Thursday, July 24, 2008

Why I want to homeschool Suzi

Jordan and I have been discussing the idea of homeschooling Suzi rather than sending her to public school. It's been on my mind a lot, and as I rehash memories of my own education, it seems homeschooling may be the path for us. There are, of course, people who think homeschooling is a bad idea. Below I have addressed some common viewpoints and also given the reasons I want to homeschool. This post took me nearly a week to write.

Before reading all this, it is worth noting that I had ADD as a child, and still suffer from mild symptoms of it. My education, while possibly beneficial for many children, was frequently inappropriate for my needs. However, this is only a fraction of the reason we are considering homeschooling.

Are you homeschooling your kids or do you plan to? Please leave a comment if you have any advice or resources you'd like to share. We still have a lot to learn about this! Kristin already answered several of my questions, and I truly appreciate it. I'm sure her experience will help others as well!

1) Don't you think a professional teacher would do a better job of educating your child? The short answer is possibly yes, given the right circumstances. I have a lot of respect for (most) teachers; my mom is a retired one. However, it is an uphill battle for a teacher to properly educate every single student.

a) There are bureaucratic requirements such as oodles of paperwork, and these are a major timesuck. I remember my mom writing lesson plans and report cards for hours on end, even during our family time, because when she was at school she was too busy with the children. She actually only had the luxury of working on those at home on nights when her presence wasn't required back at the school for a meeting or a performance (kids in chorus expect their teachers to be there to hear them sing), and when she wasn't talking to parents over the phone about their children's progress. And oh, she had three kids of her own! Remember us? Sometimes I think people forget most teachers are family women. Teachers today are hit with a barrage of extra work, some of which is supposedly going to give our state and country a better reputation when it comes to education--such as preparing students for standardized tests.

b) Teachers in public schools (to say nothing of ones in private schools, who frequently get even less) are often so poorly funded they may want to show children a practical example, but instead have to refer to the outdated text, because necessary materials are not funded. One of the most beloved teachers at Daniel High, Dr. Welsh, taught us Physics mostly using beautiful junk he gleaned from wherever he could. An old bowling ball on a rope is one example. He mentioned to his students that he needed a bowling ball and one day he found it outside his door.

c) Another casualty of the school budget: Smart, inspiring teachers with decades of experience who have worked until their contract is about to expire may not get hired back. This recently happened at my old high school. Senior year I had the most amazing AP English teacher. She selected the best books for us to read and had us so involved in the class we didn't notice we were preparing for the AP exam; we were having a good time! Her poem of the week contest, in which we each wrote a poem and a handful were selected to be critiqued by the class, gave me confidence in my writing and the courage to enroll in fiction workshops in college. Her "pet peeves" still influence my writing and prepared me for college professors who have no patience for fluff. I passed the literature and language AP exams and exempted two semesters of mind-numbing freshman English classes. But Mrs. Swanson will not be returning to Daniel in the fall, due in part (it is widely believed) to the fact that a new English teacher is cheaper. Mrs. Swanson will be teaching at Clemson University in the fall.

d) Every student learns every concept at a different pace. I once received a "B" in a college prep, not honors, high school English class. Why? I was bored senseless. English has always come naturally to me, and I needed to be in an honors class but had been pigeonholed into a college prep one because I couldn't take any other honors classes. This often happens to kids who need extra help in some courses but a challenge in others; they are earmarked as altogether unintelligent and never given the chance to excel. (Luckily, as mentioned above, I made it into the Honors English class later with my mom's help.) Furthermore, in one class there are generally 20-30 students. As a teacher explains a concept, some students will understand and be ready to move on and others will be confused and need more practice. I don't want Suzi in either of those groups; the first one is a waste of time and energy, and the second is disheartening! When a child is homeschooled, she is either taught privately or in a small group in which individual attention is not so rare.

