Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Homeschooling Experiment
This is a picture that a newspaper photographer took of my children and their friends playing football in a field with the OSU football stadium in the background. The picture was taken in 2006 which was a much simpler time for us, because we were still homeschooling. We spent our afternoons at rec centers like this one, hanging out with friends and we spent the rest of the day at libraries or museums or parks learning things we were interested in. Lest I forget, there were mornings spent at the dining room table with the kids complaining about their math work too.
We homeschooled for nine years and my three children began school two years ago. The first year Grace went to school, as a sophomore, she had to take the Ohio Graduation Test. She passed everything. Right then and there, I declared homeschooling a success. She had learned all she needed at home to pass the graduation test. Success.
Now, two years in, I find myself chafing at this straightjacket called school. What set me off was the letter from the principal that said the 8th grade trip to Washington, DC was going to be rescheduled for after the school year ended so it didn't interfere with classroom time, among other reasons. As if the only time students could possibly learn anything is when their butts are attached to a wooden chair.
Then NPR had a guest on who was talking about what makes people successful. That set me off too. Kids (and adults) should try something new and be willing to fail, he said. Our kids are not allowed to fail anything in school. The guest said that kids should be encouraged to think creatively. How will they become problem solvers when they are told there's a right way and a wrong way to do things? Ooooh. I hate that kids are being spoonfed information rather than jumping into learning.
Homeschooling is the reason that Grace became interested in opera. No, maybe she would have become interested anyway, but it's the reason she had time to explore it. She heard a children's version of Mozart's Magic Flute. She told me she'd like to hear the original. It led to other operas, plus opera camp, and an interest in German, Italian and French. Finally, she got to appear in the children's chorus of Hansel and Gretel when OperaColumbus performed it. She still listens to "weird" music -- opera, and celtic music, and the tech band Ozone from Moldova.
Homeschooling is the reason that Spencer became a chess whiz. At Borders one day, he saw a beginning chess set and book. I bought it for him and together we studied the different ways to move the pieces. Just a few months later, we were at a friend's house and I said, "Let's go, Spence."
"Just a minute, Mom," he said. "Three more moves and I'll have him in checkmate."
I had no idea that people planned ahead in chess. I had no idea that my six-year-old could see the strategy like that. It led to chess clubs and trips to Nashville and Pittsburgh for national chess tournaments.
Tucker's love of dinosaurs. His interest in how things are made and historical facts. They all come from giving kids time to learn what they are interested in. This summer, Tucker has spent his days on youtube, searching for instructional videos that show how to play specific songs on the guitar. That will end when he returns to school and he is told now he must learn about American history and algebra.
For two years now, my kids have been treading water. They've been told they aren't good at subjects they previously felt passionate about, and they believed the teachers. They've had some good teachers -- an enthusiastic biology 2 teacher, and very involved French teacher, but overall, my kids have stagnated in school.
Our frequent vacations have ended. No more two-week respites at my parents' house in Florida with afternoons on the sand as we figure out the physics of waves and building sand bridges or digging holes in the sand. Instead, we juggle the school schedule with the basketball practice and swim practice and the quarter schedule of the college where I teach.
Next week, my kids return to school. I haven't tried to convince them to stay home. As a matter of fact, I told Grace she had to go for her senior year to make sure she's competent at meeting deadlines. I know Spencer wouldn't consider staying home because he is focused on basketball season. I'm not sure I would want Tucker to stay home since his current favorite activity is debating me on any subject that I might have an opinion, including bedtime, showers and television.
So, my kids will go back to school, but I'll be at the Washington DC trip meeting to voice my opinion. And if my kids have another teacher whose intention is to show them how dumb they are, I'll step up again, and maybe that teacher won't be coming back to school.
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