Monday, April 8, 2013

We're Not Homeschooling and It's Not the End of the World Part #2 - The Big Questions




Today I want play a bit of a devil’s advocate.

Knowing so many great, gungho homeschooling moms I’ve seen many list’s of “why we’re homeschooling” and many of them rehash many of the same concerns about the public school system and I want to respond to some of those in my own way.

Now, please, before you get out the tar and feathers everything I say is with respect that you have chosen the best for your family based on your own comforts and concerns.  Please take a step back and remind yourself that even if I offer a counter-argument I am not saying that your beliefs, experiences and decisions are without merit – far from it. I actually believe in many of those "Why We're Homeschooling Lists", they are filled with ideas that I'll be accessing as my children grow older to assess and reassess our educational choices.  

In the end the point of this exercise is to ease the minds of mothers like me, who either have the desire or need (planned or unplanned) to use public school, that the local school system is not a death knell for our children's intellect, creativity and beliefs.

In the interest of time and space I’m keeping my arguments short and to the point - please know I understand there are always exceptions to every opinion I state below.  Please feel free to ask for clarification via the comments or via email if you're looking for a longer discussion.

Since I am taking our education decisions a step at a time so these are my thoughts as they pertain to the K-3 and at most K-6 years - I don't know a thing about how to approach these questions as they pertain to teenagers.  Educating teens and pre-teens is not something I feel qualified to discuss at all until I'm much closer to that point.   

Also keep in mind that these are my arguments for why we will be starting with public school - my children's education, health and safety is of the utmost importance and we will evaluate each child's needs year by year and child by child to find exactly what suits them best.  I am not anti-homeschooling in anyway and this is not meant to be a defense of the school system, which I believes still stands to be improved upon.

Public School Concern #1 – BoredomA concern that too much time will be spent on subjects that are not interesting to a student, or at too slow a pace and therefore a waste of valuable time.
  • I believe that boredom is nothing to be feared.  Boredom in play allows us to stretch our imaginations and a little boredom in school helps us know what does and does not interest us.
  • That being said, when we make the final decision on education the teacher's ability to engage and excite his or her students will be a key factor.
  • Boredom can be a good signal to an engaged parent that a child is struggling with a subject or perhaps is surpassing his/her current grade - both issues to be addressed before they become a problem.  

Public School Concern #2 – Bullying, Socialization and Diversity– A concern that your child will experience bullying, social situations that you might not approve of or diverse opinions and beliefs that you do not share.
  • Sadly bullying and negative social situations are not exclusive to public school.  It can happen during after school clubs, church groups and even come from the neighbor kids.  Keeping my kids from public school will not keep them from ever experiencing bullying.
  • It can be good to learn how to navigate these social situations (within reason of course).
  • Any debate student will tell you that to make a good debater you must understand your opponents reasons and rationale as well, if not better, than your own.  This does not mean that you must agree with every differing opinion, but that you can grow in your own beliefs by experiencing the opposite.

Public School Concern #3 – Destroying Imagination – A concern that public school will destroy a child’s imagination or teach a child to think within the parameter’s of a small box.
  • Anytime you desire to limit a child’s world or experience you risk destroying their imagination – this can happen in public school, but also from too controlling of a home environment.
  • More educators understand the importance of creative outlets in order to appeal to and encourage a variety of learners, particularly in the lower grades.
  • Imagination is not just developed in endless hours of free play on ones own - it can be fostered and encouraged at recess, in art class, and during storytime.
  • Imagination is not just about fairies and dragons it's also about problem solving and critical thinking - in fact even the scientific method must involve the imagination or else a lot of physicists would be out of a job.

Public School Concern #4 – Overwork and Time Spent – A concern that time spent in school or with homework will get in the way of other interests or activities.
  • The homework and time spent in school is a concern for me, but it a bridge we’ll cross when we get there.  We plan on utilizing 1/2 day kindergarten and specifically search out teachers/schools with low to no homework for the K-3 years as I do agree it is rarely necessary at that age.
  • The average school year is around 180 days; that leaves almost a full half year to allow your child free play time, religious education, sports, clubs, family time, etc. not count the free time before or after school.
  • What occurs in the time afterschool is largely up to the parents – if a child is spending x-amount of time a day in school their free hours should be divided up with care. 
  • It is not necessary for a child to be involved in everything.  There are 18 years for you child to experience music lessons, sports, extra language lessons, or anything else you or they might desire. 

I would also touch on the subject of "bad schools" and "bad teachers" by saying you can't judge a book by it's cover.  While neither "bad schools" or "bad teachers" should be tolerated as long as other options are available it is wrong to judge a teacher on a hand-me-down opinion - that teacher may be just what your son or daughter needs - just as it is wrong to judge a school by it's boundaries, age and student population.  A friend who chose to send her child to her neighborhood school, which is a SINA (school in need of assistance), instead of the next school over testifies that the schools ranking according to NCLB rules doesn't show the quality and dedication of her daughters teachers or the wonderful diversity of her daughters friends - a true testament not to judge a book by it's "No Child Left Behind" Cover.
 
