Sunday, April 7, 2013

We're Not Homeschooling And It’s Not the End of the World – An Education Series Part 1



Education is one of those big decisions that you have to make as a parent and what you decide really has the ability to affect your children’s lives.  Even though my son won’t be “school aged” for another 3 years it’s something that is on my mind a lot.

We already know that we'll either be taking advantage of our local public schools or a range of private schools that are available in our immediate area.  This is partly because it is likely we’ll still need to be a dual income family at that time and also because, at the moment, I have no desire to homeschool during the K-6 years.  Junior and High School are a different matter – but that is quite a bit in the future.  Even in my years spent as an education major and then while working for my Theatre for Youth degree I always focused on the older ages, it’s where any of my strength as a potential educator lies.

Now, I know many wonderful families who have or are choosing to homeschool and that’s great - I think they're all great and each of them have fantastic reasons for doing so.  Nothing I write here is meant as a judgment toward those who have found that that style best suits there strengths and goals as a family.  Rather I wanted to delve into some ideas about education as approached by someone who knows they will be taking a different route.   

There are many families like mine out there who, whether from circumstance or personal strengths, know or may find themselves using the public education system.  Because of the rising popularity of homeschooling there seems to be a wealth of information and opinion against public school that can be frustrating to a parent trying to choose the best education for their family.  What follows in this series is simply my experience and opinion on a similar matter.

Today I just want to share my personal educational experience and a little bit about our local learning scene so that you can better understand where I’m coming from.

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I loved going to school.  I loved school supply lists and picking out schedules.  I loved anticipating my report card and bringing home projects.  There was even a time when I really liked homework.

I attended public school from Kindergarten thru College and generally look back on the experience well.  I was a good, but not remarkable scholar – a solid 3.5 (B+/A-) student during most of my educational career.  There were some subjects (math) that I struggled with and some subjects (art, theatre and some English classes) that I did well and even excelled in.  I was fortunate to spend most of my years in well funded, mid sized schools that were close to a variety of other schools and cities that helped round out my education.  I will admit that I do not know what it’s like to have to use a poorly funded, generally poorly staffed, extremely rural or inner city school.  My whole experience is rather middle road and for that I’m thankful.  Not everyone has those opportunities. 

I had some good teachers, a few bad ones and a handful of excellent teachers.  Sometimes a teacher would be only middling in the classroom, but turn out to be a supportive, crucial adult in my life and sometimes it would be the reverse.  I had teachers who stuck to strict curriculum's and those who just seemed to wing it.  I had teachers who toed the line and teachers who were the bane of the school districts existence.

I had classes that were boring and class that were fascinating.  There were times when my after-school days were wide open and times when I bit off more than I could chew. 

I feel like I had a variety of experiences in my K-12 years.  From being part of the student editors for our high schools literary magazine or planting trees and a butterfly garden in elementary school – each grade brought unique teachers and subjects.  I had a 5th grade teacher who used Charlotte Mason’s Nature Journal method, a 7th grade science teacher who wanted us to direct our own education unschooling style and a 9th grade English teacher who believed that Story Time, complete with animal crackers, was still an important part of the educational experience.

I had teachers who barely remembered your name day to day, but I also had a 8th grade teacher who opened her classroom up to a bunch of misfits so we'd have somewhere to sit for lunch.  I had a Math teacher who wasn't afraid to get the principle to step in directly when I couldn't stand up to my bullies.

I had times in my life were I had plenty of friends and times where I went home crying because I had no friends and this oscillated from Kindergarten until my last day of High School.  There were times I was bullied and there were probably times I was a bit of a bully myself.  There was even a time when I got suspended for slapping a kid (in my defense he was about a foot taller and touching me in ways I knew, as a 4th grader, I did not like).

I’m not trying to paint a perfect picture of my education – it ran the gamut.  There were the years in the Montessori Charter School that I excelled in and my first two years back in normal public school that were atrocious.  I spent a good amount of junior high eating lunch by myself.  There were times when I got the attention I needed (including threats of holding me back a grade twice) and times that I didn’t.  But in the end I’m content with my experience.

While I try to prepare myself for the reality that my children might be anything from scholastic prodigies to completely uninterested students it seems safe to assume that they'll be rather similar to their parents and so I feel safe basis my decisions on my middle of the road experiences.  We'll cross the bridge of "bored super genius" or "struggling student" when and if we get there.  While I want my children to excel academically I also know that academics are not everything - but more on that later.

