Monday, November 21, 2011

Taylorjourney: Why We Homeschool

     Years ago, I found myself sitting across from my young son in a restaurant, faced with a dilemma.  You see, I had always promised myself that I would fight for my children no matter the cost, and yet I distinctly remember watching the shadows of fear and disappointment cast across his little face as he described yet another miserable day at school.  Trying to swallow the lump in my throat, I nodded my head and squeezed Tim's hand in a silent acknowledgement of what we'd come to accept as normal:  Our oldest child hated school, and apparently school returned the favor.
      Now, I'm not saying that the struggles we were dealing with are common to other parents.  As a matter of fact, it seems as though we were getting it from all sides.  Our son was ten years old at the time and was consistently coming home from school with headaches and stories that would make a saint want to try her hand in a boxing ring.  We live in a small community with a K-12 school system and because of that, our son walked the halls with juniors and seniors that had mouths like sailors and the character, apparently, of catfish.  Being asked to explain detailed sexual terms by your ten year old pales only in comparison to trying to explain why a 17 year old would tear up your homework, steal your textbook or threaten to kill your dog.  After nearly two years of jumping through hoops at the school to try to handle the "bullying" situation to no avail, we were ready to start picking fights with parents in an attempt to curb the abuse, but then God started opening our eyes to a completely different can of worms.
      This kid of mine who seemed to garner the attention of every kid with a perverse sense of humor was also a fantastic student.  When he started school, he absolutely loved to learn and it showed.  He would often finish assignments while the teacher was still giving instructions to the class.  He would grow bored in science and history and read ahead or study the parts of the texts that the classes would skip over.  He, at ten, was reading like a champ and had earned himself a reading level that allowed him to snag books from a different shelf in the library than his classmates.  You would think that what I'm telling you would be wonderful news, but sadly, in the school system, it spelled disaster.   Very few teachers had any patience for his desire to move at a different pace than his peers because it simply didn't fit into a public school schedule, or scope and sequence, to be more exact.  Instead of being encouraged for moving ahead, he was called out in front of the class and even written up on more than one occasion.  My young learner quickly realized that being good at what you do at school meant sneers and visits to the principal's office.  It was a very frustrating consequence of the 'system' side of education, but even at its worst, it didn't touch the issues we ran into when it came to his ability to read on a different level than his classmates.

     It's easy to assume that having a child who loves to read and does it well would be a huge benefit to his schooling, but doing so will only set you up for disappointment, and quite frankly, disgust.  Imagine my horror when my kid brought me a newly finished novel and asked me to clarify the ending for him, only to read and realize that my then nine year old had followed the story of a young orphan who trekked across the country and found himself unknowingly in the care of an older homosexual with questionable motives?  Well, I was furious.  I accompanied my son and that book to the school the next day, sure that the book in question had found its way to his hands by mistake, only to find out that I was being unreasonable.  Apparently, my son's reading level dictated that such material would be made available to his young eyes and there was nothing I could do about it.  As a matter of fact, that book turned out to be a slight blip on the radar in the grand scheme of things as I repeatedly approached teacher, librarian, principal and BOE with reading material that would cause grown ups to blush and squirm, only to be made feel like my finding issue with it in the first place apparently meant I was raising my son wrong.  It was a frustrating time, to say the least, but in the absence of any real solution to the problem, we ended up not participating in the state-wide reading program that sent my son to the library each week.  He went from winning awards to earning zeros and that was as close to compromise as we could get.

      Another thing that really turned my stomach happened at one of our famous teacher/parent meetings just a few weeks before I pulled the plug.  We were a few months into the 5th grade and I found myself sitting at a short table with his three teachers, one of which being his reading teacher.  We were discussing, as always, the problems with a kid who gets bored with classwork and how 'disrespectful' it is for a ten year old to begin an assignment before a teacher gives instructions, or even worse, to do assignments that the teacher hasn't even assigned.  I was frustrated to tears with that particular conversation, only to be questioned next, by his reading teacher, who was profoundly disappointed that my kid wasn't participating in the 'supplemental reading program.'  After retelling my woes about the experiences we'd tucked under our belts, this teacher looked confused for a moment before excusing herself and leaving the room.  After a few minutes, she returned and confessed that she didn't realize my son could read on a higher level than his class and had assumed, for months, that he was defiant and lazy. After a few questions and reminders on my part, I realized this woman wasn't just a teacher, she was his reading teacher and yet she could tell me nothing of his ability to read, only that he didn't "conform" to her version of a "normal" ten year-old. Sadly, I can't even tell you that this situation was the result of an apathetic teacher.  She cared, bless her heart-she just didn't have time to concentrate attention on any one student, therefore, a student who performed above grade level was essentially ignored, unless they caused the problems my child caused.  It was explained to me that the only students who actually get one-on-one time are the students that fall below the average.   It occurred to me right then and there that I had placed my child's academic future into the hands of people who couldn't afford (because they don't have the time) to really care about his future beyond their classroom.  It was a gut wrenching bump in the road that led us to that seemingly dreadful conversation five years ago.

    So, I was sitting at this restaurant, watching my family enjoy homemade salsa and chips while I tried to ignore the dance that was going on in my gut.  Across the table from me was a kid that God trusted me with.  I was supposed to protect him and fight for him.  He was my responsibility and his life wouldn't be graded with a report card that begged for my signature.   It would be graded by his ability to show character when nobody else could, to succeed even it was looked poorly upon, to go the distance, even if it meant going alone.  I was setting my kid up for failure. And as we bowed our heads to thank God for the simple meal, I once again whispered, "God, if you'll just show me what to do, I'll do it.  Show me how to rescue my kid from what seems to be changing who he is."  And it hit me:  God had given me a way, I had just, until that moment, said "no" to it.   We said "Amen," and I casually looked at my son and said, "You can quit worrying about school, son.  You won't be going back."
     Did I have a job to quit?  You betcha'.
     Did I have a clue what I was getting myself into?  Not a chance.
     Was it to be a huge sacrifice?  Absolutely.
     After half a decade of being at home with my kids, would I do it again?  A million times over.

So, there is a picture of my journey from "real" school to homeschool.  It's been the wildest, craziest, hardest and most beautiful ride so far and I'm looking forward to the next leg in the journey.  We're not perfect, but my kids love school.  Better than that, when they talk of their futures, they don't center around fortunes or travels or lottery tickets.  Instead, their stories of being grown revolve around picnics, dinner tables, food fights and making memories.  My kids don't "fit."  They would stick out in a crowd.  In any given situation, they're going to look for "another" way to get something done.  They're a little unique.  And that's just fine by me!

     I decided to jot down this story because I'm asked to explain it on a weekly basis. I plan to write more in the near future about our homeschooling journey.  If you have specific questions, please send them my way.  I don't, for a second, believe that homeschooling is the right choice for every family, but if God is leading you in that direction, I'd love to help!