I was homeschooled from 2nd through 7th grade. My husband was homeschooled most of his childhood years. We said many times that we would never homeschool our kids, for various reasons. We enrolled our older 2 kids in public school when they turned 4. In Texas, the city we lived in offered pre-k to children for free through the regular elementary school. It was apparent right away that our kids were advanced academically compared to their peers. Little did I know that the reason was because I had technically been homeschooling them since birth. I taught them numbers and letters, how to count and draw animals. I played board games with them and helped them. put together puzzles. I taught my 2nd daughter, Meghan, the beginnings of reading when she was 3. But somehow, I didn’t think I was capable of homeschooling them once they reached “school age”. In a way, I was right. I’m not capable of teaching them like they would be taught at school. However, that’s not the problem. Now I see that the problem with homeschooling is trying to recreate a school at home.
There was initially nothing wrong with our children being at school. They made friends, they liked their teachers, and the school was great about meeting the children’s individual needs educationally. When my oldest, Elizabeth, had trouble with reading comprehension in kindergarten, they placed her in a separate class for a short time daily to work on that specific skill. Soon, little things began to bother my husband and I, though. For instance, when asked questions about a story on a worksheet, Elizabeth would get answers marked wrong often. When I would look at her work after she brought it home, I would understand the answer she was “supposed” to give, but I would also understand why Elizabeth answered the way she did. My husband and I have taught our children from day 1 to think critically about things. Schools don’t value critical thinking or questioning the “right” answer; they promote rote memorization of a set curriculum and regurgitation of the material on worksheets and tests. When asked the question, “what do you think the main character felt?”, the teacher doesn’t actually want to know what you think, they want to know if you remember what you were told to think.
Unfortunately, we chose to overlook these instances, because we believed that all-in-all, public school was still better than homeschool. And again, we were right, in a way. If all you’re going to do is recreate a public school at home, your kids might as well stay at public school!
Fast forward to the tail end of Elizabeth’s 2nd grade year and Meghan’s kindergarten year. My husband had just gotten out of the Army, so we moved to California to live near our families. I quickly realized that public schools in CA are quite different from those in TX. We only had a couple months left in the school year, and we knew we’d be moving that summer, so we chose to stick it out in hopes that their next school would be better. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. Their new school was a small, rural school. The teachers were unwilling and/or incapable of meeting the needs of the students’ individual needs. Elizabeth was bored and turned off by the tedious work and lack of one-on-one interaction with her teacher. Meghan began to seriously dislike the lack of answers to her questions and no outlet for her creativity. Then things got really bad. Elizabeth began crying nightly. She didn’t want to go to school. She has always had trouble talking about her feelings, so we tried to figure out what was going on, but we were just met with tears. One day, we got our answer. She came home and asked my husband to teach her how to fight. He showed her some defensive moves, made her laugh, then got her to talk about what had been going on. Turns out, she was getting bullied relentlessly. =( Mainly by a small group of boys. She has a nervous habit of picking her nose. It probably began because she used to get sick a lot from ear infections and had seasonal allergies. But it became her outlet for stress. Some people bite their nails, some people twirl their hair, and some people pick their nose. All are just nervous habits. Well, this group of boys had started chasing her on the playground and pushing her down, in addition to calling her awful names. We were furious, of course. I wrote a letter to her teacher, who gave it to the principal. I received a call from the principal, who assured me that they would do something about it. All they did was talk to the boys and hold an assembly about bullying. Not exactly the response we were expecting, considering the bullying had already escalated to physical violence. The bullying continued, of course, and we couldn’t in good conscious keep sending her to school. She was physically ill from the emotional stress. We were afraid of her breaking a wrist in the process of getting pushed down. So we didn’t send her to school for a few days. The principal called again and set up a meeting with us. This woman actually had the nerve to suggest that if my daughter wouldn’t pick her nose, she wouldn’t get bullied! How dare she say such a thing? My blood boiled! It took every once of control I had in me to not hit that woman. First off, as I’ve said, nose-picking is a nervous habit, which is exasperated by the stress of being bullied. Secondly, blaming the person being bullied is no different than blaming the victim of sexual assault! The principal also said that the playground monitor claimed that the boys were playing tag with Elizabeth, and that she should just stay near the ONE playground monitor during her entire recess. It became clear very quickly that this problem was not going be resolved. We explained that we would not send our daughter to a place where she was being mentally and physically abused. We left the meeting and began discussing our options. We asked Elizabeth what she wanted us to do. She was very clear that she didn’t want to go back to school. We saw a glimmer of hope in her face for the first time in months. We knew right away that we would homeschool her. And we decided that we weren’t going to allow Meghan the opportunity to be bullied, either. So the next day, my husband went to the school to disenroll them both.
And thus began our journey toward unschooling! Stay tuned for part 2 of our unschooling story. =)