motherhood, parenting, school, teaching

Thoughts on traditional schooling versus homeschooling

Waleed is three, and preschool, official preschool, not the drop your kid off half days twice a week, but full time all the time preschool is just around the corner. The deadline to apply for the coming fall is January and its a crapshoot 50/50 admittance chance. I’ve resisted facing this upcoming reality for some time. Not in the my baby is growing up and this hurts my heart something fierce sense [although yes, that too] but also in the, what is the best thing for his educational future? People are often surprised when I say I’m considering homeschooling my son. I was, after all, a teacher. I got a bachelors and masters in it, taught for four years but its precisely because I taught that the thought of school gives me the heebie jeebies. To list just a few of my issues:

  • Class sizes have exploded. I do not believe a teacher with 30 children can effectively do her job as qualified and loving and well intentioned as she may be. In a typical Georgia primary classroom there can be up to 28 children to one teacher with maybe a teacher’s aide. As a child who was a victim student in large classes like these, as a teacher who saw colleagues struggle in scenarios like these, I can tell you, it sucks. The high achievers are lauded, the low achievers inspected [maybe], and the mediocre? Forgotten. It’s not because the teachers are evil, its because they have more kids than they can handle.
  • Yes, kids gain a lot through social interaction with peers, but that’s a simplified portrayal of the reality of schoolyards.  This is the biggest argument in favor of traditional school: interacting and learning from other kids, but a) they learn good things like waiting their turn and b) bad things like tossing tissue paper wads on the ceiling. Furthermore, this whole image of the isolated homeschooler makes me imagine a kid, pale from lack of sun, wandering meadowlands with only a prairie dog to call his friend. That’s just not true. Research undermines the assertion that those who go to school are more socially adjusted than their homeschooling peers anyways. School isn’t the only place to interact.
  • Teaching to the test. This is one of the many reasons I left teaching. Sure I think kids should be assessed but teaching to a standardized test? It sucks the joy out of learning and raises anxiety levels for everyone involved. I’ve seen it firsthand and I do not want my son taught to score well on a TEST. I want him taught to develop his curiosity, to experiment, and learn through play and to raise more questions than he could ever answer in a lifetime. Why read a book and circle answers on a worksheet when you could test reading comprehension through book clubs, or a writing critique circle? I did these sorts of things with my second graders until I was told we had to drill and practice instead. So at the end of the school year, I left. Because teaching to the test is not about learning. It is about getting money and something to parade a school and its teachers for, or shame a school and its teachers for. Teaching to the test is NOT about the kids. And the kids are the ones who suffer the most educationally, even the ones who ace those tests. If I didn’t want it for my students why would I want this for my son? I have no doubt he’ll ace those tests, I just don’t want his learning focused on acing a single test.
  • A lot of wasted time. Schools are not inept here, you have to have bathroom breaks, lunch time, special classes, and yes you probably should walk in straight lines with arms to the side, but those transitions take up a lot of time. Time that could cumulatively be a trip to the zoo to learn about giraffes up close and personal, or the aquarium to study ocean life in the flesh?  
  • Each classroom is as good as its teacher. Teachers like all humans are individuals and their level of compassion, work ethic, and skill varies. You don’t get to interview the teacher your child will have, you get what you’re given, and sure in an extreme situation you can get a class change, but more likely than not, you have the one you get and having seen some scary teachers in my teaching days, its scary to wonder where your child’s year may be spent.
  • Georgia schools aint stellar. My particular county is on academic probation with many of its board members in jail because they are really that awful. The particular school he’s zoned for has the almighty high test scores, and maybe the county can get its act together before my kid starts school, but its not encouraging. 

Private school eliminates a lot of these concerns and in an ideal world, you know, the one where we had 45K-60K spare change a year, we would send our kids to one of the really amazing and fantabulous private schools in the area but yeah, our couch cushions are all picked through of those dastardly pennies and such. I will be applying for jobs in said schools for the potential tuition waivers once my youngest is old enough to begin school, but not only is getting a job in these highly competitive schools not a given, my youngest is still toothless so its not an option I’m considering at this point in time.

Hence, the homeschooling dilemma, at least for at least the first few years.

Given all my concerns with traditional school, why would I consider it at all?

  • Homeschooling means a longer delay in returning to the work force. Love being home with them and honestly this is the job that makes me happier than any I’ve ever had. At the same time, if I want to continue my professional life at some point, I have to return. Homeschooling puts this off indefinitely.
  • What if I don’t do it right. I have two education degrees, I was all about schools as a lawyer, I’m technically qualified to teach a kindergartner how to count to ten but still, what if I mess it all up? What if he resents me for doing this one day? Can I do it with a little one at home? 
  • Social interaction. This was top on my list of worries for some time, and even though I address it above, it is a concern even though I think its a more minor one since he’ll be in soccer and other activities.
  • What will people think? Homeschooling is outside the norm. I’d be doing it for reasons that are legitimate to me but will I be seen as a weird hippy commune chick who probably has goats in the backyard for milk and butter and wears aluminum foil hats to beam messages to the aliens? I mean, that is how people sometimes look at me when I tell them this. It’s not an ideal concern, to care what others think, but its there. If I’m being honest, it’s a concern.

