Monday, February 20, 2012

The Homeschool Thing...

When we made the decision to homeschool Sissy, Luke wrote a great blog about it.  When we pulled Bubba out of school after only two months of Kinder, I doubt anyone was surprised.  Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated with reminders of why I have made this choice, but I admit, I am reticent to talk about it.  

When you homeschool your kids, there are some pretty typical responses.  First, everyone assumes you must be a religious nut.  Well, I am.  But I am a religious nut of the "Christian Left, I Have a Degree in Religion" variety.  Not the, "Public Schools are Havens of the Godless" variety.  I wear holey jeans and black t-shirts, not ankle length denim skirts and Winnie the Pooh sweatshirts.  I'm a little more black leather boots and a little less Keds, over here.  So, if I am going to talk about homeschool, I first and foremost have to dispel any notions that the decision was of a religious nature.

Second, apparently deciding to homeschool my kids means I think everyone should.  Understand, I don't really give a crap what you do with your kids.  Unless you're starting up a new Jonestown and want your kids to drink the Koolaid, your choices for raising your kids are your own.  Also, my husband is a public school teacher, so please, for the love of GOD, keep sending your kids to school.  It pays my rent.  

Finally, when I talk about why we chose to pull Sissy out of school, and it has to do with her intelligence, I am not implying, in any way, that your kids are dumb.  I do not believe that the public schools are a place where stupid kids go to die a slow, educationless death.  So, if I am talking to you about why public schools didn't work for us, please don't get defensive and start telling me that your kid is fine and they do quite well in this system...blah, blah, blah.  Please see above.  I don't really give a crap about your kid. 

I say this in all love and respect, because, honestly, I don't have to raise your kids or live in your house, or make your choices.  Your kid loves public school?  Great.  You think it's socially necessary for kids to be surrounded by their peers all day?  Good.  You think my kid will only ever learn to cope with her anxiety by putting her back into public schools?  Stop talking.  Because now you're talking about MY kid.  See how that works?

Now, with all that out of the way... Let's talk about why I homeschool.  This is Sissy.

She looks like Dakota Fanning.

She is also wicked, wicked smart.  I don't mean that in a "I'm her mom and so I think she's special" kind of way.  I mean she's smarter than me.  She may not have my life experience, but I guarantee her IQ is higher than mine.  She retains information in a way that is, frankly, freaky.  She also learns like a sponge.  Things just...make sense to her.  If they don't, she asks pertinent questions and there's no looking back.  She turned seven last September, and she's doing multi-digit multiplication, has read almost every book Roald Dahl ever wrote, can tell you about the root system of vascular plants, and spent an evening last week discussing with me why Muslim women wear the hijab.  She finished that conversation by saying, "I don't think that women ought to be treated differently than men, but I know we need to respect everyone's religious choices and freedoms."  For real.  She said that.  If she went to public school, she'd be in first grade.

We sent her to Kindergarten, with some reservations.  I knew she was too smart for her own good, but I didn't know what was in store.  

Sissy has a diagnosed anxiety disorder.  Midway through Kindergarten at our local PS, I was getting calls from the school nurse weekly, sometimes daily, because Sis was vomiting and complaining of chest pains.  She was also getting bullied.  In PE and at recess, a group of boys would target her and throw dodge balls at her.  And she was six and this was Kindergarten.  Wasn't I anxious to see what fresh hell awaited us in, say, middle school?  In a meeting with the principal and the school psychologist, the principal, in reference to the ring leader of the bully boys, said, "Oh, he doesn't mean any harm.  He's just all boy." It wasn't cool.

