December 10, 2012
Musing on Schooling
Sometimes I walk into a situation where someone is having a bad day and speaks before they have a chance to consider the impact of whatever is coming out of their mouth. One day not too long ago, I walked into a shop which I frequent. A mother and her daughter, who was dressed in pyjamas and a fluffy pink robe were purchasing some items at the till. I gave the little girl a knowing smile since my daughter had been similarly dressed that day for 'Pyjama Day' at the local elementary school. Every once in a while, the kids have a fun excuse to dress up in some kind of theme at school, and it had been entertaining to see so many kids and teachers similarly and ridiculously attired that morning.
When the pair had left the store and I was choosing my bunch of cilantro, I heard one of the women at the till ask the other why the girl had been in her pyjamas. The other woman suggested that perhaps the child was home schooled, therefore eliminating the need for proper clothing. The first woman practically shouted, (and remember, she works at this store) "If it were up to me I would BAN home schooling. They don't learn anything!"
I decided to tell the cashiers from my nearby position in the store that it was merely Pyjama Day at the local school. Moments later, the first cashier, looking angry, began to remove the packaging from a case of some product near to where I was choosing a can of black beans. I was this close to giving her a piece of my mind because I home schooled my children for four years. However I quelled my anger and restrained my strong desire to scold the cashier for being so narrow minded; I very rarely do give these people a piece of my mind - I usually go home and write about it instead.
Years ago, when we lived a forty five minute drive down a winding mountain road from any school, it did not make sense to drive my eldest to school for the two and a half hour daily Kindergarten class. The gas money required for the daily commute was deterrent enough and after a family friend suggested I home school, we decided to try it. For four years I taught my first three children and I still believe, to this day, that some of their later success in school could be attributed to the one-on-one they received in learning to read, to compute, to write, recite, and even to draw in their formative years. I also benefited from experiencing in an intimate way, their various styles of learning. Ian would understand a math concept before I had finished explaining it; Galen could memorize anything in record time and rarely forgot it even a month later. Emma I only had for Kindergarten, but she was never one to lag behind her brothers, and learned to read in Kindergarten from a handy book called Alphaphonics. Home schooling is certainly not for everyone, and it would not have been my first choice but for the simple logistical challenge of where we lived when our children were small; it ended up being the best of experiences for our family and brought my children and I much closer.
We made many friends in the town where we did our shopping, some of them home schooling families, some of them not. They all accepted us until one day when I said the children would be moving from the home into the one room school house at the lodge. By the end of my fourth year of teaching my children at home, there were enough school aged children at the lodge to qualify for a district funded teacher three days per week. My home schooling friends were not impressed that I would be handing my children over to the school system, but with a new baby at home, I was ready to move on, and I believe my children were, too. I explained that, while I valued the home schooling experience tremendously, my intention had always been for my children to progress to a school setting. I also knew in my heart that our days at the lodge were numbered, and the one room school option seemed like a great way to bridge the gap between home and wherever their next school would be. It was. My children had to learn to trust another adult with their education - Kim was an excellent teacher - and to accommodate and cooperate with other children in the class, even though they all knew each other like family.
When we moved here in March of 2003, and my children entered the local elementary school, I will admit there was a major adjustment period. Ian punched someone in the nose on his first day because the kid called him a 'motherf***er', and my son, not used to that sort of language in his schoolmates, took offense. (I did not hear about the incident for years, however. The very understanding principal let Ian off with a warning and did not call home.) Galen was completely overwhelmed with the behavior of the other children and begged me to keep him at home for the remainder of his grade three year (which I did most Friday afternoons), and Emma merely said, when asked how school was, "It's pretty much the same, Mommy, just louder." Over time, and with much coaching from their teachers and principal, and from us at home, the kids adjusted and even began to thrive. I will always say that while home schooling can give children an excellent academic education and an enriching family life, public school teaches them to get along with all sorts of characters, even the worst sorts, and find room to be generous to them while setting boundaries socially; both are important for the well-rounded education of the whole person, as long as the child is supported and feels safe in whatever school environment is chosen for them.
All in all, I think what I would like to have said to the cashier, is that the great thing about schooling these days is that there are so many options for learning which were not available when we were children. When I was home schooling my children my mother recalled how unhappy I had been in elementary school. "You would have been the perfect candidate for home schooling, Rebecca," she said. "But such a thing did not really exist back then and never entered my head as a possiblilty." Now, with choices, we can give our children the type of education that suits their style of learning and the life of our families.