Friday, September 7, 2007

Why Am I Doing This?

This week has been one of those weeks where I was ready to throw in the towel.
"Why am I doing this? What on earth was I thinking when I agreed to this?"

The day just started wrong. I have a teething baby who isn't sleeping well at night, and I was still exhausted after two cups of coffee. I had also worked the day before (I left the house at 5:30am and didn't get home until 8pm), so I was still recovering from that. The house was a mess from my husband being in charge the day before. I sincerely appreciate him being willing and able to manage the kids and house while I'm gone. It's just that he is not quite as skilled in multi-tasking, and I'm always trying to catch up the next day. Some days, I just feel overwhelmed.

I did some assessment tests on my 11th grade niece, whom I'm homeschooling this year. She's at about a 5th grade level in language/vocabulary/spelling, she is at about a 5/6th grade level in math, and I have less than two years to get her college ready. Do you want to know what really bothers me? Last year, at the public school she attended, her math and English teachers told me she was doing "just fine". I knew that she was not doing just fine. Her 20-something year old English teacher said that based on the standardized tests she took, she had no problem with reading comprehension. I begged to differ. I listened to her read at night, and I read her writings. I helped her study for Biology and World History, and I knew that she didn't understand what she was reading. I explained to her what simple vocabulary words meant. I helped her spell words like "president". She passed English with a 'C'. Average. Is this really what public schools expect from an average 16 year old?
She had already failed algebra 1 twice. They put her in a 2-hour block class, and this was "the magic cure" for her. She finally passed algebra with a 'B'. Too bad she couldn't show me how to work an algebra problem. When I gave her a pre-algebra assessment test, she was not able to correctly complete a single problem.
She requested to be homeschooled because of all the distractions and "drama" at school. From the way she described her school days to me, I agreed that it certainly didn't sound like an environment conducive to learning. I really believe it's what's best for her. I believe it's what's best for my younger kids. That's why I'm doing it. I guess I just need to sit down and write out my reasons for homeschooling so that on weeks like this week, I can give myself a pep talk.

For anyone out there who thinks that parents homeschool their kids because they are too lazy to send them to school (and yes, someone actually had the gall to say that to me)…What do you think homeschooling is? Do I sit around watching soaps while the kids play quietly in their rooms? Hahahahaha…not even close. It is giving up that nice break that I would have everyday while the kids are in school. It is putting in hours of research on learning styles, teaching philosophies/methods, curricula, lesson plans, and THEN actually putting in the time to teach the kids. Not to mention having to pay out of my own pocket for the textbooks, materials, and extra support and transcripts for the kid(s) who need them.
Do you think I homeschool the kids so that I will have more help around the house/free babysitting? Do you not realize that kids create more messes than they clean up? My house might actually be clean sometimes if there were less children there during the day. I even heard one woman suggest that homeschooling was done by stay-at-home moms who have to do something to feel "needed", to validate continuing to stay at home when the kids are school age. Does she not realize the number of mamas who put their careers on hold so that they can devote time to their children's educational needs? Or that some women juggle an outside job in addition to educating their children (which is itself a full-time job)? Personally, the other day while I was at work, I said goodbye to a very rewarding position. It wasn't an easy decision for me to make. No matter how noble my career and how much good I can do, it cannot compare to the importance of educating the next generation of leaders.

There are many reasons why I prefer to educate my children myself rather than relying on strangers to educate them. I know them better. I know their strengths. I know their weaknesses. I know their talents, abilities, and interests. I know their learning styles. I can give them one-on-one customized learning. We can progress as quickly or as slowly as they learn. I have discovered that even after a year of taking our own sweet time and making sure that one skill was mastered before moving to the next skill that my 6-year-old is still slightly ahead of her public school peers. Given the time that it takes her to grasp concepts and the amount of repetition we must do, I believe that in a public school environment, she would be lagging behind.
But I believe that this is because of all the wasted time in public schools. How much time is spent just sitting idly at their desks? How much time during the day are they lining up, waiting in line, going from one place to another? How much time is spent on watching movies? We can work more efficiently at home. I've even heard it said that it's important for children to learn to stand in line. I do not share that vision for my children. We get sufficient practice standing in line at the grocery store or at the library; I'd rather spend more time on reading.
If you are a parent who is taking an active role in your children's learning, if you make yourself familiar with the curriculum they are being taught, if you schedule regular visits with the teacher(s) to check their progress so that you can give them extra help in weak areas, if you help with homework every night, and if you practice at home what they've learned in school to make sure they really understand it even when they don't have homework…you'll be spending as much time as you would just doing it yourself at home.
Some days, yes, it can seem overwhelming…obviously. But then there are the days where you say to yourself "YES, THIS is why I'm doing this." It balances out.

In every conversation I've ever had on homeschooling, the issue of "socialization" has always come up. I have a great deal to say about socialization; I could devote a whole blog to it. In fact, I will…be looking for it. But I'll touch on it a little here. A friend who worked for a public school once told me "I know a family who at my church who homeschools, and those kids are just weird." My response was, "yeah, I guess you don't see any 'weird' kids in public schools."
Socialization is a significant factor in my decision to homeschool. We have no problems stemming from socializing or lack thereof. The homeschool group I belong to has approximately 1000 kids, with activities like basketball and cheerleaders (they play against private schools), a music academy, drama, 4-H, coop classes, Jr./Sr. Banquet, a yearbook, graduation…I could go on, but you get the idea. I would love to invite you to attend a homeschoolers' function and then attend a public school function, and tell me which group of children you believe are better socialized. I'm not implying that homeschooled children are all perfect while public-schooled kids are all hooligans. I'm just saying that there is a noticeable difference.

Another person knew of a homeschooled family who "finally put those kids in public school, and they were way behind the others." Well, I'm sure that happens, just as there are children in public school who lag way behind the others. One of my close homeschooling friends has a 14-year-old who just clepped out of college literature. My niece, who has been public schooled her whole life, is atrociously unprepared for college. I'm not going to use those two examples to say that all homeschooled children are geniuses and all public schooled children are unprepared for adulthood. Besides, most of us who homeschool are not concerned about the public school timetable. There are many different approaches and methods out there, and our children will get it all eventually…just not necessarily in the same order. And that's OK. In my state, our children must take the same standardized tests as the public school children, beginning in the third grade. I make it a point to look up and compare the standardized test scores each year in my state. During the elementary years, the homeschooled children are generally slightly ahead in the language arts and slightly behind in mathematics. By the time they reach 9th grade level, the homeschoolers are ahead in every area, and the gap has widened considerably. The reasons for that could depend on many different variables, but at least we know that what we are doing is working. I know that it is personally working for my family, and I see that it works as a whole.

Finally, I admit it…I enjoy spending time with my children. I like to be the one to see the lightbulb come on over their heads when they learn something new. I like to know exactly what it is they are being taught. I like having the flexibility to schedule more fun things, to be able to switch gears when I discover that something isn't working for us, or even to scrap the lesson plans and chase butterflies when they/I/we need it. I just like being with them. Is that really so odd?

Please don't think that I am slamming public schools, teachers, or parents who choose to send their children there. My 13-year-old is currently attending public school, and she's happy there. Trust me, I believe that teachers have a noble and thankless job. For some families, public schools are the best option; for some they are the only option. I am just thankful that we have different options. I just want to shed some light on why we choose something different. And I needed to remind myself on days/weeks like this week that this is indeed the best choice for us. It's not easy, but I guess I'm up for the task. The rewards are worth it to me. Time for me to suck it up and get back to work.(By the way, it has taken me more than one day to finish this post...and I'm feeling much better today. I'm confident that next week will be better. )

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