(Posted December 5, 2003)
by: Annette M. Hall
I've been a homeschool advocate for twenty-years now. Some how it doesn't seem possible that I'm that old or that I have children a quarter of a century old. Saying it that way makes it sound even worse. [Grin]
Growing up, we moved frequently. I started kindergarten at the age of four, we moved twice that year. In fact, we moved about every three months. I'm still not exactly sure as to the reason; I believe them to be largely economics.
Attending so many schools allowed me to have a unique perspective on education. I don't believe I was ever part of the system; I was always the outsider, looking in, observing things that would go unnoticed by a normal student who actually "belonged" there.
All schools are not created equal.
In one school we actually had a bible story and prayer before class, an activity I both enjoyed and found surprising, yet refreshing. It was hard for me to understand why there were students sitting in the hallway while these delightful stories were read. Having been raised outside the Christian church I found the stories interesting and calming.
At yet another school, they had combined the third and fourth grade classrooms. We had seventy students in a very large classroom, our teacher seemed frazzled much of the time, however, I never saw her lose her temper. She must have been a saint, any normal person would have surely cracked in this environment.
I noticed that no two schools were teaching the same things at the same times, so I was either ahead (and bored) or behind (and confused). I found that most schools spent the first three-months reviewing what they had learned the previous year, something I found frustrating.
When we were covering new ground, I was the student that hated to leave a stone unturned. Just as I would begin to "get" whatever was being discovered, it was time to move on to a new subject, leaving my thirst for knowledge unquenched.
Growing up in a home without money for extras, I was never very popular with the other students. I never thought of myself as being unique, especially intelligent, pretty or talented for that matter.
However, around sixth grade I finally figured out how to reinvent myself and become the new student everyone wanted to get to know. You know, the one that everyone wants to be friends with? I even changed my name and told everyone to call me "Toni". I had a terrible time training myself to answer to my new name. That was an exciting time while it lasted and a neat experiment, but I found it frustrating that I had to put on an act to be accepted. I dropped the "new me" at the next school, deciding it wasn't worth all the effort.
Needless to say, I never really "fit in" at school. My home-life was complicated and I left school at the age of 14, having earned one high school credit in Spanish yet I still couldn't speak the language.
The system wouldn't allow me to take my GED test until my "class" graduated, so I went to work, taking my test as soon as the law would allow. I earned high marks and enrolled into college, testing out of a few courses to speed thing up. I was the first person in my family to attend college, where I earned a 4.0 average. Things didn't turn out as planned though and family obligations forced me to leave after only two semesters. A decision I regret to this day.
When I became a parent of a ready-made family at the age of twenty-four, needless to say, I was not prepared. It was going to be interesting raising three children. My new husband and I did our homework. We were going to do our best to make sure the children had the best chance at success. We finally bought an old farmhouse in an attempt to get them into a "good school" district and set about helping them complete their homework, and do well in school.
Things seemed to be fine until my daughter, the social butterfly, was held back in the second grade. The teacher had informed us that our daughter was doing well academically but was immature and would do better if we held her back. She was the "expert". What did we know? So, we followed her strong advice. It was the biggest mistake we could have made.
My daughter who had always loved school, now came home crying each day, begging me to homeschool her, a thought that terrified me.
I had a friend named Lisa - she was my hero. She had five children and had given birth to all of them at home. She also homeschooled, something I was sure must have been illegal. Who had ever heard of such a thing? Only her eldest daughter had attended public school and I was fascinated, terrified and jealous, because I didn't have the courage she did. To heighten my sense of admiration, she was what homeschoolers referred to as being "underground." Lisa didn't comply with Ohio's notification laws.
Knowing her changed my life. To this day, I doubt she has any idea the impact she had on my family or myself, and how grateful I am to her.
For an entire year my daughter suffered in school, things did not improve. My husband and I often discussed homeschooling but it was a new concept, one that terrified us. I felt ashamed because I was guilty of sending my new daughter someplace that she didn't want to be.
Contemplating a child's future is daunting. Having to accept complete responsibility for that child's future is alarming.
Our eldest son was another story. He was going into the fifth-grade and could barely read. His test scores showed him reading at a 1.6 grade level and he was not improving.
