Old School

One of the hazards of living with extended family is that you are often given opinions which you didn’t necessarily ask for.  When the extended family includes elderly grandparents who raised you, opinions hit you almost continuously, and the patience of even the most virtuous individual can be tried to the extremes.

I myself am a very opinionated person, and I have no trouble sharing those opinions with anyone.  But in spite of what everyone “assumes” about me, I am quite capable of keeping my mouth shut, and here’s something else–if I have something to say, I say it, I don’t slip in passive-aggressive snippets and clip you off at the knees when you turn your head.  Usually I get in trouble because people ask me for my opinion, and so I give it to them, and of course they didn’t really want my opinion, they wanted me to patronize them, and so they get mad.  But I digress.

As I was saying, I get lots of unsolicited advice.  I also get lots of little comments, some of which float back to me secondhand.  Today, for example, I left my son here with The Grandparents to finish up his lessons while I went to pick up my daughter at the bus stop.  When I got home I could tell my son was in high dudgeon.  I let it rest until he finally cornered me upstairs and decided to vent:  he had finished his lessons while I was gone, and when The Grandmother came through and saw him sitting in the floor doing nothing, she made one of her Patented The Grandmother High-and-Mighty comments.  It was somewhere along the lines that Ian never did any work and that this homeschool thing was just a free ride for him. 

I just told Ian not to worry about it, that he should be used to the constant mouth around here, and it didn’t matter what anyone else thought.  Great advice.

The truth is, a lot of people sort of secretly (and not so secretly) look down their noses at homeschooling.  Some days, my attitude is poor.  I’d like to tell them that I don’t owe anyone any explanations, that my children are my responsibility, I’ve raised them by myself, with very little help from any parents, grandparents or otherwise, and considering what most of the people I know have going on in their lives, they’d be well advised to put their efforts into managing their own lives and keeping the hell out of mine.  In short, mind your own shit and keep your nose out of mine.

You can see how that might be considered hostile.

Mostly I avoid getting too deep into the discussion, because really I don’t feel like I owe anyone any explanations, but sometimes you just need to get stuff off of your chest.  Since this is my medium for doing just that, here it goes.

The decision to homeschool my son was one of the most difficult I’ve ever made in my life, ever.  It has also been the best decision I’ve ever made.  I don’t mean any offense to anyone, but my son has learned more since last January than most kids do all through school.  He is reading more, he’s reading faster, and he’s retaining what he reads.  He does hands-on science experiments every single week.  He can diagram sentences (maybe that doesn’t shock you, but in our school system I bet some kids graduating high school can’t do that.)  He can pick a subject of his liking each semester to study–this time it’s Civics, to go along with the presidential election coming up.  Next semester–The Civil War.  He’s reviewing Pre-Algebra and getting ready to go into Algebra 1.  He’s studying his second year of Spanish.  He devours History–he reads, studies maps and globes, records dates on timelines, and researches different topics online and in an encyclopedia.  For what it’s worth, he just started sixth grade.  If it sounds like I’m bragging, I am.  Not only does he do this stuff, he is proficient in it. 

I think the whole thing boils down the fact that people just assume  I am not smart enough to teach a child anything, except the lyrics to Pink Floyd songs, or maybe how to drive.  But here’s what I think–you don’t have to be a teacher to teach.  Teachers go to school to learn their facts, sure, but they also go to learn classroom management.  Teachers and students alike are gobbled up by our system, which is hopelessly flawed.

When the camel’s back finally broke last year, my son had reached a point where he was coming home and declaring that he hated school in general and science in particular.  That, folks, is a tragedy.  This is a kid who LOVES science, who studies it in his free time, for God’s sweet sake, and the teacher there managed to make him hate it in a few short weeks.  When I went to the parent/teacher conference, she was a pleasant woman who informed me that “Ian can always be counted upon to provide the correct answers when we are going over the work together in class.  He’s a great benefit to the slower children in the class.”

Hey, guess what?  I sent my kid to school to be challenged and to learn, not to teach the other kids.  Here’s a fact: the pace of the classroom must always match the pace of the slowest kid in that classroom.  Now, I mean no harm to the kids who have to struggle, but is it fair that my kid sits and stares into space, or “provides the answers” when necessary?  Oh, and don’t forget the test scores–we’ve got to have good standardized test scores, because that’s all that matters.  They were practicing writing prompts (a la West Test II) in science. 

I blame teachers and parents equally for allowing our system to become what it has, but ultimately I put all of that behind me.  I had to decide if I was going to keep fighting a losing battle while my son just kept getting older and more disdainful of education, or if I was going to take things into my own hands.  You know what I did.  For us, it was the right thing.  He’s learning, and yes, before anyone says it, he is here where I can keep my eyes on him.  No, I don’t think I can keep him sheltered forever, but I can put off some of that crap until he’s mature enough to stand up for himself and what he knows is right.  Peer influence is poison, but I’m not going to get into that now, because I could do a whole other post on that topic.

So maybe some people think homeschooled kids have it easy.  I’d love to hear my son’s response to that.  He has made the comment, “I wish I was back in school so I didn’t have to do anything!”  To me, that tells me everything I need to know.

And if you don’t like it?  Well, what can I say?  Oh, I know–piss off.

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