Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Future of Education in Our Family

We have given a lot of thought to what "school" will look like in the coming years here at Casa LaJoy.  I get asked fairly often if we plan to enroll the kids in public education when we have all of them caught up, or once they each reach high school.  Those are reasonable questions to pose, especially since we jumped into homeschooling mid-stream, and when one sees how quickly the girls are acquiring English, or how Kenny is coming close to one day perhaps working at grade level.  Then there are the expected rigors of high school academics and my own lack of a teaching degree or college education in any subject to consider.  What WILL we do?

I can tell you what we hope will happen, as long as we can continue to have me home...we will learn together and grow together.  We have no plan to ever return the kids to public education, unless A) Something happens and I can no longer homeschool due to finances or health or B) Any of them would benefit from exposure to public education.  As it stands today though, it strikes fear in the hearts of any of them to even think about returning to the old way of learning.  Just yesterday Matt brought up high school and turned to me in the car to ask "Mommy, you won't ever make me go back to school will you?" to which I replied "I'm not planning on it, why?"  He then said "I don't know if I could ever go back to that way of learning again.  It feels more like having a babysitter and I wouldn't be able to study all the cool things I study I'd have have to wait for everyone else.  I just don't ever want to go back, being home, our life is just different, it's better."  Of course, this was said after the joy of spending 4 hours totally immersed in his Civil Air Patrol curriculum :-)

The fact is though, that there has been far more gained than academic freedom, and I think I am only beginning to appreciate it.  Yesterday we went to the library, and as we walked in I had my arm around Olesya and Matt was holding my other hand while the other kids went a little ahead of us.  A local Mennonite woman who looked vaguely familiar to me stopped us with her own arms loaded with books for her kids.  She asked me if I homeschooled, which might have been obviouus due to the time of day we were entering the library.  I said that yes, we did.  She smiled and turned to Matt and Olesya and said "You sure love your Mama, don't you?", to which they both grinned and answered "Yes" and Olesya threw in "She's the best in the whole world!".  Turning to Matthew she said "You are a very respectful young man, I saw you open the door for your Mom and sister, good for you!" which he blushed and hung his head quietly saying "Thank You".  The woman then said to me "I've seen your family around town before, but we've never spoken.  I just wanted to tell you that you have a lovely family, and how nice it is to see kids who so clearly love each other and their parents.  You just don't see that these days, and every time I've seen you all, your kids are behaving well and smiling, and one of them always seems to be hugging you or their Daddy.  It's just so nice to see."

And that is the more important reason to homeschool. 

One thing I quickly noticed as we started track last year and with volleyball this year, is that the kids are not disdainful of their parents.  They don't push them away, they don't act mortified to be seen with them when they pick them up from practice, and they don't shoo away their younger siblings.  More often than not you'll see them playing tag with their younger brothers and sisters, or carrying them on their own hip.  I can't tell you how delighted I was to sit back and watch at track how many teenaged girls actually hugged their moms goodbye iu front of everyone.  Then I stop and think how sad it is that I was delighted to see that, for that means the opposite is the norm for our culture.

What about college?  Well, we are approaching it a bit differently than others.  We have decided we do NOT want our kids put on that college treadmill beginning with 9th grade, losing 4 years of their life to overscheduling activities they are not even interested in merely to look good on college applications, living only for AP tests and SAT scores.  We don't want them to wait until they are 26 or 27 to begin living an authentic life. I am not the only one who recognizes how little the SAT means, as you can see in this article at the Huffington Post, the trend is heading towards making SAT/ACT scores optional, perhaps to end all this madness:      

Frankly, we also don't want the kids living on a college campus at younger ages, where many things we are trying to teach them are inappropriate are rampant.  We also don't want them racking up debt that takes them years and years to pay off.  The fact that we will be unable to save a dime towards their college education also figures into the equation.  We are hoping that, together as a family, we can see them through college by doing the first couple of years online at junior colleges while living and working at home, then transferring to a four year to complete their education. Some may choose not to pursue a traditional college education and look at trade school or business ownership, and maybe a scholarship or two will come our way, who knows? 