2) Your child isn't going to get socialized if you don't send her to school, and she'll be socially inept! That's what I thought too once. In high school I had a great time socializing!

a) I attended over half a dozen military balls in four years, both at our school and at others. For most of them my date was my longtime high school boyfriend who shall remain unnamed. The relationship was often a source of stress, as it was plagued with usual high school melodrama. Looking back I am still perplexed as to why I have never had a meaningful friendship with this person. I know some people marry their high school sweethearts, or at least feel they learned something from the relationship, but I don't think I did. I wish I'd met Jordan in high school, but he was down in Columbia having relationship issues of his own.

b) Then there were two proms. I took a different guy each year, both of whom were not from my school (and were older) and I never want to see either of them again. My classmates danced in questionable positions while a few friends and I hung out in the lobby and talked. The only pleasant memory I have of (senior) prom was wearing my perfect dress. I liked it better than my wedding dress and had fun picking it out with my mom.

c) When you send your kids to school, you are exposing them to prospective friends (and often enemies) who may not be supervised by their parents and with whom you may not want your kids to socialize. At Daniel, one of the best schools in the state, we had a student pull a gun out on some band members, and one of my classmates grew up to rape a Clemson student. A couple of classy kids decided to wear black trenchcoats to school after Columbine. In middle school a friend of mine was victimized by one creepy kid who made many students (not to mention teachers) uncomfortable. He was constantly harassing people and starting fights. One day the kid went too far, pushing my friend's papers off his desk. My friend snapped; he jumped the bully and started to beat him up until the teacher pulled him off and they were both suspended for several days. He came back to a hero's welcome, but it's this sort of thing that prompts kids to come to school and shoot people. I was victimized in third and seventh grades, and those were the worst years of my life. Some of the bullies were poorly parented (as in DSS should have taken them away) and others were just mean. The latter are frequently seen in private schools as well, as evidenced by my husband who went to a Christian school and still has his share of bully stories to tell. Some people say bullying is "just life" and sheltering our kids from it is a disservice, but I disagree. Bullying begets violence. Even in the best-case scenario you may have a child who is bullied and whose self-esteem suffers permanently.

d) Off the top of my head, I can think of six teen pregnancies during my middle- and high-school years. God only knows how many abortions! Even worse, at the private Christian school Jordan attended, they kicked girls out of school if they became pregnant. That I cannot abide. For one, God does not forsake women when they become pregnant out of wedlock, so neither should a school in His name. Second, it leads to abortions. In either case, better sex education would help decrease the problem and kids are not getting that in public or private schools. (Instead, they are getting vaccines so when they have sex, they might be protected against cervical cancer! But don't get me started.) Part of this goes back to your kids hanging around with unsavory characters. In a homeschool environment, even in a network, I would have the opportunity to meet all of Suzi's contemporaries and their parents.

e) Air Force Junior ROTC is my only reservation as of yet. Well, that and athletics--however, Suzi would have her pick of activities such as dance, martial arts, and YMCA sports to keep her active. That said, I loved ROTC and can't imagine high school without it. She also wouldn't have access to marching band or other group activities intrinstic to regular schools. Some schools allow homeschoolers to partake in their extracurriculars, but I don't know if this is available in our area (good thing to research in the future).

f) Just because a child is not in a regular school does not mean she won't have friends. Suzi is only one year old and she has friends already! The other day at babywearing group, several little girls attended whom Suzi had never met. Four-year-old Tallulah (Carey's daughter) took Suzi by the hand and introduced her. "This is my friend Suzi." It was so sweet.

3) Your child will miss out on so much if she isn't in regular school! I feel there's so much she'll miss if she is in school.

a) Instruction in art and music is suffering. If there is a program, it's often treated as a strictly-for-fun extra. I had art and music once a week as a child. It sends the message that it doesn't matter much, when truthfully it matters most! Creativity is so important. As an adult in a job-starved environment, I used creativity to write my cover letter that got me an interview for my job. Marketing professionals use it constantly, as well as mompreneurs who make, market and sell their own line of accessories. The ability to think outside the box is even imperative for our military. Fine arts should be given prime placement in a child's curriculum and not squeezed in at the end of the day when the child is too tired to focus. If we homeschooled, Suzi would have the opportunity to incorporate music or art lessons at the most appropriate time for her individual learning style.

