Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thoughts of a Homeschool Mom to the Public School Teachers

I used to resent it when I'd hear teachers put down parents as too stupid to have parented their children well enough to be "Kindergarten ready" because I certainly felt that I had provided my own children with a very good life experience that not only was equal to a 'good' preschool program but superior.

I used to think that if I can do it, then everyone can do it. I tend to think that if I want to be with my kids and to raise them, then all mothers would want to be with their kids and to raise them. I tend to think that if I want my children to learn and be smart and know school-ish things and more general life skills that all parents would want that. Over the years I met people who definitely were not on the same page as me. I get it now that some parents are very different than me. The weirdest thing is that some of the parents who really wanted to be a parent, who may have struggled to achieve pregnancy and who might have also struggled to get their high risk pregnancy to full term, don't seem to always do the best thing for their children in the parenting and child rearing part of the job.

I also get it now about why some teachers think what they think.

School teachers who get into that discussion where they think they are superior to the parents and think that most parents are incapable of raising kids ready to start school in Kindergarten often think little of parents in general and some put all parents into that category. Some teachers really think that all parents suck at parenting.

The teachers usually wind up adding in to the discussion that only if the child had attended preschool for two or three years and had teaching with formal lessons (like they used to start in first grade) then the child really would have been ready to learn in Kindergarten. The talks usually then go into the realm of wishing that ALL children had a "good" preschool experience and distrust of the fact that as of right now in America we do not have mandatory preschool nor do we have preschool run by public schools for all children. The end result that those teachers desire is: preschool run by public schools with certified teachers in the union with mandatory attendance for all children aged three and four. In their minds IF ONLY all children had that experience then everything would be right and easy about instructing children in Kindergarten and up, and indeed then all children would learn and everything would be perfect.

(If you don't believe that teachers think these things then go read some teacher blogs or teacher discussion chat boards on the Internet. You won't believe what some of them are publishing on the Internet, sometimes discussing details of certain students and their parents!)

At present federal laws regarding children with certain disabilities are given the right to special education services so public schools make services available to children who have been identified and accepted into their system. In order to do that some public schools have created preschools inside their elementary schools. In order to have the special Ed kids around some (how do I phrase it) 'regular' kids (I mean kids with no diagnoses of any disorders or impairments so the child would not be admitted to receive special ed services), they set up a mainstreamed preschool classroom. Usually to fill that room with the 'regular' kids they offer free preschool to kids in that town and usually use a lottery system to figure out who gets those few slots. Around here the parents are happy to think they may save $3500 per year per child by stopping private preschool to attend public preschool.

What I also get now is that indeed some parents are clueless about properly parenting their children such that when they arrive to start Kindergarten they are really behind and ignorant. I get it now too that some kids who step into private preschool at age three are really clueless and behind and ignorant. I can't believe this is true but I have now seen with my very own eyes, kids who at age three are really, really behind where my kids were at that age. I have been around some children that are three that are incapable of doing things my kids were doing at about 15 months of age.

In my work as a volunteer Cub Scout Leader I have been around lots of kids from different towns, kids not just in our Pack but around kids from my region who attended the big day camp (with over 200 kids in attendance). I have also attended as a parent; sleep over camp with my Cub Scout aged sons (grades 1-5). I sat with kids in the dining hall and saw how they handle the family style served food and how they handled and ate the food off their plates. I have seen many deficits in basic life skills, etiquette, and common sense. Those things that are deficits in parenting not flaws in their public school education. You see not everything is the teacher's job to teach a child. So now I see what some of the teachers are saying. Ignorant parents exist. I tend to think the issue though is not stupidity on the part of the parent, I blame low standards. I know some of the parents and I know they are smart, have common sense and even sometimes hold two college degrees.

Sadly, it is a vicious cycle between parent and child. The cycle goes like this: the kid can't do something so the parent does it for them. Sometimes this is done because they think that a good parent does those thinks for their child. Their ignorance about typical stages of childhood development and what skills are able to be done when leads the parent to continue doing things beyond when the child should be doing them for themselves. I wonder too if our isolated lifestyles now lead parents to not know what other parents are doing or teaching their kids at certain times. It matters more to those parents that their children have the current fad brand of clothing on than the fact that the kid is ten years old and still needs an adult to tie their (expensive trendy) sneakers. The cycle continues when the kid can't do it and the kid has no clue that at his age he should be able to do it so he passively sits back and lets the parent dote on him. There must be no internally motivated initiative either so the child is not asking to learn to tie their own shoes. I mean the five year old who still drinks out of a sippy cup and who has never held a real, open-topped cup. I mean children who are allowed to use baby pacifiers at ages two, three, four or beyond. What is going on with the parents who keep their children ignorant about simple daily living skills?

