Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Homeschool Survey

Cherish over at Faraday's Cage is where you put Schrödinger's Cat is taking an informal survey of homeschoolers and the stereotypes that don't fit them. Here are my answers, for the record:

Why do you homeschool?
I'd been threatening to homeschool Klaus since he was a toddler, but with the Irish twins (Wolfie and Xavier) in diapers, DH in residency and my own lack of self-confidence, I sent him to school. I spent ten years trying to get adequate accomodations for Klaus and for his brothers and finally I was mad as hell and I just couldn't take it anymore!

What technique or curriculum do you use? Do your kids work above or below grade level (or both!)?
We use a virtual charter school because DH like the objective accountability. He thinks I'm too laissez-faire (and he's mostly right). Two of the boys are two or more years above grade level and always have been. Xavier is below, at and above level, depending on the subject. He's catching up to grade level now that we've been homeschooling for two years. I think by the end of next year, he should be advanced in all subjects.

What is your educational level? Do you feel this has an effect on your teaching (both limits and abilities)?
I have a Bachelor's in Elementary Education. I think it has helped me quite a bit in terms of dealing with their learning differences and in realizing there are other ways to teach. I didn't have any training in gifted, though, and I really needed that!

What does your daily schedule look like?
Um, schedule.... What's that again? Oh, right. We get up at nine and I read outloud for an hour. Reading books are a mixture of classics and young adult. (For example, our last two books this year were Swine Not? by Jimmy Buffet and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.) Then Xavier goes for a 30 minute walk and Wolfie sits down to work on something. They chose what they want to work on (and DON'T want to work on). Around 1:30 we watch an hour of educational TV, then we're done for the day. Wednesdays they take music lessons.

Are your kids always polite and ready to learn? (*snicker*) Do the kids (or you!) get frustrated?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! You mean like the conversation I had at 9:30 this morning? "I'm done with geometry!"
"Great! That leaves you time to work on some German or social studies."
Sigh. "I was going to..." Motions toward World of Warcraft computer.
"You can do that for awhile if you want to take a break. But you need to finish social studies in order to be finished with this school year. And you have to finish German 1 before you can take German 2 at the high school in the fall."
"Once you finish this stuff you're done with school for the rest of the summer."
Glare. Gets up from the table.
"And Dad said someone needs to mow the lawn today!"

How has this affected your parenting?
I spend a lot less time grilling them about what happened in school that day, what their grades are, and who their friends are. I spend much less time chasing down teachers to find out what's going on in the classroom. And, best of all, we're free to take days off when we need them, not when the school district says we can. So we're able to take advantage of quality time and quantity time.

How much free time do they have? What do they do during their free time? What hobbies do they have?
They have a lot of free time. Most of it is spent playing video games or boffing (it doesn't mean what you think it means). They're also active in 4H and take music lessons. This summer Wolfie's going to video game camp for a week and Xavier is spending a week at a science and technology day camp (through 4H) and spending another week at overnight band camp.

What difficulties and challenges do you have with homeschooling? What makes homeschooling enjoyable?
I think the biggest challenge is that my kids and I are process- rather than product-oriented. We learn stuff, but we don't particularly enjoy proving it through testing, writing reports or making projects. What makes homeschooling enjoyable is doing all the stuff we love to do--take field trips, watch documentaries, read together, try experiments--and count it as learning (because it is). When the boys were in public school, we were all too exhausted to try this kind of after-schooling.

How do you get involved in the community? When do you have opportunities to interact with public or privately schooled children? Would you like more of these opportunities? How can they be created?
We’re very active in 4H. Both Wolfie and Xavier are club officers and I’m the music and drama director for the club. We participate in community service through 4H. Xavier plays in a middle school band for private and homeschoolers. This will be his third year in band. Wolfie participated in the homeschool Track and Field Day this spring. The boys are planning to create a city-wide boffing league or club (haven’t nailed down the particulars for that yet). We also participate in the Western Wisconsin Young Mensa Club outings.

Personally, I’d rather be a little less active outside the house and a little more productive on the academic side of things. We’ve had to nix Scouts and Parks and Rec classes and limit summer camps to one a piece (Xavier’s 4H camp is free, so he got around that rule). I don’t think we’ll be participating in the homeschool classes that take place during the school year, either. We’d lose a whole school day to extracurriculars (choir, handbell choir and gym).

What is your least favorite homeschool stereotype? :-)
Let’s see, “All homeschoolers are fundamentalist Christian.” No, we don’t go to church and we don't homeschool out of fear of corruption, school violence, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol, take your pick. We don’t homeschool out of fear, period.

