Thursday, March 19, 2009

I'm thinking about homeschooling: shoot me now

Okay, I always figured I'd send my kids to public school. Still more or less planning on that. I had a good experience there, and I think there was a lot of value for me in learning to be a Christian in a non-Christian world, and a lot of character growth in having classes that weren't tailored to my particular needs, where I needed to work on ways to fill the empty minutes. In fact, I spent a large part of my high school class-time writing stories instead of taking notes (and still getting A's on the tests, thanks), and I don't know that I would have fallen in love with writing the way I did without all that boring class-time that I had to fill somehow. In my life, public school was a blessing.

But . . . I'm thinking about homeschooling. It just kills me that I'm thinking about it. I'm not the teacher-type and I want my kids to learn to exercise their faith in the real world.

In fact, the reason I'm thinking about homeschooling feels like a horrible reason. A negative reason. But here it is: in California, if you take your child out of school for any reason other than illness, she's considered truant and you are breaking the law.

Seriously. If my kids' grandpa visited from Nebraska and wanted to take them to see the tidepools, and I took my five year old out of kindergarten for the day, I would be committing an illegal act.

That's ridiculous.

These are not the state's children; these are my children.

Like I said: I enjoyed and profited from public school. I know, I'm a nerd. But I'm beginning to get the impression that my experience of public school is not the experience my children will have if I enroll them. From kindergarten through third grade, I routinely missed the last month or so of the school year. Why? Because my parents spent that time out of the country, and so, of course, did I. School was great, but if family stuff was going on elsewhere (family stuff being missionary furlough, in this case), well, I would be with my family and not at school. It was never as dramatic as that after elementary, but I still always felt like my parents had the freedom to direct our lives, and that we weren't at the mercy of the school's schedule.

And when I went to school there was a bit of teaching to the tests, but not much. It was mostly learning the material. I understand this has changed too. I took Bess to get a peek at the kindergarten rooms she'd be going to here, and the teacher proudly pointed out their art corner. "We have the most wonderful gentleman come in and teach them art every other week."

Every other week? They're five years old and they only do art every other week?

Also, we were already figuring that we'd have to supplement our children's education. The schools here aren't going to teach them Spanish or music or Bible. And if we're going to have to do that, does it make sense to do the rest of it ourselves too?

Still . . . isn't it important to learn how to get along with people who aren't like you, without compromising your own principles? That's a great benefit of public schools. Go out and face it, then come home and hash it out with your parents and figure out how to handle it better. Go out and do better. Come back and debrief. Over and over and over. It makes you strong.

And, selfishly, how can I write and homeschool at the same time?

And how do I homeschool in a small place, without a yard?

And how do I homeschool without scads of money to pay for the extra-curriculars?

So, I have no idea what we're going to do. Besides pray. I'm certainly going to do that, and going to listen hard, because I really don't know what the answer is here. (As opposed to all the times I pray, sure that I do know the answer - ha! See Jen's excellent post on that here.)

But seriously, I can't take my kid camping without being in danger of being referred to the authorities? That's just wrong.

So, all you beautiful homeschooling moms, any advice? Also, any public school moms who've figured a way to live with the stupid truancy laws? I'm all afloat here, and would love some input.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


Pamela said...

Being that our eldest is not yet 3, we have not begun any formal homeschooling, but I wanted to comment...and try not to do it from my soapbox:)...well I tried, I do not think it possible for me to comment without writing a book (I have written, erased, written and tried to stay short) I will leave it at, good for you for considering the often unconsidered option. I was a public school teacher for 7 years and I believe homeschooling to be a much better option, when it's at all possible!

Bethany said...

Interestingly, we're also beginning to consider homeschooling even though I never thought we would. And we're doing so for similar reasons. My problem with public or private school is that family life has to revolve around the school day and the school year. That might be a good thing for some people, but I like the freedom of our family's university schedule. Here, we have a private school that offers a university- style education for K-12, which intrigues me. Do you have anything like that near you?

sarah marie said...

I'm totally with you on this - art every other week is a travesty! And do they really not have music classes? Sigh... I've always thought that one potential advantage of public school was in the music ensemble opportunities - this was certainly the case for Emily's high school choral experience. But I'm finding that schools with good music programs are so, so rare, and more often the good ensemble experiences (choral, orchestral, and even band sometimes, although most schools at least still have bands) come from private youth orchestras rather than the public schools.

Homeschooling was a great thing for my family and I'm glad I was homeschooled, for what it's worth. I think you're right about opportunities for kids to gain strength in school, but on the other hand, if you're going to have to spend all your after-school hours supplementing curriculums, combating secular worldviews, and un-doing some of what's been done to some extent, I quickly begin to see why many moms consider homeschooling.

