Ever since MMM wrote his article “My Son is Ready for Early Retirement“, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of Homeschooling or Unschooling our son.
When I get like this, I go into full on research mode. I read every single comment on the article (which I rarely do these days) and contemplated every idea presented. I was pleasantly surprised to read all the pro-homeschooling comments. I looked up Waldorf schools and Sudbury Schools (this was really interesting – look it up if you’re curious). I figured out that in Colorado, you can homeschool and even participate in programs run by the public schools for an option to do a bit of both.
Then, I did some research online and looked at homeschooling studies. I checked out a bunch of books from the library with titles like “The Good School” and “Radical Unschooling”. I read some of these books in a single sitting. The general consensus for me was that homeschooling is a very effective way of educating a child. I was convinced that with the right attitude and resources on my part, my child would do very well and even thrive.
So, I told my son that if he wanted to be homeschooled, I was all for it. Guess what? He didn’t want to talk about it. Somehow the idea upset him and for a full week, every time I brought it up, he was upset and wanted me to stop talking. So I stopped, but I was sad that as soon as I had convinced myself, he suddenly wanted to keep going to school. I had become so excited about the possibility and my role in it. I had been ready for action and was brought to a complete stop. It was a very odd reaction on his part considering his feelings on school and his repeated insistence that he wanted to stay home.
I mentioned this on Penelope Trunk’s blog in her article “What does genius risk-taking look like in the context of school?“. She had mentioned MMMs article on her Homeschooling blog and I chimed in asking: “What do you do if your kid doesn’t want to be homeschooled?” Penelope kindly replied with: “My younger son wants to go to school. I don’t let him.”
I found this to be a really interesting answer, as many homeschooling parents have said that if their kids ever decide they want to go to school, they let them attend. She obviously feels so passionately that traditional schooling is terrible and possibly detrimental to a child that she won’t allow her kids to attend. This threw me for a loop, as I feel that my child’s opinion in the matter is of extreme importance. Was I really subjecting him to something so awful that I should take charge and just take him out? Her comment had me thinking for days.
Meanwhile, as this was going on for a couple of weeks, I continued to volunteer in the classroom. I volunteer every Monday morning for about 3 hours, so I get to see what is going on at school. I also volunteer for other events, so I’m at the school a lot. All my reading did not go to waste, as I realized that my perception of education had shifted quite a bit after doing so much research. I started acting differently with the kids and seeing their discussions and free-play in a more positive way. I also saw things I didn’t like – with the curriculum and how certain situations were handled by the teacher and by the school.
I was also perfectly comfortable letting the teacher know that my son would not be coming into school on his birthday. We stayed home and built a gigantic snow fort instead.
On those volunteer days, I watched my little boy and his interaction with others and realized that school provides him with a lot of fun times. For example, he enjoys being a leader in groups, he likes to make people laugh, and he’s very comfortable with his group of friends at school. He’s well liked and not shy at all with his peers. His personality and his comfort in his school environment have really blossomed since he was in kindergarten. And, while I think his reading and math skills would have been equally well developed (and perhaps more advanced) as a homeschooled kid, I do feel like his writing ability and his story telling have really benefited from the more structured school environment. Is this stuff important? I don’t know the answer, but my instincts say yes.
I also see how his day starts outside every morning as he rides his bike to school. We have very relaxed school mornings with dad making breakfast and lunch, while I sit with our son and read. He has recess twice a day and he has a gifted and talented class twice a week that he absolutely loves. He has an outstanding Art teacher and our son is always so excited to go to art class. There are a lot of good things. The teachers, for the most part, are wonderful and very excited about teaching. Their enthusiasm and experience really make the school special. He is always happy after school and bikes home excitedly telling us about his day. We know all the kids and their parents – we all hang out together for fun. We often bring a kid or two home with us after school. The community just can’t be beat.
So what is it then that he dislikes about school? Waking up early, being away from his parents, math worksheets, and many of the rules. The same stuff MMM hated about school, actually. Our kid is a homebody. He hates being away from us. Is the forced time away good for him? I’m not sure about that either, but I think it is, to some extent (I am really starting to think that a three or four hour school day would be ideal… 6.5 hours is a long time).
Since I volunteer, I also see all his classmates regularly (there are only about 17 kids in his class, which is nice). These kids, some struggling and some thriving, but all with so much personality and spirit… I love these kids. I want to see each and every one of them succeed. Some don’t have great support at home and I feel like I am able to help so many of them. They all yell out my name when I come into class and say goodbye when I leave. I have seen them struggle and make breakthroughs. I see them laugh and cry. One child told me she was sad because her father was in jail. These kids are incredible and I feel like I would be abandoning them. The school is incredible and has so much potential. It is a school I really believe in. In many ways, it is how a neighborhood school should be. They definitely have the right idea. There is community, diversity, incredible parents, fabulous teachers (again, not all, but most), they focus on things I care about: the environment, a world view, walking/biking to school. This school is trying to do amazing things and I want to help them. It is a school in transition, but they are on the cusp of something incredible.
One of the books I read encourages being an activist in your school. For now, I’ve decided that instead of taking my child out of school, I’m going to integrate myself more into the school. I’m going to be an advocate for the kids. I’m going to help bring the school up to its full potential. I’ll be more outspoken about things I think should change. That way, I help my own kid, but I also simultaneously help many more kids. Because every kid deserves a good education. I also get to be a role model for my child – he will see that when things aren’t the way you like them, you can change them. That one person can make an impact.
I’m not saying that homeschooling is not a good answer for families. I think it is a wonderful thing and I will homeschool my child if he wants me to. We might do it for a bit and then go back to his neighborhood public school. But, I also feel really empowered knowing that I can help a lot more kids than just my own.