Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The burdens and blessings of homeschooling and what led us down this path

We are playing "catch up" in our lessons this week, partly because with all the upheaval in our home lately getting ready for bambino #3, we've had some weekday errands to run. We've run them which means that we're now "behind" (if there really IS such a thing when you home school) seeing that Josh is already so further advanced academically than his public school peers it hardly seems like he's "behind" but when we don't get to the "core" of my lesson plans -- I consider us "behind." And so it stands. Therefore, while the boys are enjoying their free time before bedtime laughing over America's Funniest Videos (yes, Andy found the extra remote much to their delight), I thought I'd do a little entry on the old bloggidy-blog.

I haven't told many people the reason behind WHY we were homeschooling so I figure--no time like the present, right? Grab yourself a nice glass of iced sweet tea and sit for a spell. Welcome to my journey.

I live in a very "privileged" area. Children in my neighborhood do not go without. Many are in possession of every type and brand of electronic gaming system known to man. Many of them play numerous sports and are involved in many expensive extra-curricular academic clubs. Many of them wear nothing but name brand clothing and have several pairs of ultra expensive shoes. These children live in a state of excess. As such, many of them will be given no chance to earn their way through life because their parents feel they are exceptional and therefore entitled and the children inherit this entitlement mindset. Quite sad.

While living in a nice area has its definite pro's, many people living on the "other side" of the grass, don't realize it's also home to many con's. It's really a blessing and a curse at the same time.

Honestly, I wish we lived in a melting pot of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, socio-economic levels and educational backgrounds just for the sake of diversity and learning to appreciate people's GIFTS and talents rather than the fact that so and so has FOUR guitars and the new Madden NFL game. We are in a traditionally Caucasian neighborhood. I had one close friend of another ethnicity but she moved away (waaah!) Otherwise, I'm mostly surrounded by people that tend to look alike.

And, if you've read my other posts, you'll remember that I'm a very, VERY low maintenance woman in a very high maintenance "Stepford Wife"-ish neighborhood. I don't tan. I don't shop. I don't drive a BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Mercedes or anything like that. I don't have my teeth bleached. I don't have my clothes dry cleaned. I don't have my hair highlighted. I don't have my nails done. I don't go for spa days. I don't have a gym membership. I don't do "lunch dates" at the country club. I don't mind going out -- if need be -- without make up while wearing sweats and tennis shoes and having a hat to hide the hair. Andy has called me high maintenance BECAUSE I'm so low maintenance (does that even make sense?) I will confess, while I have your attention however, that my one love is my kitchen ...and I DO love my kitchen gadgets! I do allow myself to be spoiled with awesome kitchen gadgets! :)

But I digress. That's a bit of history on the WHERE and ME of the situation, but now back to the SCHOOL situation. I will admit that the school district here is purportedly a good one. The elementary school in my neighborhood is labeled "Exemplary" which is the highest ranking they can attain. So, after moving here, I started thinking it is obviously a good school. I'm sure on many levels it is.

Josh didn't start out at the local public school. Since he has a late birthday (May), I didn't want him to be the youngest in his class. I wanted to give him an additional year to mature both mentally and socially. Therefore, he went to private school for Kindergarten and Developmental First. (Just FYI - Developmental First is more advanced than K but not as challenging as first grade.) However, since we were paying out the nose for school (property) taxes, it seemed only fitting to at least give the local public school a TRY.

Also, I didn't want Josh in the public school half-day kindergarten because I had a newborn (Drew) and to me, it seemed like they really couldn't accomplish much in terms of "schooling" when they're only there for half a day. I wanted him in FULL DAY kindergarten since he'd been used to a full day program since he was in a daycare/learning environment from 6 weeks of life on. So, he attended K at the private school and then D1. (Late starts (or D-1 depending on where we live) will be the choice I make for all three kids regardless of where they go...but that's just for my own personal reasons.) :)

So, back to Josh. After K and D-1, he started first grade at the local public school and honestly, it was a good year. We had a teacher who was new to both teaching and this school. She was fantastic. Then, second grade was upon us. We discovered that with the amount of children in his specific grade level, the school was having to add a new teacher to accommodate for the large number every year and as luck would have it, he got the new teacher. She was new to the school, but not to teaching and was EXCEPTIONAL! She truly knew what kind of learning environment he needed to excel...and he did. It was AMAZING!

