Sunday, May 31, 2009

Top Ten Reason Homeschoolers Are Doing a Right Thing

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Ten Reasons Why Homeschooling Parents Are Doing the Wrong Thing:

Not Tuesday, but I've got a Ten. Here are my top ten reasons why homeschooling parents are doing a right thing:

10. So “You were totally home schooled” may be an insult among college freshman in the dorm.
Let's balance it with:
"Homeschooling seems to be working great. Your children are so comfortable speaking with adults." (Our pediatrician.)
"I love having homeschooled kids in the library. They're so well-behaved." (Our librarian.)
"I wish I was homeschooled." (Many children my children meet and play with on the playground, at gymnastics, in the neighborhood.)
And my personal favorite, since college is, after all, about getting an education and not just a taller version of middle school: "I love having homeschooled students in my classroom. They ask thoughtful questions and are more interested in learning the material instead of slapping something together for a grade." (A college professor living on my old block.)

9. "Students–from little ones to teens–deserve a learning-focused place to study. In modern society, we call them schools."
Hahahahahaha! Hoohoohoohoohoohoohoohoohoo! Heeheeheeheeheeheeheehee! This is supposed to be an argument against, I think, doing schoolwork at the dining room table (and by extension at home in general). Although I'm pretty sure public school families eat their Fruit Loops and meatloaf at home at their tables too, right smack where many kids do homework.

What kind of argument is this? The table on which the learning takes place has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of learning. I could quibble back about buzzing fluorescent lights, the kid flicking his pencil, whispered conversations, texting in class, staring out the window wishing to be outside and on and on, but the reality is that most children will learn where they are taught. Having a learning-focused structure and routine in a homeschool or a public school is far more important than the table or the place.

8. Is homeschooling selfish?
I enjoy my childrens' company and know that their time with us is short, so I want to savor every moment. Is that selfish? We love learning and exploring together. Is that selfish? Though I am committed to my community and expect my children to model kindness and compassion and good behavior, I don't feel a responsibility to send my children to school to be role models for others. As a matter of fact, I think that would be a struggle for them, and I also believe there are many other areas in which they can reach out to others far more effectively. Is that selfish? I know that I can offer a quality rigorous individualized education that allows them time to explore their passions and develop their talents and gives them time to play and be children. Is that selfish? We happily and willingly pay our tax dollars to support our local and state schools, and we choose not to send our children to already crowded public schools because we've thoughtfully and carefully chosen a different lifestyle, one that suits us. Is that selfish?

Maybe. Maybe not.

I believe in sending out into the world creative, joyful, well-adjusted, educated young adults with a sense of honor and of responsibility to their communities. That's my goal, and it's an important one, not just for me and my family, but for the community and the world at large.

Not selfish.

7. God has given us our children to raise up and doesn't have anything official to say one way or the other about homeschooling. That's a conversation between Him and those asking. Period.

(Quite frankly, #7 was a cheap shot. Score a point for that tolerance kids are supposed to be learning in schools. Or not.)

6. Homeschooling parents/teachers are confident and want to teach our children to learn. Since we're educated and wealthy (see linked post, argument 8) we can teach many subjects, and for those we can't, we often can afford to pay for tutoring, private classes, college classes or internships. Even when we can't, we're creative and smart enough to find resources in our communities for subjects we are not comfortable teaching. We learn with our children, which offers them the realization that the world is not divided so easily into "experts" and "non-experts" or "imparters of learning and wisdom" and "receivers of learning and wisdom."

Notice I didn't list my degrees or qualifications. I've got them, but it's more important that I am willing, like any good teacher, to continue to educate myself in the subjects I'm teaching and how to teach them.

5. I can understand why some school teachers might feel threatened by homeschooling, even though my personal decision is to teach my children at home is absolutely no reflection of my beliefs about public schools or public school teachers. As a matter of fact, most public school teachers are heroes in my book, and I support my neighborhood schools. But one person's like or dislike of a particular education style is neither here nor there, and to expect to make a rational case against anything by saying, "I don't like it" is a stretch. I don't like chocolate cake, but that doesn't mean it's bad.

