Thursday, September 1, 2011

Naysayer Numbness

It's that time of year.....that Back to School time of year....and each year it becomes less and less noticeable to us. This is our tenth year to homeschool. I can't believe it. By the end of this school year we'll have been at this nonsense for an entire decade! A DECADE!!

What a journey it has been. Not just the homeschooling - the whole shebang. Because I don't know if I've mentioned this....I think I might have once or twice....but Ellie is now settled into college life. On a full music scholarship that had nothing to do with me as I can't even play Chopsticks BUT what I might not have mentioned is that she also received an academic scholarship that almost covered the full tuition. And I am taking credit for that. Now then, you might be imagining me standing before the kids....chalkboard behind me...some sort of book in my hand....but honestly - we unschool. I don't "teach" and they haven't been "taught." So what do I do? I encourage learning. I show them how to find information. I help them set goals. I help them devise road maps for meeting those goals. I drive them places and buy them things and make sure they have what they need to get where they're going. I talk to them, ask them questions that make them think, and most importantly, discover and learn new things right along with them. I will take credit for raising kids who know how to learn, and who can figure out what to learn in order to do the things that are important to them.

When we started this whole Homeschooling Business there were many naysayers. Naysayers you say?? Yes I say!! Naysayers! People saying, "Nay!" We heard it all, let me tell you.

You have a learning disabled son - don't you think he should be in school with professionals who can help him?

You have a *GIFTED child* - don't you think she should be in school so professionals can challenge her?

You have Jules - don't you think he should be in school so you don't kill him?

Addressing these issues one by one:
There are professionals at the school. Many are dedicated and want to teach. Most are overworked, stifled, tied up and pushed down, and basically unable to teach the way they want. They're using their own money to buy things for their classrooms, which are overcrowded. Some are talented at teaching "the middle" while simultaneously keeping the go-getter challenged, as well. Very few have the time or resources to deal with the one who just isn't getting it at all - due to normal developmental variances or do to some sort of undiagnosed learning disability. Pretty much everyone knows that this is what the schools are like...and yet....all I heard (and sometimes continue to hear) was Don't you think the school would do a better job? Ummm....maybe if I were Actually Dead.

Joel made it through first grade and on his last day the Entire Institution breathed a big old sigh of relief. His teacher was so thrilled to say buh-bye that she was literally tossing free stuff at me and giggling like a little girl as she ushered us out the door. I think it was the first time she'd ever actually smiled at Joel - but what a smile it was! "So long!" she shouted. "You'll do great!" That was my one big vote of confidence and it was really just giddy hysteria. *Before you think this woman might be a horrible person, let me just share something Joel recently (he's almost 17) said to me about his first grade experience.

"So like there were a lot of kids in the classroom and some of them were up in the front of the room and The Lady was like doing stuff with them and talking to them. I just sat in the back with my buds peeling the paper off crayons and tossing them at people. I really didn't think what was going on up there had anything to do with me at all."

There you have it. But let me just add that Joel was doing this out of boredom, not out of any sort of longing to start a life of crime and corruption. He was later diagnosed with four learning disabilities, one of which makes it hard for him to understand English - (I'm not kidding) - and so the kid was just trying to entertain himself because he was stuck there for 7 hours, after all. He was pulled out of the "regular classroom" several times a week. This confused the heck out of him and did nothing to address his specific learning issues. The woman who was in charge of helping him read (something he didn't do successfully until he was ELEVEN and that was with a ton of help from a whole bunch of us non-professionals pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into it) was mean. Plain and simple. I haven't met many mean teachers - but I have met a couple and she was one. So he went to her for reading because he was "slow" and she basically did nothing to help him. In fact, she kept him in at recess to "write lines" and then became angry when he couldn't do it (he couldn't write his name at that point, much less I will listen in class.....). He also went to Reading Fluency because his reading speed wasn't up to benchmark standards. The fact that he couldn't read at all, much less quickly, didn't figure into the equation. So he went to Reading Fluency where two professional women who may or may not have finished high school timed him as he sat quietly not reading. He also went to speech, where he told the therapist he "wuved" her. Because he did. And she was a doll, although he continued to say "wuv" for many more years. The one place he almost never went - was the playground. Because he was constantly being punished for not understanding what someone had said to him, or for not being developmentally able to cooperate with their demands. People would listen to all of this and then say, "But there are professionals don't know what you're doing..." and I began to get suspicious that the institutions of learning were actually factories of stupidity.

