Friday, October 8, 2010

Holding Nothing Back

I had some experiences this week, that in an effort to make this blog authentic about the first year of homeschooling, I have decided to share.

I work as a reference librarian in the town where we live, the town where my children used to go to school.  Our friends have all been very supportive of our decision to homeschool, most understanding the issues in our school system and in the state of education in general in the US in 2010.  Some told us they have considered homeschooling, some even said they are going to watch us this year and see how it goes because they are that close to making the same decision.  But, you know there are always going to be people who voice dissent.  Especially when you work in a public setting.

One of the teachers in our daughters' former school does a lot of tutoring and meets the children she tutors at the library.  Neither of my daughters has ever had her for a teacher, but I was actively involved in the school when my children attended, so I know that she knows who I am.  This week, she decided to share her views on homeschooling with me.  I didn't feel that she did this to criticize, but to inform; to give me food for thought.  Her position, and it is very valid, is that while she understands all of the issues with the American education system and our school system in particular, teachers are constantly reading and refreshing themselves, they are constantly making themselves aware of the latest trends and thoughts and findings.  Teachers specialize in certain areas of education.  Teachers are constantly attending workshops and seminars to hone their skills, and homeschooling parents can not provide the same broad, well-rounded, specialized education.  

These were not things that I had not thought of prior to making the decision.  I told her that we are a member of a co-op where many of the parents are or were teachers, some elementary school, others high school teachers and in two cases, college professors.  The ability to tailor my children's education to meet their learning styles and needs, to read what is relevant for me to reach two children (after all, I am not charged with the responsibility of education 30 children all with different needs, backgrounds and learning styles or issues) and the wealth of information available through blogs and support groups on-line, I feel, while they don't completely compensate for broad, well-rounded specialized instruction, at least it's something.

Just a little while after she left, I was faced with a girl who was in A's class last year.  A girl who was very difficult, very exclusive, very Queen Bee-ish.  And this girl's mother, who I had met twice before.  This mother asked how A was and then said, "You are homeschooling her, right?  What do you do to keep her socialized?"  I listed, "Co-op, two playgroups, playdates..."

And I have been thinking about it ever since.

We said A would take art classes, but the only ones that interested her are on Mondays at 4pm (too close to the end of co-op, we could never make it there in time) or on a night when I work and Jason often rushes in as I rush out.  In a few weeks, my parents will be home and the girls will resume their sewing lessons with my mother.  A, in her words, has found her passion, and it is making things with Fimo clay.  She spends every spare second either reading or watching youtube and making things with Fimo clay.  She wants to open an etsy store as soon as she makes enough items, gets a little better, perfects the jewelry making techniques.
We bought the girls this fashion design kit.
They are both interested in fashion design.
P does choir.  I would like A to as well, but she isn't interested.  I am still considering "forcing" her to go.

The girls spend 6 or 7 hours a week at co-op with a lot of other kids.  They have both made friends and we are hosting a playdate with several families on Monday afternoon.  They often go to the playground and see their school friends.  We attend to playgroups each of which meets every other week and the girls have friends in both groups.  

A struggled in school.  She always got good grades, but she didn't test well, she had severe test anxiety and the school felt she was suited to Basic Skills Instruction because she would grow in confidence in a small group setting and that would translate to more confidence in class.  I saw her self-esteem suffer and the school fought me on it, saying "give it more time" or "the teachers feel it is working".  Her Language Arts teacher and the Basic Skills Math teacher both told me that she did not need Basic Skills.  It was suggested by many people that it was all a matter of funding.  I even got the Department of Education for the State of New Jersey involved, but ultimately, it was the decision of the school.  

I saw my daughter being labeled by some teachers and other kids.  I saw her think of herself as dumb and give up, despite the fact that she loved to read and was reading above grade level; despite her repeatedly testing above grade level in math on the monthly computerized practice tests.  (I still have yet to get the NJ ASK results from our school system; they have not sent them and I am not sure that I want to know).  

I saw two possibilities for A's future: either she truly needed extra help, was being pushed along and would never quite "catch up" or be where she should be OR she would spiral down a tunnel of self loathing that could lead to self destruction.  I watched it for three years and I couldn't watch it any longer.

She pulled away from all but a few friends.  She became agitated, angry and disagreeable.  She didn't want to have friends over or go anywhere.  

After two years, she welcomed the idea of homeschooling.

I have seen a tremendous positive change in her.  She has become (as has her sister) a voracious reader, I think because it is more relaxed and she can enjoy the books.  She has found a passion and has time to pursue it.  She is proud of herself for loving books and reading.  She has developed a real interest in history.  Even when she does give me a hard time, it is not nearly to the extent it was when we were talking 3 hours of homework after being in school for 6.5 hours.  She is no longer agitated or angry or disagreeable.  I have seen her self-esteem soar.  She is relaxed about learning and confident about her abilities.

And, while she has less time with other children, I feel like the time she has is quality time.  She has seven hours at co-op with a friend she made.  They make plans for all kinds of playdates.  She looks forward to our playgroup that meets at someone's home and has connected with several of the girls there.  She has also connected with new kids each time we attend the park playdate.  She is planning her birthday party and not sure if she should just include homeschool friends, because there is really only one girl in public school that she wants to invite and she wouldn't want her to feel weird being the only public schooler (of course, I am encouraging her to invite more public school friends).

P, on the other hand, did fine in school.  Actually, school came very easily for her and I wondered if she was being challenged at all.  Now, in taking placement tests she is constantly placing one or two academic levels above her school grade level.  P has a very different personality.  She doesn't really care if she has friends.  If she does, great; if not, that is okay.  Even when she was in school, she would often tell me (or I would observe) that she would sometimes just do her own thing.  She has a best friend from school, whose mom has been super supportive and great about getting the girls together.  It seemed easier to bring them both home, and I am glad we did because I can challenge P and she can go at a pace that is good for her.

But, I do worry that my girls are not being exposed to the social hierarchy of public school.  They are no longer exposed to the "right" clothes and the "right" cell phone and the taunting and the bullying and the negativity.  While it's a welcome relief and I can ask myself why it has to be that way, I wonder if I am doing them a disservice.  I know some think I am.  Some people feel that is reality, it is the world and they need to learn how to live in it.  One of my friends, who is not a homeschooling mom, has said that adults don't treat each other that way, and if they do, you leave them the hell alone.  I think that is true.  Of our generation.  But who knows what affect 7 year olds with blackberries and iphones will have on the world?  Who knows what effect marketing to tweens will have in twenty years?  We don't know what the world will be like.  I think my generation is a lot more materialistically competitive than my parents' generation, who is to say that this generation won't be even more competitive and that my girls won't know how to assimilate?  

I don't know what the future holds.  Maybe my girls will choose to go to a vocational high school or take college level classes.  They are getting some of the taunting, competition in co-op and at church.  But I think it is an area that I need to work on.  I am not sure how.  Any suggestions?