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I’m lucky that were I went thru the majority of my education is where I currently live.  In fact we chose to move back here because it is one of the best districts in our state.  Within 10-15 miles of my house in our school district there are:
  • Almost 20 public Elementary Schools - each wtih a 1/2 day kindergarten option and the chances for open enrollment
  • 3 Junior High Schools
  • 2 Public High Schools, which will probably be 3 by the time we're ready for it.
  • 1 Alternative High School
  • A K-12 Catholic School
  • 2 Private Christian Schools
  • A Montessori K-6 Elementary
  • A Montessori-inspired Private Elementary School

We live in a town with a major university and a local community college – both schools work with the local high schools to offer college classes to high school students, as well as junior/high school aged summer programs.  We are centrally located to easily drive to major cities like St. Paul/Minneapolis, Chicago, Omaha, St. Louis, etc   Many of the teachers I grew up with still teach, and I even have a few classmates who are now teachers in our old schools.  We are immensely lucky to live in a such an area with great educational opportunities no matter how you choose to educate. 


Coming Up Next - Tackling Some of the Best Reasons to Homeschool from a Public Schoolers perspective.  Go Here For Part 2 and Part 3

15 comments:

  1. I'm really interested in your thoughts on this. I go back and forth a lot about whether or not to homeschool--I loved being in school myself growing up too--*mostly*, I too had some lonely middle school years :)

    I think I've backed myself into a corner for next year since we live on base and the public school we feed into is not an option and we don't want to drive to/pay for expensive Catholic schools for Kindergarten. I'm pretty sure I'm just going to do a laid back K year at home and then see where we'll be living next before we decide what to do.

    I do feel a lot of mom guilt though at the thought of sending the kids off to school--perhaps I've been reading too many Catholic homeschooling mom blogs :)

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    1. I'm sure you'll figure out what's best for the boys - being military just adds another layer of complications to the decision. I bet homeschooling would be higher on my list if we had to take that into consideration.

      Middleschool is rough for some many. I didn't have a chance to say it in this post, but that's when I feel called to homeschooling.

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    2. Cristina, I read too many Catholic homeschooling mom blogs, too! It totally makes me feel subpar to even *think* about "banishing" my kids to school all day. Sigh. I'm glad my decision is years and years away.

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    3. You're not "banishing" your kids. Believe it or not, the kids like to be away from mom and dad for a bit during the day, too, sometimes.

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  2. I HATED Middle School. I was TORMENTED from the time I woke up to the time I got in my door at home (the group that harassed me all year lived in my neighborhood and on my bus route in general and were in ever class throughout the day in some representation). Finally, by 8th grade, the administration was involved and they had to hand write my schedule so that I did not share classes with certain boys (unavoidable in some classes like band and advanced math). Not that I want say I'm homeschooling for junior high, but that's when we're leaving the country (we have big plans of taking our kids all over Europe, military or not) and that may just mean we "school while internationally traveling" :-D

    With that being said, there was some developmental value for me in learning about what kind of adults there were out there when I saw how some (most) teachers ignored what was happening and the rest were oblivious. It also taught me to tell my mom things that were scary and embarrassing because I got so see how she got involved in my safety, when at first I just thought there must have been something about me that I didn't know about that was bad. It also taught me about early romantic/sexual relationships, and although it was a a rough part (my mom will tell you it was the WORST time in raising me), it did give me perspective as a adult that I can bring to my children. I know my sons will be taught to NEVER be like the boys that tormented me or be like the boyfriend I had, if they are there will be he** to pay. If I have a daughter, I can only hope that she listens enough to me to understand that sexual harassment is NOT OK, that boys aren't supposed to be mean, and that she doesn't need to do ANYTHING sexual to make a boy like her. I hope she'll be strong and stand up for herself. Was there more harm than good to having gone through public middle school? I honestly can't say. Are boys mature enough by 9th grade to not do the same thing to a new girl in high school where it's that much bigger and busier for people to not notice? Would taking kids out of middle school eliminate the horrible experiences or just delay them upon re-entry?

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    1. Yours is the kind of experience I want to avoid in those years - but since it's about 10 years away I can't say what those decisions will be. I do wonder about if it would just delay the horrible stuff, but on the other side I wonder if it wouldn't give them 2 extra years to mature and gain the confidence that helps you navigate those things better.

      I think I was lucky in some ways to become pretty invisible in junior high and high school - though I had my share of tormentors, but in general no one seemed to notice me and that was it's own kind of pain.

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    2. As a mom of a 6th grader (first year of middle school in my area), I'll just say, it's hard and honestly...I think the kids just have to get through it. Even the "popular" kids have their moments where they hate their lives. Hormones and growth spurts and changes and AAUUUGGGHHH....it's just a hard age. I have all my kids with 3 and 2 years apart in school so I'm in this for awhile......

