Friday, October 15, 2010

Who Should Decide About Homeschooling: Kids or the Parents?

I have been thinking about, and my husband and I have been discussing the issue of whether to discontinue homeschooling and to enroll one or both of our children into school.

This blog post is about my opinions and my family. I respect freedom of choice and what other families decide to do is none of my business. This piece is not a criticism of what others have decided for their own children.

As with each autumn, I learn which of our friends and acquaintances have quit homeschooling and enrolled their kids into school, as they are noticably absent from the activities they formerly participated in. Yet at the same time there are a fresh crop of newbie’s joining the homeschool community who took the plunge this summer. Then there are the even newer ones whose kids were always in school but felt this school year was different and unacceptable and withdrew their kids from school after attending school for weeks or a couple of months this fall.

Although it's none of our business we can't help but wonder what would make a family stop homeschooling. Sometimes the whole family is affected and other times only one or some of the kids stop homeschooling.

Sometimes in conversation with the mothers (or when reading their online communications) the reason is shared that the child wanted to go to school and they let the child make the decision, so off the child went.

For our family, our recent consideration to continue or stop homeschooling was two different issues, very different reasons for each child due to the unique nature and circumstances of each of our children.

The younger son requested last fall that he wanted to go to school to be around kids his age more. He thought it was fun 'party all day' time in public school. He dismisses the negative things his friends tell him about school. Every schooled boy we know hates school except for lunch and recess and sometimes gym. They hate getting up early, hate and are bored by the learning in class, and hate the homework. This month that son tells me he is just curious about school and wants to see what it is like. In reaction to this we joined one new co-op last spring which he loved and seemed to satisfy his desire to see kids more. He made a new homeschooler friend there and got to see another close friend more often as a result and then was around some acquaintences more (but the boys around his same age are of limited number in that co-op). Both kids were so happy with that co-op that we re-enrolled for this fall.

For our older son the concern was how difficult for ME and the whole family it would be to adequately prepare our oldest son for an engineering college's prerequisites. It can be done but should I bother? It would be easier just to send him to school and let the colleges trust that what was done there was of high caliber and wipe my hands clean of things like researching curriculum and comparing online classes? It's a lot of work figuring out how to get into community colleges (around here some courses are closed to homeschoolers as demand for enrollment by matriculated students is high and they get priority) and then even if he did get in, handing schlepping my kid to and from college classes in between whatever else is going on with our younger son's homeschooling.

So who gets to decide if the kids go to school or not? Should it be up to the child?

Right now, our older son doesn't want any part of public or private high school. Our younger son wants to go to school, with a request to do so just last week.

Neither my husband or I feel the decision should be made by our children. The reason is that we did not come to the decision to homeschool lightly or quickly. The decision was made after careful consideration of what we feel public and private school can supply regarding the quality, content and goals of that education versus what homeschooling can provide. We felt homeschooling could be a superior academic education. The freedom to learn actual content instead of a major focus on practicing to ace the state standardized test (so the school looks good not for the goal of the individual student to learn) is also important to us. That was our main reason for homeschooling: quality of academics and the ability to customize the education to the young child's developmental stages. We wanted to be able to focus on what needed extra attention to achieve mastery and to be able to glaze by easily grasped concepts.

Less major but added together seem almost as important are issues such as avoiding certain negative social experiences and peer pressure, not being around kids who don't value learning or give the impression that it's stupid. My child being more concerned about social experiences than learning, being forced to learn what the school's trend of the moment is regarding learning method or content, and putting unimportant issues ahead of core academic content (i.e. pushing social agendas while barely teaching science and history or teaching touchy-feely math or to do simple math with calculators).

We wanted to raise our children with more of a total parenting experience. We didn't want to compete for our kid's time and attention with most of their waking life being spent in school or being cared for by strangers we pay in before and after school activities and all summer long in camps.

We wanted to be able to infuse our family's values and belief system into the academics, to view things through our own perspective (and in the teen years to open this up to teach other views and the way other people look at the same issue).

We didn't want to be in a situation where it's us the parents against them, the school (as that applies to many situations).

We wanted to introduce our kids to difficult topics when it was right and appropriate not when the school thinks they should know it (it seems lately that everything is being pushed down to kids who are too young to even know such things).

Living together for more hours in the day has allowed us to know each other better and to have a different kind of family experience than most modern families have. In the early years active parenting with the attachment parenting method was intense and not always easy but it was worth it. I was able to meet my children's needs as the developed and grew up.

I have come to know my kids deeply and we can live more in harmony with each other. This has helped my kids through things like mourning the deaths of loved ones and coping while watching a grandparent go through the dying process, slowing changing over time as their health declined. It has helped situations like when my younger son was being bullied by school kids on his travel lacrosse team. Taking negativity in small doses when the majority of the child's time is in a more positive environment is much different than being bombarded with too much negativity and too much pressure day in and day out.