Ellie made it through third grade. She made it through third grade because she did, in fact, have some truly wonderful teachers. But by the time she entered fourth grade - Joel was being homeschooled and it just seemed a natural progression for her to come home, too. Since she was bored out of her mind and not quite getting it in the social arena - it wasn't hard to convince her. Four years later she was taking college courses through community college - banging away on the piano for six hours a day - and the rest is history. And yet, throughout it all, people would say, "But don't you think she'd be doing EVEN better at school with the professionals?" It was as if she were learning in spite of the horrendous circumstances of her homeschooling. I couldn't win the naysayers over because they had been quite successfully brainwashed and were unable to form logical conclusions. So I quit trying and we just quietly went about our business.

Even now, when met with skepticism....if I point out that Ellie is in college (as are all of her other homeschooled friends) I am told that she must be an exception because Ignorant People Are Trying To Teach Their Kids At Home!! "You're obviously not ignorant! You know what you're doing! You got it goin' on girlfriend!!" Okay - they don't actually say that last part - that's just the little voice in my head. But they do say the other things - and that's without having any idea of how I teach, if I teach, whether or not I know what I'm doing or the fact that I am, indeed, ignorant about any number of things.

Jules simply could not have survived school with any sense of self intact. I knew that before I knew he had Asperger's. He would be one heavily medicated kid in school, and I doubt he would be learning much at all, because he has very specific ways of learning - none of which involve sitting down or being still. Who was going to read to him while he spun in circles with a light saber held triumphantly above his head in school? What professional person was going to be ABLE to do that for him? "But there are professionals in the schools who attend WORKSHOPS in order to know how to deal with spectrum kids! Don't you think he'd be better off with someone who has attended a workshop?" Right here - at this point - I'm not even going to comment.

Camille and Jasper have never attended school. Camille, I'm quite certain, would love it. She's right smack in the middle of the learning curve, loves Justin Bieber and knows How To Dress (it's a recessive gene apparently). But she's doing great at home - she has a gaggle of girlfriends who are also homeschooled. They do fashion design together. They sing together. They giggle and put on make-up and paint their nails. When Joel sees them he usually likes to comment that they could pass for school kids.

The one thing Camille would not be doing if she were in school is receiving 6 or more hours of classical dance instruction per week. And Camille simply must dance.

If Jasper had been placed in school he quite possibly could have ended formalized education as we know it, leaving the whole mess in an even bigger pile of ashes than it already is. That's just the way he operates. Your logic and reasoning mean nothing to him. One of his favorite comments is, "What's that got to do with me?" And usually, he's right.  What does it have to do with him?  Luckily for him, his idea that the rest of the world doesn't really relate to him or necessarily require any contribution on his part....well, this doesn't bother me in the least. He's rocking awesome and I wholeheartedly support him in his eschewing of well.... Basically Anything Anybody Wants Him To Do. My little man can just keep on keeping on. Sometimes I get the feeling that he's the only person on Earth who sees things as they really are. He's the dude who notices that the emperor's not wearing any clothes. Nobody likes that dude - he makes us all feel stupid. It's frightening to think of what he'd be like when faced with the day to day Obvious Insanity of Mindless Busywork. They'd have to invent new workshops to deal with The Clarity That Is Jasper.

All of my kids can read (even though Jasper has tried really hard to Not Get It and when he does get it he refuses to say it out loud). All of them can write (even though Jasper has tried really hard to Not Learn How), and most importantly, they know stuff. Important stuff that they find relevant.

So let's summarize, shall we?

I'm a Success.

The End.

What say you? Yea or Nay?


  1. What say I? What say I?? You know what I say! Well, you don't, but I say YEAH. I say YEEHAH! And YAY. And YEA, for sure, 'cause that sounds great too.

    This post. Wow. It affirms everything I want for my kids, everything I believe they deserve, and everything about the path we're taking.

    And it's laugh out loud funny. Thank you, thank you, Carol. YEA.

