I love the comments we receive on the blog, and they make me think more deeply about things I have written about our beliefs I hold. it gives me the impetus to write things down that I hope will be valuable for the kids to read one day, as well as provide others with some insight into parenting kids like ours. Even on subjects that appear to be somewhat unrelated, there is always a connection. Thanks to "Kelly and Sne" for their comment below, which I'd like to address a little here:
While I DO agree that we are in bad need of school reform, I don't think that homeschooling is the answer. While it may work for some, I don't think it works for all and, frankly, I think many parents could use some additional schooling themselves and are in no position to teach their children. There is a reason that teachers have special skills and special training. Maybe we just don't have enough of them.
I think much of the issues that you are describing have a lot more to do with bad parenting than bad schools. IN fact, as many of your commenters have stated, parent involvement seems to have made a world of difference in the quality of the school. And I would add, the quality of the child.
First of all, nn rereading my post I think I made it clear..and in all of my previous ones for that matter, that I do NOT think homeschooling is the answer to our nation's educational woes. I have never advocated for anyone to homeschool simply because we found it to be the best solution for our strange little needs over here, and I agree 100% that not every mom or dad should even consider it. I think the dynamic it sets up in a family can be very challenging depending upon the personalities involved...and yes, I would even agree that some parents may be ill equipped to teach their children if they don't have a certain level of intellectual and cognitive ability themselves. That statement pretty much flies in the face of all conventional homeschoolers, who disturb me when they say that ANYONE can homeschool, and ALL should. Sorry, I find that perspective to be one of the reasons why ardent homeschoolers are often seen as less than realistic about the way they educate their kids, and throw out statements that are way too far reaching and honestly, a little ignorant. Can you honestly tell me that you think the poor kid who sat next to you in high school history who could barely write a coherent sentence ought to be teaching their child? No. Do I think they have a right to? Well, that is a very different question and I tend to ere on the side of parental rights over state's rights so I would have to answer "yes", as I feel every parent has the right to decide what is best for their child, even if I would disagree.
However, I do think the parent of average intelligence has the ability to teach their child. I consider myself to be of quite average intelligence...there is no genius here in the LaJoy house (and I daresay that the vast majority of wonderful teachers I have encountered aren't exactly Einstein's either...just reasonably bright folks who care...caring and motivation are FAR more important than high IQ). What many people who don't homeschool fail to see, is that most homeschooling parents don't see themselves as academic superstars who fall in the realm of Teacher of the Year. Most of us, I daresay, see ourselves more as educational facilitators, looking for opportunities and mentors, outside classes (of which there are many if you need them) and tutors to help guide our child's education. We are more of a general contractor, if that helps create an image that is more easily grasped, we teach some things, find experts in others, and eventually our kids learn to teach themselves many things they are interested in...just as we adults do in " real life" when we find we need to learn something new.
And let's face it, if a parent functions reasonably well in the working world, there is no reason they can't confidently teach well into the upper grades themselves. There is no magic to it, other than deeply caring about your kids and being willing to put in the effort to revisit all that stuff you learned yourself as a kid. After all, you DID learn it once, it is NOT all foreign to you! The teacher's manuals spell it all out for you fairly well, just as it does for any teacher in public school who finds themselves suddenly teaching a grade or subject they have never taught before. There really is no difference...but we like to think there is because then it is easy to say we could never do that. I know, I was there 2 years ago :-) Now, I won't lie to you and tell you I feel confident enough to teach subjects like trig or calculus, but that is why we will enroll in local classes for those subjects as the need arises...but I'll bet you 90% of the elementary school teachers I know would not feel confident teaching those subjects either...hence the parent as educational facilitator, not "expert of all things".
As for the special training a teacher receives, I think I see a little different side to that, and it actually goes to the other issues raised in the comment. Much of a teacher's special training has nothing at all to do with subjects to be taught, nor does it have to do with the best approaches. A large portion of their training addresses classroom management and the array of behavioral challenges they will encounter in the classroom. This has nothing at all really to do with creating specialists who really are amazing and gifted at helping bring out the best in every child based upon that child's individual learning style and interests, well versed in specific subjects they will teach, but it has everything to do with keeping a class under control, learning how to be part counselor, traffic cop, disciplinarian, family therapist, role model, and many other things that have little to do with the actual teaching of academics. Why is this sort of special training needed? Because of exactly what was pointed out in Kelly and Sne's comment...bad parenting is rampant. I would even go so far as to say that often that special training is necessary as it is an effort to combat no parenting at all.
There are other factors, however, and they mirror society as a whole. This is the crux of what I was trying to say...we have completely lost a sense of community in our schools. They are large institutions where kids are just a number and where teachers seldom get to know kids well once they enter middle school. Parents are no longer involved and have completely abdicated responsibility to the schools to educate (and sadly sometimes parent) their children. At moments I wonder though, which came first...the chicken or the egg? This is just ruminating here...but I have often wondered if parents spend less time in the schools because the schools have taken over more of the parental role, or if the schools have taken over more of the parental role because parents won't parent. Our schools now weigh our kids and tell them what to eat, drink, when to sleep, and explain sex to them. They reach into the home life with so many hours of homework as the child grows older that it is impossible to have a well functioning home life after school hours. On the flip side, parents send their kids to school ill prepared from the very beginning, figuring it is the school's job to teach them their ABC's or how to count. See what I mean? It could be that both sides are a little skewed and have contributed to the problem of absentee parents.
