I recently came to the conclusion that it is in Buddy’s best interests to homeschool him. Schools in Texas are simply not kid friendly, and I am very worried about some things happening in his pre-school and that are happening in the districts. I am excited about being able to take this path with him, but I’m also mad. I’m mad that the public schools are so toxic to learning that I feel my only two options are to pay a lot of money I don’t have for private school or to homeschool.
Some background. Pretty much everyone in my family has been a teacher at some point in their careers. Three of my four grandparents have taught in the schools (the fourth gave flying lessons). My mom has worked as a kindergarten teacher for a private school, and I’ve studied child development, worked with children who are differently abled, and taught children and adults in several different settings.
Growing up, my parents were very anti-homeschool. They had a lot of valid complaints about it. It’s largely unregulated. Concerns about Evangelically Christian curriculums and socialization. However, I also have many different learning disabilities, and I really struggled in school in elementary school. My parents advocated for me, and often it was like hitting a brick wall. I know people look at me and say I have a Master’s degree so it can’t have been that bad, but I often feel like I made my accomplishments in spite of school and not because of it.
People who know me now also don’t realize that in elementary school, I hated it so much I never planned on going to college. It wasn’t until things got easier for me in junior high that I changed my plans. But what I found in elementary school made me hate learning.
My parents had been disillusioned by their experiences with me, and for my mom I will say not pulling me out and homeschooling me is one of her biggest regrets. Right now I have the means to generate income in the evenings so I can stay home with them during the day, and though it will be a tremendous amount of effort on my part I feel it is the best route to go down.
That said, I am angry. I am angry that the schools in my area are so not kid friendly. I’m also angry that I have yet to meet a parent in this area who is happy with what is happening in the schools, and I wonder why these policies are being pushed through even though they are so unpopular.
What am I talking about when I say schools are not kid friendly?
- No talking at lunch. One of the school districts in my area has a policy that kids eat in silence and then lay their heads down when they are finished. If they talk they are sent to detention. Um, isn’t one of the selling points of school socialization?
- Standardized tests. Texas started this trend. It is deeply entrenched here. No one particularly likes it but the general attitude is, “I survived standardized testing and I turned out OK, so I’m not going to protest it.” When I worked as a substitute, one classroom in particular stands out in mind. The lesson plan for math was to have the kids go through the testing manual, just like they were taking the test. This teacher had her lesson planning book out and I looked at it. It was not just something she had assigned for the sub, EVERY DAY all she did for math was having them answer questions in the testing manual. I had several kids ask me about a question that tested their knowledge on the mean, median and mode, and I had to stop class and give an impromptu lecture on it. None of them had heard about these concepts. In short, I do not want my kids to go to school where the textbook is a test manual.
- No playgrounds. I have subbed at elementary schools with no playgrounds and no recess. Kids need to move, and they need to play. They both learn better and behave better when they have time for unstructured play. But these days people see unstructured play as worthless…
- Homework. My son is in pre-k. He gets a packet of handwriting homework to complete throughout the week. This is not age appropriate work, it also doesn’t teach handwriting that well, and if anything seems like torture for the parents. It also advantages kids who have parents who have the time/means to do this with them over children with parents who do not.
- Labeling kids instead of behaviors. When I took an educational psychology class in college, we were told about a study where they gave a group of students a test, randomly selected several students and told those teachers that those students were gifted and they would be the next Einstein. Let me make this clear, these kids were actually average, no different than their peers. The only difference was in how they were labeled to their teachers. At the end of the year, those students who in actuality did no better or worse than their peers, surpassed their peers on a test given to them at the end of the year. The reason was because of the attention that their teachers gave to them. Cameras in the classroom showed that the teachers subconsciously set those kids up for success in a way they did not set up other students, and those students benefited. Sadly, we also know the reverse occurs. A kid gets saddled with the label of being “dumb” or a “troublemaker”, and teachers look for behaviors that confirms those labels while they discard behaviors that don’t as flukes, if they notice it at all. So I was very angry when I started getting notes home that my four year old with autism was being “defiant” for not staying in his assigned area. For one thing, I’m not even sure he understands the concept of staying in an assigned area, for another, teachers should know better than to label him as defiant! They should describe his behavior, not saddle him with a dangerous label that could follow him as he progresses in school! (Further, they have the behavior color codes, and every day he gets the perfect color code, which tells me his behavior is not disruptive and giving him such a negative label for not following instructions or staying in his seat when he has documented issues showing he does not always understand what is expected of him troubles me).
As someone who knows so much about child development, it is frustrating to see so little of the fruits of what we have found works best to help children learn in the schools. Kids learn best through play. Kids learn a heckuva lot more playing with blocks than they do with flashcards. Kids often want to please, but sometimes can’t figure out what we want because their brains and senses are still developing, which is why we describe the problematic behavior rather than labeling them as troublemakers! Or rather, this is what we should be doing, but aren’t.
I want to send my children to a school environment that is based on play, that gives them lots of time outdoors to move, that has someone help them as they learn to interact with others. We know so much about what works when it comes to educating children. And I am mad as hell that we do not see this in our schools.
I’m mad that my tax dollars are going to support a school system that I see as being so kid unfriendly that I am worried about continuing to send my son there. And the general consensus among my fellow counselors and specialists in autism when I tell them about my decision has been, “that’s the best thing you can do. The earlier the better.” The fact that people know and accept that the schools are not kid friendly, especially for kids who are differently abled, and movements to change it in my area are practically non-existent (I’ve checked) is maddening.
It also concerns me that in Texas, there’s pretty much a two tier educational system. A quality one for those who can afford private school and/or have the means and education to homeschool effectively, and then the lesser public school options. Yes, I could put my efforts to trying to starting a movement for reform, but my parents were never very successful, and I figure any change would happen too late for my children to benefit. The better option seems to be to put my efforts into giving them a quality homeschooling education.
I found a secular curriculum where the lessons plans are done out with modifications for children with autism. My child’s progress will be tracked by a computer, which will make things easier on me as I still will have to see clients in private practice to stay afloat financially. I also plan to keep Buddy in private therapy and to find a music group and swimming classes for socialization. He also loves his Sunday School class at the UU and will be exposed to different points of views there. I really dislike the idea of homeschooling to indoctrinate.
A final thing I think is imperative is to read the critiques from adults who were homeschooled. And reading and listening with the intent to understand and learn from them. What did they like about it? What would they change about it? What can I do to avoid the mistakes their parents made and build on what successes their parents had?
I’m making a big decision that will impact my kids tremendously. I owe it to them to make sure I give them an education that will prepare them for life in the real world.