After being around a bunch of kids who can't do very easy practical skills I begin also, to worry of what is going on in this country with parents? I start to think like those teachers, that some parents are inept, even when they are college educated and have an upper-middle class income or even a wealthy income level. Poverty is not the source of all the problems! If the parents who are lawyers and white collar corporate executives can't even teach a child how to button a button, how to tuck in a shirt, tie a shoe, or put on a winter coat and zip it up, then what does that say of the ability of the parent to prepare a young child for formal academics in the Three R's? It says very little.

I have a feeling the public school teachers think things like this: "If the parents of my students can't even teach them to tie shoes or tuck in a shirt how can we trust them to teach their children to read, to do math, to write well, or about world history? Those parents are so inept at basic parenting skills that we can't trust them with the academic education of their own children!" Further observations of negative social issues such as selfishness, nastiness, and cruelty such as are typically seen on the school bus or at recess let alone inside the classroom may lead a teacher to think, "Their parents are not even doing well at raising nice kids, they lack tolerance for others and they are mean. The schools should then teach tolerance, acceptance, and how to be kind and peaceful souls!"

Schools have enough on their plates to teach the subjects that should be taught in the elementary grades. Extra things have been creeping into the curriculum over the years including lessons on multi-culturalalism, tolerance, and other feel-good things. Shall the schools add to the curriculum how to get dressed, to wash one's hands before eating a meal and basic etiquette (in all areas including how to eat)? These topics are considered small beans compared to bigger life issues such as contracting sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, and drug and alcohol abuse--so those topics have been added to the kid's schooling curriculum too.

We used to think that child porn was horrible and as a nation we tried to prevent adults from abusing children to make child porn via still shots or video and we hated the idea of them selling it for profit. However the stupid children and teens of America are now often making it themselves and circulating it for free. Just stop and think about that for a moment. We adults don't want other adults forcing children into child porn but educated and loving parents are not equipping their children to know enough to not make porn of themselves with technology their parents hand them and pay monthly services to continue using. "All the kids have cell phones now so I don't want to deprive my child!", is what they say. Well some preteens and teens have suffered greatly after participating freely in creating porn of themselves, and at least one has killed herself after suffering from the resulting emotional turmoil she endured.

A thing happening around the country for over a year now is directly tied to new technology. It is cyber bullying via the computer via MySpace and other social network sites and also on IM. It has evolved further to also take place through cell phones via text messages. The cell phones camera allows for still photography and video recording which has started the phenomenon of taking provocative or nude photos of minors, taking video of sex acts with informed consent and sometimes unbeknownst to the couple having sex. Some stage beatings that are video recorded which are later circulated by text message via cell phone or uploaded to social networking sites like MySpace or to YouTube. Because parents have given their children (as young as nine years old) cell phones with cameras and because they allow their children to use the Internet unsupervised, these things have happened.

Some parents I talk to deny these things can really be happening in America. Yet the videos on the Internet are the proof. More and more news shows on television are reporting these stories also. One reason I blog about these topics is to try to raise awareness and to get people to wake up and see what is going on in real life in America.

Some parents whose children are upset that the nude photos they took of themselves that are published on the Internet have admitted that they as parents never had a conversation with their child about right and wrong ways to use the cell phone, the text messages and its camera. Some say they never discussed porn or why it would not be a good idea at age eleven or twelve (or older) to take nude photos of oneself and send it to their love interest or share it with the public via their homepage on the social networking site they are a member of. The parents are so clueless! They think their children are angels and thought, "my child would never do that!" so they never have a discussion.

The combination of providing the children with the technology and peer pressure to do 'what everyone else is doing' combined with hours away from home and the parent's influence (while at school and on the school bus) combined with also sometimes disconnected relationships between child and parent sets the stage for these problems to happen. When just the right set of conditions is in place lots of problems can happen. Unsupervised use of a cell phone, unmonitored text messaging, unmonitored use of the Internet, too much time with peers and allowing the culture's influence to dominate the child is the problem. Encouraging younger children to have romantic relationships and allowing children to attend parties or sleepovers with inadequate adult supervision is setting up a recipe for disaster.

(What do I mean by encouraging romantic relationships at a young age? My nephew was being stalked by a girl and her mother when he was in second grade. The girl had a crush on him and her mother encouraged it by taking her to every one of his baseball games. A girl I know has never had girls at her home for playdates or sleepovers but just after her tenth birthday, a boy who they said was her boyfriend was allowed to come over to play often and they spent time alone in rooms watching movies with parents on a different level of the house. She now is allowed to send IM and text messages without any supervision, having her first cell phone given to her at age ten.)

