Homeschool Musings

When I first got my degree in elementary education several years ago (we won’t dwell on how long ago THAT was!), I never in a million years dreamed I would one day be a homeschool parent. After all, my college professors spent hours teaching me education theory and philosophies and discipline strategies and lesson plan formats. I put together a notebook for one class that detailed thirty ways to teach vocabulary words. I learned how to spot common error patterns in math and memorized ways to correct those errors. I learned the science of how a child acquires language and learns to read, write, and spell. But ask any teacher, and you’ll see that all that “book” knowledge amounted to a hill of beans when she looked out on her first class of students. That’s because good teaching is as much about relationship building as it is about gaining knowledge.

Around the second month of the school year, the students and I would “click,” and then learning started happening at a faster pace. They learned which buttons of mine NOT to push, and I learned what made each one tick. By the end of the school year, I knew these kids and loved them. I was often frustrated because some of these kids had needs that I couldn’t meet. I could not — no matter how much I wanted to — spend an hour during class walking a student through a math problem. I could not do occupational therapy exercises with a child who so desperately needed help with handwriting and spelling. I had twenty other kids, each with their own varying needs, pulling on me every day.

It was this feeling of there not being enough of me to go around that made me first think about homeschooling. I’m musing about my reasons for homeschooling because a real threat exists today for parents who choose to homeschool. The California 2nd Court of Appeals ruled on February 28th that it is illegal to homeschool in California. From the case opinion, the court ruled:

“It is clear to us that enrollment and attendance in a public full-time day school is required by California law for minor children unless (1) the child is enrolled in a private full-time day school and actually attends that private school, (2) the child is tutored by a person holding a valid state teaching credential for the grade being taught.”

“California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to school their children in their own home.”

The homeschool community is in an uproar not just in California, but nationwide. The Home School Legal Defense Association, Focus on the Family, and other pro-family groups have been working hard to educate the public about this possible erosion of parental rights, right here on our own United States soil.

Is it really necessary to have a teaching degree to be able to effectively teach your own kids? In a word, NO! All the teacher training I had to get my four year degree did nothing to prepare me like true experience did. I learned right away that the key to educating a child is establishing a good relationship. It’s possible to be a respect-commanding teacher without being a tyrant. But as a classroom teacher, I was at a huge disadvantage.

Consider this: I wasn’t there for breakfast. I didn’t know whether or not Melissa had something nutritious to eat. I wasn’t privy to family issues or health issues. I didn’t know that Sammy was up all night after another round of night terrors or that homework didn’t get done because Dad was out of town and Mom was sick with a migraine. Every child in my classroom came to me with a set of challenges that I knew nothing about.

And here’s the good part — now that I am a homeschool mom, I know about my student’s challenges because I am her mom! We’ve done “school lite” this week because we’ve both been sick with a terrible cold. In between trips to the doctor to get chest x-rays and trips to the store for popsicles and to the pharmacy for inhalers, we’ve taken it easy. I did not have to call in a substitute; when we felt like it, we did our schoolwork in our pajamas bundled up on the couch. When we needed to, we took naps. When my daughter’s anxiety over a math lesson dissolved into tears, I knew that was more the result of a sleepless night than true trouble understanding the lesson. The point is that as her mother and her teacher, I am in a unique position to meet her learning needs each and every day. If it’s a gorgeous spring day, we might take our history outside and enjoy the fresh air.

A mom who does not have a teaching degree who homeschools is no less qualified than I am to teach her children. The amount of curriculum available for homeschool parents is astounding (and yes, at times overwhelming!) Many of these curriculums’ teacher guides are more thorough than the guides found in public and private classrooms — believe me, I know! My Sonlight curriculum tells me exactly what to read on which days. Sometimes we go faster than the guide, sometimes we go slower. But the fact of the matter is we are both learning!

That’s another advantage to homeschooling. I am finding an interest in history that I never had as a student. I am relearning some things and even learning some new right alongside my daughter. For example, in school I had a difficult time memorizing multiplication facts. I don’t know why it was so hard for me, but I remember crying over it. Our math curriculum just taught my daughter a trick for the x9s that I never learned — both digits add up to 9, and the first digit is one less than the number that was multiplied by 9. For example, in 3 x 9, the first digit in the answer is 2 (1 less than 3), and the second digit is 7 (2 plus 7 equals 9). Here I am, a degreed TEACHER, and I didn’t know that trick.

The fact is that there are a variety of curriculums out there that might work for one child but not for another. I know some moms who use completely different approaches to teaching reading because their kids are so different in the way that they learn. We who homeschool have the freedom to pick and choose what works best for our kids. If our kids were in public or private schools, we’d have to swallow whatever curriculum the school chose whether they suited our children’s learning styles or not.

Another reason I homeschool? Testing. I think standardized testing has a very small (read miniscule!) place in the overall assessment of a student. I do test my child each year with the Stanford, but I do so more to look for growth across the years than for what she accomplished on one test. But the mainstream folks in public education are suddenly aware that they are failing our kids. Fifth graders can’t read on grade level (maybe it has something to do with that curriculum that doesn’t meet their needs?). Texas’ system of measuring learning is through the TAKS. Way too much emphasis is being placed on this test, and it’s being used as a basis on whether or not a child goes on to the next grade. It’s also being used to determine performance bonuses for teachers (which is also a bad idea. Some kids fail the test on purpose so they can get their teachers in trouble. Or they just don’t put any effort into it at all because they are so afraid to fail). The result is a confusing list of rules and regulations that nobody follows with regularity — consider that 4 out of 5 5th graders who flunked the TAKS were still promoted, despite rules that state otherwise.

The so-called standards are another reason we homeschool. I teach my child until she knows the topic with at least 90% proficiency. But the Texas Education Agency rates a school’s performance on these very horrible scores:

Academically Acceptable — Scores 65% in Reading, Writing, and Social Studies; 45% in Math; 40% in Science.

Recognized — Scores 75% in each subject

Exemplary — Scores 90% in each subject

So in Texas it’s acceptable for 60% of kids to flunk the science portion of the TAKS, 55% of them to flunk Math, and 35% of them to flunk reading and writing. Acceptable? Not by my standards. That, friends, is one of the main reasons I homeschool!

I checked out the testing schedule for my child’s school district. I wanted to see how many days were set aside for standardized testing. This district does the required state testing but also performs almost monthly “benchmark” tests. A child on my daughter’s grade level would (are you sitting down?) be testing 31 days out of the school year. A full month! That works out to about 20% of school days devoted to testing — not including all the practice days that are shoved down these kids’ throats. No wonder the drop out rate is on the rise!

Of course we strive to pass on our Christian worldview. We learn about our subjects within the context of us being a small part of God’s great creation. Our studies take us into the Bible every day (she’s working on reading the One Year Bible). Let me tell you, we’ve had some eye-popping discussions after some of her readings in the book of Numbers! None of that would be possible in a public school setting, but it is second nature to us. Being children of God is who we are. We mess up, He picks us back up. We are learning how to be Christ followers alongside our child. I can’t think of a better reason to homeschool than this!

From Deuteronomy 6:

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

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