This past week, I was given the opportunity to provide feedback regarding my first homeschool enrichment program we attended last fall. For a second, I thought, no need to respond. But then I changed my mind, thinking they do deserve to know why I am no longer attending their organization.
For an outsider who does not homeschool or know anyone who does, homeschool looks a little frightening on many levels. First there is this idea that I am not a trained teacher...how on earth will I remember algebra? Then there is this idea of motivation, how will I be a teacher and a mother?
Then let's not forget those national spelling bee winners who have been homeschooled. My husband's first reaction to homeschooling was this very idea. He was afraid our sons would grow up to be antisocial and backwards in front of people.
Lastly, there is this other idea that all homeschoolers are a bunch of religious right wing freaks who want to control every phase of their child's life while filling it with religious dogma and rhetoric. So upon our decision to homeschool, all of these ideas had to be tested and challenged so we felt comfortable in our decision.
Luckily, we live in a state where the decision to homeschool is supported and seems to be the only option for teaching your children. The state of Florida has NEVER had a strong score among the nation as being a top provider of education. The public system lacks many standards when compared to other states. (Having worked for the Dept of Education in GA, I do know what I speak of and have seen the state rankings over and over and over again). Florida usually settles near the bottom in company with GA, HA and MS. Even my childhood state of OH has slipped near the middle, but has never been at the bottom.
Private schooling is another option here, if you have a lot of disposable income. My personal opinion is because a horrible public school system exits the private schools take full advantage and charge double and triple what other states may charge. For example, the Catholic Schools in Oh charge on average 3500 per year for one student. Down here the average is 8000 per year per student. I also know GA charges a lot for Catholic Schooling near 7000 per year per student. This I find outrageous in terms of taking advantage of an awful situation and in turn charging extreme amounts if you desire your child to get ahead!
Now let's take that idea that private schools are better...well the curriculum in FL is very similar to their public counterparts. Why on earth would I pay high dollars just to obtain the same type of schooling already offered for free?
Homeschooling in Florida is a generally accepted practice. Most all of the museums, nature parks, theaters and other civic minded institutions provide programming specific to homeschoolers. There are also enrichment programs where a group of homeschoolers get together and pull their resources. There are classes offered on specific topics to help simulate a class room experience, socialization etc. The groups are determined by like minded people and purpose, so there should be a group that suits your needs.
We joined the group last fall due to the variety of classes offered. My boys took Taekwondo, Pottery, Cake Decorating, Piano Lessons and Religious Story Time. This group seemed from the outside like a good choice. The classes were small so the students were still being considered the most important focus. The idea I liked most, is how the classes are not divided by ages.. they are divided by focus and ability. My 4 year old was taking Pottery alongside teenagers. How awesome is that? Empowering to say the least for his development.
However the time in that group was numbered as the primary focus was the stereotypical religious right wing strict strange looking people that looked as if they have not taken up personal hygeine as an important lesson. (Not all families looked this way, but many did).
There were lessons for my children and for myself with this group. I was told to remove my nose piercing. It was seen offensive and encouraged the younger teens that this was acceptable. I obliged them, this concession, but it really did anger me that I had to deny myself to belong to this group. What was I teaching my children?
In the end, I had to remove myself from the group, as I didn't feel accepted for who or what I am. We found another group to join and it is a refreshing contrast! The mothers are wonderful, open and friendly. The children are better behaved than the previous group. The classes offered this go around are Geology, Eco Art, Hand Sewing, Story Time, Tumbling and Musical Art. I even get to take Knitting!
These moms mostly shop at Whole Foods, find local and organic food choices to be the best. They practice moral respect and probably follow a religious order, but I can't say as I know what religion dominates. I find there to be patience and creativity everywhere I look and this is encouraging. The mothers are real people with a basic belief they can provide educational outlets for their children either by themselves or with help from the community.
Homeschooling is different for every family. It may be in seclusion to mimic the schooling our forefathers received or it may be in concert with other families.
As there are challenges to this decision to homeschool, the fears mentioned above have subsided. I found a great group of families to share in this journey with. Where there is a strength I have, there is a family that can benefit and vice versa if I have a weakness I can reach out for help. There are other teachers that come into play, so I am not their sole provider. I lean on music teachers, science teachers and where there is no teacher, curriculum can be bought to supplement and help guide.
I would say my family and those that I surround myself today do not look like a typical homeschool family like those found in the national spelling bee. We are average families with above average expectations for our childrens' future.
As for motivation while still being a mom... I work on this everyday, but show me a mother who doesn't encounter motivation on a daily basis! Getting your child to brush teeth, make their bed, set the table, practice good manners... we teach our children every day and we find new methods for motivation every day. This is nothing new to the homeschooler as it is to motherhood.
In closing, I would like to challenge stereotypes of homeschooling families as well as challenge this notion that I am not skilled or trained to school my children. (I will share I do hold a Master's Degree and have taught at the collegiate level, held many training sessions and led groups in learning new techniques/methodology etc). However, I am smart enough to know when I need or want help and reach out for it.
I take advantage of my community and join other groups that I find beneficial to my boys' learning process. Ultimately I control the subject matter, the progression and direction of their learning. To a small extent I also control the setting for their learning. I am engaged, I see the progress and I see the areas which need help. No one has to call me in for a parent teacher conference to tell me my child is below normal, above average or at the middle.
This option works for us now. It may change down the road, I have no idea. But I would like this nation to realize teaching our children is important and should be accomplished in a way that makes sense for each family. We have choices, this is what makes us Americans.
Let's support each other realizing the end goal is the same, to help our children realize their full potential. Maybe releasing the stereotypes and criticisms, we may progress and achieve this awesome goal!