God bless you and give you peace as you consider this!

Anne Kennedy said...

We came to it gradually as well-mostly by carefully looking at all the other abysmal options and seeing that we had no other choice, financially and spiritually. We finally couldn't face putting our kindergartner into the spiritual battle ground that is our local public system, while we might later consider it when she's in high school. Doug Wilson's Rediscovering Classical Education (I think that's what its called) was really helpful in persuading us. And our social lives are overly enriched by church and other things. Its a hard road to walk down but I think its really a good one.

TwoSquareMeals said...

I think this is such a complex issue, even just considering preschool options was complicated for us! In the long run, I think children who have supportive, loving parents will thrive in any environment.

I, too, had a wonderful public school experience and would probably put my kids in public school if we were staying in the country. As it is, they are going to be in Chinese state schools half a day once we move and homeschooled the rest of the time. (Obviously, the contradicting worldview of American public schools would be nothing compared to communist run schools!)

Anyway, the rule about absences would make me want to homeschool, too. But whatever you choose, I think children with parents as intentional and loving as you will be fine! I don't think there is one right answer. It ultimately comes down to what you can handle and still love mothering and what fits your family's lifestyle.

betsy said...

we offer our home and yard as a school

Paula said...

Hi. Just visiting your blog from ten O'clock scholar . . . I also live in CA and was disgusted by the attitude I picked up on when I enrolled my oldest in K. I also found it to be over-the-top the way they were presenting it. My oldest is now in the 5th grade and we've had no problems with the truancy laws. A good friend even took her daughter out for about 3 weeks to go to Thailand to bring home their adopted son - no problems. I also work in a public school and what I've noticed is that the truancy laws are really only called on for the parents who aren't bringing their kid to school and the kid isn't learning because of it. I still don't like the laws, but I'm less annoyed now because they really haven't caused me any problems. And for now,we're keeping our kids in the public school because they are in a Spanish Dual-Immersion program where they are learning Spanish all day (something I couldn't do at home). If you are interested in your child learning Spanish a well-run dual immersion is a great option. Many districts have them as magnet programs, but you have to call the head quarters and ask. I am thinking about the home school option for middle school though. So many options, and such a big decision. . .

Ranee said...

I also had an incredible public school experience. I was given an wonderful education, though the anti-parent, anti-faith, anti-Christian thing was definitely going on there. My husband had a great Christian school education until his sophomore year in high school when he was sent to a crappy public school. We decided that our children would go to a Christian school. We wanted a classical school, but there wasn't one near us. Long story short, we ended up with a small Christian school. We found that although they had better rules, and it was still in better control than the public schools in our area (which have made the national news twice for children behaving badly), they didn't like to enforce the rules as it might send parents and money away. There were some real educational issues that we found, and lots of disorganization. On top of that, it wasn't really an oasis from the secular culture. We researched and prayed, talked to our older boys and pulled them out. So far, we are happy with it. I've relaxed a little in how we do things, and feel more comfortable teaching them. We aren't anti-school, and if we had a good classical school, we'd probably put them in it. We do enjoy it, most of the time, and the boys (and now our next two children) are happy and learning well.

Anne Kennedy said...

This isn't spiritual or wise at all, but I've been lately thinking that those who have babies quickly and close together get used to the unnaturally huge work load and the minute it eases up just a little they a. have more children (like we seem to be doing) and b. homeschool or do something equally crazy. heh.

Amy said...

I'm not the teacher type either but I've been homeschooling for 13 years now. My oldest will graduate from our homeschool in May.

I have no regrets. I truly believe that my children have gotten a better global education by living in the real world - not confined by the brick walls of a school building.

My oldest is very grateful for our decision to educate her at home. It has given her so many advantages - freedom to travel, freedom to enjoy the things she loves without being bogged down with hours & hours of homework every day. She is a gifted writer who wouldn't have had the time to develop her gift if we hadn't chosen this path for her.

My youngest has special needs so homeschooling has allowed her to grow and blossom at her own rate without the pressures of trying to survive in a world that goes way too fast for her before she is ready.

So, we've been blessed by our homeschooling years. I know its not for everyone and pray God will make your path clear and give you peace about your children's education.

MomCO3 said...

You're already homeschooling now. I know you think there's a magic day when they'll all be in school, and you'll have hours in which to write-- and which you'll have to fill with school fundraisers and parent-teacher conferences... and you'll have no input on the curriculum. You will write, you write now, and nothing will be as hard as what you're doing right now. Hang in there. Don't call for the firing squad yet.

becca said...