It’s still early. I don’t need to decide today. Or even tomorrow. But time is flying and I know one day soon this abstract concept will be unquestionably real and I will have to make a concrete decision and its something I wrestle with every day. Like almost every parent on this planet, I want the best for my kid, I just want to be certain what that best is.

Anyone reading ever consider this?  Have kids in the public school system or homeschooling? Any thoughts or perspective much appreciated.

20 thoughts on “Thoughts on traditional schooling versus homeschooling”

  1. I'm homeschooling Nasreen. I am NOT qualified to do so but like you said, ABCs and 123s take approx 1 hour of instruction per day and off we go to explore the world around us! We are really more about “unschooling” than homeschooling and so far it's amazing! Ps I'm also a hippie vegan now so it kinda comes w the territory 😉 good luck w your decision! Im sure you'll make to right one for weeds and the family 😉

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  2. That sounds awesome Zainab. What kind of exploring do you guys do? I think I also follow the unschooling philosophy particularly for kids so young. How long do you plan to do it? And congrats on the hippie conversion, though I suspect I am one mostly for the clothes 🙂

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  3. Actually, I read an article noting how increasing numbers of doctor and lawyer moms are homeschooling their kids. Don't have the link handy, but you're definitely not abnormal to be considering doing this.

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  4. I have been having the same debate as you since my son started preschool, he's 7 now and in 2nd grade. This is our first year homeschooling and so far alhamdulilah it's been great. I live in Ohio, ie the homeschooling capital of America lol. We use the k12 curriculum through an Ohio virtual school. It's basically a public school where they send you just about everything you need including a computer to interact with a teacher, other students and your lessons. It not a perfect system but it gives us a lot if flexibility. They still have standardized tests but so far that's not really our focus. We just read and learn together. I love knowing he understands and really “gets it” before we move on. My son is an only child so i was really worried about the socialization aspect but he takes part in sports and has play dates and sleep overs fairly regularly. The biggest change I've noticed is that he's become more social with random kids at the park and other play areas, something he would really not do before. The biggest adjustment for me has been managing my time for other things like housework, dinner, my part time job. But I'm hoping I'll figure all the rest out soon, the most important part us that my son loves it alhamdulilah! May Allah help you decide what's best for you and your family, ameen!

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  5. Thanks Anon!

    Natasha, really? How interesting– will google that! thanks for your thoughts on this!

    Saraht, thanks for sharing your experience! How long do you plan to do it? do you send him in for his specials? [PE, Art, etc?] i know some parents do that. I'm not sure how long I would do it but I feel like maybe at least the primary years– the worry about managing time also is something that concerns me. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I was curious, since your son had experience in a classroom, was he okay with homeschooling or upset about it initially? Just curious baout a kid's perspective with both types of learning.

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  6. The way i think is,now a days when a kid grows 2 or2.5 they sent him/her to school.but a kid has to study his whole life,then will have responsibilites and life is tough,there are just few years which a child can perish,learn few more from mom in his childhood,the way i think sending them school at 2-3 age is snatching away their love from parents.

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  7. I really have thought about homeschooling. I send peanut two days a week to daycare/preschool due to work but after seeing the amount of homework they are giving elementary school kids and how focused they are on test scores. I'm really torn about sending her now. And I was never one to think about such a thing! Pixie

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  8. I feel your pain in this decision! I have kids who have gone through private and public schools, and I've entertained the idea of homeschooling many times. But, I don't have it in me. I need a separateness to my life that is beyond the kids, and homeschooling makes that difficult. I have friends who homeschool large families, and they all thrive. But, it fills up the moms' entire lives. Good or bad, it's something to consider.
    As far as academics, I have stayed involved and advocated for my kids. They are happy and well-adjusted. They are very high-achievers, score very high on the SAT, and have high goals for themselves.
    But, I've also worried about bullying, and bad influences on my kids, and poor academics, and safety throughout their years in school.
    There is no right answer. Follow your gut. You're not married to either choice. Good luck!

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  9. I love the idea of homeschooling! A good friend of my mom has a daughter who will graduate this year, and she is amazing! She inhales books. She's an athlete. She holds down a summer job and is popular with girls and boys alike. It's so amazing what homeschooling communities offer now!