4. "Homeschooling could breed intolerance, and maybe even racism. Unless the student is being homeschooled at the MTV Real World house, there’s probably only one race/sexuality/background in the room. How can a young person learn to appreciate other cultures if he or she doesn’t live among them?"
Hmm. It could. Because hey, I may have mentioned that families are the primary unit for socialization. But then again, I could write a similar statement about public school. When we homeschool, the world is our classroom. Our children learn and interact with people of all ages, beliefs, abilities, and socio-economic backgrounds and get to explore their unique talents rather than being stuck in age-segregated classroom with children of roughly the same socio-economic status (because they're all from the same neighborhood) learning exactly what everyone else is learning. We study other cultures in-depth instead of skimming, skipping, focusing primarily on Western and American culture and history, and making a Chinese dragon every Chinese New Year and calling it a study of the rich and complex culture and history of China.

And "homeschooling" is not synonymous with "schooling at home." You can find homeschoolers out in the community, visiting the elderly, working with master gardeners in community gardens, volunteering in the animal shelters, serving meals at the food banks, teaching young children, helping their neighbors, out in the woods. That's an awful lot of exposure to the many subcultures we can find in our own communities.

3. Oh boy.
A) Socializing children by throwing them into a room year after year filled mostly with children of the same ages....not natural socialization. Large-scale public age-segregated education is a fairly recent historical development, folks.

Ask a teacher who's been teaching for 20+ years about how behavior has changed in their classrooms over the years. (Go ahead, and before you criticize, I have asked. I've had this conversation with many experienced teachers.) They'll usually point to two things: Video games and television, and families. The family is and should be the primary unit of socialization. Even the most homeschool-hating teacher has to agree with that. Kids with parents who expect and insist on appropriate social behaviors usually display appropriate social behaviors, no matter what their school choice. Add in the bonus of getting out into our communities and homeschoolers follow something much closer to the time-tested model of healthy human socialization than age-segregated group education. Not a criticism of public schools or group education. I'm just pointing it out.

And b) Only an hour a day? Including neighborhood play time? Obviously the writer of this post hasn't looked at my calendar, or the calendar of the homeschool families I know. As far as socialization, at the park you might be able to pick out the homeschooled children because they're friendly to everyone, not just the kids their age. They're confident with adults. But other than that, guess what? They're kind and rotten and sweet and selfish and funny and angry and creative and quiet and wild. They're kids just like all the other kids.

2. Homeschooling parents are risk-takers. We're not necessarily folks who will choose the path that everyone else is taking. Guess what? That's good for us, for our children, for our communities and for our society. None of us, parents or teachers, want cookie-cutter kids, a society of automatons. When families choose to homeschool, we're "gambling" that we're creating a life-long love of learning, that our children will be leaders, that they'll grow up to be people who think for themselves and take risks. Every path has risks, and the fact that a thoughtful decision was made for a child to go to public school or private school or to homeschool is far more important than choosing blindly because other people are doing it or because it's just the way we do things, no matter which path you choose.

1. "And finally… have you met someone homeschooled? Not to hate, but they do tend to be pretty geeky."
So glad there's no hate there. Who was concerned about tolerance and acceptance?

The homeschooled children I know, from preschool age up to post-high school graduates, have all been exactly who they are. Some confident, some creative, some intelligent, some funny, some mannerly, some charming, and yes, even some "geeky." Just like kids in public school. Just like kids all over the world. Kids are kids, people are people.

It's time to put to rest the idea that homeschooled children are socially inept. Or, for that matter, that they are all paragons of good behavior and virtue. We're just like everyone else. Some kids are socially gifted, most are socially fine, and some struggle with social skills. (Which, incidentally may be why some are pulled out of school for homeschooling in the first place, because the teasing or the feeling of not fitting in became intolerable.) But the idea that sitting in a classroom for several hours a day=appropriate socialization, or that homeschoolers never get out around other children, or heck, even that all public-schooled students are mouthy cursing pregnant's just. not. that. simple. When we start making those kinds of generalizations we distill the richness and variety of human experience into something so much less.