We have neighbors who are, like us, poor grad students--though they're probably poorer since they also have three children. Any how, their oldest are two girls of 10 and 8, then they have a 2 year old boy. They homeschool all of them. They go with the idea that if you learn how to learn, you can teach yourself anything. They've taught the girls to read, write and do maths. They have these awesome books (I can find the author for you if you want) that go through the cultural stories and ideas your child should know at each age. They taught them to the oldest and she's teaching them to the younger ones. They print math worksheets off the internet. Their dad teaches them latin, logic, and the catechism. They can cook and clean and sew. They also garden and ride their bikes. These kids know more than most kids 5-8 years their seniors. They play with the other kids in our complex, so get lots of the socialization that they'd get at school. They take swim lessons in the summer. Most of their science lessons are done in the field on walks and camping trips and when they work in the garden. They help the family and learn at the same time. It is all very organic and makes a lot of sense to me. I used to think homeschooling was crazy (and for some people it certainly is) but I've been more and more inclined toward it seeing how our neighbors do it.

Living where you do, I bet you can find lots of extracurricular activities that won't cost too much or may even be free--concerts in the park, free gallery days, recitals at the local college, etc.

Best of luck!

Sherry said...

You might find something of interest in this article by Barbara Curtis of Mommy Life entitled Is Homeschooling for Everyone?

Linds said...

A couple thoughts from the generally anti-homeschooling front:

1. On the absence thing: technically, yeah. But in reality - no one gets in trouble. The school has better things to do. This is just yet another example of why we shouldn't be letting non-educators make education policy. :)

2. You're right, the assessment-driven curriculum and lack of arts offerings are criminal. For why, see above.

3. No matter how good the school is, private or public, you're going to have to supplement instruction at home. I love being a teacher, and I work harder than I should do help my students learn, but no matter what I do, if the parents aren't actively involved in their child's education, most of what I do is worthless. Plus, I've got 150 students each year and limited classroom time. I can offer differentiated instruction, but not to the same extent a parent can encourage a child to pursue his or her loves or interests outside the classroom. Even in traditional education, parents are the primary educator of their children. And yes, I was told that first and foremost while studying for my secular, evil, state-mandated teaching credential. :)

4. This is going to sound trite, but I mean it sincerely: don't deprive a classroom of your wonderful children. The community needs kids like the ones you're raising. Seriously. Whether public or private, their presence in the classroom isn't just good for them, it's good for the other kids (and you're good for the other parents!).

I think sometimes we retreat too much, and we do it in love and out of desire to provide the absolute best for our children. But if all the good people leave the schools (just like if all the good people leave a particular demonination), what can we expect beyond failing schools and a crumbling community?

I know it's easier for me to argue that generally when I don't have a kid going to school soon, but I hope I will act on that belief when the time comes. :)

And, well... you already know the rest of my rant against homeschooling in most instances. :)

Linds said...

A few thoughts from the (generally) anti-homeschooling front:

1. The absence rule is ridiculous. The good news is - well, it's not often enforced. The school's have better things to do with their time. This is the kind of stupidity that occurs when non-educators are allowed to craft education policy.

2. No matter what school you put your kids in, no matter how good or complete the curriculum, you'll still need to supplement learning at home. It's true what they say: parents are the primary educators. Even though I'm definitely one of those crazy 'extra mile' teachers, I know that I can't do much good for my students if the parents aren't involved at home. And the first place I was told that parents are the primary educator: studying for my evil, secular, public-school, state-mandated teaching crediential. :)

There's a huge problem with curriculum gaps, and this assessment-driven curriculum MUST stop - again, the problem when you let non-teachers draft policy. Grrr. But wherever you go (dare I say, even if you homeschool your kids), the curriculum will have gaps.

3. This is going to sound trite, but I don't mean it to at all. Schools need kids like yours. You have amazing kids, and y'all raise them well. A classroom needs them (and the parents need you!).

I think we retreat too much. And we do it out of love and a desire to give our kids the best, which are both good motives. But just like certain church demoninations collapse when all the good people leave, so the schools (and the communities they're designed to serve) collapse when the good people leave.

As for my other thoughts... well, you've heard my homeschool rant enough. :)

Kerry said...

Hi, Jessica!

Well, you know we homeschool and love it...but you might not know that the truancy laws were really the straw that broke the camel's back for us.

One of your commentors mentioned that truancy laws are only for those parents who aren't bringing their kids to school...but that wasn't the case for us. We got a letter home saying that if our child missed X more days he'd automatically be held back - for KINDERGARTEN. He was doing perfectly well...and it is Kindergarten, for heaven's sake.