Frankly I blame the parents for all of it.

I blame them when their kids are eight or nine and can't tie a shoelace. I blame them when their child is seven and can't put on a coat and zip it up themselves. I blame them when they are ten and don't even know how to hold a fork correctly (they still hold it in their fist as a toddler does). I blame them when they indulge their children with expensive technology and don't set limits or rules about proper and responsible use of it (and what is actually illegal use of it that needs to be avoided). I blame the parents when they fail to have the sex talk with their children or when the sex talk is all biology of conception and includes nothing about their family's value system. I blame the parents who allow young children to see television or movie content that is mature content that teaches them more about sex acts than the parents have taught.

What I'd like teachers to know is that I don't think they or their schools can teach everything. The elementary, middle and high schools can't teach all the things that we may agree that kids should know to act right (to be kind and to not abuse others), to have etiquette, to treat others with respect (including treating the opposite gender with respect and treating sexual acts as something not casual) and to abide by laws.

Even having universal preschool will not prepare all kids for being super smart and academically ready upon commencing Kindergarten. It may be easy and nice to think "if only we mandated and provided (fill in the blank) that X problem would not happen and all children would learn and thrive and would quality for admission to Ivy League colleges". It is a false hope. It is just not true.

When faced with complex situations and imperfect conditions it feels good to think "this magic bullet thing will cure it all, let's do this thing". I wish everyone who has thought such thoughts would step back and realize situations are complex and there is no magic bullet for anything. I wish citizens would realize it, as well as the teachers and our politicians, including President Obama, who wants to mandate universal preschool for all American children.

I wish the teachers would back off on three things. First, stop thinking that all parents are inept as they are not. Second, stop thinking that if only all children attended preschool run by public schools that all learning challenges would end. Third, stop asking the politicians to mandate universal preschool. There is no proof that preschool helps children excel in the long run. I don't think we should put money to huge new programs that will be costly and are not proven to have true value.

The fact of the matter is that certain things are the responsibility of the parents to teach. No one can control what the parents do at home and what they teach or don't teach their children. But a better start on addressing the problem would be to somehow get through to the parents (including well educated and wealthy parents), what the child development stages are, times when certain skills should be taught and what simple things a child needed to know before starting Kindergarten. Most American children are already attending private preschools so really all this could be facilitated through the preschools if only they would raise their standards and set a bar of achievement.

We fail our nation's children when we are lazy parents. We fail our children if we set low standards as parents or teachers. We fail the children when adults are more concerned with keeping other adults happy by providing them only good news about their children (such as in parent-teacher meetings) rather than pointing out the deficits that need correction at home.

Regarding Teacher's Views of Homeschooling--

I know a number of former public school teachers who now homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. They obviously think well of home education. I address this to those teachers who have something negative to say about homeschooling.

(Those teachers who have dealt with newly enrolled students who were formerly homeschooled who seem 'behind', I'll quickly say that please remember those kids came from a 'failed homeschool' and they don't necessarily represent all homeschooled children. Second, not all students in your classroom are excelling so in the grand scheme of things some former homeschoolers who are a little behind are no worse off than some other kids who have indeed been in the public school system the whole time.)

The main thing I'd like to say to the teachers is that you have enough on your plate to deal with the children enrolled in your schools. Please back off of the homeschoolers. The majority of us are not just meeting the expectations you'd set for your own students but we are surpassing it. You have no reason to worry about what we are doing in our home schools.

Just as the public school teachers do not concern themselves about what goes on with private schools please don't concern yourselves with what goes on in the homeschools. We homeschoolers are doing okay, we really are. (On a message board one teacher put down all homeschooling parents then added that the homeschooling parents who write blogs and such are obviously not the same as 'all the other' homeschooling parents. That surprised me.)

Public school teachers, your own students and your school need your time, your passion, your energy and your devotion. Please don't waste your energy worrying what the homeschooling families are doing and please concentrate on your own job and your own school and try to make improvements directly with your students and within your school. You are needed and you can make an impact there, please help our country in that way. People, including teachers, say the future of our country depends on how we educate the young children of today, so please, please help our country by doing your job well today.

Many homeschooling parents and teachers share many core beliefs and hopes for children and the education of children. We are more alike than I think some teachers realize. We are not necessarily enemies. I don't think the job of a public school teacher is easy. I don't want the job of a public school teacher. I just want to be left alone to raise, parent and home educate my children, and I'd like the teachers to focus on doing the job they chose to do and that they receive compensation to do, that's all.

