Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Putting doubts to rest

I recently read a book about homeschooling that I disagreed with almost completely. The author's admitted bias, his background ... everything about it worked against the entire premise of the project: To begin the process of understanding homeschooling. I read the book, mostly because I am curious as to what anti-homeschooling advocates have to say, and also because I keep a sharp eye out for anything that might have the potential to undermine my ability/right/legal standing to homeschool my children.

I read the entire book. I shrugged when the author seemed unable to grapple with some of the truths we homeschoolers know to be self-evident (instructional time, for example, need not be as long as that often employed in a classroom setting). I shuddered when the author's point was proven. (Why, oh why, did the nearly illiterate parents from Tennessee--the ones who proudly displayed their "Rod of Correction"--volunteer to be interviewed?) And I was sadly resigned when the book closed with its premise unshaken: homeschooling is at best a substitute for poor classroom instruction, but at worst a detriment to the child.

I put the book down and tried to forget about it. The truth, though, is that a small seed of doubt was planted in my mind.
Is my best good enough for my children? Are they missing out on something magical that would, truly, speak into them academically?

Academics are my weak spot, you see. I don't doubt--not for a single second--that the moral training my brood receives is far superior to the one they'd have at the hands of someone who was forced to stay without the limits of what is allowed in a public school. It's the academics I worry about--the reading, the writing, the math.
Am I doing enough?

God has a funny way of setting these fears to rest. Last night, as Atticus as I made our way through a quick trip at our local grocery store, my eye was drawn to a bulletin board. On it were the collected works of a local third grade class--the best of the best, as it were. Assembled, for our viewing pleasure, were the efforts of several 8 year-old children who had been handed a worksheet. On it, the teacher had left a space for artwork, then written in a few sentence starters. On first glance, I thought this was a kindergarten assignment. In my homeschool, I stop giving intros in the beginning of first grade. Yes, I might dictate something (
"I want you to write a couple of sentences about how you feel. Need some help? You can use "I feel ...' or even "I am ...' Let's talk about how a sentence starts. First, you use what kind of letter?" etc.) but I'm not giving them fill-in-the-blank sentences that will be easily scratched in and forgotten.

But these sheets were noteworthy in their lack of any evidence of actual creative requirement, let alone any real instruction. These kids--one year older than Logan, one year younger than Atticus--
these kids, these promising, star public school students, were lauded for their work.

Seeing their efforts made me feel so much better. Punctuation either wildly incorrect, or missing entirely. Words misspelled far beyond phonetic accounting. Handwriting that is completely illegible.
And these are the ones they chose to celebrate in front of the entire community as a sign of the excellent education our local students are receiving!

Why did seeing this horrible excuse for public education make me, a citizen, feel better? Because truthfully, if this is what my local public schools expect of a third grader, I am in no way failing.


Homeschooling is not perfect. There are children out there, right now, ostensibly being homeschooled, who are 17 years-old and unable to read a newspaper through no fault of his own. There are homeschoolers who put on Wiggles videos to fulfill a music requirement. Yes, there are "homeschoolers" who beat their children.

But when held to the standard of education that is set before us by our communities, most of the homeschoolers I know personally far and away exceed the "bare minimum" that so many outsiders think we struggle to maintain. We are the parents who stay up late researching creative math games. We are the parents who spend hours sitting cross-legged on the floor with a globe on our lap and geography flashcards at our sides. We are the parents who peek over our 8 year-old's shoulder and sing, "I-before-E-except-after-C ..."

We are doing a good job. No matter what a handful of detractors think, we are educating our children. And we're doing it well. And with love.

Never forget that, mom.


Beth said...

Thanks for this...
just this morning I was in our local public elementary school as my soon to be 3 year old will start speech therapy through the school system. When I came in with all 4 kids in tow, they looked at me like I had two heads.
Before I left, I had received various comments from several folks: "Bless your heart," "I don't know how you do it," and "Are you babysitting?"
And I think to myself, "Teachers here have to handle 30 kids in each class, why am I the "crazy" one?"

It was an interesting trip none the less. I liked showing my son where he would be going to school had we chosen the "public" option. And I am thankful for the speech services they will provide my daughter once a week.

Anyhow, sorry for the novel of a comment. Thanks for the encouragement!

ThyHandHathProvided said...

Wow. Those worksheets say it. What reassurance! Thank you.

Photographing Mom said...

Thank you for sharing your words!!!

Camille said...

Very true...and it is so sad that the "system" thinks they are the ones doing it "right". Some teachers (I know some) are dedicated and committed to doing a fabulous job...but as Beth said, they have to manage 30 children when a single family will never have that many...and certainly not all the same age! :)

You have given us all a wonderfully encouraging post today Mary Grace ~ Thank you so much!


Sarah said...

Wow. I feel empowered!

Benny said...

Just what I needed this week. Thanks.


Ticia said...

