Friday, July 12, 2013

The End of an Era: Homeschooling

Homeschoolers are often quite creative with regard to storing everything they use.

   When we moved to Virginia, we selected a particular rural and suburban county which was known for its great schools.  We selected Virginia because it not only has some excellent universities, but unlike many states, it can accommodate almost every major a child could ever want, including veterinary medicine which was not offered in the state in which I grew up.   At the time we had only two children and the two of them rode the bus to the pretty new school several miles away.  At first things seemed to go well, but very quickly we began to see that educating our children wasn't really their priority.  One week, I couldn't get my kids to drink water with their dinner.  They were upset that we were "wasting water".  I got to see how pervasive and effective this attempt at programming really was.  The kids demanded I turned off the water and stopped wasting it.  It took me a couple of hours that night to explain that we never waste water but that we use it to drink and wash.  I did make the concession of brushing teeth with just a dixie cup full of water.   I expected my kids to do well in school. They knew their alphabets, colors, and could read in a rudimentary way when I sent them off, however they both found school stressful and kindergarten.   One day as my daughter did some simple math, she was frustrated because she couldn't remember where the dots went in the number four.  Huh ?  Well apparently, she was taught that each number has dots embedded in it, for example three has one at the left end of each end.  These "dots" were slowing her down because she already knew what the numbers represented.
                As time went on, we became concerned about more things.  A school nurse was shared between the Health Department and five other schools so our school never saw her.  This meant that no one could give a dose of amoxicillin when we needed one, so I had to come to school to do it.  It also meant that no one could use the epi-pen I sent to school for each of my beesting allergic children.   I did an inservice on this for teachers but it made no difference.  "I would be afraid I would do the wrong thing, and you would sue me" was the response.  I told them, "You should worry more that you didn't take a simple action that could have saved a child's life".   One day, I arrived to find the sophisticated fire alarm in the entryway to the school in alarm, and I told the office.  "Oh, that's just a malfunction" I was told.  "Really ? Where is the smoke coming from ?" I asked.  Their mechanical room was on fire.   Lastly, one day I arrived to find that due to a water main break that all the kids were told they could not use the toilet, for FOUR HOURS.   I went home and got pine sol which I placed in each classroom toilet, and told the kids to use the toilet and close the lid until they were sent home.  The school had no emergency plans and worse yet, no ability to make sensible adjustments in emergencies.  Worse than that, neither of my kids read as well as I did at that age.

One of the great benefits of homeschooling is that it can be a customized education.  If a great deal of time must be spent on math, this can be done. If your child gets the material in four days, you can move on without beating the material to death.