We simply find the cultural norm for high school to college to be distasteful, in general, and creates a value system that is unhealthy at too young an age.  A person's worth is not dictated by their SAT score, more often it simply gives parents bragging rights.  A person's worth is not dictated by how many acceptances they received, or to what institutional name is on their diploma.  A person's worth is not dictated by their class rank.  All the things that become all important to the high school student attempting to get into college are really pretty meaningless, but our society holds it all up as the Holy Grail.  We will have spent years opening up the world to our children, trying to develop in them the idea that all people have worth. We don't want to then narrow their world and create in them a sense that an SAT score is somehow indicative of a young person's success.  An article at NPR speaks to this exact issue, the ridiculous and unnecessary pressure we elect to palce our kids under: .     Success also doesn't have to look like society says it does either...based upon size of house, age of vehicle or title at work.  As a culture, we sometimes say such things to our kids, but then we counter it with actions and encouragement to follow a path which states the opposite.  We want the kids to pursue higher education to follow a dream to a career they desire, not to impress anyone, and it can be obtained without competition and stress throughout their teenaged years.

And I know I probably just offended half our blog readership with such statements.  That's not my intent, but by now you all must have figured out we are following the beat of a totally different drummer anyway, and you can all now roll your eyes at our ignorance :-)  Go ahead, it's OK with me...

It's funny how much my thinking has changed over the past few years.  Since leaving Matthew at the door of his kindergarden classroom, my ideas about what education means and what it should look like have done a complete 180 degree flip.  I have read probably a hundred books or more, every article I can find on education and education reform, and perused thousands of web sites over the course of time.  One thing I can state with certainty is that education in America is rapidly shifting, and those who do not understand that will be left behind.  Individualized instruction, be it in a public setting or private, will become the norm.  Alternatives will abound in the coming years, and "school" will eventually look nothing like it used to. 

I am convinced we are in the midst of the Great Education Shake Up, where finally it will be recognized that cramming for tests and memorizing facts is NOT real learning, and that teaching to the middle is ultimately going to prove to be fruitless for it leaves too wide a swath of children on either end left uneducated.  In our state alone there are charter schools and alternative programs popping up all over the place.  There are attempts being made by public schools even in our own town to recapture revenue lost from students leaving the system by creating online homeschool hybrid programs.  This is happening everywhere, and it is no longer just a fad, it is a trend.  When you see schools scrambling to retain lost students as they see revenue drop, maybe THEN something will finally happen to truly reform education...and that is what we are beginning to see.

And I hope we do...I want to see EVERY kid in America succeed.  I don't want to see people have to pull their children out of school so they can learn to read.  There is no way that every family in America is going to homeschool, and we ALL have to make sure that every child can receive a solid education, be it at home or in public school.  Of course, there are factors that reach far outside the school walls which effect a child's education, and those too need to be addressed, but we can no longer use that as the sole excuse for why kids are unable to learn.  Now we are seeing kids whose home lives are not a mess leaving schools due to inadequate teaching models.  That means that the way we are educating the masses is not working, and we had better figure out why and fix it.  This obsession with test scores and No Child Left Behind has done nothing but leave millions of children behind. 

When you think about it, what most families are doing with homeschooling isn't all that different from the way we were educated years ago.  There is nothing all that inventive that we are doing at home.  We are simply doing what schools used to do.  Basic math books that teach in a logical and systematic way, the way we ALL learned math.  Phonics, not "word recognition" and allowing hours to practice reading.  And at home, the "teachers" get to do what public school teachers used to be able to creative in their approach.  Now days, teachers can't veer from the script or the almighty "scope and sequence", they can't follow the rabbit trails that come up naturally throughout the school day, for their entire day is structured and scripted, leaving no room for spontaneous exploration.

I am glad we have time to dissect worms at 8 years old.  I am glad we have the freedom to follow passions like aviation and Roman Gladiators.  I am glad we can learn math through sewing and cooking, or geometry through volleyball arcs.  I just wish every kid had that same luxury.  It doesn't mean our kids will be geniuses, far from it! Haha!  It just means that their education will have more meaning, for it will be applied and explored and new discoveries will be made on an almost daily basis. 

Now, if we could only structure our schools to do the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations for having the courage to step off the traditional path and onto one that works for you and your family. We only get one shot to raise each kid and I admire you for doing what you know is right. Kelly

Anonymous said...

I am glad you have such confidence in your decisions.

I would caution you to use neutral words when you discuss the public school system with your children. Life is filled with good and bad fortune, and you never know which will be lurking around the next corner. In the event they return to public school one day, you don't want them to walk through the doors with fear and apprehension in their hearts.

