Today, we are headed to the Board of Education to do our final homeschool review for this school year. Next year we will begin our 9th year.
Many people have asked me why we chose to homeschool. I've never addressed this on the blog - mostly because we've been doing it for so long it doesn't seem like "new" news. But I understand how people can wonder. Besides if there is anyone contemplating it, believing that they are not capable, perhaps our story will help them believe they can.
I had never planned to homeschool. We moved into a community that literally had its own elementary school across the street. When it was time for the oldest to go to Kindergarten, out the door he went. Then when it was time for Son #2 to go to Kindergarten, out the door he went as well.
It didn't take long before I had questions. Son #1 would only make it thru 3rd grade and Son #2 only thru 1st grade, before I pulled each of them and that last year was a struggle.
I struggled with the level of parent participation that went on at the school. There were dozens of sign up sheets for dozens of volunteer positions. Parents in the lunch room, on the playground, in the classrooms, in the office... you name it parents were there.
That had not been my experience as a kid. I remember how special it was to bring a parent on a field trip. That was about the only time parents were engaged in the school - unless your parent was an actual employee. Our parents were either at home raising our siblings or they were at work at their jobs - certainly not hovering around us in our schools. But times have certainly changed.
I volunteered as much as I could but I had very young children at home. I felt alot of pressure to be in the school by the other parents and by my child because he saw everyone else's parents involved. So I would make arrangements for someone to watch my kids for my volunteer hours. I did it begrudgingly. If my child was in school - why did I need to be there when there were a number of adults being paid to be there? I had other children at home that needed me. But the pressure was strong.
When Son #1 was in third grade I took notice for a number of weeks that his white socks were filthy. I asked him numerous times how his socks has gotten so dirty. He never had an answer. It puzzled me. I sent my little boy out the door with clean socks - yet he would come home with them black.
One day I fussed at him about it. Then he blurted out the truth.
"The kids take my shoes off of me on the playground and run away from me playing keep away. I'm sorry, Mommy."
I was furious. I was heartbroken. My son was being bullied.
How could my son be bullied for weeks at a school that consists only of children from the same neighborhood and on a playground where parents have flocked to volunteer. I knew every parent and every child in his class.
When I further proceeded to question my son - it just got worse.
Me: "Doesn't anyone see?"
Son #1: "No. They are busy."
Me: "Where does this happen?"
Son #1: "On the field."
Me: "How long has this been going on?"
Son #1: "For some weeks."
Me: "And no one has ever seen?"
Son #1" "No, they are busy."
Me: "Where are the volunteer parents?"
Son #1: "There. Talking."
Me: "And no one has ever noticed that you don't have your shoes and that you are trying to get them back?"
Son #1: "Sometimes when they take them, I don't try to get them anymore."
Me: "So you just play without your shoes and you don't tell anyone?"
Son #1: "Yes."
I was so upset. No one wants to hear that their kid is being bullied and certainly not under the nose of parents and teachers who are supposed to be supervising.
I called the school the next day and spoke with the guidance counselor. I told her the entire story and how upset I was.
She quickly informed me that the school had a "plan" for dealing with "children who have difficulty making friends".
Excuse me? Did you say for dealing with children who have difficulty making friends?
How about dealing with bullies?
I could not believe my ears. My son was viewed as the problem. The boy who I had watched sit and make friends with the hearing impaired children that no one else would interact with - was considered the one who had difficulty making friends.
I had always been so proud of my son for having the maturity and compassion to friend those boys. I had them to my home to play several times. They were children who did not live in our community, they were bussed in from other parts of the county. My son had reached out to them. On his own. Yet he was the social problem?
Then something happened involving Son #2. He came home from first grade and told me that he had to eat lunch in the guidance counselor's office that day. I asked him why and he said he didn't know. She had given him some candy and eaten lunch in there.
Me: "Were you alone?"
Son #2: "No, there was another boy."
Me: "Were the two of you in trouble?"
Son #2: "No, she just came to get me to eat lunch in there."
Me: "She got you from where?"
Son #2: "The cafeteria."
i immediately picked up the phone and called the school. I spoke with the same guidance counselor that I had a few weeks prior about Son #1.
Me: "Hi. This is Mrs. Borne. My son has come home and informed me that he had to eat lunch in your office today - was there a problem?"
