Tuesday, March 24, 2009

on homeschooling, part II

First of all, thank you all for your good and thoughtful comments. There were comments on both sides of the question, but they were all so gracious. Which is amazing. I mean, homeschooling is one of those internet-conflagration topics - almost as bad as disputing the greenhouse effect, advocating epidurals and telling people what you really think about extended breastfeeding. I mean, it's even almost as incendiary as insisting that Star Trek is better than Star Wars (DS9 forever!) So thank you so much for all your kind and helpful words.

The problem is, I would read one comment talking about how wonderful homeschool was for the commentator's family and find myself thinking, "yes, yes - days at home, learning beautiful things!" But then I'd read another comment talking about the virtues of public schooling and thinking, "yes, yes - I would never have grown in my faith as I did unless it had been tested!"

So . . . I'm still just a bit on this here fence.

What I am slowly coming to realize two things:
1) This might be one of those things where I have permission from the Lord to make the choice myself. My mother-in-law told me once that after seeking the will of God earnestly, when she was obeying Him whole-heartedly, that sometimes He would answer her question of, "what do you want me to do?" with the answer, "Well, what do you want to do?"
In other words, when we are obeying our good Father, He sometimes, like a good father, lets us make our own decisions, knowing that we are capable of choosing well in that particular instance. I'm not sure yet, but this seems like it might be one of those instances for me.

2) The decision of whether or not to keep Bess home for kindergarten is just that: the decision of whether to keep Bess home for kindergarten. I'm not making the decision of whether we will be a homeschooling family or a public school family forever and ever amen. Rather, for this child, and for this year, what would be best?
I don't need to think about whether Gamgee will go to kindergarten in two years, or how Lucy and Anna would do in public high school. I just need to think about whether, in September, it would be better for Bess to be at home or not. That narrows things down considerably, and seems, to me, to be a much more manageable decision.

So, do I think it would be good for Bess to stay home this fall? I don't know. But I am leaning towards saying "yes", for a couple of reasons.

First, this past year has been one of upheaval for our family. Half of us were hospitalized, we dealt with infant twins (I really think there's no way to express, in print, what an all-encompassing exhaustion comes with twinfancy), we moved, we were in RSV quarantine. It was, in all, a good year, but I do feel that, in some ways, Bess missed out on a year at home. We just weren't able to do a lot of the things we wanted to do. I feel like she could really benefit from one more year - a full, good year - at home, getting a solid foundation in the love of her family. The idea of having a whole year as the six of us sounds so good, so right, so wholesome.

The second reason - and it almost isn't a second reason, just more of the first - is emotional and spiritual readiness. My mom reminded me that I started kindergarten late; she and my dad sent me the year after I qualified to attend. And it was a really good decision. She opined that I just wasn't emotionally ready the year I turned five, and I think she's right - especially judging from how much I liked kindergarten when I did go. And I surely didn't regret turning 18 my senior year - it was fun to be able to sign myself out of school that last semester! All the research echoes my own experience: it's not a bad thing to be one of the older kids in your grade.

Also, if we wanted, we could keep Bess home this next year, and send her to first grade the year after, as kindergarten isn't compulsory in California. I'm kind of leaning towards this. I'm not worried about her academically (she's already got the first half of the kindergarten curriculum under her belt, according to CA education standards, and I don't think the second half would be hard to cover this year), and that would let her start school when she was emotionally and socially ready.

If I do send her to public school, and I still think we will at some point, I want her to go in thoroughly grounded in her faith and in the love of her family. Public school works for Christian kids when their home life is their home base, when that is where they feel they really belong and are really from. With this past year being what it is, I kind of think Bess could use an extra year developing that internal solidity.

On a slightly different note, I've been asked what my husband thinks about this. The answer is, being the rational man he is, Adam has basically said that it's up to me - ha! No, really, in his words, "I'm not the one who'd have to homeschool her." I love my husband.

Really, though, he had a less positive public school experience than I did, but we agree that both public school and homeschool can be done well and that both can be done poorly. He thinks our kids could do well in either environment, and is willing to start the experiment either way. For my fellow Vorkosigan fans, you can sum up his attitude in Emperor Gregor's tolerant phrase: "Let's see what happens."

Indeed. Let's see what happens.

For now, I'm still getting the paperwork and medical exams done, so we can register Bess if we want to, and we'll be going to the kindergarten open house in a couple of weeks, to get a better feel for our options. And I'm going to keep researching homeschool. And praying. And listening.

And I'll keep you updated. Thank you, again, for all the helpful comments. Though we're still not sure what we're going to do, it's so encouraging to know how many other parents are out there, raising their kids (and teaching other people's kids) with so much wisdom and grace.

peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell


Ma Torg said...

