Wednesday, September 07, 2005

School-at-home versus Homeschool

Way back when I was a new bride, I read Mary Pride's The Way Home. Her ideas prompted me to consider homeschooling my children, even though my children didn't exist yet.

My husband I turned out to be infertile and by the time we adopted twins, I had a head jammed full of ideas. I listened to Dr. Dobson (before he got all political) and really knew that I knew The Right Way to parent. I would homeschool them and they would be eager students and obedient children and I would manage to look cute throughout their childhoods. Oh, and I'd have lots of girlfriends to call who would meet us for playdates and educational field trips. My children would study museum paintings, sketchbooks in hand.

My kids were supposed to learn to read early and spend hours coloring with unbroken crayons. They were supposed to be naturally tidy and easy-going. They were supposed to always wear double-knotted shoes when they went outside.

But my boys surprised me. They wore socks outside while they dug holes in the dirt. They threw sand at each other. They didn't want to listen to books and they never met a crayon they didn't want to break and then throw. My blue-eyed twin challenged my leadership every day, every hour, nearly every minute. My brown-eyed twin whined and threw his apple-juice cup every single time he finished. Every time. Sometimes it would hit me and I would cry.

We lived in a very rural, poor area of Michigan with terrible schools and I decided that I would homeschool them. Before that arrived though, several events occurred which jumbled up our plans. First, I became pregnant (not an easy task for an infertile woman), and then we moved.

We moved the September the twins were old enough to go to kindergarten. My baby was seven months old and I'd been babysitting for two years. I was eager to spend time alone with my baby. The school district in our new home enjoyed an excellent reputation. So, off they went, much to my joy.

I admit it. By then, I really needed a break from them. These boys that God gave me were nothing like the embroidering-stitching girls I'd expected. I wasn't so sure of my ability to teach them and to juggle a baby and schooling.

Besides that, my husband is a pastor. That makes my kids Pastor's Kids (PKs). PKs have a decidely different life than your average child. They face higher expectations from their church community, for starters. Their peers can ostracize them based on their dad's job alone. We did not want our kids to be seen as the weird pastor's kids who wore pants too short and eyeglasses too thick, the kids who were isolated from life. Is that a stereotype? Sure, it is. But there's a bit of truth to it and we were seeking a balance.

Their first years at school were okay. My brown-eyed twin struggled with writing and reading. The teachers sort of shrugged their shoulders. His second-grade teacher said, "Well, it's only second grade. It's not college," when I raised my concerns. He struggled more than his twin brother and I suspected more than most children. He constantly lagged behind in math and writing and reading.

My blue-eyed twin excelled in everything but handwriting. But he'd come home so crabby, so irritable. As the years progressed, his foul moods increased. I didn't know until much later that starting in fourth grade, the other kids had begun to target him for teasing and bullying. He has a strong personality (remember how he challenged me constantly as a toddler and preschooler?) and odd mannerisms. He wanted nothing more than to be a cool kid and yet, coolness eluded him. He tried too hard.

During fifth grade, my brown-eyed twin struggled for passing grades. His teacher noted that if a leaf fell from a tree outside the window, my son would lose his focus. He never caused trouble, though. He just sat quietly and didn't do his work. Homework every night was torture--and he didn't like it much, either.

We decided then that we needed to intervene, to save our boy. Sixth grade would involve a confusing change of classes and less supervision by teachers. More homework, more responsibility, more demands. I did not want him to end up being the kid smoking illicit cigarettes in the parking lot while skipping class, so we brought him home for school. Our blue-eyed twin asked to school at home, too.

Initially, I planned to homeschool in the traditional sense. That is, I intended to piece together curriculum and teach them myself. I dreaded this because my daughter was two years old then and extremely clingy. At the same time, our school district decided to offer an at-home program using an online curriculum. The program falls under the category of "alternative education," and the curriculum was provided at no cost to us because our children are still enrolled in the public school district. Therefore, the public school district gets tax dollars for our children. We get curriculum at no cost. We do have to follow school requirements. I log attendance and we meet with a teacher weekly who is "mentoring" the boys. (This year, I think we'll be able to do the meetings by email and phone, which is a relief to me.)

