If you read my last post, you might think that I decided to homeschool solely because I was picked on during my own school years and somehow never recovered. I admit, I think I was pretty traumatized, but as I grew up and got away from the middle school and high school mentality, I began to put my faith back in the system. And I decided when my own kids got to school, I’d be really involved as a parent volunteer, so I could be on the alert for problems and prevent my kids from going through what I did.
About a year before my oldest kid started school, there was a local frenzy about charter schools. An “arts and leadership” charter school was starting up in our school district just a few blocks away. I went to the information meeting and got very excited about the idea of having my children in a school where the “three R’s” would be taught through the arts, rather than through whatever the normal methods were at the regular elementary school. Then I learned that enrollment for the first year would be available only to those who helped get the school up and running. After that, enrollment would be determined by lottery. Since my daughter was still over a year away from starting kindergarten, I knew there was no hope for her to get in “on the ground floor.” We’d have to put her name in the lottery in the spring and cross our fingers. So we did. And she didn’t get in.
I enrolled her in the regular elementary school, and she wound up with an amazing teacher and had a fabulous kindergarten year. But I was still concerned about getting her into the charter school. It was the “right” place to have your kids go to school. Somehow, you weren’t “cool” and your kids weren’t getting a quality education if they didn’t get into the charter school. Never mind that getting into the school wasn’t based on merit—never mind it was just the luck of the draw—somehow, the charter school kids were “better” because the school was “better.”
This rankled me, because as a brand new charter school, there was no real benchmark for achievement. I resented the implication that my kid was getting an inferior education—and we couldn’t do anything about it except hope she got into the charter school NEXT year.
We played the enrollment lottery again for first grade and lost. And my daughter again got a great teacher at her school. This should have made me reconsider my desperate desire to get her into the charter school, but it didn’t.
The same thing happened the next year. At that point, I was tired of feeling jealous about the charter school kids and decided to count my blessings. My daughter was in a fine school and had consistently gotten dedicated, intelligent, kind teachers. She was ahead of the game academically, and was doing just fine socially.
My son started kindergarten that year, and I had high hopes for his teacher and his class. Unfortunately, his teacher had just come from teaching middle school and didn’t seem to know how to handle the needier kindergarteners. She also split her time between two schools and always seemed frantic and busy. This bothered me, but my boy did fine in school. When he started, he could already read and form his letters, and knew some basic addition. He was eager to please his teacher—and she loved him for it. I decided this teacher was just getting her “sea legs” for kindergarten and decided to let go of my worries. I gave up on trying to get the kids into the charter school.
About that time some friends of mine announced they had pulled their kids (fifth and first graders) out of their schools and were going to homeschool instead. Kimberly and Warren were great people with great kids, but I was shocked. They were a very social family and Kimberly had openly admitted she wasn’t academically inclined. They loved their kids, but were pretty vocal about how much they enjoyed and how much they needed AWAY time from their kids. I couldn’t imagine how they would manage being home all the time, doing schoolwork with their kids all the time. What I hadn’t seen was the research and thought they had put into making their decision. They had a plan, there was nothing slap-dash about it.
In the ensuing months, I noticed a couple of things. One: my life and my family’s life were getting out of control. We were always in a hurry, always late for things, I was always stressed out and yelling at the kids to move faster, get their chores done, quit bickering, etc. I wasn’t happy and I was starting to hate motherhood. Two: Warren and Kimberly’s lives (and those of their children) seemed to slow down, get calmer, move more smoothly. They seemed happy and centered. They were constantly talking about how much they were learning (the adults, as well as the kids) and it was clear they loved being around each other. And it all stemmed from their decision to homeschool.
I began asking them questions. Warren gave me several books to borrow—most of them on educational philosophies. I’ll write about them in a future post. I began to read---as a skeptic—and found myself intrigued. Homeschooling began to sound and look less weird and more desirable. Kimberly invited me to a homeschool conference put on by the Deseret Homeschool Association, a local support network for LDS homeschooling families. I went, mostly out of curiosity to see how many people attending were obvious weirdos or religious/political fundamentalists. (Can you see some of the prejudices I was carrying around?)
To my surprise (and relief), the conference was full of very normal looking people. I listened to several talks and presentations and then had dinner (it was included in the conference) so I got to meet and talk with other homeschoolers. I prepared myself for the barrage of “homeschool or die!” sentiments I was convinced I was going to get..but they didn’t come. When I admitted I wasn’t homeschooling but was just sort of, maybe, kinda looking into it, I expected to be hit with tons of reasons to “convert.” Instead, I got a lot of sympathy and zero pressure. Most people wished me luck in my research and many said “It’s a big decision—a very different lifestyle.” that sounded less like a warning and more like they’d been in my shoes and understood where I was coming from.
I left the conference changed. I had such a good, deep in the bones/down in the gut feeling about homeschooling. I started to think maybe I wanted to do it. I was scared out of my mind at the thought—immediately thinking of all the reasons I shouldn’t or couldn’t homeschool. But I couldn’t shake the good feeling I got from attending the conference. I went home and told my husband about my experience. He looked at me sideways, and I assured him I wasn’t going to go pull the kids out of school tomorrow. But I did tell him I wanted to look more deeply into the possibility of homeschooling. If it turned out to be a lousy idea, then okay. But I wanted to know more…