b) One day I was out sick and my mom stayed home with me. She knew what we were learning in school, so she decided not to pass up a teachable moment. When she poured each of us a cup of hot tea, she put a stainless steel spoon into hers and a sterling silver one into mine. Then she explained to me why my spoon was hot and hers wasn't: the silver was denser and a better conductor of heat. I still remember it, because I actually touched it with my own hands. This sort of teachable moment does not often present itself in a classroom due to practicality, but it happens every day at home!

c) Travel, travel, travel. I feel I missed out on this. While Jordan has been on countless trips, including Europe, I have barely left the country. The first and last time was on our honeymoon to St. Lucia, and I learned a lot on that trip. My parents didn't feel comfortable sending me to Spain with teachers and other students (I begged) but they could have taken me themselves had I been taught from home. I probably would've retained a lot more knowledge of geography, history, and world cultures had I actually visited some of them. If an opportunity to travel for a week or two arises and we are homeschooling Suzi, we can take off, incorporate it into her lessons, and not worry about her missing school. Immersion into another culture is widely regarded as the best way to become bilingual. On a smaller scale, we could take Suzi to the aquarium or to the beach during appropriate times.

d) Due to the individualized nature of homeschooling, we can allow Suzi to focus on and develop her interests. This will help her better prepare for college. A lot of kids who went to college orientation with me were "undeclared," meaning they knew they wanted to go to college but had no idea why. This may be due to the wholesale nature of group education in which kids are taught the bare bones basics of a bunch of subjects. For instance, how much can a 16-year-old who aspires to be a speech therapist learn about the field while in high school? Many kids wind up switching majors because of this, and losing money and time in the process. If Suzi became interested in a career path during her teen years, we could possibly help her secure an apprenticeship or shadowing setup in which she could learn on-the-job and figure out whether it was really the path she wanted to take.

4) Predators in our schools: This is often overlooked.

a) Military recruiters, in my opinion, have no business in schools. But there they are, tabling outside the cafeteria with promises of money, travel and adventure for anyone who signs up! At 17 all you need is your parents to sign and you are on your way to Iraq! At 18 you can sign for yourself. You aren't mature enough to drink alcohol, but you can sign several years of your life away while you are still in high school. But the recruiters don't stop there! They'll get your child's name and phone number and start calling you at home. It happened to me several times, but luckily I had learned about the different branches in Junior ROTC and was somewhat knowledgeable; besides, I was headed for college and wasn't interested. I have a lot of respect for the military, but at the tender age of 18 (or 17!) I don't believe some of these kids realize what they're getting into. The kids who are unsure where their lives are headed are particularly at risk of making a rash decision. What's it going to hurt if they wait another year or two before enlisting? They should not be approached during lunch at school and certainly not called at home! Incidentally, if I had a nickel for every time I heard the phrase "my recruiter lied to me," those signing bonuses wouldn't faze me at all.

b) Bad teachers... there are some. In third grade I fell prey to a meanie. I befriended an unpopular girl that year, and the other students made me suffer for that and for my own eight-year-old shortcomings. Not only did my teacher allow it, she victimized me as well. My grades even suffered in her class and it made me feel like an idiot. It was the worst year of my life; my grandmother died, I had the ugliest haircut in the world, and I needed a little love and understanding. But it wasn't me alone. I remember her calling a boy in my class--a sweet and quiet child--to the front of the room and making him cry in front of everyone. Then she told him to "suck it up." No, it didn't make me a stronger person; it stole my confidence. No, I didn't learn anything from it other than people can be jerks. I'll be damned if that's going to happen to Suzi.

c) You may not realize this, but companies market to children in schools, and they market things to which you may not want your child exposed. Because schools constantly need money, they are beholden to anyone who may offer it. Beginning in middle school we were made to watch Channel One News, a two-minute "educational" program filled with not-so-subtle advertisements. It underscores the already rampant notion that children (particularly teens) need more stuff. Lip gloss that's just a bit shinier, a video game that's more fun than the last one, an energy drink that will keep you going a little longer. This may seem harmless, but it molds the type of consumer your child will become for life. If you think this is a conspiracy theory, take a few minutes to read about the National Honor Roll scam.