Then, we get to THE year. The third grade year. The second week of school -- SECOND WEEK -- the kid comes home and asks me, "Mom, what is tax?" (or so I thought that was what he was asking). I explained to him something to the effect that "taxes are what the government collects from mommy's and daddy's income to help pay for the government employees to run the country." He gave me that quizzical look of that clearly demonstrated to me that I was completely misunderstanding him. He said, "No, Mom. TAKS. Every day Mrs. _____ says, "If you don't learn this, you won't pass the TAKS test and you won't graduate 3rd grade."" I was completely taken aback. I was sure he was exaggerating -- you know how kids tend to exaggerate things, right? Yeah, well, apparently I was wrong. This happened day after day and week after week.

So, my son was just in the beginning of the madness by entering third grade but by being a den leader and Cubmaster for the school's Cub Scout Pack, I was involved with parents of boys in all grades at that school from first through fourth grade and even parents of the 5th graders at the Intermediate school where our Webelos II's go for 1/2 a year before they bridge over into Boy Scouts. As such, I'd been made well aware of the stresses placed upon these kids at TAKS time. A good friend of mine went to the school on several occasions to care for her diabetic daughter during TAKS time and there were children in the nurse's office who has been throwing up. The cause of the illness? STRESS from the stupid TAKS TEST! During TAKS test time, the school is basically in lock down mode. NO parents are allowed to come eat lunch with their kids. No recess is had. No fun. No being kids. No talking in the halls. No nothing. They put these kids through the freakin wringer for a stupid test. It's BEYOND irritating -- as a parent -- that they're stressing out 3rd graders for what??? The sake of a test? Get OVER yourselves! But, by being plugged into the other parents like that, I knew full well what was coming in the 3rd grade when he started the year. Did I realize that it was going to be an issue that was pounded into their heads, hearts and minds from day one? Absolutely not. Strike one.

So, when Josh started to struggle with math in her classroom, I became concerned. I asked, "Should I put him in Sylvan? Do I need to tutor him? Can you send home extra worksheets? What can I do to help? Can you tutor him?" My questions were endless and went basically unanswered. She only suggested that she would begin tutoring in math but only covering what was on the TAKS test and she wouldn't start until late December because that was when they started prepping for the TAKS test. She was more worried about her job than helping my son! ??? Yeah, thanks a lot. Strike two.

I opted to put him in tutoring with a 4th grade teacher at that school. Things were going well until he came out one day and was showing me what they were working on. He said, "Well, they are doing it like this in third grade, but we don't do it like that in 4th grade so I'm showing him how we do it now." So, no consistency within the school even? Nice. Strike three.

Now, the school Josh attended is also a "resource school" meaning that there are several programs offered at this school not offered at other schools. They have a Speech Program and they have a Dyslexia program as well as other special education need programs. So, as such, there are a few children that aren't within the school's boundaries but that do attend there because of their special needs status. I have no problem with this. However, I do have a problem when the the teacher is obviously unprepared on how to handle the one or two autistic children that are placed in her care. Should the teacher seriously have to focus all of her attentions repeatedly on those two students throughout the day to the detriment of the other students? Of course not, but that's exactly what started to happen. They didn't prepare her to handle them. I think that the parent and teacher of the ones that aren't DISCIPLINE problems but just have some special needs can DEFINITELY sit down and have a meeting of how to handle things. She obviously did not and it was at the detriment of her entire classroom. Strike four.

Mind you, I have NO PROBLEM with mainstreaming "autistic" children so long as they can do the work, behave themselves and handle themselves accordingly OR that they have a system of checks and balances so that when they start to lose their concentration levels -- they have a place they CAN "check out" for a few. I wouldn't want to have a special needs child and s/he not be able to participate in "life" because of their "disability"... but I certainly wouldn't want it to be to the detriment of other children. If they are a discipline problem (like the two in Joshua's classroom) or unable to handle the traditional school environment, a caregiver needs to be present with them all day to handle things as they come up. I have SO many friends with autistic children and even have had the pleasure of having three in my den. The two that were in my den the longest: one was high functioning... was was low functioning but each boy was able to maintain. However, I took it upon myself to make sure that the parents and I sat down to discuss what was a good match for him so that I was prepared. That is the ONLY way to make that a success FOR THE CHILD. But the autism factor wasn't even coming into play here -- while one of the boys was a bit of a disruptive distraction (it was all just concentration-related things) the other was a COMPLETE discipline problem... COMPLETE!