Lots of kids pursue their personal interests in addition to attending public school =)

And, it's none of my business, but with puberty and adolescence on the cusp, and closely-aged kids of opposite genders that are biologically unrelated in close contact all day every day.... is one or two events a week really enough social time for them to make bonds outside their own family? I just keep thinking about how the kids who acted in the Brady Bunch all dated each other when they were growing up, because they hardly ever were around any other kids.

In my own job, I see that the US has been woefully surpassed in education by other countries. High paying jobs are being filled by foreign citizens at higher and higher rates in the US. Why limit your kids' opportunities in life by deciding to predetermine their college paths by dismissing college prep? They probably all have abilities beyond what you have imagined. Keep an open mind.

Laura said...

I agree, I agree with you that 99% of the testing fast track is hogwash, and I admire you so much.
But as a public teacher with at a school where 65% of the poplutation is living in poverty--the working poor, name it....what is to happen to those beautiful children? One of the reasons we adopted is because we think all the world's children deserve a chance at a decent life....including those that aren't in our family. And my own children have learned so much from having all kinds of kids be their friends: saying a prayer that their homeless friend gets a home, eating beans and tortillas at the table with 10 members of their buddy's family.....

My kids have also benefitted from some programs that public school now at high school - AVID.

Since public school teaching is my passion, I worry for the future of all our country's children, when schools are becoming more privatized.

just a thought. Laura

Anonymous said...

I respect the conviction you have in your beliefs, but as a teacher who has been in the classroom for 14 years (both high school and college-level), I can tell you that you are very misguided in your complaints of the public school system. How you've described teaching and learning is completely unlike real classrooms. Much of your evidence has been gathered at either end of an extreme spectrum.

I'd love to invite you to observe my classroom for a week, and really see the truth of public education (the good and the bad). I've had a number of homeschooled kids over the years. They have come into my class, terrified and awkward around a large group. Some choose to further isolate themselves and judge everything with disdain. They either slowly test their theories and start to build connections, or they shut down. The ones that shut down return to homeschooling. The ones that reach out truly blossom into something spectacular.

What is concerning to me, is the negative connotation and fear of school and "outsiders" that is building up in your children. I hope you don't deny your children the opportunity to learn from people other than Mama, to socialize with kids that go to public school (they aren't all competitive, sassy, and/or drug users), and to learn that schools are not a scary place.

I certainly hope they will attend college on-the-ground, as it is a completely different experience than isolating your education via online courses. Strictly online schools are mostly for-profit. Very expensive, and the quality of education (and respect of those degrees) is low. Unless your children are willing to compete for scholarships, it's unlikely they will be handed one, simply based on being awesome kids. But junior colleges are quite affordable, and there is always financial aid. At the community college where I teach, it's around $40/credit hour.

Fact of the matter, there is going to be wild people and dangerous choices throughout their lives. Best to teach them how to navigate through this complex world, not just simply avoid it.

Trisha said...

I loved college. Everything about it. Moving away, living in a big city, being on my own, making my own way, and getting a wonderful education from both professors and life. Yeah, I have loans that I'll be paying until I'm 46 (private college and zero help from the parents) but college gave me a degree necessary to become a teacher. The salary I earn pays the bills, including student loans.
Totally agree that college isn't for everyone, but don't sign off on it're kids are still babies!

Anonymous said...

When you first began home schooling and talking about the difficulties schools have in meeting the education needs of students, I felt very defensive as a former public school teacher. I also know that few parents are prepared to spend as much time and heart learning to help their children as you have done.

At the same time I look back and remember the many times the interests, curiousity and needs of my kids could not be met. AND, my friends who teach in the public school now mourn the loss of the freedom to be inovative as they teach to tests. They also tell of lack of parental support, lack of parental personal education, the vast diversity of students in the classroom, the increased classroom size, etc.

I see now that many of the local school systems are advertising that for some of their students who are not faring well in the public school system, there are now online classes available even as young as elementary school.

Excellence in education is what gives the child space to learn, grow, diversify, cover basic topics then expand into the rich possibilities of this world.

Keep up the good work.


W. Home said...

The future of education is quite hard to predict - as we all know, how matter we predict things, some things are really there and planned to happen at all. The best we can do to increase the chances of the education systems being on the positive side is to start and change the way education is given these days. e learning Courses