I dislike the term “home schooling” and prefer the term “home educating.” For me the concept of what school is supposed to be has been corrupted over the last 150 years or so. So, for now, it is sufficient to identify “school” as a place of emotional, intellectual, and creative repression tainted with the malevolence of institutionalized bullying to sway conformance.
Yes, strong, dramatic words, but hear our story.
Like all first time parents we held lofty aspirations for our first child, Primo. For us it was nearly 12 years ago. We did all the “usual” and trendy things: Baby Einstein videos, Kindermusik/Music Together, tumbling classes, and even pre-school. Our child was bright; after all he was our child, so why wouldn’t he be, right?
So without a second thought, at the tender age of 4-3/4, we enrolled Primo in an early admission Kindergarten at a local public charter school. After all, the push with “No Child Left Behind” was to get all kids started early, so we figured “why not?” He was already reading, and writing a little bit, and producing sophisticated artwork.
What transpired over the next year shocked us.
The first indication that something was wrong was when Primo came home with a bruise on his cheek. When we asked what happened he stated that “Cody hit me on the playground”. When we questioned his teacher about it, and the response was “Oh, no, Cody would never do that.” But, a month later, when he came home with a tooth knocked loose (prematurely) because “Cody” shoved Primo’s face to the floor while he sat cross legged during class, the events were revealed for what they were: bullying. At this point we knew, already, we were not going to get anywhere with the teacher and we made plans to transfer Primo to another school at the end of the school year, figuring we could just ride it out for a couple more months.
While were trying the best we could to help Primo deal with bullying, naively thinking that talking about it would work, as the remaining year progressed his behavior changed dramatically. Primo’s ability to deal with frustration grew increasingly into anger and tantrums. The teacher’s advice was simply that we should consider signing Primo up for a team sport.
It all culminated three days before the end of school with a suspension for letting loose on “C.J.”, another child that outweighed Primo by nearly 30 pounds. Although the details are sketchy after all these years, I have visions of that scene from “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie pummels Scut Farkus.
So after much research we settled on a Catholic school with a nationally recognized reputation for winning the Science Olympiad frequently, as well as having test scores well into the upper 10th percentile. We had assurances from the principal that bullying was not tolerated and figured the nearly $4000/year net cost was a deal for such private education. Two other families (three children) from the charter school followed suit.
Meanwhile, over the summer we figured we had to find a way to help Primo deal with these new-found frustration issues, so we signed him up for Karate. Not a typical “Blackbelt Factory”, but a real program of discipline that requires achievement to advance, rather than simply attendance. Over the long haul, this was an excellent decision, and was probably the one thing that helped Primo maintain his sanity over what was to come next.
We continued Primo in Kindergarten, recognizing that he really was too young the first time; also, having three of his friends from the last school join him would smooth the transition.
His teacher that year was wonderful. Tough, but loving, no nonsense. She managed to find a way to deal with the tantrums. Coupled with discussions with the owner of the Karate school, Primo seemed to be making progress. Then, first grade happened.
Somehow we ended up on the first grade teacher’s bad side. Our mistake? We questioned her first assignment: a cross word puzzle with some words spelled backwards (including diagonally backwards). It was clearly extreme, and actually quite frustrating for the little one. The teacher tried to justify it by stating that she wanted to see what the kids could do, but we failed to see how setting the kids up for failure on their first day could serve any purpose.
Over the course of the first semester we ended up in the principal’s office three times. Twice for a “red card”: first being accused of throwing water on another boy in the restroom (he routinely shakes the water off his hands, carelessly, but innocently), and one other time for attempting to prevent a girl from falling off of the playground equipment, and in the process touching her buttocks; so much for chivalry.
Then a third time when GranolaGirl was volunteering with the classes and Primo’s teacher was discussing specific children with other parents; we questioned the privacy and ethics of such a practice. Our concerns fell on deaf ears as we wondered what she was saying about our child to the other parents.
The first indication that there was a serious problem was when Primo really needed a restroom on the way home from school one day. You probably know the routine with your own kids; ask them if they need to go before leaving school grounds, they say no, and then 10 minutes into the drive home it is suddenly an emergency. GranolaGirl stopped at Target on the way home, allowing Primo to relieve himself only to discover that he was in pain and urinating blood. An immediate trip to the pediatrician revealed a kidney infection.