He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), at that time, not much was known on the subject. We were told that instead of hearing what the teacher was saying, he couldn't concentrate because he was hearing what was going on in the background... all the page turning, chit-chatting, giggling and pencil-tapping. All things he found very distracting.
After much anxiety and many tears, we finally decided that our children needed our help and that we couldn't possibly fail them worse than the school system they were currently attending.
So we gathered our courage, put our best foot forward and pulled them out of school.
Within months, we had plenty of company. It seemed like homeschoolers were coming out of the woodwork. Several other families in our church followed our lead and before we knew it we had twelve homeschooling families in our tiny church. It was snowballing.
We were an anomaly in that country school, to the teachers, parents and the students. I'm sure we caused quite a stir and upset the balance of things in that picturesque community. Many times my children were told they were lucky that they didn't have to go to school. We even had children ask if I would homeschool them because both their parents worked.
We had a unique situation though. Our boys had both always been heavily involved in sports. Baseball created no problem because they played in the summer months. Football was another story.
The school refused to allow them to play, unless they were enrolled in school. To solve this problem, we would enroll them in school each fall, they would faithfully attend classes during September, October and part of November, as soon as football season ended, we would pull them out again.
We did this for three years, until the principal finally called me in and said that we couldn't keep putting the children in school, then pulling them out. I'm not sure they could have enforced this but we agreed and never enrolled them again.
We had spent our first year homeschooling doing nothing but reading with my son. He read history, science, recipes, joke books, cereal boxes and anything else we could think of to have him read. The state of Ohio required yearly testing or a written narrative. Being new homeschoolers we had no idea what a "written narrative" consisted of, so testing it was.
The results were nothing short of a miracle. In just one-year of homeschooling my son tested out at a 4.8 grade level, an increase of 3.2 grade levels, in only one year. I was sold. I was ecstatic and elated. Who would have believed that I could educate my own children?
I am now homeschooling one of my four (soon to be five) grandchildren. He has been with me since his birth and we knew from the very beginning he would never darken the hallway of a public school.
He has been free to enjoy his childhood, free to learn what is of interest to him. He is learning to manage his time wisely and make good decisions for himself, something that I think is a very desirable quality that will serve him well as he grows and matures. It drives my mother nuts.
I am truly fascinated by his wisdom and maturity on a daily basis. The stories he tells are delightful and full of hero's who save the day and keep us all "safe" from harm. He seems so natural and untouched by the pressures many children face. I still have moments of panic on occasion.
When he was eighteen months old he had me convinced he could read. Even an experiment seemed to back up this unfathomable notion. We finally discovered he simply has an astounding memory, far superior to mine. I've learned to depend on it much to the exasperation of many relatives.
Over the years I've changed my parenting style and my homeschooling methods drastically. I feel it's because I've grown and matured. I've changed my focus. It's also much different raising a single child, than it is raising three children together.
As Bill Cosby once said, "If you only have one child, you know who did it." When you have three children, finding out "who did it" is half the fun. Today our focus isn't on "whom" but "why." A question much more complicated to answer.
With my three older children, we did school-at-home. I was very concerned that they would "fall behind" or that they wouldn't learn every thing they needed to succeed in life.
Today I realize that if a child can read, write and understand basic mathematical principals, he is well equipped to continue his education, on his own, just as I have done. I consider myself a life-long learner.
We spend time together talking about our views, reading and learning new things. Having good values are important to us, so we discuss the importance of honesty, loyalty and friendship.
I'm certain that my views of raising children will change many times before I'm finished (will that day ever come?). Our homeschooling methods will change as our son grows, but our love for each other will remain steadfast and strong because we know and respect each other.
We have the gift of time that is missing in so many families. Each night before bed, we share our highs and lows from the day. Many times my son touches my heart when he tells me, "My high today mommy, was spending time with you." What greater gift can I give my child?
I believe in homeschooling because I believe in family. We cannot separate home and school and expect children to adapt to differing rules, differing standards and methods, without losing something in the process.
Homeschoolers have the very best of both worlds. I'm a proud homeschool parent and my son is proof that it works.
When you tuck your child in tonight, remember just how lucky you are to hold him close and have this opportunity to glimpse into his world and see life through his eyes. I wouldn't miss it for the entire world.
What was your "high" today?