned him to the school to finish out the year. But she and my dad remained unimpressed with the school, and discussed taking all of us out of it. They informed us near the end of the summer, that none of us would be going back, and that only my oldest brother would stay in public high school, because my mom didn’t think she could teach him what he needed.

My first year being homeschooled was difficult. I had been looking forward to going to middle school, so I was angry. I missed my friends. But as the year wore on, I realized that I did still get time to see my old friends. And I made many new friends in the local homeschool group. And I discovered that I was finally able to learn at my own pace, and enjoy learning. I remember that towards the end of that school year, or the beginning of the next, I read an article about homeschooling in the local newspaper.  It was mostly objective, but still managed to paint homeschoolers as weirdos who would probably have a hard time getting into college. With no prompting from my parents or friends, I wrote a letter to the editor, which appeared in the next week’s edition. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I won’t forget this line: “I’ve spent six years in public school, and one in homeschool, and I learned more this past year than all of the others put together.” My peers were amazed that I’d had the moxie to write to the paper. My parents were proud of me. My friends (of all ages) from church and the homeschool group were very supportive of what I’d written.

I was homeschooled until the end of high school. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to college, and I didn’t know what I would want to study anyway. So I didn’t go to college. Sometimes I regret that. I wish I had been able to go. I had thought about going to a Christian college(because I am a Christian), but again there was the issue of money. I didn’t have any. My family lived from paycheck to paycheck, but at least we didn’t have debt, other than the house. I wasn’t willing to go deep into debt to spend four years figuring out what I wanted out of life. I have ideas now of what I would study if I had the time and money to go to college. Maybe when the kids are grown.  But the fact that I don’t have as much formal education as some people doesn’t mean I can’t teach my own children. I am fully aware that they may eventually need something more than what I can offer, but I don’t believe that putting them in public school full-time is the answer.

I got married young, and was a mother at the age of twenty. When my oldest child turned two, all of my local friends began asking me what preschool I would send her to. The suggestion that I would send my two-year-old away to learn letters and numbers, colors and shapes shocked me. So I started telling them that we were homeschooling for preschool. My husband thought it was silly, but went along with it. We didn’t have a bunch of money sitting around to use for preschool anyway, especially when anyone can teach their own child such basic things. When she was four, we briefly considered public school. We lived in a small town, which in some people’s minds means “excellent school”. But I didn’t want to give up that precious time with my girl. My husband agreed to “let” me continue homeschooling her for kindergarten, and said we’d consider at the end of the year whether we should continue. She learned to read that year, and by the end of the year(when she was five) she was reading chapter books, and becoming proficient at adding and subtracting. He realized that I was indeed succeeding, and that our daughter was learning more quickly than she would if she were in public school.

Now I’m homeschooling all three of our children, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We have a lifestyle of learning. Everything is a learning experience. Grocery shopping is an exercise in mental math. Driving to Grandpa’s is a chance to discuss safe driving, even though none of them are near the age to actually begin driving. Building a deck is a study in design, and a chance to become familiar with tools; just because they’re girls, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t learn to fix things and build things. Ants in the kitchen are a chance to do an experiment regarding the best way to eradicate them. Cooking together is an opportunity to learn about meal planning. Creating a garden is both design and science, as we learn about what different plants need to grow well.

To answer some of the silly questions we get:
·         -Yes, it’s legal. And we are following the laws for our state, regardless of whether we think the laws are overly restrictive.
·         -No, I don’t need a college degree in order to homeschool my children. I’m not teaching them college after all!
·         -If there’s something I didn’t learn in school or forgot since I learned it, I can learn or relearn it alongside my children. I am in fact “smarter than a fifth grader”.
·         -Yes, we do use curricula. In fact, we spend all summer reading reviews, planning and ordering our supplies ourselves.
·         -We don’t do this because it’s cheaper. In fact, it’s more expensive, because the taxpayers don’t provide for our needs.
·         -We don’t keep our kids locked in the house. We actually spend more time going places and doing things than your children do, because we have the time.
·         -Yes, our kids do have friends. In fact, all three of them are more outgoing than I am.
·         -Yes, we do sometimes homeschool in our van.
·         -We do occasionally stay in pajamas all day, but it doesn’t happen very often.
·         -No, we don’t “go easy” on our students and let them skate by with mediocre work. We actually tend to hold them to a higher standard, because not only are homeschoolers judged by whether they are on pace with their peers, we as their teachers are judged as well. People expect us to fail, so they’re watching closely for when we do.
·         -Yes, we do sometimes fail. Partly because we sometimes set unreasonable goals for ourselves. But when we fail, we think the same way as Edison when he was asked why he didn’t give up on his light bulb after failing so many times. We’ve just learned something that doesn’t work for us. We try again, or try a different way.
·         -Homeschoolers do not have a difficult time getting into college; in fact, colleges are very receptive to homeschoolers now. They’re realizing how well-adjusted most homeschoolers are, and how well they learn and adapt.

