The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling
If your child is not thriving in school, consider this. Schools these days exist mainly to keep children from getting into trouble on the streets while their mothers are away from home working. A shocking proportion of high school graduates have no education. There are school leavers who are still illiterate. The primary function of schools is certainly no longer to educate your child!
Three years back when I decided unilaterally to remove my daughter from the conventional schooling system, I was at the end of my tether. My daughter had been physically manhandled by a sadistic teacher in Grade 1; the same teacher had consistently intimidated her so much that her learning capacity went from natural ease to nothing. Even changing teachers in the second grade didn’t help much although her second grade teacher was truly wonderful; by the time teachers changed once more in third grade, she got an inefficient, sadistic teacher once again.
Consider a scenario. A subject teacher (not the class teacher) can’t find my daughter’s test book in the classroom cupboard. She takes a book (not a test book) from another child and lets my daughter write the test in it. She then withholds the test, even though I enquire repeatedly, because my daughter first has to have another test book! (Wait – figure it out – the book was probably given to another child when they were lacking a book, too!) So I go and buy another book. The teacher still withholds the test – the book has to have a yellow cover, without a yellow cover it doesn’t count. At which point I seriously begin to wonder why I’m surrounding my child with such small-minded people?
Now consider this. My daughter (who is far behind in all subjects due to being mentally “absentee” in class, out of psychological avoidance) gets full marks in a test. I praise her and say to her: “See, you can! Full marks! I’m impressed!” At which point the teacher turns to me and tells me, really, if it carries on in this line she is personally going to see that my daughter fails. – Say what?
…And so on. There were more such little incidences than I can even remember – in the two months that she attended third grade! By the time this last scene happened, my husband and I were in the habit of pumping up my daughter’s self-esteem every minute of the day that she was home; drop her off at school in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon realizing that she had once again been belittled so badly by her teachers and her friends that she had nothing left. If your child feels very down about school or doesn’t want to talk, be suspicious! Abuse comes in various forms, and teachers are often masters at emotional and psychological rather than physical abuse.
It was this promise of the teacher to “fail her at all cost” that brought it home to me that no matter how we worked on the situation, the outcome was pre-decided by an uncaring teacher, by the middle of the first school term.
180 degree change
Once my daughter understood that she didn’t have to go to school anymore, she took about three weeks to rediscover who she was. In this time I got my happy, bubbly, dreamy child back whom I had lost to the schooling system. I gave her a good long holiday – six months – and then we “caught up” on Grade 3 – the level at which I had removed her from the system.
Within three months we covered all Grade 3 work and were well into Grade 4, and then it was time to break for Christmas. I need to add at this point that I was homeschooling her only in the mornings, from about 9h to about 12h every day, because I work in the afternoons.
One of my main objectives was to get her to work independently, because that was her biggest shortfall in the schooling system. (Did I mention that kids who thrive brilliantly in school are rarely removed and homeschooled?) It did take a few months for me to be able to release the controls a little. The other thing that I still find worrying is her speed of work. She doesn’t seem to see a point in getting things done within a certain time. This is one of the considerations for entering her back into the school system this year or the next. She needs to learn to work faster. This is unlikely to happen without deadlines.
I taught her the first year “free-hand”, building a curriculum from what I knew was required in Math, and adding other subjects for in-depth study, creating projects for her to solve, writing twenty questions about texts on biology, ecology and cultures for which she had to find the answers in the text, letting her write summaries of study topics and so on. She learned to pay attention while reading, and to find important facts in a broader text. I taught her how to use other resources (book encyclopaedias, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Google, dictionaries and video documentaries). There were two reasons I sourced her curriculum from first principles: Firstly, there were no books available for her level. I don’t say that lightly. I went through all the book stores and found a lot of material for grades much lower and much higher, but not her grade or anywhere near. Secondly, the curriculum that the state prescribes here is not enough. I wanted her to learn how to study a subject in depth and emerge with a deep understanding and knowledge. This is another of the homeschooling goals we have achieved. She knows how to study.
By the end of the second year (her Grade 4) I was exhausted. To invent an in-depth curriculum for another year looked impossible. I also knew I ought to teach her physics and history. Although my father repeatedly volunteered to teach her these two pickled subjects, it somehow never happened. I let her read her own history in her encyclopaedia and skipped physics altogether. (In the state school curriculum they don’t do physics yet in Grade 5). I soldiered on, in the meantime teaching my son grade 1. Homeschool became more fun with two children. I also realized what fun it is to teach someone who doesn’t have a resistance to schoolwork!
Somewhere around the middle of this past year I found books for my daughter’s grade. I shouted for joy, bought them and started her on them – and she was floored at how easy they are. Yes, to someone who is used to University-style independent study, these pre-chewed programs are certainly easy! As for my little boy, he reads and writes now, and his math is far advanced beyond Grade 1.
Loneliness and overload
By the end of 2008 I was finished with my nerves. I loved the study group we had going here in the mornings – my daughter at the breakfast table with her work, my son at his blue nursery school table with his – me behind my laptop writing, and checking on them intermittently. But I was beginning to get nervous. The assaults from all sides of the family that I wasn’t doing right by them, withholding them from having a normal school life, friends… perhaps even not covering the academic basics, were beginning to wear. I had been intending to organize my children into extramural activities and had failed due to a very simple logical fallacy: I work. Every afternoon from the time the schools close to evening, sometimes quite late evening, I teach people violin, or there would be no food on the table. So booking children into extramurals without anyone volunteering to take them there was a dead-end. (To be fair, for a while my sister took my daughter to swimming lessons – but those were one-on-one, so no social contact was established.)
At some point during the Christmas recess I realized that I was at the end. My children are going to school this year. My daughter needs to learn to deal with stress and deadlines and tests – she is eleven now, and better equipped for it. My son needs friends. I doubt that I would have homeschooled him in the first place, because all the schoolwork is easy for him. But who knows.
I’m going to miss them!
A back door
It’s encouraging to know that no matter what school brings – there is always the possibility of removing either of my children, or both, from the system again.
If your child doesn’t do well in school – consider homeschooling. Homeschooled children learn a lot more, and they learn more relevant things. They learn principle along with content; the content they learn is deeper, and the principle is how to learn actively, by themselves. You as parent choose their curriculum (although there are many curricula you can actually choose from, if you prefer that route). Homeschoolers get on better with their siblings and their parents; they are more polite and considerate (because it’s you coaching them, not 30 unruly classmates) and they don’t generally get head lice. They are a lot healthier (we skipped our skyrocketing winter doctor’s bills these past two years). They are happier too, because nobody breaks down their character in front of an audience of 30 peers. However, unless you are at home full-time, consider leaving them at a place where they can have friends in the afternoons. And if you are at home, book them into activities for their social contact.
Also remember that homeschooling is not an irreversible decision. Neither is the school system. Both options are open to you.