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Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

I have witnessed some very inept public school teachers and some excellent ones. I have known some very inept parents and some excellent ones.

In the case of parents I think there are many considerations (parents who didn't set a good example, having children before you yourself have matured, not being around your children because of employment outside of the home, apathy, etc.).

I don't have the answers. I wish I did. Parenting is tough and they don't teach it in school, unless things have changed.

Very thoughtful article.


erin said...

Totally not related but I posted a blog with a recent breastfeeding blog link that will frustrate and annoy you!

Shez said...

Great rant. I'm always stunned at how incompetent so many children are. People often express surprise at how competent my children are. I've always said it is because they suffer from a bit of benign neglect. I've always actively encouraged my children to do things for themselves. I was profoundly influenced by Magda Gerber's book, "the Self Confident Baby".

I never used sippy cups with my kids. Instead I taught them how to use open cups from the get go.

Shira at 7 bakes from scratch whenever the mood takes her. I taught her how to bake safely and now if she wants brownies or chocolate cake, she knows how to get it. LOL. Same with her brother and boiled eggs.

Must admit that I haven't taught them to tie shoelaces yet as they've only worn velcro shoes. I figure that this is the year as they have such big feet that I think their next pair of sneakers won't come with a velcro option.

Karen said...

Christine - Don't be quite so broad about all homeschoolers who are behind going into school being from failed homeschools.

Sometimes, the scope and sequence are different, which is something the schools deal with in non-homeschooled transfer students too.

Sometimes those homeschool transfers are sudden and from families who never intended to use the public schools. Sometimes they are kids who would have been identified with learning issues had they been in school. Too bad that with no formal diagnosis, the assumption will be that homeschooling caused the problem.

There are plenty of reasons other than a failed homeschool to have kids enter the public school system. Being on different schedule isn't failure.

Think about your son's vision issues. Had you suddenly found yourself needing to enroll him in public school, would that mean you had a"failed homeschool?"

christinemm said...

Hi Karen, You said
"Christine - Don't be quite so broad about all homeschoolers who are behind going into school being from failed homeschools."

I specifically meant the kids who enroll into school and are way behind academically---IMO that is a failure of the homeschool family.

I have heard way too many times that teachers only have experiences with kids in their class who were formerly homeschooled and were way behind academically and they then judge every HS family on those kids. They don't see the 'average' kids or the 'on grade level' kids or the 'ahead of grade level' kids. They have limited exposure to HS kids yet judge ALL on just those kids. It is a bad thing to do.

I most certainly do not think that every formerly HSed child who winds up in school is from a 'failed homeschool'. There are many reasons why kids wind up in school that used to HS and also I'd like to think that not all HS kids are 'behind' academically either!

There was a site that came across Google news alert for homeschooling last month that wound up getting crazy comments from IMO radical school teachers that was maddening to read. I had thought I'd blog it but never got around to it. In those comments teachers were claiming every HS kid they ever met was a total mess academically and sometimes socially too. It was horrid.

atara said...

I'm not sure reading teacher boards is a good thing. I mean, I've been a private and public school teacher and sometimes you need to vent to another teacher who understands. Of course, spilling details is never ok. But I will say that the less control parents have over the children, the more they handicap anyone else from teaching them because the child has a low tolerance for frustration and no self-control.

Mrs. C said...

Hi, Christine! I loved this post.

Though I know that our family is a little exceptional in that my almost nine-year-old son is autistic. He can read from the King James and tell you what it means, but he CANNOT tie his shoelaces. Nope. I even bought the little puzzle shoes with the laces. Too funny that you cite the laces thing in your post :p

I also have a non-verbal child who is almost certainly also autistic. I'm sure there are a lot of parents homeschooling "special needs" kids that would look like "failed" homeschools. Well, we started home-educating my son Elf (the almost 9-y-o) because the public school failed to meet those needs.

I think it's all about the needs of the child and where he would BEST get an education. There sure are good/bad things about each method. :]

christinemm said...

The teachers I'm referring to slammed the non-special ed kids for being behind.

Although I have heard some say that all kids with special ed issues (various diagnoses)should be in school as only they can give the best education and programs. I disagree.

All my references to jackets, shoelaces etc were about kids who are not impaired in any way, just overly coddled and not gently nudged to indpendence at age appropriate times.

My nephew has Autism and I have a special place in my heart for all children with Autism. I would never speak a negative word toward anyone with an Autism diagnosis. Just to be clear. :)

Mrs. C said...

I'd say a few negative things every now and then, because they can disobey like any other kid.

But I get your meaning. :]