While our public education system has many flaws it is still a gift to many.  I think we loose sight of this because few of us know what it's like to have an education of any quality or depth withheld from us because of our economic or social situation, our race or our gender.  It is not enough to just pull our own children out of troubled schools declaring "My children deserve better!".  We must also look to those left in the classroom, whether from a desire to learn in that environment, out of necessity or from no other options and tell them "And so do you."  I hope that even if you decide to educate your children outside of the public system you are still committed to improving it for those who need it. 
 
These are just a few of the concerns I hear often about a public education and my response to them.  However, in each category I left out what I believe to the key to making a public school education work for your family.  Check in tomorrow for my answer and a peak at our current educationrelated plans!


So what do you think?  

Let's keep thing civil and polite - remember that everyone who reads this is different and please be respectful of their choices.  This is one post where I will be quick to remove any comments that do not add to a constructive discussion of this subject.

17 comments:

  1. I was always that elementary student who did better with the teachers NO parents requested for their kids, save for 6th grade when EVERY parent requested one specific teacher and the class sizes were highly disproportionate. My teachers were the stricter, more structured, less floofy teachers and that was what I liked. Students would say "oh, she's MEAN. She doesn't let us do this like Mrs. blah blah does". I never found any of what the other kids said to be true. In my elementary school Grades 1/2 were combined for a total of 5 teachers. I got both teachers that were the least popular those years. Then, from 3-6, no grades were combined so each grade had two teachers. They really were polar opposites as I remember them. There was always one "Sarge" and one "Fillmore" (Cars fans, anyone?). Maybe that's why I thrived in the military ;D

    In my brother's case, requesting teachers was essential for his success. He struggled a lot and he managed to keep one teacher for 2 or 3 years because she changed grades as he moved up. I will absolutely be doing all the inquiring that I need to to determine whether my children have special needs that require a certain teachers assets, but I also believe that just because everyone else says Mr or Mrs Blah is the most popular one, that does not mean they're the better one. I will happily let my kids teachers be who they are assigned to at the Ice Cream Social without being that crazy mom who throws a Sh*T fit.

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    1. That's also probably why I'm not a very cuddly nurse either...

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    2. I think you bring up a great point - there are some people who will thrive in a very structured environment (I was thinking the same thing about your military career BTW!).

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  2. I think one of the most important keys to any choice you make is being informed and being involved. It sounds to me that this is exactly what you will be Molly. If you make a well-thought out decision and that leads to public education, and you stay as involved as possible in that education, it will be a positive learning experience. Volunteer at the school, if it all possible. Introduce yourself to the teachers right away and keep up communication. And of course, keep communicating with your child. This should continue throughout their schooling years. As you have mentioned, the education plan may change. It doesn't have to be carved in stone. Keep flexible with regards to the situation, your own options and realities, and the wants and needs of your child. There is not one answer for every child all the time.

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    1. I love that everyone is responding with exactly what part 3 will contain - can't wait to share the rest!

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  3. My children have gone to public school because homeschooling was not an option for me. I think communication with the teachers and an active presence in the school is really important. My oldest is in 6th grade and my youngest has one year left to go in elementary. The elementary school feels like a second home to us at this point and I will miss it when we are done. I have to say we have been very lucky. The kids have had (for the most part) active and interesting teachers. (Minus a few exceptions). When we walk in everyone knows my children and myself.

    While my youngest is pursuing the idea of homeschooling, my oldest who started 6th grade loves middle school and wants to stay.. I was a wreck about this age, having heard so many horror stories, but she is thriving. It's not perfect. The early wake up is really tough on her and she has one teacher who is a real dud, but she has so many others who are really engaging her and she loves the freedom she has found switching classes throughout the day and longer class periods, she has four classes per day.

    My youngest has asked to homeschool. She has consistently been a straight A student, and yearns for more in depth study. She hates that the whole class gets punished for the behavior of some (silent lunch, lost recess). I am trying to work with her to expand her study at home and give her lots of outside time. At the same time I am wondering if it is just the teacher this year (she is VERY strict) and think we should wait until she starts middle school to see if that schedule works better for her.

    I know and have been in discussion with several homeschooling parents as we've thought about switching. They all seem to have their children's best interest at heart. I know families who homeschool certain children, have children in charter school, or public school all in the same family. I think the most important thing is to know what our individual children need. I don't doubt that homeschooling is a benefit to many, at the same time I don't believe all parents are cut out to homeschool. It's a life choice.

    I don't know what we'll do in a year and a half. But I do know that we need more children who are inspired to be teachers and more parents involved in the schools if we are going to make changes in the areas that are needed. School cannot do everything, we as parents have to encourage imagination, a love of learning and exploration as well.

    Thanks for this!!!

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    1. "But I do know that we need more children who are inspired to be teachers and more parents involved in the schools if we are going to make changes in the areas that are needed. School cannot do everything, we as parents have to encourage imagination, a love of learning and exploration as well."