So, while he's in this classroom, he kept coming home day after day with story upon story of these two boys... things they'd do... things they'd say. It got to the point that I just wanted to see for myself who they were and what the heck was going on. So, I made some unannounced visits for lunch. One of the boys -- I seriously worried for him. He just wasn't ... "normal" (for lack of a better term)... he wasn't all there.... he would talk to himself... had a glazed off look in his eye. It was really bizarre. Now, this could have been completely normal behavior for him -- I didn't know because I was only exposed to him for small durations of time.

Joshua came home with one story of one of the boys sitting at the lunch table within ear shot of a little girl. The boy was telling Josh and the other boys at one end how he was going to take her (the little girl within earshot of the conversation) "home to his bedroom, lock her inside with him, spread whipped cream all over his nuts and have her lick it off." Tell me... TELL ME ANYWHERE that a THIRD GRADER would EVER need to hear this or should have ever been EXPOSED to this type of sexually explicit material???? I was livid. LIVID. I felt like my son had been violated. In my mind, that child had obviously been exposed to pornography, sex acts or possibly molested. I was FURIOUS. Apparently, Joshua was so disturbed by this he tried to tell the teacher after lunch who just sent him to his chair without listening to him. (grrrrrr....) SO, when I picked him up from school he was FULL of it... he had to get it out and so we talked and talked and I just let him purge (he needed to in order to process this information). He needed to know that his feeling that it wasn't right... WAS RIGHT. I immediately contacted the school who has their answering machine on. I set to work on e-mails and cc'd the principal, vice principal, counselor and Joshua's teacher. The only reply I got back was from the VP that said, "The incident has been handled in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct." I'm sorry, but THAT IS UTTER BULL $H#*! My son's innocence has been stripped away and THAT is the line of CRAP you're going to feed me? Yeah... another BIG HUGE UGLY RED STRIKE....what are we up to ... five now... in two month's time?

One of these autistic boys was also somewhat of a bully... in a two week period in late October, Joshua had told me of him trying to shove another boy's hand down his pants... exposing himself on the playground.... bullying other kids and then the ultimate straw that broke the camels back was when I was speaking with a good friend of mine whose dear friend's daughter was in Josh's class. This teacher had a "worry box" for children to anonymously share their "worries" for discussion within the class. A seemingly wonderful idea on how to handle lots of issues without anyone being named and the topics being blanketed across the classroom as a discussion point rather than a blame game. This boy apparently saw the little girl leaving the playground to turn in her worry... he followed her and then threatened to kill her if she turned him in for picking on her. He threatened to KILL ANOTHER STUDENT AND HE WAS STILL ENROLLED AT SCHOOL THERE? At what point were they going to consider this boy a discipline problem? I'm sorry, but I was DONE at that point. I didn't feel that my son was safe any longer at that school, in that class or around that child. That boy was beyond seriously disturbed. I pulled Joshua out the next day which was the week before Thanksgiving of his 3rd grade year. So, for his third grade year in public school, we made it through September, October and most of November and then I realized all I had put up with an endured over that short time span and I was DONE. And if you know me, when I'm done. I'm DONE!

I jumped in with both feet not really knowing what to expect of Josh or what Josh would expect of homeschooling. I purchased used instructor materials from Half Priced Books so that I could just figure out WHERE he was so that I would know from what point to move forward from. I bought the consumables new from the manufacturer. It was exciting. It was terrifying.

My son's educational future was in my hands.

I did tons of research on the internet. I bought too much stuff. I sold some stuff.

Ultimately, after we "unschooled" (which was VERY necessary so that he could realize that just because they did something a certain way at school didn't mean that was "right" or the only way to do it. That was something - a mindset - that I had to break) we found our groove.

Most important to me was that I wanted him to realize that learning ... just for the sake of learning was actually fun. He'd been beaten down so badly with the math thing at the public school that he honestly believed himself to be "stupid" (his quote, not mine). How DARE they do that to my son?

