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About that homeschooling thing…

By Jason Kasper from Harrisburg, USA (Modified version of 100_4456) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big NO.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

  1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
  2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
  3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
  4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
  5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
  6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
  7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on this blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.

They’re Just Words

I had an eye-rolling moment this afternoon.  One of those times when you think, “You didn’t just say that.  Oh, no.  You did just say that.  Wait…really?????” and it’s also an extremely squicky moment.

I had taken S to a class and was prepared to sit down to wait for her outside the classroom.  I even brought my laptop, fully intending to get some writing done.  I found a good spot, booted up, and…yep.  Chatty Mommy sat down next to me.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I love to talk.  All right, that may be an understatement.  My husband says I need to get my 10,000 words in every day.  Writing takes care of a lot of that these days, but if I’m in the company of good friends, I let loose.

I do not love talking to complete strangers, or listening to them talk endlessly.

To be fair, I had no idea she was so talkative.  I politely asked if she had a child in the class too (hey, she could have been randomly stalking classrooms).  Right there was my first mistake.  My second was failing to turn right back to my computer as soon as she’d answered me.

For the next hour, I listened to her talk about her kids.  How they were so different from each other.  How homeschooling was proceeding for the oldest.  How she writes her reports.  Her fears about her five-year-old’s progress in reading.  And on…and on….and on…

Until she finally asked me about curriculum.  We don’t use one, though we do use a few workbooks and some other materials.  I shared that, and mentioned that I want to avoid full curricula because I want a bit more control over what we teach.  She began telling me about how she’s had to modify the information in some of the lessons.  And therein lies the squick.

This conversation is now on my Top Ten Things I Absolutely, Completely Did not Need to Know about a Total Stranger’s Children.  Apparently, she didn’t like that the health book had children learning the differences between male and female bodies and using proper terminology for male and female anatomy.  At which point she told me that her children don’t use “vulgar” euphemisms, but that her daughter calls it her “front butt.”

I thought my head might possibly burst.

I have a boy and a girl.  They share a room.  They took baths together until they were four and six, and we only stopped so they wouldn’t kill each other in the shower.  They are completely familiar with the difference between boys and girls.  They know and use the correct words for their body parts (all of them).  They are not ashamed of nudity or embarrassed about bodily functions (in a good way).  They are very comfortable in their bodies, thankfully, and I hope it remains that way.

I shared the “front butt” story with the fam at dinner.  Of course; who wouldn’t share that kind of thing over a plate of homemade lasagna?  When my husband asked S if she would like to begin referring to her anatomy as her “front butt,” she frowned at him and emphatically said, “No!”  And because we have now reverted to age ten, this caused hysterical giggling in all of us.

There is no reason why kids can’t be taught from an early age to respect their bodies.  This includes using correct terms, knowing what their bodies look like, and being aware of what their bodies can do.  We don’t need to fear that using the anatomical terms are somehow going to lead them astray; the opposite is much more likely, in fact.  They’re just words, people.  Get over it.

Making Progress

One more post about the kiddos and then I promise, it’s right back to brilliantly scathing commentary on fundamentalism.  Okay, fine, it’s back to somewhat grouchy and disapproving commentary on fundamentalism.

It seems that we are in a good place with J and his school.  Thankfully, he has a wonderful and caring teacher who wants to see J be successful as much as we do.  I was amazed by some of the things she said to me today, particularly in regard to helping kids feel like they are making progress rather than always punishing the negative.

One reason we have been able to work through these tough issues is that I feel it is my duty as a parent to keep our son from being in the middle between his teacher and us.  We’re not on opposite sides.  We all want the same things.  J and his classmates have the right to an education, and it isn’t fair for one child to lose out for the sake of the rest, nor for the rest to be disrupted for the sake of the one.  I believe it is the responsibility of both parents and teachers to form an alliance in order to ensure a positive learning environment.

I have taken this approach with homeschooling as well.  From the time we began homeschooling four years ago, I went into it with the mentality that it was important for us to work with the local district in order that our children’s needs be best met.  Although it is not required by law to use them, I created J’s and now S’s IHIP (basically a homeschool learning plan) based on the school district’s forms.  I found the forms to be helpful not only for keeping in touch but for my own record-keeping and lesson plans.

The evidence of how well that worked came when J went to school.  School personnel were impressed with how well we communicated and J’s first teacher said he was well prepared to enter the classroom, in more ways than mere academics.  We had instilled in J a love for learning which carried over into his time at public school.  We are on a similar path with S, though she learns very differently than her brother.