Her: "Mrs. Borne if there had been a problem, we would have informed you of it."
Me: <completely shocked by her attitude> "So why was he in there?"
Her: "Well this is what we like to do when we are trying to help students with problems."
Me: "My son has problems?"
Her: "No, certainly not. But the other little boy has been having some difficulties that I am not able to share with you because it would not be appropriate. But your son is very kind and outgoing and we are looking to forge a relationship between the two hoping to help the other child."
Me: "So you are using my son as a guinea pig to develop a relationship with a problem child that you can't tell me about due to privacy? You just walked in and took my son from the cafeteria and told him he had to eat lunch with you and then gave him candy?"
Her: "Mrs. Borne I assure you that we've done this with other students and it is quite helpful."
Me: "You should have contacted me and asked my permission to use my son in a social experiment."
Then there was one another issue that I had with the school...
They had arranged what they called a "Math-a-thon". Kids would compete against each other with their math facts to raise money for the school. The winner would get a limousine ride to McDonald's for lunch with a friend of their choice. I had a problem with this.
There are so many public schools in our county that are less fortunate. Our elementary had been very blessed to be in a wealthy area and had more than enough technology considering the schools a few miles away that were struggling and in communities much less fortunate. Had they decided to hold the Math -a-thon to raise money for another school or to help in a charitable fashion - I would have understood. But from my vantage point it seemed greedy.
And very honestly, I despised the whole limousine and lunch thing. It seemed over the top.
So when the permission slip came home - I explained that my child would not be participating. For me it was a matter of principle. Later that month when the newsletter came out to praise the kids for how much money they had raised, they also managed to include that only 1% of the school had not participated. Hmm.
The final issue? The straw if you will...
I was called in for a conference with Son #2's first grade teacher. I was informed that his handwriting was not up to par and needed work. So I asked to see his handwriting book. They didn't have one. So how about his handwriting folder? Nope. Didn't have that either. Handwriting papers of any kind? Nope. So I asked what they were doing to teach handwriting. That's when she told me that they were not teaching handwriting. That was my job. They were too busy doing other things to teach handwriting.
Forgive me, but what in the world are we doing with our children if we are too busy to teach handwriting to first graders? What are they doing in school at the age of 6 that is so important that kids need to learn handwriting at home?
I was baffled.
I was also finished.
I had been talking with friends at my church who homeschooled for many years. I had shared my school experiences with them throughout our school year.
They were very encouraging that I could do it.
And I have - for 8 years.
I have never looked back.
We have had a wonderful life.
We agreed as a family that we would only continue if they wanted to. They were allowed to go back whenever they asked. But no one ever asked.
I returned my eldest son to public school for 8th grade. I knew he would be starting high school and I wanted him to have one year in school to acclimate himself. He tested two grade levels higher.
I also sent his younger brother with him into 6th grade. Thinking they would take care of each other.
The first year they returned and we were at Back to School night, some of those parents from elementary school took my sons' schedules to compare them to their children.
I will never forget his words when Son #1 walked through the door after 10 days of returning to school -
"Well. Thank you very much for sending me to school. I want you to know that my entire education has come to a complete stand still. Just letting you know."
Later that year, I would find myself in the principal's office. Fighting for my son - as he had been the victim of bully behavior again.
I truly thought about bringing them back home. To this day I wish I had. But I didn't. I allowed them to work through it. They were very difficult years. I was afraid of making waves again. They are each now in a private high school.
But I have kept the younger two home the entire way. Neither of them have ever been in a school. Son #3 will be an 8th grader next year and Daughter in 6th grade. It's hard to imagine that this is the age that I sent my older two back after 4 years of homeschooling.
I sent them back because I was afraid. I sent them back because everyone warned me how far behind they would be. How quickly our schools move. How much they would be lacking.
But it wasn't true. If I had known then, what I know now, I would have kept them home until high school.
The only things lacking at home that they found at school?
Bullies, rude behavior and gossiping parents.
Homeschooling is definitely swimming upstream. Going against the norm. We've been ridiculed, ignored and forgotten by people we once called friends. People can say whatever they like...
It doesn't change that it was still the best decision we ever made.
"To go against the dominant thinking of your friends,
of most of the people you see every day,
is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform." ~ Theodore H. White