That sounds wise.

My FIL always reminds us to 'parent a child according to his bent'.

For us, we plan on homeschooling thru primary and then making appropriate decisions per individual child after that. For you, it will be different.

But I think it is wonderful that you are viewing the question as a decision FOR BESS and not for all the kids at once.

Kerry said...

Your Mom-in-Law sounds like a smart cookie! What excellent advice...and so true. There is NO perfect answer to the education issue. Each choice has its drawbacks and blessings.

We are actually rethinking our homeschool path as my eldest is asking to attend a local (and good) Christian private school for 8th grade and high school (ie. next year). I'd always thought we'd go all the way through with him, but they have a great drama program (which he can be involved in as a homeschooler - but not as in-depth). My point is that you really have to take it one child at a time and one year at a time.

MomCO3 said...

My best mentors growing up were a couple for whom I babysat (oddly enough, the had three daughters, including M/M twins) and what I always loved about them was how carefully they paid attention to their children, and where they were-- spiritually, emotionally-- at any given moment. It sounds like you're doing the same.

Linds said...

See, the best part of your post was when you emphasized that you're making a decision based on the specific time and specific kid.

We have a family who send one of their boys to our school. They have four boys. Each boy goes to a different school, a couple public schools, a couple private schools.

What havoc that must wreak on the family schedule! But the parents are vehemently dedicated to doing the best by each individual child, so since Blake is into theater and film, he goes to the school with a strong theater and film program. His littlest brother's a budding scientist, so he's in a school with an innovative science program. And so on.

It seems to be a great plan. (of course, it helps that they have more money than they know what to do with so they can afford multiple private schools without a multi-student discount!)

Alyssa Low said...

oh...this is sooo where we are right now. private school, public school, homeschool, charter school... our little girl starts kindergarten as well this coming school year and all of your processing just resonates with me. thank you so much for sharing your process...it means a lot to know another is in a similar place. love to you and yours

Jen said...

I love how thoughtful and conscientious you always are in this space, Jess.

I just now read both your posts on homeschooling and so am chiming in late with my two cents.

First, I disagree with your self-assessment that you are "not a teacher type." All your posts here clearly show what an excellent teacher you are in word and deed, especially in all the ways you catechize your children and teach them the ways of God. I can think of few greater teachers. I agree with Elena's previous comment that you are totally qualified to raise and instruct your children!

Second, I get but I really don't get the "put them in public school to help them get along with others and grow in their faith" thing or the "put them public schools so public schools don't disintegrate" thing. Are schools for the children or the children for the schools? I personally think children should go to school to LEARN, specifically, to learn what is good, true, and beautiful and to conform their lives to the truth they see. I have trouble seeing how contemporary public schools can directly (rather than accidentally or very partially) contribute to this goal.

I agree with you and lots of your other commentators that solid Christian kids will come out well in any setting. What I would add is that they will come out well either DESPITE their setting or in part BECAUSE OF that setting. I'm a product of private and public schools, and a lot of my learning and growth in holiness and character was despite my educational setting, not because of it. And for every story of a kid like you or I who came out strong and triumphant, I bet there are many more stories of kids whose faith or character was weakened by their secular school experience.

If you want your kids to learn how to get along with others of different belief systems, there are endless ways to facilitate those interactions to achieve that goal without sacrificing the quality of your kids' education or your family cohesion. I would also suggest that putting them in school is a really inefficient way to meet that goal, and that school does NOT mirror real life. (When else in "real life" are people relegated to spend their entire day with 30 people of exactly the same age doing externally-imposed, highly structured artificial tasks like worksheets and group work???)

Third, just looking at the math of school is enough to scare me off from public schools in the early grades. Do I want my children to spend the vast majority of their attentive waking hours during their formative years with an instructor assigned by the state, focusing on secular, federally-imposed curriculum, in a room with 20 to 40 children of the same age?

I should hasten to add that I agree that homeschooling is not for everyone, and any school setting can go bad. And it does depend on your family situation, the unique student and their age, year-by-year.

All that to conclude that I do love what you say here about God sometimes delegating a free choice to us. I've come to see that in my own life, too.

So regardless of what any of the rest of us think, you will make the best choice for your family because you know your family best, because you are following Christ, and because God has give you—and nobody else—that scary freedom and responsibility. God bless you!

Jen said...

I also think you would enjoy reading an older article by Sally Thomas on First Things: http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=5462

And her follow-up blog article: http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=773

They touch on many of your concerns in a beautiful, insightful way.