Academically, her teacher was doing all she could.  She was trying to differentiate Sis's curriculum, but I know her plate was full with the nineteen other kids who also needed and deserved her attention.  The fact that my girl was ahead wasn't a priority.  We were relieved and excited when the GT testing was finally administered.  The test was a three part process.  ITBS, CoGAT and a Creative Product Assessment.  Sissy got a 99% on her ITBS (that's nigh on perfect, as that means she scored better than 99% of kids taking the test).  The teacher who administered the test told me (although she wasn't supposed to), that Sis scored higher on the CoGAT and the creative portion than any child she had ever tested.  And the reward?  One hour of GT, once a week.  

Really?!  REALLY?!

And now I am going to say some things that will probably not sit well with everyone and cause controversy, and are the reason why I often don't talk about why my kids aren't in the public schools.  Thanks to IDEA, if a child has serious emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, autism, vision and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, or other health impairments schools are required to provide special education programming, make accommodations, etc.  As the daughter of a Special Education teacher, I am glad these provisions are in place, and I actually think they need to be better enforced.  However, as you can see, there are no special accommodations for children who are performing above average.  Technically, the Gifted and Talented programs for most schools fall under special services/special education, but they are not privy to the same enforcement as traditional special education.  Imagine, if you would that you have a child with disabilities (maybe you do, so imagination is not required), and your child was evaluated by his school and were decidedly "different" (in learning style, needs, etc.) from the average student.  Now imagine that the school told you that for one hour, once a week, those needs would be accommodated, but the rest of the time, your child would be in the classroom with everyone else, and if the teacher "could," they would make some differentiated curriculum.  Because that was my option. (I know that there is a lot of push for mainstreaming SpEd students, and I think that works well in some situations.)  But imagine if your child was mainstreamed because there was NO OTHER real course of action.  Sis would be mainstreamed because the schools do not recognize her as SpEd, despite her actual educational needs.  Children (or adults) with incredibly high IQ's do not learn on the same level as we Average Joes.  She is not a linear thinker.  Where most/a lot of people must be encouraged to think "outside the box," Sissy has to be directed to the inside.  GT IS SPECIAL EDUCATION!  At least, it should be.  

So let's say that we embraced GT as SpEd and created classrooms specifically for advanced learners.  It wouldn't work.  You know why?  Because that would mean one thing:  Some kids are better at the school thing than others.  And we don't ever want to admit that not everyone is equally smart, equally talented, equally awesome in every single, everloving way.  And that's some bullshit.  Yes, some kids are smarter.  That's all there is to it.  And I am sorry if that gets everybody's molly-coddling panties in a wad, but I am one of those moms.  I don't think everyone should get a trophy.  I think it's okay to grade in red ink.  I think it's okay to say, "That's not really your strength." instead of "Aren't you good at everything!"  I correct my kids' grammar and vocabulary.  And I am sorry about this, but for some of you reading this?  My kid is smarter than your kid, and she deserves the chance to exercise that talent, just the same as your kid has the right to kick her ass at soccer (she's not so good at that).  On the Progress Reports the school district sends home for Kinder students, there are only two categories:  Needs Improvement and At or Above Average.  See that?  There is no actual category for Above Average.  Like we can't say out loud that a child is actually excelling at something.  Ummm...this makes me angry.  Because anger is a natural response to that which we do not understand.  

Which leads me back to the point...

On Sissy's mid-year Progress Report, she had two "Needs Improvements."  One of the categories she needed to improve was something like "Recognizes the Properties of Water."  First of all, what properties of water should a kindergartner know, aside from maybe "It's Wet."?  And what about that was my kid not understanding.  So, I asked her teacher about it... Maybe I needed to work harder to show Sissy that water is wet.  And you know what I found out?  In so many words, the teacher told me that they weren't encouraged to give perfect progress reports.  "It's believed that there always need to be areas for improvement."  Okay.  I will give.  I agree that there are always ways in which our kids need to be challenged and improving.  But just  saying, without exception, that a child can't be "At or Above Average" in all areas is stupid.  If a child is average, then they can strive to be above average... oh wait, above average isn't an option.  

