Deciding Homeschool vs. Public School

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Kid studyingWhen my husband David and I met, I learned early on that he was homeschooled. He was smart, outgoing, socially aware. Everything I had heard homeschoolers were NOT! I knew one homeschooler that I met in high school and, while she was nice, she was certainly the picture of socially awkward. Also, shortly after we married, I went with David’s family to a homeschool convention in Richmond, Virginia. While it wasn’t as out there as I thought it would be, the kids all seemed so different to what I was used to. I was 19 years old at the time. At 19, different is, well, weird. Surely, my husband was an exception, right? He was the only “normal” (that’s using that term loosely with him!) homeschooler I knew (I didn’t know his sisters too well at that point and his brothers were too young to tell just yet). As a result, I was very hesitant to embrace the idea. So I started digging into homeschool vs. public school to find out how this might work in my world.

Putting a Face (or Faces) to Homeschooling

By the time Jonathan (our first child) was born in 2003 (I had just turned 25), my views had changed somewhat. I knew David’s siblings and his mother a lot better. I had also done a lot more research on homeschooling and how to do it “right”. There are lots of theories about what is “right” in homeschooling. Curriculums galore, how many and what type of field trips you should take, what co-op you should belong to, what co-op you should stay away from, how to incorporate sports and “positive” social interaction. It’s a lot to take in and no one should go into it unprepared.

There is a lot of information out there, so it’s crucial to do your research before deciding which route (or more likely, routes) to go. It’s not as simple as pulling your kids out of school and printing worksheets off the internet (although, admittedly, we did SOME of that). It’s a much bigger commitment for the parents than the children because now your child’s education/future is dependent on you. Sure, it’s a learning game those first few months – for everyone involved, but it’s crucial to figure out pretty quickly what works.

Our Journey Into Homeschooling – How it Began

Boy wearing backpackOur journey into homeschooling (and, ultimately, out of) started with an enthusiastic mother in law. She chose to homeschool her children because of her disappointment in public schools. Not just the specific public schools they were in (although that was probably what initially prompted it), but public schools as a whole. She did not agree with the idea that children should all be able to learn one way, sitting in a desk the bulk of the day, being quiet – basically, the one size fits all education. Often, it just doesn’t work. Kids get frustrated, parents get frustrated, teachers get frustrated…

I am thankful that many schools DO seem to be addressing this and have found new ways to teach things that seem to include more of the senses/learning styles; however, when your classroom is overcrowded with 25 kids to 1 teacher, it’s hard to meet every child’s needs. My husband’s mom was tired of having to step in and advocate constantly for her children, she was tired of not agreeing with what subjects were taught (and how) and, when she stepped in and spoke her mind, feeling resistance, and, often, resentment, from the schools (which, in turn, embarrassed the kids)… She was just tired of it all.

Being a trained, experienced teacher herself, she felt she could do a better job. So, out of school they came when David, my husband, was in 5th grade (his sister was in 3rd and his youngest sister, at the time, was in 1st. The younger boys weren’t around just yet!). By the time the younger boys came into the picture, she was a staunch home school advocate. She schooled them at home from day one and felt that, by far, it was the best route to go. When I mentioned school to her, I didn’t always HEAR arguments against it (although, often, I did), but I felt them in her body language and the questions she asked.

When Jonathan, our oldest was born, my mother in law had gone back to school to get her master’s degree and then her doctoral degree. It was a long road, but much of her reason for going back to school was to further her work with Virginia homeschoolers. It is a huge, huge part of her life. The amount of research she has done on homeschooling could result in probably 3-4 books. Maybe more. I’m not even sure. But, she is certainly what I would call an expert on the topic. Of course she would advocate hard for Jonathan to be homeschooled. When we chose not to homeschool him for kindergarten (it really wasn’t a CHOICE – I was working. We didn’t have a choice in the matter), I know she was disappointed. I could feel it any time I said anything remotely negative about his school (and he went to an Art’s Based charter school for kindergarten, so it was anything BUT traditional).

What a Difference a Teacher Makes!

Boy at schoolMy husband went back to school in 2009 and we moved to Northern Virginia to a suburb of Washington D.C. called Alexandria. The school Jonathan went to was a good school. Great test scores, smaller class sizes, an active, enthusiastic PTO and a supportive administration. It seemed ideal. And, since I was working and David was in seminary full-time, we again didn’t really have an option. 1st grade was fabulous. Jonathan had a wonderful teacher who played to his strengths. None of the “issues” we heard about from his kindergarten teacher were brought up by this teacher. He did well and had a great year.

Micah started kindergarten in the fall of 2010, when Jonathan was going into 2nd grade. BOTH teachers this year were disappointing, to say the least. We are fortunate that Micah had a great teacher’s assistant who took him under her wing because he and his teacher just didn’t “mesh” well. He learned a lot, but he’s a bright kid. Of course he learned a lot. But, he had serious behavioral issues that we had not seen at home. He’s not perfect. He’s stubborn and strong-willed and prone to throwing tantrums occasionally (well, back then it was more often) when he doesn’t get his way or can’t do something as well as he would like to do it (I can’t IMAGINE where he gets his perfectionism from?? ;)). However, we had never seen him be violent, we had never seen him throw things or scream until he was worn out,… These were new behaviors.

I commend the school for working with us to get these issues under control. They had an on staff psychologist who met with Micah and worked with him. This did help a great deal and made me feel slightly better about the situation, but other parents’ comments had me concerned. They noticed a discrepancy in how Micah was treated for certain actions versus their children. One parent told me that her son could do the exact same thing as Micah and the teacher would laugh where as Micah would be moved from a green light directly to red and/or be sent to the office! She was appalled to the point that she felt the need to call me and tell me. The principal also had concerns, after observing the classroom, that she was putting him on red at the beginning of the day and not allowing him to redeem himself. The principal felt (and I agreed!) that the teacher was setting him up for failure because why should he try for the rest of the day if his behavior was already “shot”? To this day, I don’t know why she had it in for him. He can be slow to warm up to people, but once he does, he’s a smart, sweet, lovable little guy with a killer smile and an even better laugh. When you don’t like a kid and expect the worst, they are going to give you their worst.

Ironically, Jonathan’s 2nd grade year was pretty disappointing as well. He had a young teacher with zero social skills who was in her early 20s and already on her third teaching job. She was horrible about classroom management, and, as a result the kids’ education clearly suffered. She often kept them in from recess because they weren’t completing lessons because of behavior issues (not Jonathan) that she couldn’t get under control. The parents were constantly complaining to the administration, but somehow she lasted through the year (she was NOT asked to stay the next year). By the time he ended 2nd grade, my bright, enthusiastic kid didn’t like school, felt bullied and was clearly somewhat behind academically.

Read Part 2 of Homeschool vs. Public School here.

Mother of four boys and the wife of a minister in Georgia. The world is full of medical “miracles” but over time and lots of experience, this mom has discovered that raising a natural baby creates the most wonderful bonds and lessons for her children.

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