Gah, I hate those Pollyanna people who chirp things like, "We should all learn to celebrate our differences," but (shhh, don't tell!) I may be turning into one of them. Goodness, this forty(ish) thing and all of that "with age comes wisdom" stuff sucks. (Not that I'm necessarily wise, just...nicer? More tolerant? Definitely older, anyway. Heh.) Let's take a little time to learn and respect. It's all right to disagree, but maybe before we start taking potshots (ahem, "God hates homeschooling"??) at someone we don't understand, we should try having a conversation. A real conversation, the kind where we ask one another questions and try to see why others do what they do. We might actually learn something. And that's what it's all about.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This deserves its own tiny little blog post....

This morning, I picked my first red, ripe strawberry of the season.

And I didn't share.

What We're Reading

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barabara Kingsolver.

The story of one family's attempt to eat locally. I haven't gotten much further in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle since the day I used it as a teeny tiny pillow for my back yard nap in the sun. It's been sitting Under Things. You know that's an actual place, right? Under Things. It's near its sister city Behind Things, on the way to On The Floor. It has been recently recovered from Out of Sight, Out of Mind, the province in which Under Things and so forth are located. Actually, it was under my Rainbow Resource catalog, and I re-found Animal, Vegetable once I finally placed my curriculum order. My dear friend B passed this book my way once she'd finished, and the first couple chapters have been engaging and fun to read. I can't wait to finish. But first I've got to finish my other books in progress.

The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry.
The Art of the Commonplace is taking some time to read. Partly because I keep losing it. Mostly because Berry's essays are rich and thought-provoking, beautifully written. Trying to read the entire book at once would be like trying to eat an entire cheesecake in one sitting. Once I finish reading an essay, or even a part of one, I need time to process what I've read before beginning the next. Berry focuses on the importance of community and advocates a return to a more organic agrarian-based model for society. Read a Wendell Berry essay online: "The Pleasure of Eating"

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story, Diane Ackerman.
A true story of a Polish family, a zookeeper and his wife, who saved the lives of Polish Jews during WWII by hiding them at the Warsaw zoo. It's a remarkable story about remarkable and brave people.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built: A No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel, Alexander McCall Smith.
I'm a fan of Mma Ramotswe and her old Botswana ways. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels are charming and delightful. I recommend them to many friends looking for a good book for leisurely reading. I've been enjoying the series on television, as the books have been turned into an HBO series. Botswana is beautiful, and unlike most television series these days, the HBO version of McCall's books are good clean fun.

Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers.
Four-year-old gent has asked me to teach him to read, so I'm digging the Bob books out of the basement and reading of the adventures of Mat and Sam once more. Predictable plot, flat characters. But who could ever tire of "Mat sat on Sam. Sam sat on Mat."???? I already know how the story ends, but the giggles never get old.

The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois.
"It's good," says fine young gent, 8. He should write book reviews. Heck, maybe I'll start reviewing books like that. Good. Bad. Okay. Heh. It would be easier than trying to find something to say. I've never read The Twenty-One Balloons, so I can't say if it's Good, Bad or Okay. But fine young gent seems to like it.

Island of the Giant Pokemon (Pokemon Chapter Book #2), Tracey West.
As great literature goes, eh. But six-year-old gent's first chapter book was a Pokemon book from the library. He's reading and enjoying, and I'm sure I read plenty of fluff when I was a kid too.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), J. K. Rowling.
Fine young gent, 8, finished The Goblet of Fire and watched the movie. As per our agreement, I am now reading number 5. Why, oh why did I agree to this? The last time I read a Potter book out loud, I swore I'd never do so again. Not because I don't enjoy the stories, but they're so long. And the gents insist I do voices, which is a challenge both because my British accents stink and because there are so darn many characters that it's hard to come up with a distinctive voice for each. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our children! Ah, it's not that bad. I'm a Potter fan, and one of the benefits of reading the books out loud is that I get to experience the story with my gents.

