We made this decision going on five months ago and in that time, I’ve talked to many people about why we are doing this. The first thing I tell people, always, is that we’ve thought about it for years, since before our oldest child started Kindergarten. The next thing I tell people is that our boys were not fitting into the box of a classroom…that the cost of our private school was getting prohibitive for us…that our public school is not an option…that it’s not possible or practical to hope they could all get transferred to the same better public school…that we love our school community, but just couldn’t stay. I had the whole speech down.
The other day, I unexpectedly deviated from the script, and out came the simplest, barest truth about why we are going to homeschool our kids. A friend asked me why, and here’s what I said, much to my surprise:
“I’m done trying to make something work that isn’t, and done pretending it’s OK that it isn’t working.”
That’s the real reason we are doing this. What is the “something” that is not working? Two main things:
(1) Our kids are not growing in curiosity or confidence. Their reaction to school and education has been increasingly negative with each passing year. We want them to know what their brains are capable of and be excited by new possibilities. None of that has happened for our kids as they get older; in fact, we have been alarmed and distressed to watch the exact opposite unfold in front us.
(2) There is a reason lots of big families homeschool: It’s hard to keep up when you’ve got a lot of players. Keeping up with the demands of a school and school community – and I’m not talking about actual school work – became more and more burdensome and more and more intrusive on our family time. The class parties, the magazine sales, the pizza nights, the potlucks, the cookie dough sales, the volunteer hours, the special requests from teachers, and the list goes on, all combined to create a treadmill that was going to be my undoing.
There are many other reasons as well.
(1) Finances. That part was hard.
(2) No viable public school option. Literally. None.
(3) Then there’s something about the social scene at school, among the kids, that I don’t know how to put into words without sounding like a conservative whacko. Which I’m not. But I do have some boundaries. Which I think is a good thing. I guess one way to describe it is to say that at least 2 or 3 times a week, I was driving home with a kid in tears because of something that happened with a classmate. It became the norm to find myself irritated, annoyed, or even angry about some behavior from another kid. There are only so many times you can encourage your kids to face a bully, handle an idiot, stand up for themselves, be kind but don’t be a pushover, ignore mean people – and we tried it all -- before you finally say to yourself: “Why should they have to put up with this crap?” And at least 2 or 3 times a week, I had to talk with my kids about why they can’t play Halo, can’t have cell phones yet, can’t watch the Rated R movie du jour, can’t have unlimited video game and TV time, can’t eat at fast food restaurants, and why our family is so lame. I found myself spending too much time fighting culture wars and not enough time enjoying my family.
(4) I’m sure we can do a great job. I know it will not be easy, but then, having them in a school has not been easy. Sure they were “out of my hair” for 7 hours a day, but the hours of 3:00 to bedtime were often so extremely difficult, burdened with questionable homework assignments, processing whatever crap happened that day at school, handling reactionary behavior, and preparing for tomorrow, that the majority of the time we spent together as a family was a struggle.
I know this is a radical step, a completely counter-cultural decision. But heck – we already have 2.5 times as many children as most folks, so clearly, going against the grain is a familiar path for us.
Here are my hopes:
(1) That my family can slow down, even if only a little bit, and that we will have a little more control over how we spend our time.
(2) That my children will recapture (or hold on to, for the younger ones) the love and joy of learning, and that they will discover what they are capable of; that they will gain and strengthen confidence in themselves.
(3) That they will read and write every day, and that doing so will lead them to topics and interests we can help them pursue in depth.
I know this is not for everyone. But I am happy for us and hopeful for the future. And so, so thrilled that I am not prowling the aisles of Target with four different school supply lists.
Oh, and our youngest? Off to preschool for her! Let those teachers handle her defiant little self three days a week, thank you very much. Here’s hoping she meets a kid who's meaner than she is.
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