Deciding to Homeschool

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.

healthy breakfast
Super healthy, tax-payer funded, school breakfasts.

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.

The Intro

No matter how many blogs I’ve started, or how clear my vision is, the first post is always an awkward one. It never seems right to just drop a reader into content with out any background or pretext, yet each blog post should essentially be able to stand on it’s own.

Instead, I’ll give you a little bit of a skeleton, something of a rude attempt at a class syllabus. For a while I was posting on another blog that focused primarily on homesteading with a little bit of homeschooling, but I sort of fell off, partly due to spring and the hubbub it brings planting seeds and tilling the garden, but also because I started to lag behind and decided just to call it quits. I also plan on interjecting some liberty minded posts as this concept seems to be a great underlying theme to what we’re actually attempting to do through our homeschooling and homesteading. I will begin by reposting and editing some of the older blog posts, so if you’ve seen them before, apologies.

At the top of the page there is a tab “for sale and trade” this is a tab that will start to accumulate a list of things we have for sale. For the most part this will be varieties of heirloom seeds that we’ve grown and had success with in Middle Georgia. We are open to trading or accepting other types of non-fiat currency, (as well as fiat currency).

 

Considering Mental Health, the Second Amendment and New York’s SAFE Act

When something horrible happens in our personal lives, we grieve, and eventually we come around to make decisions in an attempt to modify future behavior, so naturally when tragedy strikes the nation, we look to our politicians to make decisions that will modify national behavior. There are a number of issues with this decision making process, and a number of different angles to approach it from.

Firstly, we must consider the state of our collective conscious when we make decisions regarding a constitutional amendment. The immediate days after a tragedy – let’s say a mass school shooting – everyone is politicized; everyone has an opinion; they are boisterous and short sighted. When we are emotionally charged, our judgement clouds, and we can become irrational without even realizing it. This is a normal part of the grieving process, but when we turn to politicians after something like Parkland, we run the risk of having our emotions taken advantage of by politicians who’s livelihood requires re-election. Just like you, politicians want to keep their jobs; they want to keep their income, and that means pleasing their constituents. Unfortunately, in times of collective social outcry when a seeming mob-mentality rules, pleasing constituents isn’t always best for everyone. If we look at knee-jerk reaction legislation, it has not done much to cede the initial cause for legislation, but has eroded some number of personal liberties and given more power to the government. For example, consider 9/11. A once privatized industry – flight security – is now run by the largest governmental agency created since WWII, the TSA. We are patted down, given full body scans, water bottles emptied, shoes and belts removed, minorities targeted. Do these things really make us safer in the skies? Certainly they make us feel safer, but at what cost? The TSA’s annual budget is 7.5 billion dollars. So within two months after a one-off event, the government took a privatized industry, and created a department with a $7.5 billion budget.

unsafe

Remember Sandy Hook, one of the deadliest school shooting in US history? The days following, there was, of course, much heated debate about gun control and in neighboring New York state, legislation was quickly passed in the form of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE Act) one month after Sandy Hook. It passed, utilizing legislation within the NYS constitution that allows for bills to be expedited by the governor. The NY SAFE Act passed through both houses and received the governors signature in less than two full days. Once the bill passed, it was found to have a number of misguided provisions that called for restrictions that would inadvertently ban some common types of weapons and make some police weapons obsolete. For example, magazines sales were restricted to those that could only contain seven or less rounds – ten round clips were grandfathered in, but could only be loaded with seven rounds. This provision of the bill was later struck down. And more legislation had to be worked through later as the NY SAFE Act made no provision for police firearms. All this at cost to the NY tax payer. All things that should have been worked out prior to passage of the bill.

The NY SAFE Act also requires New Yorkers to re-register guns, and can sometimes be a confusing process as many of these guns have already been registered. When the final provision of the NY SAFE Act went into force at the end of January, 81,000 legal gun owners in NY became felons overnight for failing to register their weapons to NY’s new standards.

The biggest problem with the NY SAFE Act, however, has to do with a requirement of mental health practitioners to report to a state wide database if someone might cause harm to another. This database is then used to revoke permits and seize weapons. It may not seem like much, but this is a huge issue.

The NY SAFE Act may not seem to be invasive, and may even seem to have some “common sense” gun legislation in it, but when we consider it’s implications, it can quickly become quite nefarious and it’s something we must consider when we start to clamor for stricter gun laws and sales. The second amendment grants individuals the right to bear arms, the NY SAFE Act and other legislation would begin to limit these rights based on a soft medical condition.Undoubtedly there are times, when the mental state of an individual should probably preclude them from acquiring a weapon, but this is a very slippery slope.

Further consider the implications of the NY SAFE Act. If an individual reports to a mental health professional, including a physician, psychologist, nurse, or social worker and they deem the individual “is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others” they are required by law to report their findings to county officials who then agree or disagree with the professional’s findings and then put the individual’s name on a state wide registry. Once on the registry, any existing permits are revoked and an individual is no longer able to purchase a weapon; on top of that, any weapons currently owned by the individual are seized by the government until their name is expunged from the list. Ideally, this would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous, mentally unstable individuals, but there is a whole lot of room for things to go sideways. Imagine someone who owns a weapon, but is having some minor depression issues, and wants to seek counseling, would they still seek counseling now that the government could seize their weapons? This provision, without a doubt, jeopardizes mental health.

On top of jeopardizing mental health, consider that we are giving the government the ability to confiscate weapons for a non-criminal offense, we are removing someone’s second amendment right due to their state of mind. Where does this removal of rights stop? Once the government decides an individual is unfit to exercise their second amendment right, how long until the government decides that a person is unfit to practice speaking freely or worshiping freely? Or even voting freely? Is it that far fetched to imagine government requiring a mental health evaluation to acquire a gun permit? Remember, not long ago, the federal government used the IRS to target individuals of dissenting political beliefs; how long before they use the ATF? Do we really trust big government to ascertain an individuals ability to implement their rights afforded by the constitution in a fair and unbiased manner?

Surely, something needs to be done to stem the seemingly endless barrage of school violence, but before we rush into giving the government more power over individuals (that they never give back, mind you) let’s consider the long term and full scope impacts of our decisions. Let’s consider fixing the violence from all ends, including the social side that raises individuals who have such little – or perhaps such vast – self worth that they either can’t, or don’t grasp the immensity of killing innocent children. There are no easy answers, to this problem, but I can assure you, knee jerk solutions will only be rued.

Surely, something needs to be done to stem the seemingly endless barrage of school violence, but before we rush into giving the government more power over individuals (that they never give back, mind you) let’s consider the long term and full scope impacts of our decisions. Let’s consider fixing the violence from all ends, including the social side that raises individuals who have such little – or perhaps such vast – self worth that they either can’t, or don’t grasp the immensity of killing innocent children. There are no easy answers, to this problem, but I can assure you, knee jerk solutions will only be rued