Monday, January 5, 2009

Home Schooling Thoughts

It's been nearly a year now since my daughter and I decided to home school her two sons; Alex, now 13, and Christopher, who's almost 12. It was a decision we made after many frustrating months of dealing with a broken public school system.

As a former English teacher, I was appalled at the lack of education the boys were receiving. There seemed to be no concentrated studies on anything. Basic topics were being sacrificed for advanced ones, leaving them frustrated and confused. It was obvious to us that "education", as defined by Webster as "the process of training and developing the knowledge, skill, mind and character" had been abandoned in favor of studying only what was needed to pass standardized tests.

We saw two boys - who are mentally bright, love to read and want to learn - turning into unhappy people who made excuses not to attend school. In attempting to help them with homework assignments, my daughter and I were constantly baffled with a curriculum that ignored things like handwriting, times tables and geography in favor of advanced math, complicated literature projects, and mountains of homework in subjects not fully covered in class, resulting in discouragement on everyone's part.

I am not naive enough to think that today's students can be taught in exactly the way I was many years ago. I realize that our society is considerably more complicated. However, without the basic tools firmly ingrained in their young minds, these boys were incapable of successfully tackling the assignments and classwork dealt them. It seemed only logical that you have to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide before you can do advanced algebra, yet so little time was spent on rudimentary skills before presenting them with complex math problems, there was no way they had the tools to deal with it. Likewise, asking them to write a term paper in fifth grade, without the verbal or written skills to do so, is ludicrous.

In the year we have worked to sort out what they know vs. what they need to know, we have taken them on a path back to enthusiasm about learning. Teaching them parts of speech, sentence structure and handwriting skills has given them the confidence to begin writing projects. Having them read classic literature books and stories has renewed their interest in reading all types of books. They are also learning things like sentence diagramming (no longer taught in school but which has helped them immensely in understanding proper grammar structure), spelling and punctuation rules (taught with a book that is easy to understand, logically laid out and fun to read), the joys of poetry and the biographies of writers. And that is only what I'm teaching them.

My daughter has led them on a careful route through math basics, times tables drills, fractions and word problems to the beginnings of algebra. With each section fully explained and worked until it was second nature, Alex and Chris are both eager to move on to higher math because they have the tools to deal with it. The same goes for science subjects, world and American history, geography, foreign language (French), music, and even health issues. My husband has even taken on the task of teaching them the many aspects of art and its history!

Doing all the preparation required to teach takes time - and sometimes some review effort on my part - but I am glad to do it. Our class time is relaxed but focused, and I'm rewarded for my work by having them want to go on past the day's lesson to what comes next. They complete their homework assignments with care, study properly for exams, and the final reward is the excellent grades they are making. Oh, and those grades are earned; my daughter and I don't "give them" high marks. Naturally, there are times when their grade is not what they were hoping for. When that happens, we go back and review with them and work to get them to a place where they understand their mistakes. We don't just move on to the next unit of work and leave them to figure it out for themselves, as was the case when they were attending public school.

Talking with the boys in class has opened my eyes to the fact that their schools were even more woefully lacking than I had previously thought. I simply cannot fathom an educational system that makes the promise of "no child left behind" when, in fact, they are cheating every student of a proper education with their misguided curriculum and fast-tracking schedules.

In addition, the school staff always seemed to be more interested in our grandsons' home and social life than they were in how well they were doing in their subjects. My daughter was harassed repeatedly about certain non-traditional aspects of their lives, such as the fact that she is a single mother struggling to make a good life for her children and wants her sons to understand what that entails. Apparently, the educators felt this was an inappropriate topic for young minds. I agreed with our daughter's enlightening the boys about the state of their finances, and her training them how to be more helpful at home. I knew such things growing up, so did she, and it hasn't resulted in negative influences on our lives. She was asked to give permission for the boys to see a social worker because of this; she declined. The most ludicrous incident occurred when she was approached about receiving state assistance to pay for school lunches for the boys. The reason: they always brought their lunch to school so the teacher was worried that they didn't have funds to buy lunch!

Needless to say, this emphasis on social issues to the detriment of education brought about the final impetus to remove the boys from public school, and set up our home school. Our daughter works nights so that she can be home to educate and be with them during the day. I give them lessons each week, and help with making sure they have adult supervision when their mom is working. It adds to everyone's responsibilities but we know that the rewards in the end will be immeasurable.

I want Alex and Chris to know the joys of learning, to have the skills to tackle any goal in life, and to be confident in themselves. I see all that happening already, and, with our teachings, it can only get better. I have to admit that I wasn't too sure about home schooling when we began all this, but I'm a big advocate now. I've seen how well it works for them. We have discussed with both of them the possibility of going back to public school when they reach high school age. We feel that, by that time, they will have the learning tools to handle a public school curriculum. They haven't decided yet just what they want to do. For now, we're setting the groundwork for their future, and we're all happy about that.

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