Serving Up the Harvest: Celebrating the Goodness of Fresh Vegetables, Andrea Chesman.
And a gardening/cooking book, my Mother's Day present to myself. A seasonal cookbook based on the produce available throughout the year, Serving Up the Harvest will come in handy this summer when we get our CSA box, and when we harvest our own veg from the garden. Who knew reading vegetable recipes would make me hungry and impatient to get into the kitchen? I've got plans for the spinach in the garden already! Yum.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The children's hospital

Last weekend was lovely lady's choir trip. Seventeen middle-school-aged girls, six chaperones riding public transportation all over downtown Portland. It was a weekend jam-packed with activities, and the girls had a blast.

We got to ride the aerial tram to Doernbecher Children's Hospital to sing for the patients. Children with cancer and blood disorders, children who've been seriously injured, children with severe disabilities.

The woman who met us at the tram told the girls, "It's okay to feel sad, but it's hard for the patients to see you cry. If you start to feel sad, go find one of the adults and they'll help."

That was great advice for the first two floors. The girls sang on a busy floor with children going in and out and stopping to listen, many of them in wheelchairs with some sort of cast. The girls sang on a floor where the patients were all isolated so that they wouldn't give or get infections.

Then we went to the next floor. Many of the patients had doors decorated with their pictures, their ages, their hobbies. We moms had all heard the songs a bajillion times before, so we read the doors. "Hobbies: Diving, soccer, singing" and "Favorite ice cream: Chocolate peanut-butter" and "Pets: Cha-cha (cat) and Swimmy (fish)." Beautiful smiling pictures of the children in their best health, playing soccer, sitting on the grass, playing the guitar.

Then we individually got to these stats on the doors we were reading:
Age: 13
Age: 15
Age: 12

And we looked at our beautifully healthy girls singing in the hallway. Our daughters and their friends, girls the same ages as the patients in those rooms. We had to step around the corner so that the girls couldn't see us, and there weren't any grownups there to explain and to help us feel better. So we tried to think about something else, anything else.

Once you become a mother, you can't help but understand how precious are the lives of children. You grieve for the worry and love and fear that those mothers are feeling, even knowing that your own tears don't help them one little bit. You picture your own child lying there in that bed. You're brought face-to-face with a parent's worst nightmare, watching your child ill, suffering, dying.

Later one of the girls asked, curious, "Why are you so sad?"

"When you're a mother, you'll understand," replied one of the moms.

Hug your babies tight. And give them an extra kiss for me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

A Day in the Life: Here Comes the Sun

It's been gray and chilly and drizzly. I have been utterly exhausted for days, so tired that I wanted nothing more than to just crawl into bed, pull the covers over my head and sleep for a week.

Today there was sun.

I dug up the grass that had invaded the strawberry bed and planted new strawberries. I weeded the garden. I thinned the spinach, the beets and the salad greens, so we're having fresh green salad tonight for dinner, the first harvest of the season. I planted basil and baby bok choi and carrots.

I had help in the garden. Kindergarten gent and his second-grade cousin each earned thirteen cents squashing snails, and they sat on the edge of the garden box snacking on baby bok choi they thinned from the salad mix. Kindergarten gent will not eat any green food that we put on his plate. Green food is defiled and heinous and foul. But I casually mentioned that his older brother loved the bok choi so much he ate it straight out of the garden, and next thing I knew my greens-hating gent was pulling off a leaf and chewing. "Yum!" he said, and helped himself to another. I tried not to faint or show my amazement in any other way, lest I call his attention to the fact that the food, in any other circumstances, might be considered green.

I baked bread, the honey whole-wheat bread I used to make when I was a kid.

I took care of the chicks and the chickens, cleaning and watering and feeding. Collected two round eggs, one still warm.