    She does band with one group, sports with another. Her mom isn't great at math, so her daughter is tutored by someone else who is good at it. She's already been accepted to college. She went to her junior prom held by the homeschooling community and she'll go to prom this year. Check it out online and see what your community has to offer!

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  10. Pixie- it is a tough decision, I've tried to bury my head in the sand for a long time but now as the time nears its getting so stressful. And yes, I HATE how much homework kids get. I also don't think its NECESSARY. Studies have shown it doesn't really help and yet kids are loaded down nightly 😦

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  11. Sheryl, welcome to the blog and thanks for your perspective! I can definitely see that and that is a concern for me as well, to homeschool means to have no personal time at all, I think there are huge benefits but there are drawbacks– I think you make a good point and its one of my friends said to me, getting super involved with school can help make sure your child gets attention, and can help you keep an eye out for potential issues.

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  12. Stacey, since your parents live with you now, is homeschooling something you would ever consider? thanks for sharing such a positive experience of someone you know!

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  13. Will keep it short

    1. Private school is not worth. I have used both and convinced.
    2. Home Schooling may sound exotic but eventually kids have to move in this society. Sooner the better they learn social skills – as they call it Social intelligence. So in short, my views are against home schooling.

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  14. It's interesting how one's viewpoints change when one is a parent. Before, I would never have considered homeschooling or sending my kid to an “Islamic” school. Now, it's an active consideration.

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  15. Salaam Aisha,
    Awesome to see you consider this… I have been homeschooling for a while, my oldest is almost 9. Check out Kinza Academy, they provide quality classic intellectual material with an Islamic twist. http://www.kinzaacademy.com/

    Check out this book Educating your child in modern times… http://astore.amazon.com/wwwkinzaacade-20/detail/0974164100

    Read anything by Holt and Gatto.. Also look up coops, and other homeschooling groups in your area for support and playgroups/classes etc.

    Spend some time reading up on homeschooling and you will find that you can lead an enriched life for your self and kids…I work part-time (mostly remotely) and I am able to utilize community resources for tutoring, nature center classes, coops etc.

    I hope that helps. Best wishes on your decision.

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  16. Mystic, thanks for your POV– def dont want to do homeschooling for its exotic quotient lol, but appreciate your perspective. We have a few fantastic private schools here, but yes, private schools as a given are not all stellar!!!

    Mezba, I know! I was so anti-homeschooling pre-kids, and now its heavy in my mind.

    Anon- WOW thank you sooooo much! I appreciate it a lot. It's so hard to sift through all that google offers so I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

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  17. I wish you the best of tawfeeq, and remember, it's not all or nothing! You can homeschool for a few years, then send them to school for a few years. When you're active and engaged in your child's education, you are always evaluating what's best for your child, year by year. You can try homeschooling for a year and if it doesn't work out, don't worry, you haven't ruined your child for life! We learn from our failures just as much as our successes.

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  18. I don't know if you check old comments but all of your concerns are shared by me. We have chosen private school for our children. We are not chock full o' private school MONEY, but we can almost kind of afford it. Have you heard of or considered Waldorf schools? There are many of them and that is the school that we have chosen. We are lucky enough that in our state, Pennsylvania, a child does not have to go to school until they are six. So we can keep our son home til then if we choose. This choice might be mostly financial but we feel that being home and then having some classes like swimming or music will be enough til then. Our public school in town is abysmal and we felt like sending our children there was dooming them. We like Jesus and we like school but we like them separate, and Waldorf is not religious. We also both feel that many schools think that if you throw technology at a problem then POOF magic! Problem solved. But we want our children to learn to love learning, not to learn to sit still and spit facts back. Waldorf is right for us. And whoohoo they have tuition assistance. With tuition assistance we can do it. We were a little…freaked out when we found out we were having a third child because the sheer amount of money we will be spending on tuition even WITH assistance is scary. Our children have two year age gaps so we will have a chunk in the middle when all three will be in Waldorf at once. The Beans and Rice years.

    My neighbor homeschools and was a teacher and I have to say I that while her children are kind and loving and a pleasure to be around, I do not feel they are getting all their educational needs met. But she has five, and that's a pretty crazy rodeo.

    Personally, I would not homeschool unless there was literally no other choice. For one, I love my children but I will be ready for a break. Heck, I AM ready for a break. Yes to school. For another, I have a learning disability and I do not feel comfortable that I could meet my sons educational needs. And what if they had learning disabilities as well? There is a strong genetic possibility of that. But I have seen homeschooling work and I think it is preferable to my child getting plunked in a chair and coached to a test while being groomed for mediocrity. Which is what would happen in our school. Maybe, *maybe* there are still some good public schools out there but I did not find any that satisfied me in the year I spent researching if we should move to a better district or go to a private school.

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