5) Inappropriate (and harmful) methods

a) Did you have the misfortune to suffer through timed multiplication tests? I did. It was fifth grade for me, but now I'm told it's advanced to third. When I think of that year, this memory jumps to mind: Sitting in the front row of Mrs. M's classroom, gripping my pencil, panicking. The timer ticked away and I couldn't possibly finish the sheet of problems in time. Why couldn't I remember them? I counted in my head the best I could and there was always at least a row of problems left blank when the teacher growled "put your pencils down." My mom went over and over and OVER the tables with me. It just consumed us! I am now 24 years old. I graduated summa cum laude from Clemson in the honors college and got A's in all my math classes and I still don't know those damned multiplication tables! (Spelling tests may be misguided as well. I luckily have an almost photographic memory for words, so I loved spelling tests. I know they tortured some children, though, and really--while spelling is important, that is what dictionaries and SpellCheck are for.)

b) I had one witch of a teacher who seemed to know my learning style by heart and write her lesson plans just to make me feel stupid. She taught 9th grade world geography. First, we had CNN quizzes in which we were required to watch the news for 20 minutes or so and then answer five questions. I focused my every brain cell on the program, trying to remember everything. She'd ask us fairly obscure questions, so I was lucky to remember three out of five. And friends, that is a 60--more commonly known as a D! I was an A/B student, so just imagine how I felt. Then the old bat decided it'd be fun to quiz us on how fast we could read a newspaper. She gave us fifteen minutes to answer ten or more questions. I flipped frantically through the tangled mess of paper trying to find just some of the answers so I wouldn't end up with a horrible grade. The only time I ever cheated in school was on one of those quizzes. A friend showed me where to find some of the answers. Integrity is of the highest value to me, and it still angers me that a teacher drove me to cheat.

c) Too much homework was a problem for me in elementary school, and I'm sure it's even worse today. (I just received my highly anticipated copy of Mothering and there is a wonderful article about this in it. It may show up soon on the website, and I'll try to keep an eye out for it.) Math problems were the worst--they took me forever, even once I understood the concept being taught. My mom and I suffered over the math book together every night. It's pitiful how children are made to waste their time with excessive practice when they could be spending time with their families.

d) Because there are usually 25 or more kids in a class, they cannot all interact with the teacher at once. This necessitates a means of encouraging the children to sit down and shut up. In second grade I responded to a teacher's question correctly, but forgot to raise my hand first. "That's right, Jenny," he said, "but you spoke without raising your hand so I'm going to have to put a mark on the board." In that class we were organized into groups of four or five, with our desks clustered together. Whichever group had the fewest marks on the board at the end of the week got to select a small plastic toy from a "treasure trunk." As if my group members didn't hate me enough already! Suffice it to say by the time I exited elementary school, I had a firm grasp on the skill of keeping my mouth shut. Unfortunately, this is not a marketable skill in college or in life. I was nearly passed over for the job I am in right now for being too quiet and "shy," and I've spent the past seven or eight years trying to come back out of my shell!

Final thoughts... At a babywearing meeting several months ago, Carey was explaining why she was underwhelmed with our country's educational system. During a conversation with a friend of hers who was an English major, she mentioned a well-known writer and her friend's face went blank. She didn't recognize the name. Carey pointed out that she would've expected an English major to know more than that, and the friend replied "I only know what they teach me!" It's embarrassing to think how many times I've been in such a situation, not knowing things I should have learned years ago. This is where our schools fall short. There is value in taking responsibility for one's own education; I feel I've learned more in the past two years just from independent reading and experience than I have in most of my formal education! It's that type of interactive, thoughtful, self-aware education that I want Suzi to experience throughout her childhood. I think I can help her achieve it.

Round-up of related links (a work in progress as I find them):
So You Think You Can Homeschool
Homeschooling Questions
Homeschool Advice from a Grandma
HSLDA on State Regulations
Home School Legal Defense Association
South Carolina's Legal Requirements
South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools


Melissa said...

