Homeschooling, it is not for everyone, and to be honest, it took me a long while to get on board with the concept. After all, I have my Master’s degree in education. Pulling my son out of public school, the place I spent six years of my life training to work in, felt like something of a betrayal. It was an admittance that I saw something wrong with the public school system, that there was something wrong with my life-path-choice. It was an admittance that I was wasteful and wrong, two things I don’t care to be. It took us nearly the whole summer to finally make the decision and we only really pulled the trigger a few weeks before school was slated to start.
When we lived in Vermont, the idea of homeschooling never really crossed our minds. Sure, the schools in Vermont had to live up to the same federal standards as the schools in Georgia, but the mentality was different: the halls were friendlier, the parents welcome, the classes smaller. That isn’t to say the schools in Georgia are bad – my son learned how to read and blazed through math in public kindergarten – but it just was not a good fit for our family. Of course, at the time, I did not know that homeschooling would be the right fit, and even today a year-and-a-half later, there are days I question our choice.
I am not sure how many discussions my wife and I had before finally making the decision to not enroll our son in first grade, but there were many, and it was not always the same points that were contended. Undoubtedly, homeschooling is not for everyone and there will be a litany of different reasons for every family, some will be more real than others, but they all play into the final decision.
One of our main concerns with public school was time: time traveling to school as well as time in school and how it was spent. In our county the students have a seven hour day, even the kindergartners. Yes, I am aware that many schools are moving to a full day kindergarten, but in Vermont this was not the case. (I strongly disagree with full day kindergarten but that is for another post.) It seems to me that graduating from a three-to-four hour pre-school program to a seven hour kindergarten day is a massive jump and one we were not particularly keen on.
While I may not think it ever appropriate for a five or six year old to be in an institutional setting for seven hours a day – or really at all – inevitably as a student progresses through their educational career, it will become necessary. What I fear (and saw first hand) is how seat time is actually utilized. As a soccer coach, I learned that no player should ever be standing still: lines are bad. If you must use a line for a drill, try to get players to do basic exercises with the ball while standing in line. The same idea can, and should, be applied to school, but it is not, in fact, many times, it can’t be accomplished due to classroom makeup. Classrooms are filled with brilliant students who buzz through worksheets in no time as well as students who ought to have an aide, but do not. Yes, it is a teachers job to handle this gamut of students, but it is not always possible with burgeoning classroom sizes and ever increasing government proffered “standards” that focus on the lowest common denominator. So what happens? I guess it depends on the teacher, but it usually ends up being downtime in which a student is wasting time, and at the end of the day if you add up all that wasted time, how much do you have and what else could have been accomplished?
Another issue I take, is that in a seven hour school day, kindergartners went outside once for twenty minutes: twenty minutes. They went to gym twice a week for 40 minutes and lunch was 20 minutes. There was no down time from learning. Kindergarten – in my mind – ought to be about playing, learning how to play and how to interact in a manner that is appropriate for children. Instead they are stuck trying to keep up with standards some bureaucrat on the take from the Education Lobby has put in place. (Think about how much money is poured into the education industry with the advent of testing?)
In his year of kindergarten, my son never took the bus. This was not for fear of being bullied or any other emotional fear surrounding the bus, but rather it was the duration of the bus ride. Because of where we lived, my son would have been the first on and the last off the bus which does not mean much in itself; however, when you learn that the bus went by our house at 6:35 am and again at 4:35 pm it gets a whole lot more intimidating. From beginning to end, that is essentially a ten hour day – for a five year old. There are adults that do not (and could not) do that. In the end, it was me that was driving him back and forth to school everyday, yes it was our choice to do so, but it was a decision that had a pretty bleak alternative.
On top of the long day, the school system in our county is quite large; it is the third largest county in Georgia and it is broken into three school districts. Coming from Vermont where each grade had two – maybe three classrooms of 15-25 students in each, a grade with eight classrooms of 22-25 kids was a bit of a shock. It essentially meant that from year to year, our son would most likely not be with any of his friends from the prior year: each year would almost be like starting over. In our minds that meant two things, firstly, if home schooling didn’t work for first grade, we could stick him back in for second grade, and in terms of social networks, he would not be that far behind. Second, it meant that each new year would almost be like starting in a new school rather than a return to familiar situations. This was troublesome for us. (Imagine how much attention can be put on learning when you don’t have to constantly worry about navigating new social situations.)
Despite all the differences we face based on regional characteristics, there is at least one common trait through schools across the country: teachers. Some teachers are phenomenal and you wish your student could have them every year, some teachers are rubbish and you wish your child did not have to spend a day with them. Unfortunately, this is a crap shoot in public school. There is no telling who your teacher will be from year to year. There is no telling their political biases (though one can imagine what you might get from unionized workers). At least with home schooling I know who the teacher is and where the weaknesses lie.
For all the talk about how unhealthy our kids are, and how much we need to make them go exercise and eat their grains it was amazing how unhealthy the school food was. Due to the average income level of the student body as a whole, the school received funding for free breakfast for all the students, and while one might think that a tax-payer funded program would provide good wholesome food – much like every other government program, it did not. Each morning as every child entered the school doors, a lunch worker was standing there handing out bagged breakfasts to those that wanted one. (We never let our son take them, but he would inevitably get them in the classroom.) What was in these wholesome bags of goodness? Sometimes a fruit – orange, banana, apple, – or a cheese stick, but more often than not, it was a six pack of mini-donuts, or a box of sour-raisins, a Pop-Tart or a juice box: grains and fruits loaded down with sugars and additives. Exactly what students need to sit through a long day of school, but hey, it was tax-payer funded.
Another big concern of ours was communication. When a teacher – an integral part to education – has 25+ students, seemingly endless evaluations to write, new standards to learn, lesson plans to write and constantly submit for evaluation, there is little time left to communicate with families – the other integral part to education. Just like everything else, education has gone the way of regulations. There is a constant growth of paperwork and guidelines for teachers to follow, and that takes away from what education really is: a relationship between a teacher and a student (and family when appropriate) that encourages a child to grow their brain and discover the world.
This is not to say that homeschooling is the answer to all of these issues, but for now, it seems like it is the best answer to many of these concerns. And of course, homeschooling has some drawbacks that give me pause whenever I think about them, but I think the pros outweigh them. No doubt, this list is not comprehensive, and there are many other pros to homeschooling that were either of little concern to us, or things that I just overlooked. Something that we have started to consider lately, is the matter that the federal government is slowly grasping power over the school systems, but this is worthy of its very own post.