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  3. Schooling is currently a major topic of discussion between my husband and I. Our only child is just 2 months old, but we know it'll take us awhile to mull over the decision!

    From where we stand, the strengths of homeschooling are the ability to be creative + flexible in designing a schedule/curriculum... and its low cost. By the time our daughter is school-age, we'll likely be settled back in our hometown. Public schooling is not an option for us there because of certain state mandated classes (like a Gay History course), and private schooling is extremely pricey (over $10k/year for elementary education, $17k/year for high school. and these aren't elite schools!).

    It's a real pickle for us because we both loved our educational experiences. I was a public school brat for years, including college. My husband attended private Catholic school from K - undergraduate at Notre Dame. We each were (and are!) very bookish and thrived under the authority of our teachers/mentors. We also very both very shy, and arguably needed the forced sociability of school. (Though I am swayed by the argument that homeschooling co-ops/activities supplement the need for socialization + having outside mentors).

    Anywho, I don't think there should be a dividing line between families who choose to homeschool and families who don't. I sometimes sense that in the Catholic community, "good" Catholics choose to have the wife/mother stay home and educate their large families and those who don't follow that line of thinking aren't as faithful. As a convert, do you get that sense, too? I could be making it up.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I read so many blog posts about families deciding *to* homeschool that it's just plain refreshing to read the opposite.

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    1. I think our decision to go ahead with the idea of public school is greatly swayed by the school system we do have (and my experience in it). I have friends in different states and when they tell me about their rules, etc. I would definitely be reconsidering.

      Both my husband and I thrived in public school too, as much as we could - in fact I asked him a little while ago (because he's not particulary academic) if he thought he would have done better at home and his reply was that it was the structure of school that got him anywhere, not being a self-starter enough for homeschooling to work.

      There is the great boon to homeschoolers that is now so popular with things like co-ops, etc. In fact I can't say that I won't search things like that out even though we public school - but more on that in part 3!

      I too feel like sometimes the C. community can be quite judgemental on homeschooling, etc and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to put the thought out there that public schooling is not the end of the world!

      I look forward to your take on the rest of the series.

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  4. My kids have been in public school for the past few years, and while is was NOT my first choice by any means, and NOT ideal, it's been ok. I did homeschool for a semester, and due to unforeseen circumstances that was all I could do. We've all lived over it.

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    1. Sadly, and I'll try and touch on this a little in part 2, the public school system in many ways isn't ideal for most of us. However - I think there are ways to work with what you're given and I bet you do a lot of what I'll be talking about in Part 3!

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  5. hi :) kind of a new reader here, found you on pinterest, you have some really great entries!

    I agree that public schools might not be right for every kid, but in general I believe in them. I liked school, even if I was a nerd who got picked on a lot. I realize not every teacher had time to cater to my individual needs. But you know, the world doesn't cater to your individual needs either, eventually you could get done with education and work for a big giant corporation that is chock full of silly inefficient systems that you have to navigate. And where do you learn to do that? In a class with 30 kids, where you're sometimes being ignored! You learn to self-teach a bit, and more important, you learn to just roll with stuff. In a way, your success as an adult is defined by that more than your ability to recall all your calculus or finish multiplication tables at age six... we all have to navigate systems that aren't *quite* meant for us.

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    1. As much as I wish we could all be self supporting farmers/artisans it is true that the public system does in fact prepare a good portion of the population for the type of work that they'll most likely take advantage of.

      It's kind of depressing to think of that - and I think that's where people get concerned that schools are just hammering out robots, but I think that there's a lot a student and their friends/family can do to counter act that while still taking advantage of the education available. My husband and I work rather mundane types of jobs - but it's what we do when we're not there is the key.... but more on this later!

      I hope you come back for part 2 and 3!

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    2. I came to say something similar. While public school may not be perfect nor ideal it is realistic of the real world. My job as a mother is to help my children navigate the public school so they are better prepared for the realities of the real world. I hope to provide them with the tools as children such as: how to handle bullies, how to self motivate or self learn, how to be kind, how to stand firm in their convictions, etc. which they can apply in school now and be better prepared for these situations as an adult.

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  6. I know you know most of my thoughts on this since you read my posts, but -- my biggest things is that 90% of schooling happens at home no matter where the kids are during the day. I still believe that. I mean, the foundation for learning happens because the kids see their parents learning and see the value the parents place on education in the home and that starts the ball rolling....

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