I have to ask the question though...what would happen if we stepped back to the days when education worked better? What if kids had the same teacher for several years as in the one room schoolhouse, where a teacher could grow to know that child intimately and work with their strengths and weaknesses, making sure there were no learning gaps as much of the previous learning would be well known? What if kids went to neighborhood schools that were tiny in contrast to what we have today, where a real sense of community could be developed because everyone was going with neighbors and saw each other out on the front lawns of their homes. What if we didn't worry about high school football teams and cheerleading squads, but worried more about spelling bees and science fairs? What if parents pooled together their tax dollars and created their local school and reviewed and voted on curriculum? What if your child attended a school with 40 students rather than 400? What sort of difference in terms of accountability and sense of community would that make?
I see it as similar to the solution that larger mega-churches have come up with in light of their challenges...they created "small groups" to help form mini-communities that basically sort of mimic the feel of a much smaller congregation, but still allows one access to larger church programming when it is desired. Why can't our schools follow a model like that? Maybe it is not about more funding, but better use of the funding that currently exists...and a system that encourages parental involvement over "drop and run" for even those parents that would prefer to be more involved but are intimidated by a large "system".
I guess that I see our educational problems as two fold, both a school problem and a parenting problem. When a teacher can not find more individualized solutions for a child because they can't make changes to curriculum because it is not "District approved", we all have a problem. When a parent sends an angry, defiant, ill equipped child to school, we all have a problem. When we focus solely on college as "the" road to success in adult life and we leave out training for kids who are not college material but hard working, functioning, responsible kids, we all have a problem. When we have a system that is prison like in order to maintain control over the inmates...oh...I mean students, we all have a problem.
Anyone could list a million ways in which our schools could be reformed, but one major key to stopping some of the on campus violence we see today is "relationship". With it, people become connected and interdependent, without it, people become strangers who are easy to ignore or dehumanize.
And please, please, please...don't see our family as being fanatical homeschooling advocates, for we are not. We know good and well that for all that we have gained with this decision, we have lost a lot as well. You can't have it all, and we don't see public school as the "evil" that so many others do. It's funny, but just as it seems to happen with adoption decisions, others want to categorize you. We have spent years justifying our decision to adopt, our decision to adopt internationally versus domestically, our decision to adopt trans-racially, our decision to adopt more than the acceptable norm of 2.5 kids, and our decision to "destroy our family" and adopt older kids. We never said anyone else who made different decisions was wrong, and honestly don't think anyone should ever follow in our footsteps.
Now we find ourselves defending our decision to homeschool as assumptions are made about our reasons, our perspective about public education, our religious beliefs, our own educational background, and so much more. It has been "out of the frying pan and into the fire". I have never had so many raised eyebrows as I get these days when someone finds out we are homeschooling, and I have no teaching degree...or even any college education at all. I never imagined that our personal decision to educate our kids at home would create such an opening for others to judge us (I am not referring to Kelly and Sne's comment, just making a statement in general and want to be clear about where we stand.) or make assumptions that we somehow think THEY are wrong for having their kids in public school. Nothing could be further from the truth, but others seem to forget that they are not, nor have they ever parented our kids or faced our challenges. This works for us, and it works right now. We hope it continues to work and that our kids continue to thrive.
It's been the right decision for us, but it comes at a cost...the loss of "fitting in" more with societal norms, the loss of the casual friendships and connections we so enjoyed, the loss of my own personal confidence as I jump into something more scary than I care to admit at moments, the loss of life as we knew it, the loss of myself outside of our kids and I have yet to regain that, the loss of a shared common experience of childhood with our children as their childhood experiences now veer far off course of our own, the loss of my time as already thousands of hours have been spent teaching or researching and planning, and so much more.
With all that being said, the gains are worth the losses. We have gained a closeness that can't be matched, we see our kids gaining confidence where it once was being chipped away, we have gained watching our kids develop a love of learning they never before had, we have gained a deeper sense of gratitude for the family we have become, we have gained the ability to allow each child to approach each subject individually and move at their own pace which is priceless in our situation, we have gained a very different sense of "home", we have gained a very different understanding of what education is, we have gained so very much.
And still I say it is not for everyone. If we had different kids with different needs, this would not work at all. If we had different kids with different personalities, I would dread doing this. If we had different lives and I had indeed been better educated myself and had a true career, I would likely never have considered giving that up to do this. That is truthful, and not necessarily something I am proud to admit but it might be too hard to give up what I had, and I would have missed out on something quite precious for us. If we had better local alternatives, we would probably have tried that over homeschooling. But for THIS family in THIS place with THESE kids, homeschooling has proven to be our best bet.
I don't claim to have any of the answers...just a bunch of opinions that may make little sense to anyone else. It can not be denied, however, that something is broken and needs to be fixed. The finger points in many directions as we try to find the cause and where to begin to create a better functioning educational system. Fault does not fall in one court only, but bounces back and forth in a virtual game of ping pong as we all say "Yea, but...." and then volley with another "Yea, but...".
The important thing is that we keep the dialogue open, that we don't bury our heads in the sand. We need to look at what IS working, and be open to trying new approaches. That is exactly what we did as we searched for a solution for our family. That approach may not be right for everyone, just as various approaches and solutions for public education may not prove to be best for everyone either. We have to keep trying though, and recognize that through a variety of options we might be able to provide solutions for a variety of children. None of us are cookie cutter learners or families. What we currently have is basically a cookie cutter system. We need to roll that dough out and try different styles of cookies...drop cookies, pressed cookies, rolled cookies. Believe me, there will be someone who likes each style.