Great post! Thanks for visiting my blog. I agree with everything you wrote. Not sure what the homeschool laws are where you live but go to the homeschool legal defense page and it will list them. When we lived in TN you joined a homeschool charter school, really an oversite around having to test and report monthly to the local school district. I wish they had one in MS. It was nice and we had tons of social times. Most areas have awesome homeschool groups as well. We love traveling when the other kids are at school, a learning experience can be made into anything. Also be wary of choosing an all in one program to educate your child. We have found it better to go to a homeschool convention and look at the texts first and see the levels and colors etc. Also we are doing the classical homeschooling method, from Veritas Press. I have to suppliment my math from touch math because of learning issues. You can also google lesson plans for free about any subject. We still get weird looks cause we live in supposedly the best school district in our area but the education they are recieving at home far exceeds the other options. A lot of local places offer homeschool classes in art, PE, martial arts, music band sports, etc. Plus so many churches have upward sports teams as well. I do not look at this as what they are missing out on but rather what they are lucky to recieve extra. I just recently met a group of girls at my daughters summer camp and they said, the reason why we are so well grounded is because we were able to find out who we were in high school when everyone else was worried about being someone they were not to be able to fit in. God Bless and prayers for you on your decision. Buzz on over or e- mail me if you have any questions along the way....Melissa

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commenting on my post! You have listed great reasons to homeschool. We started homeschooling our oldest in the fall of her third year (so she was 3 and a half). We wanted to take that first year to just get a feel of how it would be as me/teacher and her/student. We've continued ever since. My only advice would be to have more fun than I did. I was way to serious with it at that age. :)

When I do get the socialization critique I tell people what I heard during a parenting class. Kids are going to be like the people they hang around with the most. Do you really want your kids to be like their peers that they would hang out with all day at school (who have questionable backgrounds)? Or do you want your kids to act more like your family with your family values? Even if you have a good family, when your child spends eight hours or more with their peers they'll end up acting like their peers.

Just let me know if you have any questions during your research!

Cheryl Lage said...

How blessed Suzi is to have a mama who puts such care and thought into the decisions she is making regarding not only her education, but her future in general. :)

No matter the choices regarding school placement each parent makes, I can only hope they put as much time and tender thought into their decision as you have.

My hat is off!

Vicky said...

Very good post Jenny. I think every person should do what is best for their family. I used to think that homeschooled families were weird....but in reality I was just ignorant of the situation. When I think about it....any child or person I have met...that has been homeschooled has always come across as a very educated and socialized individual. I think there could be pros and cons to both sides of the fence and it really depends on the enviroment the child is in. I think many parents often mistake that the school system should educate their children. Parents NEED TO PROVIDE EDUCATION TOO in the home! I think for our situation with my boys going to school soon is that we have a partnership with the school. All the other things like bullies, drugs, gangs, and such scare the heck out of me. I just pray that with God and family they turn out to be good people.

Genny said...

I love how you say at the top of your blog that motherhood is the most important job in the world.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

love, love your post. check out writings of john holt... you'll like him. maria montessori too (the absorbent mind, especially) and the book dumbing us down (can't remember the author!)
i just watched good will hunting last night and laughed heartily at his line about "an education you could have gotten for $2.50 in late charges at the public library."
i am super-excited about the adventure of homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

I started actually sitting down to do school with my 8 year old when she was three, but of course before that we learned daily by reading books and playing together with educational toys.
My main reasons are that we get to teach at the individual pace of our child, we get to hand-select the curriculum and tailor it to the needs and interests of our child, we get to incorporate our beliefs (and still educate about other beliefs and opinions), we get to be more deeply and intimately involved in the training of our child, we get to enjoy and utilize the freedoms of schooling at home such as on-site teaching, in the moment teaching, and flexible teaching, we get to spend more time together as a family, we can protect our children from the agendas of the groups that often infiltrate the public school systems, we can be the number one influence and example in our children's lives.. I could go on and on.

Laura said...

It's great that you're actually researching this before making up your mind!
I think many people base their decisions on just bad examples, individual cases or prejudices.

I'm really interested in this topic, as we don't have homeschooling opportunity here in Finland. And the school system seems very different to yours. The education regulations are strict, which means teachers can't use questionable methods or a biology teacher can't tell pupils that evolution is a lie (though the religion teacher can!). Those examples of "bad kids" you gave sound awful! Do things like that happen on a daily basis or are they sad exceptions?

You have lots of goods reasons here, but I don't know, things like the lack of arts and music lessons could just be compensated with after-school activities? And sexual education can be discussed at home, too? I think that even if a kid goes to school, the parents can and should participate in their education and activities a lot. It's not just one or the other.

