Tuesday, February 16, 2010

On Home Schooling

My oldest son is now a home-schooler. My wife has been telling most people that he's a square peg (maybe just a square?) trying to fit into the round holes of the public school system, and he just isn't fitting. I believe this is a pretty fair assessment. He's always been extremely bright (he's usually a 100-percenter on the yearly aptitude tests), and with his level of emotional (im)maturity, nervous and/or weird habits, and distaste for confrontation, he has always been a prime target for being bullied.

At school there has been this one boy, who shall remain nameless except that his name rhymes with Ladam, who has always been a particularly mean-spirited kid. He was in my son's class last year and the two of them didn't get along then, either. At the beginning of the year, when my son saw that this particular boy was in his class again this year, he was visibly disheartened.

Well, the school year progressed from bad to worse. Eventually, it got to the point where he would go hide under the playground slide, hoping that nobody would find him, because he knew if they did then he'd get teased or picked on. This bully managed to get most of the remainder of his class to treat him pretty much the same way he did, and it got so bad that he couldn't ever participate in any group activity at all. During dodgeball games, they would all gang up on him to get him out first; during other group games, the kids would break up the games on his arrival so he couldn't play (the adult yard duty people would insist that kids could eventually join ongoing games if they waited their turn). He probably invited some of this treatment upon himself because he's kind of a spaz and physically uncoordinated, but the magnitude of his mistreatment was quite likely undeserved.

He would come home with some serious anger issues and would take his frustrations out on his siblings, and, eventually, on us as his parents. One night he was just so angry that he started trying to push me around, too. Well, that night saw a lot of yelling and crying (he's 10, mind you, and a gentle kid, not some mighty teenager; this was very uncharacteristic for him), and ultimately he was cowering on the upper bunk in his room afraid that I was going to strike him. Yeah, something was very, very wrong.

Finally we managed to calm the situation down (let me just say that my wife is nothing short of awesome) and she spent the next few nights effectively counseling him and figuring out exactly what was going on. It was bad. Really bad.

My wife spent some time considering our options. We had always wondered if home schooling would be a good idea. Doing so would clearly be very intrusive to my wife's daily routine, which is very focused on caring for our youngest child. Even so, I knew she would be able to do it. She has dual bachelors degrees in elementary and special education, so she could definitely handle him. But previously we had concluded that he needed to stay in school, if nothing less than for the socialization that he would experience there. Well, clearly, he was getting the wrong kind of socialization.

In addition, it seemed that lately he was always bored in class. In the midst of 30 kids, there was just no way that any teacher -- his was a very talented and capable woman, mind you -- could keep a kid like ours engaged. His rate of learning has always been so high compared to his peers that he was nearly always frustrated. When he came home from school, we would regularly ask him, "So what did you learn today?" His answer? The usual teenage response, "Nothing." We quickly took to asking him, "So what did you review today?", which usually elicited a more informative answer. Unfortunately, the review days have been far outnumbering the learning days lately.

So, the two main reasons for keeping him in the public school system were no longer achievable: to educate him and to give him a meaningful social experience. Neither of these were being achieved. He would go to school with dread and come home disheartened. No kid deserves that.

So it is that we are now disillusioned with the public school system. It is simply not geared to help the brightest kids. With the administrative overhead, the large classroom sizes, and the slow rate of teaching so that "no child is left behind", children like mine don't have their needs met. For children who are more ... typical ... the local public school system is wonderful. In fact, we moved to where we live precisely because the schools here are good. But it just wasn't working for our oldest son (and we have strong feelings about how well it has NOT well-served our daughter, as well -- that's a whole other story).

So, he's home now. And he's happy. Actually, the words "ecstatic" and "liberated" are probably good words to use here, too. When we told him that home-schooling was something we were considering, the look of relief and excitement was clearly evident on his face. No longer would he have to face miserable recess periods, taunting in and out of the classroom, and lonely lunch hours where kids would get up and move away from him when he sat down. The other kids would even set him up to get him in trouble during classroom hours, intentionally provoking him until they elicited a response of anger or frustration from him.

He is so elated to be able to go at his own learning pace -- to not waste time going the speed of the slowest learner, who probably wasn't getting it anyway. As my wife and him get into the groove, we expect some phenomenal intellectual growth.