      Absolutely - you'll never hear me saying that public schools are perfect. My husband pointed out something I thought was wise a few weeks ago when I started kick the idea for this series around. He said "Molly, the only way we can fix something without being a part of it is to tear it down." Strangely enough that's one of his defenses for being a continued member of the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts - you're not going to change anything for the better if you're not a part of it.

      I think you bring up a great point too about teachers - we need to rant and rave about our good teachers just as much as our bad ones. They need to be supported and singled out for the good that they do and there are good teachers out there!

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  4. I chose homeschooling, but I love your mindset. I love that you put thought into each step.

    When we make decisions for our kids we have only one real question. Is this the best decision for my family?

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    1. Agree 100% - I love that I'm surrounded by so many homeschoolers it keeps me engaged in the educational world as a whole! I'm constantly seeing things that my SAHM or homeschooling mom friends do and say "Hey, let's find a few hours to do the same!"

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  5. My children have experienced more bullying from home schooled students than from public schooled ones. I have experienced more judgmental, cliquey behavior from home schooling parents than from public schooling ones.

    As a home educated student, I also experienced more bullying from home schooled students than from the public schooled ones I was around. I'm sure that is because the majority of people I was around were home schooled.

    The home educating people I've been around seemed to have the attitude that if you're not doing it their way, you're not doing it 'the right' way, therefore you are inferior.

    I think training your kids how to respond to bullying is more important than trying to protect them from all bullies, because in the 'real' (grown-up) world there are still LOTS of bullies.

    Some places are simply not a good fit for your kids needs, be that home school or public or private school.

    I was home schooled and I was taught that public schools were evil places where people didn't learn as much as at home school. We feared the school bus.

    I no longer believe that home school is the magic bullet that make your kids the good little Christians, or the smartest little kid on the block or the most successful in life. I think public, private and home have their pitfalls and advantages, depending on the situation.

    I grew up and realized that we would have had the potential to receive a better academic education at the local public school, but that would have depended on our choosing to take advantage of what was offered as individual students.

    I still feel short changed by my home school experience. We're taking our education journey on a step by step, child by child basis and not trying to cram all of my children into the 'home school only' or 'public school only' or 'private school only' mold.

    My husband once told me that school was about control. That was certainly true of my home school experience. Public school would have meant a lot more freedom to learn and explore.

    I'm very involved in the educational process with my kids, and all the teacher's I've talked to say that is what counts, whether home, public or privately educated.

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    1. Some many good ideas Sarah, I wish your experiences with homeschoolers was better though - but sadly I see those attitudes around a lot too and I guess this series was a little bit in response to that too.

      You're right, there is no "magic bullet" for anyone - one of the great things I see in our community the ability to pick and choose. We can do 1/2 kindergarten, we can be dual enrolled in either academics or extra-c.'s., etc. There are so many more options avaiable now!

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  6. Good night, that should have been a blog post!

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  7. I love this! As an elementary school teacher I do get a little bit frustrated with all of the "Why I chose to Homeschool" posts. Of course everyone has their own reasons for what they do but when it comes down to it- all of the posts I've read about imagination, boredom, bullying are things that I think about every. single. day. I'm definitely not trying to dumb kids down and make them bored and "teach to the test" so to speak but that being said, every child learns differently and as you said parents should know their children and what will work best for them!

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    1. I love this - so glad to have an educators take. One thing I didn't get to mention, but should have, was that "boredom" and other read flags doesn't mean "Bad Teacher Ahead", often times (like Michaela in the comments above) it is just a sign that a teachers teaching preference and a students learning preference do not match and we need to remember that teachers will always have their strengths and weakness just like the students they teach.

      And... since this just popped into mind... I always felt it was strange to ask teachers to keep my children 100% occupied and not bored at school while espousing "Boredom is good!" at home. Just like I wouldn't want the TV on all day at home, I don't think it's necessary to keep a student totally occupied and entertained at school.

      In fact, when I took education classes in college I remember being taught not to play your day down to minute because that limits the amount of time available for spontaneous questions and adequate time for discussion, exploration, etc.

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  8. This is a great post, Molly...and as a happily public school-educated educator myself, I never intended to homeschool. Now I find myself parenting a child who is kind of a "square peg in a round hole" kind of kid (to quote a friend of mine), and I'm considering homeschooling him this fall. The reasons are complicated, but none of it is about bullying or imagination or control. I've gotten some really negative pushback from some friends whose children attend our local public schools, and it bugs me a lot. I think all parents are doing what is best for their families...seriously, who are we to judge each other's choices? There are lots of positives about public schools, private schools, and home education, and yet none of them are perfect. Seems like people could respect that parents know their children and their family situations best and are making the best choices they can at a given time.

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    1. I'm absolutely sure you'll find the perfect place for your square peg and who knows how that will change from year to year. It's sad that education is yet another of those "damned if you do/damned if you don't" battles. There's always someone ready to tell you that you're going to mar your child for life no matter what.

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