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.


Erica M said...

It's possible you've made some excellent points in your blog post, but your readers are going to miss most of them because of the length and defensive tone. I'd edit it into a 3-part series and try to make it more inclusive and sympathetic to Sissy's cause. She sounds like a great kid and I'm sure you've been frustrated by her educational options.

We live in Texas. I've got a special needs kid and a typical kid in the public school system here. They both know what a renewable resource is, even the brain-injured one. Your readers deserve more credit.

SarahRushly said...

Wow. Thanks for reading, and thanks for your response. I only know how to write in my own voice, and I apologize if it sounds defensive. It's probably why I don't talk about this issue. People take it personally, compare my situation to their own... I appreciate your honest feedback as a "writer."

Jill Couri said...

You HAVE made some excellent points. And the length and tone are completely justified this reason:
This blog is about YOUR experience and choice to homeschool your children. It is not a judgment and mandate for everyone to do the same. In fact, I remember a rather specific paragraph in the beginning indicating just that.
And I'm going to go ahead and agree with you that the school system is in dire need of repair with regards to children in a GT program. Public education is set up for middle class, middle-of-the-road, average students. That is a fact. And a large percentage of the population can do fairly well in this structure. But is is the children at the outside edges of "average" that very often lose out. If they're too smart, they don't know what to do for them. And I also agree that the public ed system attempts to suppress that by trying to make the playing field as even as possible (i.e., everyone gets to win; no work is too hard for anyone, etc.) It is a sad, sad state of affairs.
The bottom line is this: You took the time to explain your choices to homeschool as a response to queries from other moms. Were you defensive about your experience? YES! And I would have been, too! These are YOUR kids and when they aren't getting their needs met, you're on the war any mom would be. Were your points missed because you wrote too much or used some colorful language? Not on me. And you know what? In your tone, I found myself commiserating with you and feeling your frustration...and that is what drove your choices...your sheer & utter frustration in seeking the best for your child(ren) and being offered less than the best.
And finally, as mother of a child with special needs who receives a myriad of resources to facilitate her learning, you can bet your britches that if I felt she wasn't receiving the absolute best that the district had to offer, I'd be pitching a fit. And if all the district had to offer was sub-par, I'd be homeschooling in a second.
Excellent, excellent post my friend. Why excellent? Because it's your story and you felt inclined and comfortable enough to share it with your readers, despite what kind of crazy fallout might occur. I take absolutely no personal offense at one jot or tittle of what you've written here.

Jill Couri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

So, I'm all late to the party, but I figured I'd toss my two cents into the ring. I give a hearty two thumbs up to everything you say here about why you chose to homeschool. I hope it really helps your kids learn in the ways they need to learn, and lets them stretch their creative legs while they're at it.

One thought: down the road, maybe around high school, you might want to look into International Baccalaureate programs, should anyone have any sort of desire to go to public school. For me, it was a much more inclusive type of education. I felt like my classes were finally challenging me in a way they hadn't before, and that I was able to use my creativity in "normal" classes, like English and History. The exams we took were much more holistic than AP exams. They weren't designed like those standardized tests that do set you up to fail, they were more inclusive of all that we had learned, and asked us to really integrate that learning rather than just regurgitate.

Of course, every program varies from school to school, but it's definitely something worth looking into, if public school ever goes on the table again. Another bonus? I started undergrad with 29 credits thanks to the scores I got on my exams. Baller.

(btdubs, this is ohxjulie from twitter. Sorry I'm stalking your blog.)

Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms said...

I thought this was really well said. There are two tails to the bell curve, but only one has services mandated. While it is a desirable goal to bring everyone up to the middle of the bell curve, if you're above, you've gone too far. At my kid's school there is a D+ but no A+. At my other child's school there is a BUG award (Bringing Up Grades), but I had to fight to have them add a straight A award.

I find it heartening that "No Child Left Behind" is being replaced by "Race to the Top." While RTTT has its flaws, it does require that EVERY child show improvement. Can't wait to see how this pans out.

Your honesty and balance in this piece were evident. I'm glad you put it out there. Ellen