The hard part about this for me is that we have tried very hard to teach our children not to be quitters, to face up to their problems, and to see things through -- most especially when it's hard. But some challenges are just too big a burden for little kids. He was powerless to correct his situation, and it was unfair of us to ask him to stick through it. Something else we've taught our children is that if they ever find themselves in a bad situation, they need to get themselves out of it. So, we have now enabled that for him.

What I feel bad about now is that it took us so long to come to this conclusion. Previously, when my wife and I had contemplated doing this, it never felt right, deep down. We tend to trust those kinds of feelings, so we kept him in school. This time, when we contemplated it again, no such sinking feelings existed. We only had feelings of assurance that it was the right move for him, and that everything would work out. This was huge for us, as we finally knew how we could help him. The time was right, and so we moved on it.

Of course, the change hasn't gone smoothly for his siblings. His sister is extremely jealous that he gets to stay home from school and have lots of "Mommy time", but we've been working with her to help her understand that this is something that her brother needs right now, and that she needs to just let things play out. We worry about her education in the public school system as well, for slightly different reasons, but she is no less bright than her brother, but she is more sociable than her big brother. It is not (yet?) the right thing to do right now to home-school her.

Our youngest son is also not so happy. Suddenly his mother is far less available to play with him throughout the day, and this is not okay with him. Our youngest is almost five -- a most magical period of time of wonder and discovery -- and suddenly parental attention is more divided. We worry about him not getting the time he needs and deserves, but that's the same worry we really have for all three of them.

Of course, the biggest impact is on my wife. She is not yet in the groove of how to do this, and is struggling with doing both the home-schooling and her regularly in-home responsibilities. Things aren't getting cleaned like she wants them to be, and her time to do the household shopping is now severely curtailed. The good part about home-schooling our oldest son, though, is that at his age (he's 10 1/2), he's a self-starter and can be left home alone for short periods. I'm sure my wife will figure out the best way to use these things to her advantage so that all the things that need to get done do get done. As I said, she's amazing.

My son, though, deserved much more support and attention than he was getting at school. It is time he got it.


Courtney said...

Good luck with the adjusting period. It sounds like you guys have definitely made the right choice for him. There are a lot of people up here who homeschool. There are a lot of parents who homeschool in the blogging world too. A few that I read: mamalia and the hooligans, the lazy organizer, and my little women and me. Those aren't exclusively about homeschooling, but anyway...

Side note: I had a friend tell me about a study which said that the most beneficial time to homeschool a girl is during the middle school years. It pulls them out of the usually traumatic social mess that happens during those years.

Anonymous said...

Hey Roy--I'm not the biggest fan of homeschooling but I think you made the right decision. Having experienced many of the same things in elementary school that your son has, I think I can state that there's not much to be gained from continuing to endure them. Better to pull him out of that toxic situation and let him *gasp* learn! rather than endure constant emotional torture under the thinly-veiled guise of public education.

In a few years maturity levels across the board will have gone up. Maybe your son can skip a few grades and start college early and get out of the joke that is public education.

Annalia Romero said...

Finding an innovative solution isn't quitting. Why should children endure torture for an education. Where else would such social cruelty be tolerated?

One of the reasons we homeschool is that we move frequently (every year or two - NEVER in the summer). At one of our many locations, my son was being excluded and teased in his church group. I didn't know if it was his behavior (everyone knows their 8-year-old isn't perfect) inciting the teasing.
After only a year, he moved across the country (for a 6-month stint in CT). He had numerous friends at our next location - at church and in our neighborhood.
My son is now 12. He's an independent learner (thinks everything science or math is the coolest ever - because no one has ever told him otherwise) AND he's a HUGE help with his younger siblings (ages 6, 3, and 10 months). They play legos and other much rowdier games during learning breaks.

Anonymous said...

You could also look into "charter schools" in your area. That might allow your son to meet a more serious group of kids and take some of the load off your wife. When we lived in Riverside county we'd considered that for our daughter, but now we're in San Diego and she has done OK in the public school (at least for sixth grade).

Quincy Sorensen said...

I am proud of both of you, Roy and Angel. I can feel the relief you feel as I read your words, and I feel your gratitude that you made that decision which lightened many burdens.

I think Angel will figure out the rigors of scheduling, parenting, etc., and I bet you will experience all sorts of presently- unanticipated blessings as well. You probably won't need to homeschool forever, and maybe knowing that this situation will last a finite time might give additional perspective. Good luck to all of you and take care!

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