Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why Home-School?

If you ask 100 home-school families why they do it, you are likely to get 100 different answers.

·         Quality of education
·         Religion
·         Closeness of having the children at home
·         Being influential in your child's life and education
·         Control (I’m hoping control over the education part and not “absolute control of my children,’ although sadly that happens too)
·         Your child is not doing well in the school setting
·         Bullies
·         Food Allergies
·         Etc., etc., etc.

Originally, I wanted to home-school because of socialization, which is ironically enough the aspect that drives many away from homeschooling. Instead of being afraid that my monkey would not have enough peer interaction, I was afraid that my monkey would get the wrong type of peer socialization. As an education major in college, I was disturbed by the peer interaction I saw. The big ones are obvious enough: the drug culture, risky sex, and exposure to things that I did not feel a child should be subjected. But the "smaller" aspects of socialization also bothered me, such as bullies (well, it hadn’t made headlines in 1998), teasing and extreme pressure to "fit in." These were the reasons that I knew my children would not go past the fourth grade in a school system.

But, when I finally pulled my oldest from school, I did so for a different reason. Algernon went to public school through the second grade. After that I realized that I had an absolute lack of control over her education once she was enrolled in school. My child was having problems with her teacher. Other than asking the principal to move her to another classroom (which we did and he refused), there was very little I could do.

Algernon was a precocious child from day one – stubborn as well.  At nine months, the child had a 3 word vocabulary: baby, ball and mama. If you took her outside at night, she would use all three words to argue with you that the moon was a ball. I never won that argument.

It was silly of me to think that she would be any less argumentative or stubborn with someone else trying to teach her, but she is very bright.

She learned to read using word cards in a method I can describe only as “whole words,” which is not anywhere near the same as what a pedagogue defines it as. At 6 she could read nearly anything on any level, but the child could not phonics her way out of a paper bag. She was horrid at it. Show her a 15 letter word, and she would say it, define it and use it in a sentence. Ask her what are all the sounds “ou” make, and she say’s “huh.” (No sweety, that’s not one of them.)

So there she was in second grade, by far the best reader in her class, reading at least one chapter book a week and failing, yes a big fat “F” failing, phonics.  We found ourselves sitting in a second grade classroom, in seats not meant to hold our bottoms, having the teacher conference with Mrs. H.

Mrs. H: Algernon needs to pass phonics. If she doesn’t pass phonics, she won’t pass the second grade.

Us: Uh, Mrs. H. what exactly is the point of learning phonics?

Mrs. H: So that the child can read.

Us: Well, she reads. She reads very well actually. Is there anyone in the class who reads better than she does?

Mrs. H: That’s not the point! She has to know phonics. I believe phonics is the very foundation for reading success.

Us: But, again, she already reads. (long uncomfortable silence) You believe? Does that mean that all second grade teachers use phonics?

Mrs. H: Well, no. But I believe it’s important. My class learns phonics.

Us: Look, we go over the phonics flash card with her for nearly 2 hours every night, and she still doesn’t get it. It didn’t take her that long to learn to read in the first place. She doesn’t use phonics to read. We don’t think she needs it.

Mrs. H: That isn’t really up to you, now is it?  As her teacher (isn’t that a phrase they all use to assert their authority over you?), I feel that it is important. Just keep drilling with the phonics cards, and she’ll eventually catch on.

We lost that battle too. She eventually caught on enough to pass, but she still doesn’t use phonics to sound out words. When she doesn’t know a word, she looks it up in the dictionary.  

When she started third grade, we were determined that her education wouldn’t be ruled by absurdities.  On her first day of third grade, I had a crash course on how to home-school thanks to an Avon customer who home-schooled her 4 children.  I pulled her out of school at the end of the day, and we’ve home-schooled her and all our other monkeys ever since.

Do I ever regret it? Of course. All of the time.  I’m always questioning what I do and how I do it. I’m still glad I chose it. Some days I despair that I’ve ruined my monkeys’ lives. Then we have a really productive day, or one my monkeys says something really profound that they discovered on their own, and I know that we would never have done those things if they had been in school.

Am I certain I made the correct decision? Never, but is anyone ever certain that they made the correct decision. I do what I think is best with the knowledge I have at the time I have to decide.  As parents, that’s just what we do.

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