I do not mind the school district having a hand in educating my children. My 7-year old is a very successful and happy public school student. He's confident and smart and doing great. I am the product of a public school system and so is my husband. We have many friends who are teachers. But I found that these particular children, my boys, did not fare well in the public schools. They need more attention and protection.

Some homeschoolers hate the idea of a public school system offering school-at-home. Some of them believe it's a scheme to eventually erode the rights of homeschoolers or a way to trick people back into the public school system. They do not want anyone to tell them how and when to educate their children. They are called "independent homeschoolers." Some independent homeschoolers are quite antagonistic towards school-at-homers and believe that we are not "real" homeschoolers.

And while I completely respect their position, that's not me. I have no qualms about accepting free curriculum, even though there are strings attached. What I do is pretty much the same as what they do. I just do it with the oversight of professional educators (though not much oversight, truthfully).

We attempt to find the middle ground as we parent our children. Not too strict and not too lenient. We shield them from inappropriate material, yet they play video games and watch television (they are currently hooked on the old episodes of "Full House").

What I've discovered the longer I am a mother is that my children never read those books I did about their behavior and how I would be able to curb and control it. They are individuals. Does the fact that they share no genetic material with me make a difference? Is it that they are boys? Or the simple fact of being adopted and the pre-verbal losses they suffered? Are their personalities just foreign to me?

I don't know, but I know this. I am doing the best I can. At this moment, at this stage in my own "full house," I gratefully accept curriculum and the ties to the public school. The minute it stops working, we'll reassess. Meanwhile, we impatiently await our curriculum and they are busy reading upstairs, safe and sound.

And my blue-eyed twin is no longer irritable and my brown-eyed twin isn't lost in the shuffle.


Anonymous surcie said...

Mel, my husband also is a minister. And (faux sobbing as I type) my boy is a p.k. Clearly, you have your hands full. Sometimes I think we should stop with one child. We kind of feel like we've got a handle on everything now that he's 2. Why shake things up? But I just can't imagine what life would be like for him as a p.k. AND an only child. . .Anyway, your post is very thought provoking.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Anselm's Apprentice said...

I'm so glad this program is working for you. I'm an attorney at the Home School Legal Defense Association, where we advise our members to stay away from programs like these. But that's our advice to folks who are already homeschooling, usually because they want an explicitly Christian curriculum. You've got some good reasons to march to a different drummer.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Julana said...

Oh, my goodness,Mel. I've heard Scott Somerville speak in person, here in the Buckeye state. He had glasses and was quite entertaining when speaking about legal issues related to homeschooling. Smart guy. I'm glad he supports you here.

We always keep the door open to homeschooling. Our son, being an only child and nonverbal, just didn't get enough social interaction in the preschool years, when we were hanging around homeschool groups. Children need near daily exposure to get used to him, and to learn how to relate. The school staff have done a great job mediating relationships, so far.

But it's not all perfect, and we're keeping the door open to homeschooling, if we need it.

I read The Underground History of American Education, by John Gatto (sp?). That page-turner would drive a parent to homeschooling in a New York minute.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous beth said...

I was a PK my whole school years life. I so understand. You rock, Mel. You're making excellent choices for your kids. Your boys are very blessed to have you. and so is, BabyGirl, of course. and the daycare kids and the neighborhood kids and the kids you watch in the nursery on Sunday mornings. Yep, you rock.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Darling said...

I love love loved this post. Power to you woman! You are definitely a home schooler and you deserve the laurals.

I hope i can find a resolution for my little Tink like you did! Blessings,

5:21 PM  
Blogger Shelly said...

After reading your blog for a period of time, I think you're the real deal!

6:41 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

I applaud parents who are willing to step back and examine what it is their children really need. There is so much outside pressure from groups of all kinds that insist that you must do things "just so."

And you are right, people try to generalize kids (my own mom even does it and drives me nuts). What works for some may not work for others.

