Education On My Mind

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.

{ 15 comments… add one }

  • Debt BLAG February 7, 2014, 11:38 am

    Here’s a little food for thought in regard to activism at your school.

    We burn up a ton of time, effort and attention when Presidential elections come around. The news coverage of it pretty much goes into 24-hour mode a few months prior and 2 1/2 years away from the next contest, we’re already getting sprinklings of coverage. And yet, while different presidents can have a huge effect on the world-at-large, I’d argue that on a per-person basis, the people who sit on your school board have a much bigger effect on your day-to-day life.

    Anyhow, this is a long way to say that I support your decision to get involved with the school. There are a lot of ways to do it and as you’re seeing, it can have a huge impact on the lives of local kids and parents alike.

    Can’t wait to see how you move forward :)

    Reply
  • Peter Akkies February 7, 2014, 11:40 am

    I really enjoyed reading through the evolution of your thinking on home schooling. I don’t have kids, but seeing you investigate a topic so thoroughly and then balancing local concerns (your son’s fondness of school) with the “optimal” solution coming out of your research is fantastic.

    Reply
  • thegoblinchief February 7, 2014, 12:12 pm

    Really nice article.

    I made the homeschooling plunge this year and it’s working out nicely for us so far. The kids WERE upset at first. It took about a month before the “when are we going to school?” and “what about real school?” questions stopped.

    I plan to re-evaluate each year but I am really glad I have done it this year, no matter what happens in the future.

    Reply
  • David February 7, 2014, 3:13 pm

    Thanks MrsMMM really enjoyed your article. Our son is your son’ s age and he attends grade 4 (in Australia). He is dyslexic and is struggling with the content (he has a tutor once a week as well). He has a wonderful teacher. However, he is popular, and gifted comic! And his classmates gravitate around him….my point is that he would never have the opportunity to excel in a social setting as rich as the school playground if he was homeschooled. He is accumulating a network of friends that he will take into his adult life. He is exposed to all the ruff and tumble of these interactions from the bully to the nerdy…a great toolbox of social skills far more valuable than a straight A report card. Good luck with your journey. And please keep MMM out of jail???I love that guy!

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  • Radhika February 7, 2014, 4:35 pm

    My husband and I both read this post and the first thing he said was, “I appreciate this post.” The first thing I said was, “Wow that was right on!” I think the decision to homeschool or not homeschool can be impacted by so many considerations and you walked through your thoughts beautifully.
    I think you are right on for listening to your son and for staying tuned into what is going on with him emotionally and with his learning at school. As parents, we are the “boss” of them but we’re also trying to build their independence and make them feel like they have some skin in the game. This means that we do actually have to listen to them.
    I appreciate your willingness to make an impact at your son’s school. The fact that we’re reading, blogging and commenting on these topics gives our kids an advantage over so many others. Do I think those other parents love their kids less or care less about their education? No. Do I think that many of those parents don’t know how to advocate for change? Probably.
    Great post, cheers.

    Reply
  • BNL February 7, 2014, 8:56 pm

    Hey MrsMM,
    I don’t have much to add to your thoughts, other than to say that I appreciate you sharing your thought process because my wife and I have discussed the same decision for our kids. My kids go to half day school now, and we supplement that with homeschool activities in the morning (via allinonehomeschool.com, if you’re curious).

    We go back and forth on what’s best for our kids. For the most part, I’m of the opinion that the most important thing as a parent is to nurture curiosity and creative thinking at home, and the rest will come naturally – whether in a formal school setting, homeschooling, or any other format. I have no doubt that you and MMM are already doing this…

    My biggest fear of traditional schools is that they “break” the natural curiosity of kids with repetition, memorization, and structure. The day that I feel that is happening, I will likely look to take my kids out of public school. For me, I didn’t know why I hated school as a kid when I was in it (this includes college), but in hindsight it’s quite clear that I was never meant to accept someone else’s structure. Letting this happen as a parent, in my opinion, is setting kids up to accept that same kind of unhappiness and lack of excitement in future situations in their life (e.g a 9-5 cubicle job, for one).

    Reply
    • Mrs. MM February 8, 2014, 9:33 am

      Hi BNL! Thanks for the new resource. I agree about schools breaking the natural curiosity of kids. That’s something I want to try and change in our son’s school by trying to update the math curriculum to something more hands on instead of worksheets, among other things.

      Just as an aside, I looked at the web site you sent and happened to see this post: http://allinonehomeschool.com/2013/11/21/getting-ready-1-reading-strategies/.

      I recently read a book called “The Good School” that talked about reading strategies and how it’s now been proven that phonics-based reading instruction is actually far superior to word recognition type strategies, yet many schools still haven’t switched back to phonics style instruction as it’s considered “old school”. The book went through the entire history of learning to read and different strategies that have been used over time. They indicated that 1/3 of the kids will learn to read fine with either strategy, but that many kids struggle because they are not learning to read by sounding out words. It was very interesting, and as I was reading this, I realized that our son’s school uses exactly the kind of reading program that the author recommended. However, the math program in our son’s school is not the type recommended by the book.