So flash forward now... we're into our 2nd year of homeschooling and it's like night and day and funny thing... he is EXCELLING at math! Praise the Lord!

I've asked him for the past few weeks what he wanted to do next year as far as school so ta ht I could get him registered for next year since I'll be registering Drew soon. The public school wasn't an option, but he could go to the private school where he went before and where Drew is going to go (to D-1) or he can be home schooled. He has been wishy-washy about it all.

In not so many words tonight, he told me that he felt like a bit of a burden to me so he was considering going to the private school because he felt like he was keeping me from doing the things that I wanted to do. How sweet is that? I was quick to point out that there was NOTHING more important than spending time with my sons. NOTHING! And seeing that he was getting an above-average education and was being able to learn, memorize and apply what we were learning to his real "everyday" life was much more rewarding for me than anything else I could imagine. When he realized that was the way I really felt, he let me know that he really wanted to be home schooled again.

So, while I was looking forward to the thought that I might have gotten a little bit of a break this next year with them both in school-- especially with having a new little one -- I don't think that's in the cards for me just yet.

I've also had a friend approach me and ask if I would teach her son at home with Josh (can you say the ultimate flattery?) and while I know it'd be a lot of work... I certainly think it would be best for the both of them. I'm up for the challenge but regardless of what they do... knowing that I'm doing the best thing for MY son is what's ultimately the most important thing to me. Plus, with him being home one more year, we can take a few extended weekend trips to places we love to frequent like Oklahoma and/or Arkansas without the worry of "missing school" since we can take things with us. WOO HOO!

Ultimately, I can say it was this or that but perhaps these "strikes" were God's way of letting me know that I needed to be a parent and step up and protect my son. These were his subtle hints of telling me that I needed to make sure that His Word needed to be the baseline for our studies. I can't say I didn't pray about it and ask for the direction that we needed to go. I can't say that some days it's not frustrating having a little me time. I can't say that it would be nice some days to drop them both off and just come home and clean my house but when I get to witness, first hand, his face when he "gets it" and it clicks because I was able to cater to the way he needed to learn... who WOULDN'T want to know in your heart that God called you to do this becuase it was what was best for HIS child... who I just happened to be caring for.

So, there ya have it, our story in a nutshell. I'd be interested in why you chose to home school for those of you that do?


chksngr said...

Enlightening! I don't think people realize what has happened to public schools since we were in school...its a vastly different world. I went to public school in a very small town - only 63 people in my whole grade. Everyone knew everyone because it was a small town...and teachers could care about what happened with their students, because the classes are small. My mom is a public school teacher, but again in a small community with small classrooms and people who care. There are so many amazing and caring teachers out there, but the system doesn't always allow them to be good teachers. The system puts test scores above the well-being of a child...Its miraculous that so many of them make it to graduation. We have considered home-schooling since Jayden was born. He THRIVES in a school environment with other children, but he's in a private Christian academy where music and Bible get as much weight as fitness and academics. His teachers talked to us about helping him mature socially as well as academically. Its a wonderful balance. But we have no illusions about public school. There is a reason that home-schooling and priving schooling numbers rise year after year...the public school is no longer geared to educate - it is geared to indoctrinate and assembly line education. I think that people believe that a student who graduates is educated...but those that learn to learn and explore, to process and apply concepts to every day matters, to use logic and critical thinking are rare. Condcuting job interviews is an amazing thing. I am always blown away in a round of interviewing how many candidates make unbelievable money or have titles that indicate achievement but cannot form a complete sentence on a job application or correctly spell the words on their resume. Nice how we have dummed down our educational system to the lowest common denominator and forgotten that our children are individual, unique, precious and our future. Don't the people in charge realize that the students of today will be policy makers of tomorrow? They should have thought more carefully about where to budget dollars and who's hands to tie...

Alexis AKA MOM said...

OMGosh girlie I'm just boggled on the lunch room talk! That is just beyond words! I think you found the perfect thing to do! We put Cole in a private Christian School because I knew he really needed the one on one and the class room of 17 with 2 teachers it's great!

I hear you about the no make up :), but I must admit yes I do highlight lol my one and only thing ... LOL

I hear you about the India thing too, called block buster customer service and oh the fun times I had ... NOT