My husband and I have lots of reasons why we homeschool and we don't feel that our children at age 13 and 10 are in the position to make the decision for themselves about whether to keep homeschooling or to go to school.

If I let my kids decide it may not be best for them or even for me! Yes, I said me! Why should my child be the one to decide if I am going to homeschool him? If I'm incapable or burned out then I'd not be a good homeschool teacher or parent, and at that point I'd want my children in the hands of a competent and not burned out teacher instead (although the fact is what the teacher's qualities are is a crapshoot but I'll ignore that for the sake of this argument; I'll drink the Kool-Aid to make my case).

If I let my older son decide to not enroll into school but keep homeschooling, that keeps me being responsible for his homeschooling. Even when he said, "I'll teach myself", even though he's 13 years old and maybe can manage a self-teaaching method, the burden of responsibility legally lies with me, the parent, to ensure what he is doing is not only good enough per the state. For my husband and my standards, we raise the bar for me to also include me be responsible to provide him with an education to fulfill his goals (seeking admissions to an engineering school). However if I'm burned out or don't feel I can adequately provide a rigorous enough content for homeschool high school, then what? If I'm burned out, I'm done. Period. My kid shouldn't force ME into continuing to homeschool!

If my husband and I choose that he will indeed go to school (against his wishes) I would view my role as his mother to help him realize that he can not only survive attending school but can learn to thrive there. It's my role to help him learn to be independent and if that includes a switch to school for high school, then so be it. I can teach him how to navigate those waters and how to play the school game since I remember what I learned from my own experiences in public school.

If we let our younger son go to school just to try it, that's dicey. From what I know from my friends and neighbors about this highly ranked public school I don't want my kid in there. The academics are dumbed down and all they care about is teaching to the standardized test or labeling kids with something that qualifies them for a 504 that will give the school more money from the state.

(Update: since I drafted this yesterday I ran into a mother in town who I'd not talked to for two years and learned of some important issues regarding super dumbed down curriculum and having "no general curriculum" in our public elementary school. What I heard was going on or not going on in there was absurd.)

If I let my son go and he aces these assignments and tests and flies through the homework, he will be thrilled to death. He will have checked off the little boxes and feel so wonderful about his accomplishments. His self-esteem would soar (it's not bad now but he'd have the makings of becoming a narcissist or a megalomaniac). At age ten he knows nothing about what quality academics are, how could he judge which school or if homeschooling is superior academic content? He'd probably love school due to its easyness. Then what? The decision would be whether to force him to quit against his will or to let go of our family's goals for education.

If being in school, even being an "A" student, and even if taking some honors classes in middle school next year (our town does not have any gifted education for grades K-5) still yields a sub-par education then what? Is it really in my child's best interest to be the one to decide if public school is right for him? If on paper he's seen as thriving in school but suffers personally and socially or is just thriving at the dumbed down academics is that something to actually celebrate? I don't think so.

This is also a kid who I know will be tempted to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Knowing that in this town some kids are already drinking vodka under their parent's own roofs and experimenting with pot, shall I place him where those temptations and peer pressures are within such an easy reach? I know my son enough to know that temptation is a major challenge for him (as it always has been).

That son of mine is also a follower socially. All the rules go out the window and he quickly follows the leader. I have witnessed this happen right in front of me and it's mind boggling to me. (I've also seen other kids join right in too so it's a general follower thing not just a flaw with my son.) My son takes strong cues from his peers as to what is normal behavior and overrides his rules at home. One example I learned of this week is that an instructor in a class he takes allows the use of the phrases "pissed off" and "shut up" and those are not words we allow to be used in our own home. Yet my son has joined with the other kids in using them at the class regularly apparently.

Those who would advise that I should just trust my child and he will rise up to make the right decision for himself do not know my child as I know him nor are they responsible for the welfare of this child (nor will they have to deal with negative fallout from his decisions like I will).

There is a difference between protecting a child and sheltering him, in this case for me, it's about protection from imminent harm. It's not about me raising my kids in a bubble; anyone who knows me and my children knows we're not in that category of homeschoolers. I can only hope that my son will mature enough in his teen years to have his head on straight when he leaves for college and can really get into some serious trouble.

I am grateful to have been born in the United States of America where we have certain freedoms that others in the world do not. I am happy that Connecticut has lenient homeschooling laws that do not compel me to use or even answer to a system which I have rejected. Our law even has some wiggle room as to what has to be taught when (by not defining such detailed parameters) which allows us to teach to our children's developmental stages (more of an issue in the younger years than it is for us right now).

At this time my husband and I have decided to continue homeschooling. So long as we're financially able and our kids are thriving personally and academically, we will continue homeschooling.