To answer some of the questions about “why” we do this:
·         -I don’t like that the public school has excluded religion, especially Christianity. In our school, we start with prayer and read our Bibles together each day, and nobody can object.
·         -I disagree with several of the things that are routinely taught in public school as fact, e.g. evolutionary theories and global warming and other liberal bravo sierra.
·         -The system is full of stupidity on the part of administration. For example:
          I'm sure more examples will come to light as the new school year wears on.
·        - I don’t believe that kids have to be bullied in order to be able to tolerate rude people when they grow up. I don’t tolerate bullying in our school.
·         -My children are each other’s best friends, and I love that.
·         -I don’t believe in segregating children by age; if they must be segregated at all, it should be by ability.
·         -I think children should be taught the basics, or as they were once called, the “3 Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic”. Yes, I am aware that they don’t all actually start with R. Either way, public schools aren’t doing so well teaching those; our local school failed to meet the Federal standard last year, for the second year in a row.
·         -I think children should also have the opportunity to pursue their interests. My oldest daughter is fascinated by sharks, so she recorded almost all of “Shark Week” on the Discovery Channel, and is working her way through the episodes. My middle daughter is interested in building things, so when I said that I was planning on building a playhouse for the girls at some point(probably next summer), she enthusiastically told me she would help, and drew up a few designs. My youngest daughter loves word search puzzles, even though she doesn’t take the time to really read each word she’s finding. The puzzles help her with thinking analytically. These are just a few examples of how I’m able to encourage their interests. If they were in public school, they wouldn’t have time for such things.
·         -If they were in public school, I’d be helping them with homework every evening anyway.
·         -I would miss them. Simply put, I’m not one of those moms who hates summer vacation and sings “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” when school starts up again. I enjoy being with my children, and taking advantage of teachable moments whenever they happen. If they were at school all day, and spending an hour or two every evening doing homework, I would get maybe two hours of just spending time with them before bed. I don’t think I’d enjoy that.
·         -I believe kids should be taught to respect others, and let’s face it, the school system fails miserably at teaching that, especially when it comes to respecting parents.
·         -Then there’s the all-important issue of peer pressure. There is no peer pressure in our school. I know, some people think it’s important for teens to deal with it, but the fact is they’re more likely to give in to it than to stand up to it. My kids don’t have to figure out how they “fit in”; they can just be themselves. I’m sure they will face peer pressure in sports and activities and such as they get older. Having had time to know who they are and what they think and believe, they’ll be less likely to give in.
·         -Along the same lines, there’s the problem of school violence. It doesn’t exist in our school. I don’t have to be afraid that someone will bring a weapon to school and put my kids at risk, or that they’ll get beat up on the bus.

To sum up: I’m not weird because I homeschool. I’m a weirdo who homeschools. I’ve been weird for as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read when I was three. I used to bring along my big Study Bible to first grade and lead Bible studies on the playground during recess. In third grade, I chose my best friend by looking around the classroom and seeing who looked lonely. Vanessa was a little slow and crosseyed, and so she was picked on by the other kids. I decided she needed a friend, and I would be it. Same thing in fourth grade; I met Amy, who had a swollen lip; it was a birthmark, and the kids teased her mercilessly. I stood up for her, and said whoever teased Amy would have a swollen lip to match. Luckily the threat worked, and I never had to make good on it, but Amy and I were best friends for two years until she moved away. I was weird in public school. I continued to be weird when I was homeschooled, and I’m still weird now that I’m the homeschooling mom. My weirdness is not because of homeschooling. And my kids are not destined to be weirdos because they’re homeschooled, but I’d be just fine with it if they were.

“Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”