I guess my perspective is just so different because I like the school system in Finland, the pupils get top results in international comparisons, and school shootings don't happen on a regular basis.

Whatever your decision is, make sure it's for the right reasons.

Jenny said...

Laura, thanks for the comment!

I don't know much about schools in Finland, but it does sound like they may be better than the ones here. We have some bad situations with some of the kids bullying and fighting, and for that reason many parents who can afford it elect to send their children to private schools. Unfortunately, sending your children to school with rich kids is not a magic band-aid; my husband went to a private Christian school and was teased about his height (he was about a year behind in growth) and though he and his parents complained to the administration, they claimed there was nothing they could do. It got so bad he dreaded going to school because of it. Someone broke into his brother's car as a "prank," and my husband's car got paintballed, and those also went unpunished.

Nationwide, we have at least two school shootings a year (estimate; I'd have to look it up) and they often result in the deaths of one or more people. This is largely due to our willy-nilly gun policy, in which anybody can pretty much get one. They say they do background checks, but if you go to the flea market they sell guns and I don't think they check anything. They could certainly get away with not checking, as no one is watching.

About the art and music--we would get Suzi into a program whether or not we homeschooled and I do think it's a good way to supplement a child's instruction. However, when I was in school (and it's worse now) I was so loaded down with homework in the afternoons I barely had time or energy for anything like that.

If we were living in another place with different standards and methods, public school may have been more appealing. Is it illegal to homeschool in Finland? Are there any private schools? One thing I'm thankful for in the US is that even though the educational system lives a lot to be desired, we've got options.

Rissa said...

I haven't read all the other comments so forgive me if I am repeating anyone!

I love it that you took the time to research these topics and come up with such a detailed post regarding your decision. I really respect those who choose to homeschool, and personally, I feel that homeschooling is far more beneficial (in the long run) than formal education is these days.

I was homeschooled all but a year and a half. I "attended" a charter school called Community Home Education Program (C.H.E.P.) until 8th grade. For 8th grade, I chose to attend a specialized high school of the arts (it included middle school) and after than, attended a public school during 9th grade for one semester. I hated it and then chose to come back home, where I "attended" the high school version of my previous charter school. It was a college prep program and only required that I come on campus for one or two classes per week. This form of homeschooling was great because it taught me to be very independent and very committed to my work. It also enabled me to graduate an entire year early by doubling my work in my sophomore and junior year. I loved it.

I plan to homeschool Jack (and all subsequent children), but I plan to do it differently. We've decided to try unschooling - which is basically just homeschooling, but without the typical structured curriculum. We'll be structured with Bible study but the rest will be "learn through experience" type education and will be based on the children's natural desire to learn and mimic the adults around them. Not everyone agrees with this method but it's what we've chosen and we feel very good about it. We may purchase curriculum to assist us in being sure we supply the correct information in whatever subject we're focusing on, but for the most part, the children's education does not stop with the closing of the textbook. They never stop learning - each and every situation is an opportunity for growth and further understanding.

Anyway! That's our plan! Hopefully I didn't ramble on too much. Again, I really respect your decision and your desire to provide Suzi with quality, one-on-one, specified education! She is blessed!

Anonymous said...

As a homeschooling mother of 4 (plus one infant) I am the first person to say that I am not qualified to teach a class of 20+ students. I don't know (or care to know) the psychology of dealing with that many children at all different levels (although, all the same age).

I do love the freedom of homeschooling. We want to travel and let our children have "real world" experience. I want them to learn "social issues" when I know they are ready, not when the 10 year old next to them thinks they are ready.

We aren't on the extreme fringe of homeschooling (shielding our children from everyone not like us), but are glad that we can choose who we interact with on a weekly basis.

And for us, the biggest benefit is that we can "stop and smell the daisies" when there is a particular subject that intrigues us. And if we aren't interested in something, we can cover it efficiently and move on because of the flexibility in controlling our own schedule.

I don't believe that homeschooling is for everyone, but I appreciate when someone takes the time to get past the myths of it and explores what is right for their family.

Good luck to you as you make this very personal choice.