      Anyway, just thought I’d mention that. :)

      Reply
      • BNL February 19, 2014, 7:11 am

        Thanks for the book recommendation. I just reserved it from the library.

        Reply
  • WilliamR. February 7, 2014, 9:50 pm

    Thanks for the awesome article. I really enjoyed reading it. As the youngest of eleven children with over 20 nieces and nephews, education is a huge topic of debate in our family. Not to mention that we have high school and elementary teachers. Some of the kids are actually homeschooled while others go to private school. As you can imagine the arguments spark like wildfire at a big event.

    I couldn’t agree more about finding the right balance of communal and individual education. I believe that traditional school doesn’t teach the self-discipline that’s better attained while learning at home.

    Reply
  • Jenny February 8, 2014, 1:39 pm

    Proud of you. I think maybe you have a taste of what teachers feel, my husband even though there is so much he doesn’t like, loves teaching and knowing that he is a positive role model for so many kids – especially those in high-risk situations – he connects with them.

    Reply
  • Tristan Hume February 9, 2014, 4:35 pm

    As a high school student who loves school I’m glad to hear about this decision. I dislike the same things your son gripes about but over the years I have found ways to deal with them. For example, I learned that teachers rarely bother to mark math worksheets so I only do the 2 hardest problems and perform just as well in class as if I had done them all.

    Another tactic I use is writing programs to automate repetitive homework. I have a lot of fun programming things and learn more because describing a task to a computer takes deeper knowledge than doing it. It also lets you knock the socks off your teachers by doing things like drawing Obama’s face with large piecewise functions. Your son sounds smart enough that he could easily learn how to write simple programs to take the rote out of grade 3 math. I could probably even teach him the basics of homework automation programming if he’s interested.

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  • LinaMama February 12, 2014, 10:20 am

    Hi Mrs. MM! I’m so excited to see that you have your own blog! I always enjoy your guest posts on MMM and look forward to reading more of your writing.

    I wanted to chime in and say that I had almost exactly the same experience with my daughter! She is 8, in 3rd grade, and does not like school. It is nothing terrible, she just seems to have general stress about all the yelling from teacher and students (there are 30 kids in every class, so lots of noise) and the rigid school schedule, where there is so much wasted time.

    We had finally decided, after plenty of research on my part, to homeschool this year. I was beginning to prepare a curriculum, and BOOM, she changed her mind. Suddenly, she wanted to go to school, would miss her friends, couldn’t handle the idea of homeschooling. So, we sent her to school with the warning that she was committing to the whole year. She has gone back and forth all year, wanting to homeschool again. We are moving to a much smaller area (Queens – East Texas) and I am sending her to an arts magnet school next year. She loves art and music, and I think she will thrive in a smaller environment. The plan is to see how she does there, and if she is having the same problems, we will homeschool. I will also commit to volunteering more next year (I had an infant, so that was difficult this year).

    This is getting really long, sorry! I want to add one more thing: her school now is a TOP school, 10/10 on greatschools.com. I feel like if she isn’t happy here, maybe formal schooling just isn’t for her? Or maybe it (like the rest of NYC) is just an overly competitive and stressful environment.

    Good luck with your decision, and I look forward to hearing more about your journey!

    Reply
  • Buffy August 21, 2014, 12:19 pm

    I’m a little late on this subject but I really appreciated this post. As a school counselor I see so many families decide that the school isn’t serving their child the right way and they completely check out. We need more families like yours who are willing to volunteer in classrooms and be more active in the school process. It’s better for everyone. We need more parents to look at the process for ALL children and not just their own in order to make positive changes in education. Good for you for asking questions, volunteering and thinking about the other kids in your son’s class. Chances are they have parents wondering the same thing but they don’t have the time that you have to commit to finding answers.

    Reply
  • Davinder December 2, 2014, 5:45 am

    Hi, I got started recently reading up MMM’s blog, and found out you had one too! I love this post on education, especially because I believe I don’t want to give my future kids a recipe of an education. I always thought I would homeschool, but now I’m not sure. How do you think things would change if your son had started homeschooling from the beginning? I used to brush off the social aspect of traditional schools as something one can just organize better if one opts for homeschooling, but now I feel that if my future children want to go to traditional schools, I’ll certainly let them, although I also feel that 6.5 hrs is way too long. I’d love to give them the opportunity to do other things outside of school, a more flexible education.

    Reply
  • Deb June 24, 2015, 8:38 am

    I remember the article MMM posted about homeschooling. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the subject. I’ve got my MA in art education and have been teaching elementary art for 11 years. I get several homeschooled kids each year that come to my class for the social aspect as well as because of their interest in art and I think it’s great they attend.

    I was a kid who was very stressed out by school. I had very supportive parents but my body and mind was simply rejecting everything about school. Eventually I learned how to succeed and did really well…except for math….lol

    Anyway, I see kids now just as stressed out now as I used to be and it’s my mission in school to make learning engaging, hands on, exploratory and expressive. I see how the classroom teachers are stressed out beyond belief with SO much testing they have to do it’s obnoxious. It doesn’t help that schools and government are so behind the times….more art, music, p.e. is researched and documented to keep kids in school and allow them to become the problem solvers they will need in their future jobs. It’s frustrating.

    Reply

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