Unfortunately, although this has been the approach that worked best for our family, I’ve faced a good measure of criticism.  The vast majority of homeschooling parents have told me that I provided the district with too much information, that I would “ruin” it for others because the school would expect more from them, that I was making too much work for myself, that it’s us against the evil public school world.  Nothing I said in our defense made any impression.  And once J was in school, I was actively shunned by some families I had known when the kids were younger.  Never mind that S is still learning at home, I had become a traitor to the cause.

The thing is, I don’t think it has much to do with homeschooling.  There are some people who simply view life as a series of battles.  The nuclear family is seen as an army or two, three, four, or more, and the enemy is anything on which they declare war:  Public school, teaching methods, mainstream physicians, food, religion (or lack thereof).  It’s not even a matter of fighting injustice.  For example, take the hostility over public school.  It’s usually about the belief that one’s own children are being harmed or neglected in some way.  It’s rarely about the need for reform within the schools that would improve things for everyone, such as smaller classes, higher quality food, and adequate resources.

We’ve chosen to see things differently.  We believe that if we support the teachers and the other staff, they will go to bat for us.  So far, that’s been proven true time and again.  As we work together to help sort out what needs to happen with J, we’re all keeping open minds throughout the process.  My husband and I have a great support network of family and friends.  It’s our job as parents to let J’s teacher know that we want to be a team in creating the best possible school experience we can for everyone.

It may not work out perfectly every time, in every situation, for every family.  I don’t want to paint a rosy picture or imply that if you just do all the right things, magic will happen.  Sometimes, needs are not met and changes must be made.  Sometimes there are real battles to fight.  But if every detail and every aspect of life is a battle, how can one ever hope to come home from the war?

Top 10 Reasons I Wish I Still Homeschooled

I do still homeschool my daughter.  But I have to admit, I wish I had my son home again.  I could make him homeschool, but he does enjoy school.  I’m trying to do what’s best for him.  Still, when certain things happen, it does make me long for those days back again.  So here’s my list:

10. Head lice, strep throat, colds, flu, and puking

This is the worst winter we’ve had in years.  I would like to send my kid to school in one of those biohazard suits.

9. Bullies

J came home a few weeks ago and said a kid in his class is picking on him.  Of course, homeschooling is no guarantee against that issue.  When J was still at home, he was bullied by a couple of kids his age because he takes dance class.  I guess I was foolish enough to believe that certain cultural stereotypes and attitudes might not be present among homeschoolers.  I was wrong; teaching your kids at home is not proof against being a nasty individual or having stupid ideas about what boys “shouldn’t” do.

8. Lady Gaga

Well, okay, not Lady Gaga herself.  But one of his classmates came to school with a magazine clearly intended for teens that had a photo of Lady Gaga in her meat dress.  I’m not really concerned that he saw too much flesh (pun intended), just that I know that whatever else is in that magazine wasn’t intended for his age group.

7. The playground

The weather has turned nice here and the kids should be outside playing.  Sadly, at J’s school, that means playing on the blacktop.  The playground is literally under water–several inches.  It will be awhile before anyone is playing on it, especially with more rain predicted.

6. School lunches

Yes, I know I have the right to send my kid with his own lunch.  And I do, nearly every day.  So I’m not really worried about J.  I am worried about the kids who get free lunches.  That may be the only thing some of them eat that day.  So shouldn’t it be a little more nutritious than chicken nuggets?

5. The bus

I suppose I could drive J myself.  And mostly I don’t mind the bus.  His morning bus driver is a very sweet, motherly lady whom all the kids seem to like and respect.  It’s his afternoon bus driver that scares me.  He is a very strange man.  Not to mention the kids J rides with in the afternoon.  J exchanged phone numbers with one of them.  The boy called and was incredibly rude to me.  Apparently, no one has bothered to teach that kid phone manners.  And one of the other kids managed to make trouble for J at school.  He threw snow balls at him, then ran away to watch while J got in trouble  with a bus monitor for dodging them.  Judging by what his teachers say about him, I don’t doubt J’s story for even a minute–he’s the last kid to get in trouble for anything.

4. Reading

I was told by the reading teacher that J needed to catch his reading comprehension up to his decoding (reading the words/sounds on the page).  Huh.  Doesn’t just READING MORE do that??

3. Budget cuts

We can’t know the future, of course, but it doesn’t look good.  The first things to go are usually the arts.  We talk a lot about how kids need physical education so they don’t get fat.  True, but should we let their brains atrophy, too?  Kids need art, music, and literature, too.

2. Getting the facts straight

So far, J has informed me that your heart stops when you sneeze and several other urban legends.  Apparently, the adults in the school are telling the kids this stuff as facts.  But the kids believe it because a grown-up they trust is telling them.  It’s hard to compete with that.