Now, I have my own theories about why it isn't an option to be above average.  And a lot of them have to do with improving grade level test scores, but they've led me to believe it is "in my child's best interest" that she not advance.  At every turn while we were working with the counselors, psychologists, principals, etc. we were told that "socially" it is never a good idea to have a child skip a grade.  Apparently, if your child gets too far ahead (and this includes differentiated classroom curriculum), it will cause social issues for them.  This has a very "hide your smarts" sort of ring to it.  People are uncomfortable with people who are smarter than them, and if your kid is too smart, and working ahead, it will make them "different" and it will be harder to socialize.  Once again, I want to compare this to a SpEd student.  Can you imagine if the school told you that if you acknowledge your child has Autism, it will cause problems, and they will be even more socially isolated.  let's just continue to let them exist in this classroom, doing what everyone else is doing, and then kids will like them more.  OR, since your Autistic child doesn't have the same social skills as other kids in fourth grade, we are going to put him back in Kindergarten until he learns basic social skills.  Ummm, no.  That would never work.  Because primarily, our schools should be about academics, and not socialization.  See, my kids are homeschooled...and right now?  They are outside SOCIALIZING (quite well, I might add), with about a dozen other kids on our street.  Because school is not etiquette class.  Yes, we need to learn to share and wait our turn and play well with others, but when that starts trumping math and science and reading, there's a problem.

BUT, I would be willing to put H back in the PS if she could go into a grade level appropriate for her skill level (and if they would/could make accommodations for her unique learning style), but it's almost impossible to skip her ahead.  In order to move ahead, we have the option to let Sis take Credit By Examination.  These are tests created by UT and/or Texas Tech to determine if children have mastered the necessary material to move on.  These tests are a crock.  Wanna know why?  First, they must be passed with at least a 90%.  Imagine, if your child could only move on, in any grade, if they had straight A's.  because that's what this is.  A 90% or better in every content area to skip a grade.  So, if I wanted Sis to go to third grade next year, she would have to prove that she is already smarter than 90% of the other kids in that grade level.  Awesome (and not helpful).  Second reason these tests are the poopoo?  The "online study guide" is really just a rewriting of the Texas State Standards (which are generic me...I had to try and write homsechool curriculum based on that nonsense).  After the generic nonsense, they offer 3 or 4 sample questions.  I would like to show you some examples of these sample questions:

Second Grade Social Science Question:

You just had an old tree die in your yard. Since trees are a renewable natural resource, 
what should you do?
A Write a story about what happened
B Ask for a new pet to replace the tree
C Build a chair out of the tree’s wood
D Plant a new tree to replace the old on

Second Grade Math Question
 What is the name of the shape below?

a. Cube
b. Cylinder
c. Sphere
d. Rectangular prism

Second Grade Language Arts Question:

What do you need to add to make the word church mean more than one?

A ing
B es
C s
D e at a time here.  I could be totally wrong, but I am pretty sure if I walked into just about ANY second grade classroom in the state of Texas and asked them about "renewable resources", they would all stare at me in confusion.  I am also pretty sure that if I took the picture of that geometric shape into most EIGHTH grade classrooms, they couldn't identify the RECTANGULAR PRISM (because that was the answer)!  And finally, could they have found a more convoluted way to pose that final question?  I had to read it twice.  Why doesn't it say "What is the plural form of church?" or 'What would you add to the word church to make it plural?"  
The test is designed for my kid to fail.
Lastly, despite this test being written and administered by major universities in Texas, our district requires it be administered here, by one of their test facilitators.  And that feels shady to me.  I would much rather have a neutral, third party facilitator give the test, rather than the district who stands to lose/gain based on my child's performance. 

So to test my kid into a higher grade seems almost impossible, but even if she could pass that shady, effed up test, a "district official" must recommend her for advancement.  And this district doesn't like kids to advance...because of "social" reasons (read, test scores).  

