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
victimstudent 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.