  2. SIgh, yea for you and bummer for me that I just cannot imagine doing this for my own children... So far, we've been very lucky with our teachers, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and I'm definitely reading your next posts too!


    Works for me.
    Missing the homeschool years quite a lot, but we homeschooled for 16.

    I think that every single parent in the universe should stop, examine each individual child, and decide on which type of education best suits that child. That can be homeschooling. Or public school. Or private school. Or any combination thereof. The key of course being the individual and you know, individualizing his or her education.

  4. Sounds like success to me! Your kids sound awesome and like great, individualized learners. I have worked for several school districts in my career and I continually find myself amazed at the level of (non)intelligence OF THE FREAKIN' TEACHERS!! Scary! I just shake my head some days and think: geeeezzzzz! You're so right when you say "Most are overworked, stifled, tied up and pushed down, and basically unable to teach the way they want". The true teachers, who are in it for the right reasons, aren't wanted any more by the bureaucracy that is TEA and they aren't allowed to teach the way they want. I say, "a big thumbs up for Moms like you that know what's best for their kids and are brave enough to go for it!". Good job.

  5. Thanks for the multiple yea variations!

  6. So I didn't realize Ellie went to "school" through 3rd grade. Tony did not return to school this year (for 4th grade) and neither did my second youngest. It feels so much more natural to not start the day in a frenzy to rush their butts to school... And that I can actually enjoy my kids more as they continue to grow right in front of me. We did get suckered into buying a curriculum (mostly to get approval from the Hubby) and yet, it feels like I am pushing them to get makeup work done from public school (like whenever they were sick)... It's worksheet, worksheet, worksheet... Tony really digs the pre-algebra though since he is into math... And I am enjoying the experience of slowing down life - like this morning where Frankie helped teach his baby brother a new sound ("moo" for cow) while he waited for his turn on the piano. I have you to thank for these moments - because hearing your talk on unschooling last year is still fresh in my head and it gave me the confidence to realize that these kids will learn, if I act as a guide and provide them with opportunities to blossom.

    Anyway, you should take even more credit than you give yourself because it was a big decision for us to make - and you stuck with it over the years and your daughter (along with your other incredible children) serve as the type of kids I hope mine will one day become.

    P.S. Tony will go to his first official Jr. Tuesday Music Club this Saturday... Feels like such a honor to be playing on the same stage as your daughter.

  7. You totally rule!
    Now you should email this post to all the teachers that your kids had a billion years ago and rub it in their faces. Or stalk them around town and pretend to accidentally bump into them and say "Oh, by the way...".
    School has started. Johnny is happy(go figure?), Claire is nervous, Jacob doesn't care as long as he gets lunch, and I'm not sure if Joshua knows if he's in school or at home. Although Fred is happy to have them out of the house.
    Finally, I need to let you know that I'm jealous of you and all that you do. For many reasons, we can't do this. But I'm sure our kids would benefit greatly from it. Now I'm sad. See what you did!

  8. I love Mark's idea of the "running into & 'oh, BTW'" type scenario. Hilarious!

  9. haha - actually since we live in a small town I see them all the time! And I'm facebook friends with a few of them and they're generally supportive of our family and our decision to homeschool - Ellie really had some truly awesome teachers most years and I appreciate everything they did for her - part of the problem was we had these teachers going way above and beyond and then we hit a brick wall with some who just refused to make the effort. Like her 3rd grade teacher was doing algebra with her - no problem - Ellie's kind of self-directed...but the next year was WHOA...she can just write out her times tables like everyone else. I saw Joel's first grade teacher yesterday...she's very sweet and now homeschooling her grandchildren! She wasn't able to handle Joel in a structured setting - totally not her fault. (I don't see the mean teacher anywhere...) And I'm writer-friends with Ellie's old elementary school principal - she's published in non-fiction like me. Joel's kinder principal won't make eye contact with me....nor will his pre-school teacher...Anyway - the teachers I know and respect are all aware that there are problems in education - the problems are just too big - and now the school years are so regimented there is very little room even for individualized or small-scale solutions - the kind that made a big difference in the quality of Ellie's ps education.