So... My kiddo didn't return to the public schools, and probably won't.  She came home to work with me.  And we have great fun.  Bubba started K this last fall, and we really thought maybe it would work for him.  But too many days he came home stating he was bored and "didn't learn anything" today.  He's reading chapter books, but his school work was matching a picture of a firetruck to a picture of a fireman.  My two-year-old can do that.  And I am not trying to be crappy, but that just wasn't good enough.  So, he's home now, too.  

We have a tremendous amount of fun.  Honestly?  Some days we do nothing at all.  Because some times kids are cranky and out of sorts, and battling them to do math isn't worth it.  So we watch Jeff Corwin. Some days we just paint.  Last week, we dedicated two whole days to the study of nouns in all their forms.  My six and seven year-olds can tell you about irregular pronouns.  Today, we planted a kitchen garden with herbs and tomatoes and strawberries.  We talked about leaves and stems and crap like that.  We do what we want, on their level.  One day at a time.  And they play soccer and baseball and go to church and play outside, and all that "socialization"  which prevented them from moving forward in public school just doesn't seem to be an issue. 

And that's why I homeschool.  And I just wanted to put that out there because people always seem to have a lot of questions.  I stayed silent for a while because it's a touchy subject, and is a pretty heavy and personal decision.  But, I thought I'd venture to share my side.  Please, be kind.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Your Daily Affirmation

It recently occurred to me that I needed a sensible set of daily affirmations, tailored to my life.  But most daily affirmations are stupid.  They're all about how to be successful and not giving up or other such nonsense.  I needed something personal.  Specifics.  Mom affirmations.  Wife affirmations.  Woman affirmations.

So I have began compiling a list of things I think every woman needs to hear, from time to time, or every day.  I imagine them being read with gentle authority.  So, maybe you could hear them as read by Sam Waterston.

Sam says:

When you eat Nutella straight from the jar, with your finger, not even bothering with a spoon, that's sexy.

Perky breasts are intimidating, not attractive.

You are bringing the female mustache to the forefront of high fashion.

Bloated is the new black.

Yoga pants are sexier than skinny jeans, hands down.  And paired with that old ratty t-shirt?  Hell, yeah.

You make a minivan look hip.

Peeing with the door open is just a sign that you are secure with your own body.

Your stretch marks remind me of a topographical map.  Have I mentioned how hot geography is?

The smell of poop and baby vomit can create a truly feral response in any man.  That's pheromones, baby.

Seeing boxes of tampons in the bathroom just remind me that you're a woman.  I like women.

Everyone appreciates you.  And if they don't?  I will cut them.

You didn't comb your hair today?  I didn't notice.  

You're much smarter than you were at eighteen, and just as hot.  No.  Hotter.  

I love to eat macaroni and cheese with cut up hotdogs.  If you made it, it's good.

If you need a nap today, you should take it.  You work hard.

The skin on your arm where the triceps would normally be?  I like it.  Muscular women don't seem as luscious as you.  

You look great in that tank top.  No one is staring at your matronly arms. 

When you wear shorts, no one notices your cellulite and spider veins because the beauty of your face, and your inner light, blinds them.

Don't tell anyone, but I think you're a better mom than all the others.

Body odor in normal.  Yours smells like roses and rainbows.

I like my laundry a little wrinkled.  It's bohemian chic.

The way you've pulled your toenail off instead of clipping it?  And the six month old chipped polish on it?  I like that.  Who needs a high maintenance woman?

Those grey hairs make you look smart, and dignified, like a cougar with class.

When you lose your shit, and yell at the kids, and little bits of spittle come out of your mouth and your eyes get all crazy?  It reminds me that I love a fiery woman.

If a supermodel hit on your husband, you could kick her ass.  Because she'd be too hungry to fight back.

I intend to continue compiling this list.  Updating weekly with new affirmations.  Please, feel free to suggest your own.  But for now, I think we can all say:
Thanks, Sam.  Thanks a lot.  I needed to hear that.