Friday, September 26, 2014

denim skirt lady

This is part two in what I'm reckoning will be a four-part series on how on earth I plan on educating my daughter in this crazy world.  See here for part one, in which I discuss the Encore enrichment program offered by our public school system.

Once upon a time, like many others, I thought homeschooling was kind of a quaint, fringe thing.  If you had strong religious objections to what was taught in public school, or you lived waayyy out in the country and it didn't make sense to send your kids into town - that kind of thing.  Basically, I thought all the homeschooling moms were the kind who wear denim skirts and grow their hair out long and kinda look like the scared FLDS women:

As in so many things in life - I was wrong.  I first saw that homeschooling could be more mainstream when I read Ree Drummond's blog.  Homeschool was discussed as a viable, normal choice for the first time for me in the playgroup I had with fellow Bradley birth moms after Vicki Jo was born.  As I became more exposed to the Weston A. Price Foundation practices of diet and lifestyle, I heard more and more about homeschool families.  There seems to be a large crossover between natural foods and medicine and homeschool, for whatever reason.  Finally, after moving to Nashville and our church, I met several families who had successfully homeschooled their children.  And not a denim skirt in sight.  It's a choice that's growing in popularity in my neighborhood, and there seems to be a wealth of support.  Co-ops, tutorials, fellow homeschool families.  They are everywhere!

I have extremely ambivalent feelings about homeschooling my kids, and they center around three main concerns:  (1) I feel duty as a conscientious citizen to support local public schools so that the community can benefit from the investment of my family's resources.  (2) I may not be the best teacher for my kids.  (3) The public schools in our area may not be the best fit for my kids.

1)  I'm a proud product of excellent public schools.  I have to say that I really didn't even understand the elite private school system in our country until I went to Columbia.  It was so far removed from my reality.  My hometown had no competitive private schools.  There were a few parochial schools, but not even one that went through junior high at that point.  Our schools worked well for a few reasons:  there were not other drains on the system (no magnets, no private schools); the community was small enough that they could be funded by real estate taxes and have districts equitably divided to include high values in each school zone; there was a critical mass of invested families; and we did not have the historic issues that seem to plague many school systems since integration (for example, city/county school district mergers, or white flight to private "Christian" schools).  I recognize that Metro Nashville Public Schools can only be as great as the families that are committed to them.  I hear my teacher friends lamenting that there is "only so much" that can be done in the classroom.  At the end of the day, the family really is the first and greatest teacher.  If I opt out of that system, am I becoming part of the problem rather than solution?

2)  I'm pretty sure that I'm not called to be a stay at home mom.  (Although never say never!)  I received a calling into ordained ministry before I received a calling as a parent, and they are equally relevant and demanding calls in my life.  Of course, even without a ministerial appointment, I would remain an ordained pastor.  But this is really an aside in the conversation.  The point is that I am not a trained, qualified teacher.  I did not go to school to learn pedagogy.  I'm not knocking anyone who wants to teach their kids at home without these qualifications.  But great teachers are called into teaching.  I know this because some of my closest friends are amazing teachers and school administrators.  And to put up with what they put up with - friends, it has to be a calling.  I'm not sure that I have received that calling in life.

3)  But let's counterbalance numbers 1 and 2 by saying that our particular public schools here in Nashville may not be the best for my kids.  For instance, I hear a lot about recess (or the lack thereof) these days.  I will address this much more in a later post on our public school options (because there are many), but I feel that plenty of outdoor play and exercise do much to enhance education.  I'm concerned about the level of testing that is happening in all public schools.  I'm not really sure what to make of Common Core (although I refuse to be alarmist about it - most of my teacher friends find it to be totally fine).  I guess the bigger question is:  does the issue of inequality in public schools get balanced on the backs of my children?  All parents have to make that decision (although some have fewer choices).  My social justice crusader side says:  absolutely.  My protective mother bear side says:  nope.

So, clear as mud, right?  Now you know how I feel!  But when I entertain the option of homeschooling, there are several sort of "schools" that I'm attracted to.  Montessori would be amazing (and God knows I could never afford to send my kids to the private Montessori schools around here) - but once again, I am not trained.  And Montessori in particular is a pedagogy that requires precise training with the materials and philosophy involved.  Oak Meadow curriculum is beautiful, soft, warm, and Waldorf-y.  I have recently discovered Charlotte Mason and fallen in love with the talking points of her educational system.  All of these streams of educational philosophy have dedicated followings and groups in my area.

The part of me that loves planning and filling out lists just want to dive straight into designing and executing curriculum for my kids.  But being able to do that stuff doesn't necessarily make you a good teacher.

Thought this was interesting.
The good part is that I have time to decide.  For now, I lurk around several homeschool Google groups and Facebook pages.  I see what moms struggle with.  There is even a beautiful community of single moms who are homeschooling and supporting one another.  I have barely even touched here on the practical issues that homeschooling my kids would entail.  Would they just come with me to the office?  Would we all work together?  Would I have them in some kind of childcare, and then do school in the evenings and on the weekends?  There are many possibilities, but all of them present quite a bit of upstream swimming against our prevalent cultural model of the "school day."

One thing I'm not afraid of is being iconoclastic.  I have already opted out of a lot of what society expects of me.  But this is a decision that is much bigger than anyone's opinion.  A helpful piece of advice I got early on in considering homeschooling was:  "just take it one year at a time."  I'm not deciding my kids' entire educational future if I do decide to homeschool.  Food for thought.

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