If one of our sons grows up resenting it and wondering what school would have been like, that's tough for him and we'll have to accept that one grateful child out of two is better than none. The resentful son can go away to college and see what college is like and that will have to be good enough. Perhaps for some years he won't appreciate the superior education he received at home nor appreciate how good he had it in his childhood. Maybe he'll not even be grateful that we're letting him go away to college (something my father wouldn't le me do) but that will be his problem not ours. Any bitterness he chooses to harbor will be his burden to bear, not mine or my husband's.

My husband told our kids this last year during a lecture after they were complaining that they felt our academic standards were too high: that he will continue to make the right and best choices (such as homeschooling and requiring a certain competence in core academics and being prepared for college admissions), and if they grow up hating him for it, that's something he can live with.

My husband said what he could not live with is if he didn't do right by our kids and made second best or poor decisions and regretted it all the rest of his life. He said he felt he had a responsibility as a father that he must fulfill. He made it clear to our sons that night that they had no choice but to do what he and I felt was right and best and if they grow up hating us for being good parents who are trying to prepare them to be self-sufficient adults then that's their problem, not ours.

The bottom line is my husband and I feel our duty as parents includes providing not only food, clothing and shelter but a loving and nurturing home environment. We feel our duty is to provide a quality education (which is exactly what the Connecticut education law says). For now that means a continuation of homeschooling.


Ina's 5 and our Native Homeschool Blog said...

I couldn't agree more. I am always a little dumbfounded when asked "what if your child wants to go back to ps?' I don't remember these parents asking their child if they wanted to hs. Education is a parents responsibility (hs or ps) and therefore their decision.

Michelle Pixie said...

I really am on the verge of choosing to homeschool my girls. I really, really want too but right now is just not the right time with my youngest daughter having so many medical issues I don't think I would be being fair to my older two at this time. But I see a time in the very near future that this will be a decision my husband and I making. Thankfully right now they are in a school that I am very happy with. A magnet school that gives them the extras that they need to hold their interest. But you are so right that this is a decision to be made by the parents and not the kids. It is our job to give the very best to our babies and when/if they have their own children one day they will have their own decisions to make and will understand why we made ours!

Pamela said...

I agree that ultimately, parents need to make these decisions. Of course, it's good to consider what the child is saying, but in the end, we are the responsible adults, and we know the big picture better than a child does.

Sabrina said...

Very wise thoughts. So much of what we have to decide about educating our children is no different than what we decide about parenting them in general.

I have a son who is going through allergy shots; he reached 16 years old, and informed me that he was feeling well enough and didn't want to continue with the regimen. I had to prayerfully discern whether this was a decision that he, at 16, was equipped to make.

I let him make that decision; however, I did NOT ask whether he still wanted to use his asthma inhaler before soccer games. The responsibility for making decisions about his health overall still rests with me.

The decision to homeschool or not is a very complex one, and it's a wise parent who listens to a child's opinion, but retains the decision-making responsibility.

Bugsandstuff said...

I am so glad I happened upon this blog entry. This evening I am spent after a long discussion (no, it really was an argument) with our 7-year-old, who wants to go back to public school this fall, as he feels that hs is too hard -- at our local urban ps, he would be "the top of his class" -- not saying much, based on our limited time in ps -- not even a full year).

Honestly, hs is challenging. Maybe not as challenging if your child has never been indoctrinated into the institution of ps. But maybe it is -- I don't know. But, like you, my husband and I did not come by the decision to hs lightly -- hence the 9 months in 1st grade! We, like you, made this decision because we determined that, not only was his ps not doing enough, it was actually harmful to leave him there, for all the reasons you stated, plus all the ones you can imagine, going to an urban school in CT.

I know that, because of the color of my child's skin, there are folks, including teachers and principals, who will shoot for "adequate", instead of "excellent." That is unacceptable to us as his parents. So I thank you for helping me resolve to press on. Because, as you so aptly put, it IS my responsibility. I'm not doing it so he will say, "Gee, Mom, thanks," but because I love him and want the very best for him.

Right now, we, too, believe it's homeschool.

Be blessed.

hisphomeschool said...

Great insight. I actually live outside the US and my son is the only homeschooler where we live. It is a small condo on the beach. There are kids running around here on weekends and sometimes during the day. It is a very safe place. He has lots of friends. Unfortunately, there are a few here whose kids are in private schools, leave to go to school at 6AM and get home at 530PM from school, then it's on to basketball at 730PM until 830PM...this most nights! This is a 7yr old boy! My son has just recently started saying he wants to go to school, but as nosey as these neighbors are and what they have said to me, I have a feeling the neighbors have been questioning him about it as well. I do not believe in schools, much less where I live. The public schools are a nightmare, ie. kids get into fist fights and the schools do very little and the private schools are all about who has what brand, whose parents have a boat, etc...It truly is crazy.

Thank you for your insight. I do believe it is our choice as parents. It truly makes me angry to feel that our neighbors are behind this, as I know they would hate for us to be attempting to convince their kids to be homeschooled instead. We do not interfere with their decisions, they should not interfere with ours.