Upon discussing this with both Primo and the pediatrician we discovered that Primo had been avoiding the restroom because he was afraid to ask the teacher. What could levy that much fear in a 6 to 7-year-old that he would hold it to the point of pain and infection? We explained to Primo that he really shouldn’t be holding it, that is why it hurt. After a round of antibiotics we figured all was resolved since we were no longer making the emergency runs to find a restroom on the way home.
It turns out the resourceful child found another strategy for dealing with midday restroom needs; he stopped drinking during the day. We asked the principal to move Primo to the other first grade class, as there was clearly something going wrong; the principal refused to move Primo, but insisted that he would take care of the issue.
Nothing was actually done.
Academically he was doing fine; excelling, so I naively suggested that we try to work through any other issues in the second semester since clearly his academic performance was at the top (which was the goal, wasn’t it?). The result was declining health due to continuing dehydration (strep throat and such) to the point of missing a total of 17 days of school that year, his mood being more somber with each passing day. He was bored with the daily drills, always finished his assignments in class early including his daily homework; so, he would talk or walk around, and get in trouble.
I lost track of the number of “yellow card” days. But by the end of the semester he had lost his desire to learn, simply not caring when we pointed out interesting things. This was a child who at the beginning of the school year drew the following picture:
For the more scientifically inclined, you may recognize the picture as Gauss’ Law (which applies for any unidirectional force field, electrical or gravitational, for any surface shape). Primo drew this after sitting pensively for a several minutes and then stating, “You know, there’s no gravity in the center of the Earth. I can draw a picture for you.”
From this to complete apathy in less than nine months, which is pretty amazing considering the direct teacher contact could not have averaged more than 15 to 20 minutes per day. You did know that is all children get of the teacher’s time? In a class of 20 students, a 6-1/2 hour academic day plus lunch and recesses, it comes out to about 20 minutes; and, only if the teacher makes an effort to spend time with each child. Even the private school had to cater to the averages, the group.
It was during this second semester that GranolaGirl began researching home “schooling”, since a couple of parents at the dojo had told us about their experiences. By the end of that second semester GranolaGirl had convinced me that educating Primo at home was the best option. By the end of the summer we had a plan and never looked back.
Well, almost never.
After our first two years educating our children at home GranolaGirl had hit that “make it or break it” moment. There are some definite frustrations that can come from being around children nearly 24-7 (especially when one is a natural contrarian, as is Secondo). Again, academics were fine; Primo was a year ahead on a math program that was already accelerated, and he reading/comprehension was several grade levels ahead. And more importantly, the children did seem happier, even if they did routinely give GranolaGirl a hard time getting some things done. However, GranolaGirl was tired and suggested that maybe we could try another school, maybe a Montessori or a Waldorf program.
Having choked on the tuition of the local Waldorf school ($20000/year for both boys) we managed to find a public charter school that was “Waldorf inspired.”
That “experiment” lasted three weeks: GranolaGirl realized she really did miss the kids during the day. Further, despite playing with hundreds of other kids over the last couple of years, including at places as filthy as a McD’s playland, and being healthy all that time, Secondo got sick enough to need antibiotics. As for Primo, the other kids simply would not let our little reindeer play. The sad child returned.
After all he was the new kid in a class that had been together for the last three years; but, isn’t it the responsibility of the adults to facilitate such integration? We know from experience that the child is reserved, but not anti-social by any stretch; still, it was clear that we couldn’t trust the adults to do what they must.
And that is what it really comes down to. Trust. Trusting that the adults will be the responsible ones. Trusting that the adults will spread wisdom and compassion. Trusting that the adults won’t participate in bullying nor be complicit in bullying, or equally repressing passive aggressive behaviors.
We later heard that Primo’s first grade teacher had been “promoted” to fourth grade the following year; meaning that if we had stayed he would have to deal with her again three years later. We only heard rumors from the few parents and students we kept in contact with over those years, but the most notable was that when Primo’s first grade classmates were ready to enter the fourth grade there was a 25% drop in enrollment; this caused the school to combine the two 20-student classes into a single 30-student class, dismissing one of the teachers. All of the other grades held their enrollment levels. The Evil One was gone, having headed back to the East Coast; we felt vindicated in our decisions.
That is how we ended up educating our children at home.
Now we are starting our fifth year, and the benefits are clear: happy, healthy children that crave knowledge and are learning from our experiences, which hopefully will make them wise and compassionate.
So, come back to visit us as we discuss more of our discoveries in the adventure of home education. Share your stories with us, as well.