In 1996 when our oldest was going to be a kindergartner, the Ferguson-Florissant School District decided to begin all-day kindergarten. That was a disappointment to me. My first teaching job was teaching kindergartners and I knew from first hand experience that a half-day of school was better physically and mentally for a 5 year old child. I saw this new move to have all-day schooling for 5 year olds in a cynical light-my tax dollars would be paying for someone else’s daycare. Meaning, that parents putting their babies in daycare could now expect to only have to pay for before and after school care for their new 5 year olds, instead of paying for all- day day care, which would lighten up their family budgets a bit. With that announcement made, and a request for an option to allow parents to only send their children to 1/2 day if they still wanted that option shot down, we decided to take the plunge and homeschool our son.
Telling the grandparents was the next step and for the most part, they were accepting of our decision. We told them we would homeschool one year at a time, evaluating as we went. With a degree in Education, the teaching part didn’t daunt me. Perusing the awesome Rainbow Resource Catalog did as it was(and still is) chock full of so many curriculums for teaching the three R’s, art, music, pe, and educational games. Figuring out a new family schedule was a bit of a challenge, but we soon fell into a rhythm of working on lessons after breakfast and morning chores were done, a break for lunch and time to play, and then just a couple more lessons in the afternoon, when the preschooler, the toddler, and the baby would be napping. Through those early homeschooling years, I reviewed lessons I had learned as a student myself, learned new things along with my children, and it was always rewarding to see them learn to read. It was also fun to get the question from each of my children when they turned 4 years old, “When do I get to do school?” We also found fellow homeschooling families to go on field trips with and found an amazing homeschooling support group in the North St. Louis County area to join. When out running errands during a weekday with all of my kids in tow, we would always be asked by the clerks, “Oh, is this a day-off from school?” I would reply that we homeschool and just about everytime, the clerks would tell me that their niece, aunt, sister, friend, homeschools their children. That information told me that homeschooling had been growing since my journey began in 1996 and that it wasn’t just a fad.
Jumping ahead several years, our oldest informed us that he wanted to attend school. With high school just around the corner, my husband and I decided to let him attend the local public school. There were several excellent private schools in our area, but the tuitions were outside of our family’s budget. Over time we have finessed our oldest’s request into letting our children enter public schooling for the 8th grade, then continuing on for high school. I know this decision has shocked some of our homeschooling friends, and just surprised others. We wanted our kids to be able to deal with other instructors’ schedules, work in group settings, learn to continue to do their best in a school setting, and not have all of that thrust on them for the first time when they entered a college classroom. So far, our 4 who have been in public junior high and high school have done quite well, The oldest son graduated from Hazelwood Central in 2010, the next, a daughter, graduated from Rolla High School in 2012. Son # 2 will graduate this coming May from Rolla High and son # 3 will be a 10th grader there. Daughters 2 and 3(twins) will be 8th graders this year at Rolla Junior High, their first venture into public school. That leaves the baby, son # 4, my sole homeschooler, and he’ll be in 5th grade. ( In case any of you are skeptical, our oldest is a Marine and will be attending college via the GI Bill in 2014-15, our daughter is in college, an education major, and son #2 is doing the college searches now.)
That is where I straddle the fence. I have personally seen the benefits of homeschooling. Having parents and siblings and then other relatives and friends be the main peer group for children is a great benefit. Cuddling with one’s child on the comfortable sofa for reading and history lessons is a precious time. Yes, there are tears at times, if the kids got into an “I can’t do this!” or an “I don’t understand this!” mode, so taking a break for a bit, or shelving that lesson to the next day, is a great option that homeschooling has over corporate lesson learning in a classroom of 22 students.
But at the same time, I am saddened when I read some articles supporting homeschooling that bash the hard working public school teacher and what they’re trying to accomplish. Yes, in certain parts of the country, some public schools have adopted ridiculous rules and have decided to take on some radical ideas and have tried to teach them to their students. Now and then one knows of a teacher who isn’t doing a very good job- my next teaching post after kindergarten and a move to South Carolina was at a middle school, teaching 7th graders math and one of my co-workers, every Friday, just showed his classes a movie for the day! Never an educational movie, none that ever had anything to do with the subject he was to teach. Why that was allowed, I’ll never know! I would say that his teaching method for Friday was the exception rather than the rule. The majority of teachers I have worked with and know are very hard working individuals who love kids and want to help them gain the knowledge that has been decreed that they need to know in a specific grade or subject.
I think homeschooling works mainly because of the one-on-one teaching/learning experience. Homeschooling parents can take their time getting through a new concept if their child doesn’t “get it” the first time. A homeschooling mom can toss out a curriculum that isn’t working and try another one. A public school teacher, having to stay on course due to testing schedules, doesn’t have that luxury of stopping and re-teaching a concept days on end until every student understands it. A public school teacher doesn’t have the authority to toss a curriculum that the students and she find unworkable. I have often wished it could be this way, if public school teachers could have smaller classes to work with, say 10 students, and that way they would have an easier time of making sure all the students understand that new lesson before moving on, but smaller class sizes would mean more classrooms, more teachers, and most school districts don’t have the resources or buildings to accomodate that idea. Another idea I read about that is currently practiced in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden is that from Kindergarten through 6th grade the students have the same teacher. That teacher receives the new group of students when they are 5 and is their teacher for all of those following years. The teacher really gets to know each student’s strenghs and weaknesses, formulates plans to help each reach the needed academic goals each school year and I think that idea is one American public education should look into.
Straddling that Education Fence, I want to tell my homeschooling friends to keep up the good work that they are doing for and with their children, but please stop criticizing the public school teachers and what they are trying to do. It is not an easy job, it is tiring but can be rewarding. Not every public school is a den of evil with teachers out to get the kids and perform mind-control on them to turn them away from their parents’ values system. I want to equally tell my school teaching friends that homeschooled children do get out of the house! Socialization does happen, a lot, just not always with another group of 22 peers, but it happens on field trips, on the sports fields(lots of homeschoolers take part in youth league sports), in the scout troops, at dance class, music class, and out running errands;homeschooled kids learn to socialize with all folks from all age groups in a multiple amount of different settings.
I would sum this post up with the fact that the most successful students, whether homeschooled or attending a school, are the students with loving, attentive parents. Children need to know that Mom and Dad value a good education, that they expect their children to work to attain one to the best of their abilities. Parents who slack at the educating of their children unfortunately, ususally also slack at parenting skills period, and we have all seen the negative impact that this has on a society.
With the 2013-14 school year about to begin, I pray that all who I know with school-aged children, whether homeschooling parents or school sending parents, that this will be a wonderful, fun, yet hard-working school year. May the kids be safe on all field trips, the travels around town in the family van or in the busses, and that all of us parents would stay alert and ready to aid our children in their educational endeavors, but to also let them do the work, and to grow in wisdom, discernment, and maturity.