I read a book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver) and I napped in the sun. Well, that's not entirely true. I read about two sentences of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Then I used the book as a sort of tiny pillow. The napping part is true.

I am sunburned and dirty and scratched and tired. My hair is frizzy and wild. My fingernails are dirty, and I went barefoot in the garden so my heels are a disgrace.

But I feel whole. I didn't realize until this day how much I craved sunshine.

I just took two beautiful round brown loaves of bread out of the oven. The house smells of fresh bread and soup, and my favorite ceramic bowl is full of fresh tossed greens-spinach, beet greens, lettuce. My children are out-of-doors riding bikes and looking for bugs in the grass. A day of sunshine and good work and outdoor play has restored me. I feel like my self again, refreshed. I'm off to swing in the hammock until dinner time, with my book.

Life is good.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


It's chilly and sprinkling outside. Here's what I said to my eight-year-old about, oh, fifteen minutes ago when I sent him outside to play: "If you get cold, come in and get a jacket."

How stupid is that?

First of all, he's eight. He knows what to do when he gets cold. It's not rocket science. That ranks right up there with "Be careful" (duh) and "Don't fall." (Also duh.)

Second, I just looked outside. Not only is he not wearing a coat, he's taken off his shirt.

A Late Tuesday Ten: What's Up?

Ten Things Keeping Me Busy, or An Update of Sorts

1. Planning a choir trip.
I'm planning a three-day trip for lovely lady's choir. Phone calls, emails, faxes, meetings. Details. Shopping. Fielding phone calls from parents worried about everything from their trip account balance to the swine flu. I can't wait to go on the trip, and I can't wait until it's over.

2. Choir.
Spring choir started, upping the number of choristers in my family (and thus the number of separate rehearsals for the Mom Taxi) to four. The Spring Concert took up an entire day with rehearsals and performances. Now the concert is over, the spring choir is over, and the season is winding down.

3. Karate.
We signed up for a family karate class. The boys and loving husband and I attend together. it's a blast, and well worth the time spent, but it takes up two mornings a week, time we really don't have to spare.

4. Swim lessons.
Fine Young Gent the Eldest has been taking swim lessons all year, with the goal of joining the swim team. Fortunately for our schedule, he loves swimming but is re-thinking the swim team idea because he also loves karate. But I bit the bullet and signed up his younger brothers for swim lessons this session. My thinking: I've got to be at the pool anyway, and if I take them now, no summer swim lessons. So I sit on my rear end on those ridged metal bleachers for 30 minutes, twice a week, reading a book. They learn to swim, I get to read. Win-win.

5. Reading.
I manage to fit it into the cracks of my life, and I still read during the boys' Quiet Time. Right now I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver), still working on Green Housekeeping (Ellen Steinbeck) and The Art of the Commonplace (Wendell Berry), just finished Free Range Kids (Lenore Skenazy) and The Backyard Homestead (Carleen Madigan, ed.)

6. Laundry.

7. School.
Math, language, science, the works. We're studying astronomy this term. For a while we had a balloon solar system on the boys' ceiling. Second-grade gent is working on writing a novel using the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program. Sounds a little ambitious, but he's having a blast. It sounds so...pretentious. "Yeah, my second grader is trying to write his first novel. What's yours up to?" Really, he's just having fun filling out the pages and using his creative brain to write a story just like every other normal second-grade kid. Kindergarten gent has been grousing about doing school work even though it takes him only 20-30 minutes, plus our science readings and fun activities. I told him "Suck it up buttercup."

8. Play.
Still making sure that despite my busy schedule the boys get plenty of time for the "work" of childhood: Play. Especially as spring rolls out the sunshine and flowers.

8 1/2. Thinking about the garden and getting outside while the boys play.
It's been pouring rain. They go play in it. I look out and think, "Gee, I wish I enjoyed gardening in the rain."

9. Watching American Idol.

10. Not writing on my blog.
Too busy. When things settle down there'll be more pictures, more projects, more out-of-doors.