I too, am open to whatever is best for Mr. Personality.

7:57 PM  
Blogger tab said...

my hat goes off to all that homeschool or even school at home (or whatever you want to call it). I am very thankful my kids have thrived in public school (very social creatures I have--get that from their daddy). I almost cringe when it comes to homework w/my oldest. I just do not have that much patience (or so I think) and it feels like we start butting heads. If I felt like teaching them at home was better for them, I know I would have to make some major changes and I'm not sure where I would begin (maybe by getting me some major tranquilizers)....but then again we do what we have to do.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Feeble Knees said...

As someone who's weeks (or less?) away from being a new mom, I love that you admit there was a time you thought you knew exactly how everything was going to go and how your kids were going to be - but that in reality there's no way to predict or control or contrive the perfect childhood.

It's very freeing to hear that, when there are so many people jump at the chance to sell their agenda - i.e. "Just do things the way I did them and your life will be pefect." If I were inclined to believe that, I probably would be the type to end up stuck owning a worthless deed for a certain bridge in Brooklyn too.

Glad that you've been able to hit upon something that works for all of you, and that you have the gumption to stick with it, regardless of what others might say or think. I'll remember this and hopefully have the same determination to do what we feel is best for our guy, whatever that ends up being.


10:41 AM  
Anonymous Tina said...

"Does the fact that they share no genetic material with me make a difference? Is it that they are boys? Or the simple fact of being adopted and the pre-verbal losses they suffered? Are their personalities just foreign to me?"

Yes to these and so many more.
I think you are a great mom! You have done what is best for your children as individuals. So many of the books out there are more like parenting-by-number...usually not a great solution.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I read the Mary Pride book also. Then I went ahead and did it my way.

Oldest Son was 'unschooled'.

Daughter was 'school at home'. She just LOVED to fill in the blanks!

Youngest Son went to the same school from K-12, an inner city Christian school, like nothing else I've seen or heard of.

I'm getting curious as to how they will choose to school their children.

12:16 PM  
Blogger barbara curtis said...

Great post, Mel. When I first started homeschooling my kids in 1990, I'm afraid I got caught up in the self-righteousness and judgmentalism that so many people have perceived in the homeschooling crowd. But many of us get over ourselves. I really believe the best approach is to take it year by year, child by child - if you've already made up your mind, how can you hear what God wants you to do? So I've been through all kinds of combos and schools - public, Christian, Catholic. When we moved to Virginia I put 9 kids in public school - ironic since I live 5 miles from Patrick Henry College. Having been a homeschool conference speaker, I really felt stigmatized ;), especially when Mike Farris was my daughter's softball coach. But God can prompt us to do things other people don't understand. Now I would never judge another parent. I think the best thing is to have freedom to follow what ever God calls you to do. This year I'm homeschooling my 7th grader at her request. Five are still in public school - including my 4 guys with special needs, who I think fare better at school with as much social interaction as possible (part of their mission is to change the lives of others, I believe) Next year: who knows?

You are a blessing.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Vashti said...

What a great blog! I linked from Lifenut and I'll be back. I am a new homeschooling mom (I have been working through it in my blogging too). I don't hold any anymosity against public schools. I am just doing what works for my I know that this will be a challenging year but I think I'm going to love it. Hey...if a curriculum from the school works for you, that's great. It sounds like your boys are thriving. Best wishes for a great year.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Vashti said...

I know I just misspelled "animosity." oops. Didn't want to leave the wrong impression on our first cyber-meeting. Especially since I'm teaching my children at home! I look forward to visiting your site again.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Simply Coll said...

It has been many years since I had two boys in school, but I remember how difficult it can be.

I admire that you are doing what you feel is best for your children. My hat is off to you.

9:37 PM  
Blogger portuguesa nova said...

That was a fascinating post in so many ways.

Irrelevant side comment: I know without a doubt that my own yet-to-be bornchildren will not adhere to any of my own perfect-child rearing fantasies, and that scares the crap out of me.

2:14 PM  

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