  10. I think you are doing an awesome job! We are trying to figure out a way for Bohden to be homeschooled. Wish us luck!

  11. I say yea!!, and can I drop of my kids at your house? :) I unfortuntely have the patience of a gnat... My oldest was in middle of second grade before we figured out a learning disability...and that was because she did have an awesome teacher that had kind of self-taught herself over 20 yrs of teaching to recognize which signs to look for and how to pinpoint the problems. This was after three years of me (over-achiever) fussing at her... And, us moving intentionaly to raise our kids in one of the "best school districts". But I still have nightmares about...what if we hadn't gotten a teacher that cared that year...what if...what if..." I also still remember the day, we got the official diagnosis, and actually being relieved that was had something to now focus on, but I was concerned about her feeling...she looked at me and said "well, at least we know I'm not stupid..." Kids should never feel they're stupid. I look back at so many schoolmates over the years that did not do well, dropped out, constantly in trouble -- and to a tee, recognize various learning disabilities or conditions that had absolutely nothing to do with them being "stupid" or "bad"...maybe there was an excuse for that in 1970...but not in 2000.

  12. Susie - we know lots of families who work and homeschool-it can definitely be done. Often, you kind of need a village to make it work, though. And Cuz - as far as patience goes....I don't have much but I have more than I used to. I'm much more stable with the youngest because I just don't stress anymore. Joel is my shining star - he's my personal proof - if he can succeed the rest of them sure as heck can :). Also - when unschooling - well, it's just plain living and parenting. Requires the same amount of patience (and alcohol).

  13. Yea Yea YEa! I know parents who work and homeschool, too. It can be done. It's just different than one might picture. I always say to anyone who wonders "how I do it" that if they can handle the 2-4 hours of homework that their children must do after being in school for 7 hours, then they can surely handle their kids' education during the day with fresh attitudes and wearing pajamas.

  14. I'm strongly considering homeschooling my kiddos due to the deplorable state of the public schools in this city (some of the worst in the nation) and the high cost of private ones. My main misgiving isn't that my kids would turn into those *weird home schooled kids* or anything like that. There are a lot of social options for home schoolers around here. I'm mostly concerned they wouldn't respect me/listen to me like they would *a teacher.* I'm already noticing this attitude from my toddler. She knows what makes me tick. She knows which buttons to push to drive me insane. She knows that she can ignore me or be mean to me and I will still love her. 19 months old, and she knows this already. I have a feeling we would get into far more "battles" on a day to day basis than she would with an outsider. Especially if our relationship is anything like the relationship I had with my mom (and I am exactly like my mom and she is exactly like me--so it's likely). My mom taught me the violin for 16 years of my life. I hated/loathed/etc. playing the violin. I learned in spite of that and became quite good at it too, but I didn't develop a passion for it, mostly because I felt like my mom forced it upon me all those years. My sister on the other hand learned from my mom until her early teen years and fought tooth and nail too until she got a new teacher as a teenager. Then she loved it, and actually went into music in college.

    I'm intrigued by unschooling. It seems very logical to let a child drive his/her own learning in order to prevent the dying of passion. Similar to the Montessori method in that it allows a kid to just become fully immersed in a topic and direct his/her own learning without the distractions of the traditional schooling environment. Love that thought. On the other hand, what do you do when the kid shows absolutely NO desire to learn a particular topic that's super important to know in order to function in society? Doing basic math, or writing properly, for instance. I was a writing tutor in college and it was mind-boggling how many college students didn't know how to follow basic grammar rules. Their sentences were a mess to the point where I felt like I had to hire an interpreter to understand them sometimes. I recall learning grammar through pure repetition/ritual back in gradeschool. The teacher *made* us do "easy grammar" worksheets where we had to underline the subjects, double underline the verbs, cross out the prepositional phrases, put the implied "you" in commands in parenthesis, etc. We even had to memorize the most common prepositions. "Busy work," yet so invaluable. Even the "dumbest" kid in our grade school class was at the top of his English class in high school because of those worksheets. In short, I'm curious how you teach a kid to write properly if they show no interest or motivation in wanting to take on that goal themselves. Is there a point at which you just go "it's too bad you don't want to do this. You're doing it anyway" or do the child's whims reign supreme i.e. if they don't want to do it, you can't make them do it?