   My husband and I decided that I would take one year off from my job and homeschool them for that one full year addressing specific issues of reading and of simple math.  Our feeling was that once the basics were in place that it didn't matter where you went to school. So in 1989, we began homeschooling amongst a barrage of "You will never be able to do what we do here", from the school and county administrators themselves. We are professional educators !     Homeschooling was not difficult.  We purchased a particular curriculum in those early days called A Beka      Our children enjoyed it, and worked industriously first on the math, then the language arts, and then science, history, art and music.  When we went out they brought their books in little backpacks and would work in them "like big kids" while we waited in the pediatrician's office, or when we got new tires.   The year passed quickly and they enjoyed what they were doing.   My husband and I missed my salary, but I drove less, and  spent less money while staying home teaching the kids.  Our state requires an annual exam of each homeschooling student, and when our children took the exam, they tested five years ahead of expected grade level, after only one year of homeschooling with A Beka books.    I was ready to go back to my job, but the county superintendent's office thought that they likely could not provide stimulating opportunities for "such bright children".   They offered to provide art supplies and books they were given to review as a supplement to our activities.  They also encouraged us to do academics less and enroll the kids in more activities. They told us of a couple of homeschooling groups which got together weekly for socialization and activities.   So, we continued.   I worked part time doing two twelve hour shifts as a critical care nurse every other weekend, and a 3-11 shift or two on the week that I was not going to be working over the weekend.   Somehow we adjusted.
              The years which followed brought us two more children, both sons, and they joined our homeschool from babyhood on.   I don't remember ever having taught the two youngest ones to read.  By about three and a half, they both did.  Also, in the early nineties the computer came into our home along with the internet.   This was helpful to us for research, for seeking curricular supplements, and it allowed us to use what at the time was innovative software such as "Mathblasters".    Our children could do simple math very quickly within the context of a game.
               As the kids grew we eventually made the switch to another curriculum we felt was stronger on science, called BJU Press or Bob Jones University Press.   Our daughter who developed Type I (autoimmune) diabetes was not only initially detected by me, but was seeing an endocrinologist by then.  I remember the endocrinologist chiding us with "Is Bob Jones just a regular guy ?" backhandedly judging our homeschooling.   We continued successfully homechooling through our move to ninety acres in the country. We found a smaller but vibrant rural homeschooling community.  We found a homeschooling cooperative where I taught some things, and a chemist taught chemistry, a pharmacist taught science, and a teacher taught Latin.  We had a homeschooler field day, and my eldest son, who was fourteen by then, taught ornithology.
             Ultimately, as the older kids grew, we transitioned them through a particularly good community college quite a distance away.  At first, this was labor intensive as they did not yet drive.  I took the younger two kids and we used the college library while my others were in classes.  We also joined the Homeschool Legal Defense Association and lent our home as a meeting place for a family who was being harassed regarding their homeschool, in our own county.   Homeschooling gave our kids a flexible education, time of pursue personal interests such as art and music. It gave them all a chance to get to know people of a variety of age groups.  Our kids also became uncommonly articulate as I eventually did half our lessons and exams as orals, as is often done in medical schools.  Although we had no way of knowing in advance, it allowed us the flexibility for our daughter to see her endocrinologists and manage her Type I diabetes, and my son to see specialists and accommodate hospitalizations for Crohn's Disease, which in a conventional educational system would have been potentially devastating to his education.    I also must add somewhere in this post that I did not do this alone.  As the children hit high school age, we found it more expedient for my engineer husband to take over the math instruction, which he graciously did.  
             A couple of years later half our homeschool (our two older children) headed to university, leaving the remaining siblings a little bit sad.  Somehow we reinvented our homeschool and found new routines each week.   Our youngest son Daniel, 12 1/2,  died suddenly in 2008, and that left one remaining son at home schooling.  He moved on to the community college the next semester, and now he too is at university.
                The following year we chose to do what Daniel had always wanted us to, we adopted a boy without a family. He was a young teen.   We had thought we would not be permitted to homeschool him between placement and finalization, but his state of origin had other ideas.  Apparently, we had been selected because we homeschool successfully and because they believed our newest boy would benefit from this level of attention.
               This year that last son who came to us through adoption, no less a gift from God than any of the others were, though from biological origins, completed his last obligatory exam for homeschooling.  He will be 18 soon and will be the last one to head for college.  His last homeschooling test scores will be provided to our superintendent and then our legal obligation to them shall cease.  Other than keeping records of their exams, and copies of their diplomas (which we had signed by myself and a couple of our former Governors) our homeschool shall cease to be.   Our library of books and references and tapes and educational DVDs and VHS will become an archive.    It was a long and sometimes frustrating journey, but all of them benefited immensely from the time and education they received.  All of them have done exceptionally well at both college and then universities.  Why do I want to cry ?


Gorges Smythe said...

You have given your children one of the greatest gifts that any parent can give, YOURSELF. That will stand them in better stead than even the wonderful education that you've given them. Unfortunately, your love and generosity doesn't exempt you from the empty nest syndrome. Would it help to volunteer helping other home-schoolers?

DFW said...

Only because you are (& should be) proud of the way they were educated & thrived in your supervision. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks DFW, I enjoyed it, and they learned so many things that we did not cover in my own education. I learned some things too, like finding the location of a place from its latitude and longitude.

JaneofVirginia said...

Strangely, perhaps because I was a college instructor, I don't have a desire to work with other homeschoolers. They have pretty good support groups and homeschool cooperatives here. I am enjoying rescuing horses and dogs and keeping the ones with ongoing medical issues. Who knew that horses in particular, are so grateful ?

Kristin said...

We are only entering fourth grade and already I can see the day when the twins are done with homeschool and on their own. I think there are advantages to having twins, but the instant empty nest will not be one of them.

I'm glad homeschooling was such a blessing for you and your children. It comes with its own challenges, but I wouldn't do it any other way.

JaneofVirginia said...

In all, homeschooling was of great benefit to our children in all spheres. The only manner in which I think it was slightly negative is that when they got into college there were remnants of highschool games played by some of their classmates of which they were completely unfamiliar. They did, however, make the necessary adjustments to what can be a deteriorating peer group of their ages. The only other negative is that had I been able to keep working fulltime and not homeschooled them, then we would have had an easier time paying for college, and we would have a healthy retirement account. As it is, I returned to working part time while homeschooling in both nursing and in teaching. We got through college and we are dealing with saving for retirement (though not particularly well) now. In all, the quest was to raise healthy and happy kids, and this we did. There are no perfect solutions. There are trade-offs sometimes.