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) methodsa) 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
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