And the number one reason…

1. I just plain miss my kid.  ‘Nuff said.

Influencing Our Kids

I took the plunge.  I signed up on Last.FM.  As I was adding music to my library, I started thinking about who (and what) had influenced my taste in music.

When I was growing up, there was almost always something on the radio, stereo, or tape player.  I remember summers most vividly, spending 8 or 9 weeks listening to the strains of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach from my grandfather’s shop.  He introduced me to opera, which I didn’t appreciate as a child, although I did grow to enjoy it.  My grandfather knew the names of all the pieces and often who was performing.  Sadly, like my mother, I often hear some piece of music and it sounds familiar, but I can’t place it.  Still, I love what most people loosely call “classical” music–both to play and to hear.

My grandmother had very little influence on my musical taste, although she did introduce me to some of my favorite country singers.  Similarly, my father’s taste in music left little impression.  My dad taught me to dance to the sounds of early rock ‘n’ roll: Buddy Holly, Bill Haley and the Comets, early Elvis.  Other than that, I don’t recall that my father ever listened to much.

My mother, on the other hand, had as varied taste in music as I do now.  She listened to everything from old-time gospel to folk music, opera to the Beatles.  Like my father, she enjoyed early rock.  But she also appreciated darker sounds of the 1960s.  When listening with my mom, I might hear the Beach Boys, or I might be in for Woody Guthrie or the Weavers.  Mom also enjoyed newer country music and through her I began to appreciate some of it as well.

My sisters both had an impact on my taste.  The older of my two big sisters introduced me to CCR, the Moody Blues, Elton John, and Billy Joel.  My other sister got me hooked on women’s folk music and alternative rock.  My cousin liked bands such as Metallica and REM, and we spent a good part of each summer enjoying whatever tapes he had brought along.

I remember enjoying some of what was popular among my peers for a short time when I was in school, but I never really got into pop music.  There are a few songs that I still enjoy from childhood, but very little has remained as a staple in my music diet.  It wasn’t until high school that I found myself really interested in what my friends were listening to.  Through my friends at church, I began to enjoy the likes of Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patti, and Twila Paris.  Some of my friends had other interesting taste in music and through them I learned to appreciate Weird Al and They Might Be Giants.

I find myself now open to a wide variety of music.  I don’t necessarily have favorite artists so much as favorite songs.  I prefer songs that make me think and feel.  It isn’t just background noise, it’s an extension of myself in some way.

So what does all that have to do with parenting?  As I put together my library and recalled (mostly fondly) the people and the music that have shaped me, I realized that we now have the chance to do the same for our children.  My son already has the same relationship to music that I do; it’s in his blood.  For him, it is so natural to move to the music, to express with his body what he is hearing.  It might be a ballet to Rich Mullins’ “Awesome God” or interpretive dance to Jars of Clay’s “Flood.”  Watching him, I feel inside that intense longing that C.S. Lewis described as “joy.”  My daughter is still very young, but for her, it seems to be the message, the words, that she relates to.  Perhaps this is because she herself is already a proficient communicator.  I wonder what she will use that gift for.

In the end, my hope is that my children will grow to appreciate a wide variety of music, rather than locking themselves into one genre.  And I hope that, in some way, I will be part of that process.

Homeschooling

I had to post this, since it relates to that parenting seminar mentioned in my previous post.

We are a homeschooling family.  No, we’re not vegans, we don’t grow all our own food, I don’t make our clothes, we’re not “religious nuts” trying to shelter our kids from all things evil.  Yes, the kids are learning “real things, like math and reading, they do have physical education, and they have a better social life than I do.

I do like some of the comments I get.  Most people who ask how long I plan to do it are just curious.  So I say, truthfully, that I don’t know.  I hope to send them to school eventually, but by then, they will be old enough to choose for themselves.  Some people, though, ask because they think that you can’t possibly do it all the way through high school.  For those people, I give the same aforementioned answer, but I long to say, “I plan to homeschool through graduate school.”

At the parenting seminar, I posed a question about how to handle my 3-year-old’s challenging behavior when she doesn’t want to go to one of the group activities.  I couldn’t believe that the woman leading the seminar had no better advice than, “You’re trying to parent two different children the same way.  Maybe you should reconsider and send them to school, or at least send one of them.”  I politely said that we felt their educational needs couldbe better met at home (while inside, I was thinking, And you think the public schools are going to take interest in their unique personalites?).  So her advice was to hire a sitter or ask another mom to babysit, or have someone else take my son to the activities (which are actually for both kids).  Wow, yeah, I’ll get right on that.

Fortunately, there was another mom there who is familiar with homeschooling and had great advice for me.  Once again, I think I’ll skip the parenting experts.  Geez, I hope they don’t comebeating down my door with CPS workers next week ’cause I’m not sending my kids to school.