I think we all have our weak moments and our fears. These are our children's futures that rest in our hands. I say better my hands than the hands of a government looking to turn out dumbed down woker bees.
My son is about to turn 18 and I can tell you he got more than an education at home. He became an individual. He is not cookie cutter child.

Ticia said...

sorry that would be worker bees! not woker bees. I guess that was just my public school education coming out. ;-)

Gayle said...

After 14 years of homeschooling you'd think the insecurities would be gone by now. But they aren't and reminders like yours are what keep me going. So glad you pointed it out.


Deborah said...

Thanks for your post, sometimes we just need a reminder of what a great job we do!

My two children went to school this year for the first time just to 'see what it was like' and it has been a confirmation to my husband & I (and to my kids!!) that homeschooling by dedicated and loving parents cannot be beaten! We are all so excited to be starting our homeschool journey again in January.

Deborah, Australia

Thia said...

Thank you for writing this. We're just starting our homeschool journey and I often wonder if we're getting anything done between having a preschooler (a boy who has more energy than the rest of us combined), a toddler, and a new pregnancy. But every once in a while, my schooler comes out with something that shows she IS learning and I know that this is the right road.

Stephani said...

Ahhhhh! Loved the pics of the worksheets. How encouraging! Third grade! Oh my! Of course I'm sure my kids have produced some terrible work. I'm imagining you standing there taking the pics at the store and it makes me laugh.

The Beaver Bunch said...

I used to be a public school teacher. So, I understand what the public "expects" of instructional time and a classroom.

And, unfortunately, I also expect this of myself. Most of the time and I feel like a failure if I don't provide my KINDERGARTNER 1 - 2 hours of solid, uninterrupted instruction.

Ridiculous, huh? I mean, my KINDERGARTNER is spelling 10 words a week and yet I struggle with the questions of:

"Am I doing enough?"
"Am I doing it right"
"Will my kids be stupid?"

Thanks for the reminder that we are doing enough and that God called us to this. It isn't a whim or a passing phase, it's what He has called us to do for this time and there is no place I'd rather be.

Luke said...

So very true, Mary Grace. So very true.

My personal experience is thus: I had been warned that this particular teacher was particularly picky. In fact, people had told me he was an incredibly strict ogre would would tear your paper to shreds if you made the smallest error! The horrors!

With more than a little trepidation, I awaited the syllabus that would determine my fate. It came. The requirements for papers, the teacher reassured us verbally, was that we needed to use proper punctuation and spelling.

...that's it.

Oh, and this was a Junior level course at my University.

"When," I asked myself, "have I ever been allowed to write a paper without proper punctuation and spelling?"

I got As on everything in that class.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you found verification of your own childrens superiority and are comforted. I think posting pictures as proof was perhaps in bad taste.

I think we all need encouragement, but, this seems more like prideful gloating. Not trying to offend. Just suggesting that these pictures of other childrens work be taken off, they serve no purpose other than to show how poorly these children are being educated. lets take the high road and not point fingers and laugh....even just minimizing the proof to just one picture would be better than posting so many... how much "proof" do you need to feel comforted by another persons failure?

TexasHeather said...

I have to say, Mary Grace, I agree with Anony. who posted above. I am glad you were encouraged that you are doing well, but, well, if we look hard enough we will all eventually find someone doing worse. And better.

I'm sorry, but I do think showing those photos is in poor taste, and I am reminded of the bully who puts everyone else down in order to feel better himself.

mary grace said...

TexasHeather and Anon.,

I prayed hard after receiving your comments--especially the part about taking the pictures down. In the end, this is where I have landed: these worksheets were posted in a very popular grocery store, in an area where they were *meant to be seen.* The banner above the work was clear: "The Best of the Best!" Alongside that was a brief praise for the local school where the students attended, pointing out what fabulous achievements were taking place there everyday. And yet ... at best, this is mediocre stuff. *At best.* When put in context of my original premise (a book criticizing the educational outcomes of homeschooling, as written by a public school pundit), these worksheets make my point. Standardized education is being pushed for homeschoolers; yet, writing skills far below grade-level are applauded (in my area at least) as long as the possessor of said writing skills is a public school student. I see this as a glaring double standard--and yet, it's one that I have to be careful not to press upon myself. Seeing that work was a relief to me, yes. Not because I am thrilled that such low performance is merit-worthy, but because it reminded me that I am a capable educator. No more, no less.

TexasHeather said...

MG, I appreciate your follow-up comment, and I do see your point. I thank you for taking the time to consider mine, even if we didn't arrive at the same conclusion. -TH

kate said...

Thank you so much for this post, and for posting the pictures. If you had just described the pictures I would have thought you were exaggerating. But, boy, did I need to see those. I have been struggling with alot lately. Are we behind? Do we take our Christmas vacation if we were sick for two weeks during Thanksgiving? or try to get back on "schedule"? Will the earth open up and swallow us if we are not doing "enough"?
Your post was a breathe of fresh air...from the bottom of my heart- Thank You.
We will take that Christmas Vacation...