Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Starting a new journey

This blog is for tracking a new journey my family is on. Education matters to me. As a lifelong learner, education has been a forefront issue to me forever and even more so since my children were born. Even when they were infants, my hubby and I frequently discussed how best to educate our kids. Homeschooling came up from the very beginning even though neither of us had been homeschooled and didn't actually know more than one or two people who were homeschooled. In fact, the two siblings the hubs knew turned out to be poster children for the anti-homeschool movement. But it didn't deter our thoughts on the idea.

There was a lot of fear in those discussions for me, though. I don't honestly think I'm a very good teacher. How on earth could someone with no gift for teaching possibly teach children to read, write, construct a sentence, add, subtract, or find the volume of a cylinder? I like to think that God intervened in the decision. By the time the kids were school-aged we lived in the hubby's home town and the very small school from which he graduated was an educational option for the kids. It was going to be wonderful! He had memories of an educational nirvana that challenged him, educated him, and taught him all he needed to know for living. Boy that took a lot of pressure off of my fears and worries.

I don't know if he just wears rose-colored nostalgia specs or if the school has really descended so far into decadence. Maybe it's a little of both. But I know that my kids don't go to a wonderland of a school. To put a little perspective on things, this is a good school. A very good school. No, we're not graduating a Mensa class or sending half our grads off to Harvard but then, I've never considered that a hallmark of a high-quality school. Our school's teacher-to-student ratio is around 1:15 on average, with a handful of elementary and middle school classes rising up to the low 20s and a handful dipping down around 10. This is a school where the campus houses kids from ages 4 (they're talking about tackling the 3 year olds, but they haven't yet) to 18 all in one building. Despite (or perhaps because of?) visits semi-regularly from the local "drug dogs" there's no drug problem on our campus. In fact, the biggest safety issue facing students at our school is a toss-up between "dangerous" playground equipment like a merry-go-round and the constant specter of that bane of middle-school girls everywhere, social bullying. According to the state standardized test scores, our school produces "exemplary" students although I question any metric where a perfect score is not only possible but not really uncommon.

The downsides, though, start showing when you really dig in. Lack of options is a big problem to me. For foreign language credits you can take Spanish or - Spanish. For fine art credits you're limited to art. For computer/technology credits you get to take the computer class. Looking for a more vocational track? There's ag. But surely at least core courses have some options, right? Sure they do! You can take English or, if there are enough really smart kids of the same age, you might be able to sign up for advanced English. That academically challenging environment? It's certainly challenging to keep up with the busy-work necessitated by the kids who aren't as smart as the majority of the class that require extra teaching time. Then there's the constant staff turnover. This isn't much of an issue in elementary school but middle school is when athletics begins. Athletic teams need coaches but coaches need something to do the other six class periods a day. Roughly half the teaching staff at our school is made up of coaches. Which is fine. Except coaches are the teachers most likely to only stay around a year before either moving to a bigger/better school (in the event of a winning football season) or be let go in favor of another coach (in the event of a losing football season). Add to that the fact that all of the administrators at our school are former coaches themselves who probably have a great deal to say about how the athletic program is being run at any given time. Basically half the staff rotates out on a yearly basis. Which isn't always a bad thing. The health teacher/coach who was more interested in his personal life than teaching health or being present in the classroom moved on. Unfortunately, the only PE teacher my kids ever enjoyed working up a sweat for was married to the head football coach during a bad season and we had to say goodbye to "fitness is fun and non-competitive."

More than my issues with this particular school, though, I've grown to have doubts about the entire nature of public schooling. And that's why we're on this unschooling journey. Yep, I said the u-word. If I have doubt about the nature of public schooling, why should I bring the same principles home and implement them on a smaller scale? Oh, it's fine for some. But I'm starting to suspect that maybe it's not fine for US.

But I still have my fears and doubts. How can I possibly teach my kids all they need to know? Sure, they can read now. They can write and they can construct a proper sentence better than some of their teachers. They can add and subtract and, I assume though I haven't really looked into it, find the volume of a cylinder. But as a life-long learner I know that there's so much more to it all than that. So this summer, we're going to try unschooling. They're going to guide their own learning, and I'm going to learn by seeing what THEY learn. How will I know if we're successful? There's no standardized test for this because unschooling isn't standardized! Then again, learning never really is. If learning were truly standardized, kids would never get held back, never have to be in the slow class or the gifted class, never need those educational options of whose lack I lamented earlier. So I guess I'll know we succeeded when we know and how we know. It's like a learning roadtrip. I'll know I'm there when I get to a place I want to stop.

1 comment:

  1. WOohoo! This is so exciting! Wondering where the Lord will lead you with this and praying for wisdom.