“Homeschooled kids are locked in the house all day memorizing facts for (insert your favorite National Bee here).” If only they knew. Homeschooled kids are kids first (maybe more kid-like than the public school kids). Some people seem to think they’re robots.

My most recent question was “If your kids are homeschooled, will they go to … college?” Duh. Makes me wonder what “they” think happens to homeschooled kids once they graduate from high school. Do they disappear? Maybe we just leave them in the basement until they’re ready to reproduce?

But my least favorite homeschool stereotype is: “I could never do that.” I work with gifted kids, kids who clearly could soar with the one-on-one attention that homeschoolers get. But the parents are so worn out with their preschoolers’ questions, they assume they couldn’t possibly homeschool. (BTDT) Not true!

Or they assume the teachers at school know more about gifted kids than they do. (BTDT, too) Double not true! Most classroom teachers have had zero training in gifted. The “gifted teacher” may or may not be able to directly supervise your child’s education.

You (yes, you!) know your child best. Hook up with some homeschooling support groups, find the resources (there are thousands), let your child lead the way. Your brilliant child did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. He got his smarts from you. You can figure this out, I promise!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why We Hate Homeschoolers

Here's the latest article to be making the round of the homeschool boards: SONNY SCOTT:Home-schoolers threaten our cultural comfort from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. While I don't usually see this amount of Bible quoting in a newspaper article, otherwise I think Mr. Scott makes an interesting point.

He writes: "Why do we hate (or at least distrust) these people so much?

Methinks American middle-class people are uncomfortable around the home schooled for the same reason the alcoholic is uneasy around the teetotaler.

Their very existence represents a rejection of our values, and an indictment of our lifestyles. Those families are willing to render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s be, but they draw the line at their children. Those of us who have put our trust in the secular state (and effectively surrendered our children to it) recognize this act of defiance as a rejection of our values, and we reject them in return. "

This is absolutely true. The biggest supporters and the most defensive reactions to our decision to pull our kids out of public school came from public school teachers. The defensive ones (and the ones in the minority) were the one who had their own kids in public school. That was one of the reasons I began to rethink our school--I found out most of the teachers with school-aged kids did not send them to public school. (Things that makes you go, "HMMMMM".)

But Scott's article touches on another point that I happened to be musing about today. "Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers. We compensate by getting a boat to take them to the river, a van to carry them to Little League, a 2,800-square-foot house, an ATV, a zero-turn Cub Cadet, and a fund to finance a brand-name college education. And most significantly, we claim “our right” to pursue a career for our own "self-fulfillment."

Many people (including my mother) thinks I have the "luxury" to stay home because DH is a physician. And that's true. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I don't have to worry (anymore) about where my next meal is coming from and whether the child support check will come in time to pay the mortgage. I've been poor and it sucks.

But we also have made conscious decisions throughout our married life to live below our means. At the end of medical school, DH was torn between being a dermatologist and being a surgeon. As a surgeon, he would have had job satisfaction and more money. And, mostly likely, a divorce, like most surgeons have. Even the minor uptick in the number of hours he worked this spring has caused a major increase in marital tension. (Luckily it's temporary.)

When we moved to our small city ten years ago, I gave up the idea of fixing up a grand Victorian house because the chaos and continuing expense would have given me satisfaction and a beautiful home and, most likely, a divorce. DH doesn't do well with chaos, although luckily for me, he's grown more tolerant over the years. I'm also in the process of choosing not to pursue every opportunity offered to me as a gifted advocate right now because I've made a commitment to DH and to the boys to be here to school them until they're ready to leave, not until *I'm* bored with it and ready to move on. That's one of the reasons this blog has become so erratic.

Yes, I have to keep repeating to myself, "They're only 13/14/17 once. There's time later for globe-trotting travel on behalf of gifted children everywhere." The idea appeals. But there will still be gifted kids in need of an advocate in five years. I hope. ;-)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Online Civics Curriculum for Middle Schoolers

From today's NYT:

"...In cooperation with Georgetown University Law Center and Arizona State University, Justice O’Connor is helping develop a Web site and interactive civics curriculum for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students called Our Courts ( The initial major elements of the site are scheduled to become available this fall.

Since retiring from the bench in 2006, Justice O’Connor, 78, has spoken forcefully and often about the dangers posed by efforts to politicize the judiciary. Her thoughts are well known to legal scholars. With Our Courts she hopes to foster a deeper understanding of American government among schoolchildren. The site will have two parts, an explicitly educational component for use in schools and a more entertainment-oriented module that will more closely resemble games. ..."