This week we acknowledged our twenty-fifth day of homeschooling! It's been fun, challenging, and definitely one of the hardest couple of months in our lives, notwithstanding our choice to homeschool! Between my kidney, Kevin's infection in his arm, Lily's burn, Kevin being half around the world for more than two weeks, and the regular adjustment to the changing seasons, it has been an emotional and trying few weeks. They have also piggy-backed on to probably the best summer of our family-life) been some of the most purposeful and happy few weeks of my life. Life seems to be marked by these contradictions.
Sophie had a week of ups and downs but the highlight was learning she earned the role of Susan in a local theater's production of Miracle on 34th Street! She auditioned beautifully and we are so proud of her! This means, however, that her already busy schedule just got a lot busier from now until mid-December. She will have practice or rehearsal every evening and a few mornings of every day of the week.
We also got word that Maine State Music Theater is auditioning for Annie and Sophie is now preparing her video audition in hopes of earning a role for next summer!
So I have thought about how hard Sophie is working at all her activities and schooling and also just being a regular kid and I have thought about our reasons for deciding to homeschool. The core of our decision was the declaration that we could do better by her than the public school. That she would continue to learn and be "fine" in public school, but that if we as her parents made the choice, we could do better. This decision was first made while Kevin and I watched Sophie dance and perform in our driveway last April, which is a common occurrence and has been since she was little. She has been competing in figure skating since she was barely Lily's age and we have watched her accomplish so much already in her life and as we watched her we vowed to provide her with whatever opportunities she wanted in order to live the life she was passionate for. Sophie is a performer. She loves to perform. She makes people smile. She makes people feel happy. She makes us proud.
We chose to homeschool in order to allow her the opportunity to refine her natural talent and to reach for the moon! One of my favorite quotes, in fact my senior quote is: Reach for the moon, even if you miss you land among the stars!
We chose to homeschool in order to be mindful of our children and guide them through their childhood and adolescence according to our morals and ethics, with the core focus of their "education" being: Teach them how to learn, not what to learn.
We chose to homeschool in order to protect our children from overcrowded classrooms, lack of resources, mobile classrooms where Sophie had to bundle herself up (or not) to use the restroom, bullies on the playground and in the lunch-line, standardized tests where students are taught there is only one right answer to the question, and the perpetual school calendar that limits flexibility.
We chose to homeschool in order to take back some control over our lives; to not buy into the myth that public school or thousands of dollars made working hard, long hours away from our children for private school is the only option for our children; and to have the confidence to declare that we know what's best for our children without the interference of a school-board, teacher's union, state legislation, or misguided federal mandates.
We chose to homeschool because it's right for Sophie and it is right for our family. I am under no allusions that our choice is right for all families. For most, homeschooling is not a viable option however, questioning the current public school model of education is right for all families of school-age children in this country. In fact, it's right for all tax payers in this country to question the current public school model of education. What have we bought? The current model of the typical American high school is personified on television and movies from Glee to Ferris Bueler's Day Off as a mini-adult world of heartbreaks, drama, and the "big game." Students are texting, listening to ipods in class, web-chatting while their teachers lecture, walking out of class when they please, using inappropriate and disrespectful language without much consequence, selling and using drugs (mostly prescription) on school grounds, and bragging about sexual encounters as early as 7th grade. I can testify to all the above statements having worked in the public school system—actually two decent local schools with better records than most. I know that some of you reading this will just accept, which most of us have, that that's just high school. It is what it is. Kids are kids. The "social experience" is important. But think about it: America just accepts that the above cited behavior is what accounts for a normal high school social experience. It didn't used to be. Our grandparents (and some of our parents) did not have this experience in American public schools. The "American Teenager" was created after World War Two, along with mass consumer credit, insurance, and pharmaceuticals by the emergence of mass-marketing that enabled the message that in America more is better and in order to insure your "American Dream," you must buy into the system.
Think about America before 1950: what does a "teenager" look like in 1940? 1930? 1900? Now think about the typical American teenager in 1970, 1980, 1990. What does "progress" look like?
Brunswick, Maine built their first high school in the mid-twenties during the Depression. It cost the towns that would attend the school a lot of money and risk to build the large stone and brick school just off Maine Street. It was a symbol of perseverance, of not giving in, of providing a better future for their kids. It was a school to be proud of. A school to respect.
This story is true a thousand-times over throughout the country in the first half of the twentieth century. Schools were being built in parts of the country where no school bell ever rang and the pride that swelled during those decades that Americans built and opened new schools where all children (and there were terrible struggles making that a reality, especially in the south) had the right to an education. It was a grand vision and a period in American education that we should all be proud of.
Something has changed. We now accept, as a nation, the failure of so many American students in public schools without much reservation, especially when they are not our own.
We teach our children to take their education for granted.
We teach them to feel that their schools are prisons or daycares meant to keep them occupied and watched over while we all work those hard, long hours.
We teach them it is okay to disrespect their teachers—it starts with the fact that as a country we should be ashamed with the measly salaries we pay our public school teachers. And now across the country we're passing legislation mandating teachers to have masters degrees in order to be certified to teach in the public school—at the expense of the teacher in most cases. The salaries paid teachers DO NOT justify the cost of graduate degrees in this country. If we want to same standards in our teachers as doctors and lawyers and other professional of that caliber, we MUST pay them accordingly.
We teach parents to calculate their child's worth based on numbers generated by a computer reading hundreds of thousands of standardized tests created by private companies charging the federal government for every test, review, and score.
We teach parents to hand over their kids starting at age four in most parts of the country for six-plus hours of the day without much thought or consideration that there may be other options.
We chose to homeschool because there are other options.
I am in no way implying that all American schools are failures or that all parents should make the choice to homeschool. I am advocating to get involved, to question, to assert yourself as a parent of an American student. I am advocating a national change in the mindset of American education—we can ALL do better.
As to Sophie's homeschooling, I have decided to provide her some space and relief as she prepares for her new role on stage and for her next round of figure skating testing. The goal and focus of our homeschool is to do best by Sophie and for now that means to make sure she's rested, fed, secure, and learning—but with the flexibility of extending some unit lessons and completion dates. This has been a good lesson for me to learn: I am her mother and I get to decide this for her and I am her teacher and agree with her mother and slightly pause and redirect her education to for the next six weeks in order to insure her well-being.