I found that I was in a position of having to either lie about why he was out of school or take an unexcused absence. Well, it made me angry that I, as the parent, couldn't determine what I thought to be an appropriate reason for my OWN child to miss school.

I won't teach my child (by my actions) that lies are OK for any reason, so we took the unexcused absences.

Just pray about it and if you think the Lord is leading you to homeschool, you know he'll work out the money, time, etc. :) But you knew that already!

Check out: she homeschools in an apartment, with no yard, on the cheap (in CHINA).

Elena said...

Jessica, I can think of few people better qualified than you to raise up some truly magnificent human beings.


Ma Torg said...

I am not an 'experienced' homeschooler, obviously. We really like the 'flexibility' option of homeschooling. I am not into teaching little children and sometimes grit my teeth when looking ahead into the future...but it is SO much fun having the flexibility, time AND energy to do lots of museum trips for my art loving Mary; gymnastics classes for my physically agile Lucy and who knows what for Edmund. It does'nt require a lot of money either. Every museum typically has a free day once a month. You live in an area of college art teachers, anyone?

Lindsay is right that every GOOD education (whether you're homeschooled, public or private) requires supplementing. I do think the question might center more around 'how' you want to supplement. Do you want to just have as much flexibilty as possible (like me); or would you be content with driving your kids around a lot and spending most of your afternoons and evenings doing extracurricular stuff.

In regards to the truancy thing, too, you might want to really think about whether or not you would be taking your kids out frequently enough for that to be a real issue.

And, lastly, your kids don't have to be legally enrolled in school in CA until they are 6 years old. So you could wait till 1st grade to put Bess into school and try homeschooling her kindergarten year and see if you like it or not.

Amber said...

I'll second what Ma Torg has to say about trying it for a year, especially since K isn't even mandatory in CA anyways. From what I've read on your blog, she already knows most, if not all, the important stuff she'd be learning in K and while she probably won't be as good at waiting in line or raising her hand before speaking as the other kids (if you did send her to 1st grade in a school) I'm sure she'd pick it up quickly enough. I've been nothing but happy with our decision - both because of Emma's progress and because of what I see in the other kids (almost all public schoolers) at the church faith formation program.

Personally I'm not such a big fan of the train of thought that goes let's throw the kid to the wolves and perhaps she'll have a civilizing influence on the wolves. Yes, maybe... but there's a lot of baggage and such that goes a long with that! Having been one of the wolves I am sad to say that I had far more negative influence on my religious peers than they had on me. The people who had the most influence on my eventual conversion where people who kept themselves much more apart - a homeschooling family, a teacher at a private Christian school - and that was only once I was an adult and able to think about such things a little more deeply. I have a friend who homeschools but has her boys in a part time program at the local high school so that they can play sports and she says that for every hour they spend in that environment she's spending at least that much trying to mitigate the negative influences of it. Personally, while learning how to deal with the culture at large is important, I have a lot of other ways I'd rather be spending my time. Besides, I'd rather deal with this when my children are firmly grounded in Truth and Beauty rather than trying to teach them what is right when I have the seductive glossiness of pop culture and marketing trying to pull them away at every turn.

As for the other stuff... there's time enough for all God calls us to do - and if we don't get to it, then, well, it probably wasn't something God wanted us to do. :-)

Anyways, I hope this isn't too rambling, I'm trying to just get down some thoughts before I rush off to the next thing. I'll be praying for you and your husband as you work through this decision - and remember, you aren't making the decision for the entirety of her school career - you can approach this one year at a time.

At A Hen's Pace said...

I am coming late to the table on this, but I just want to encourage you that you are right, there is no "God's way" answer on this subject, and you do only have to decide one year and one child at a time!

And I think it is important to listen to your heart and what you really want to do.

I will say one thing, that homeschooling is something to try before deciding you don't want to do it. I've met too many people who say things like, "I wish I could, but it's just not me...I'm not the teacher type...I don't have the patience...we'd fight all the time" etc. But it's one of those things, that you honestly can't know till you've tried it!

Another thought is not to be a slave to an idea of "school" which looks like the public school. LEARNING is what's important, and that can happen in a million different ways...and you really are best able to help her learn by capitalizing on her interests, her questions, her skills or by identifying her weaknesses. It's a much richer educational experience than a canned, "now it's time to learn about community helpers" approach!

A book recommendation: Endangered Minds, by Jane Healy. Fascinating brain research!

I've had kids in and out...they learn from both. Either way you decide, it will be good.