Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Fork in the Road

If this process we're going through toward unschooling is a roadtrip, we've hit a fork in the road. After much thought, discussion, and prayerful consideration we've reached a decision for the next step in the journey. Shannen will be staying home this year. Mindie will be returning to public school for another year.

The reason for this is that after talking with The Hubs about it all, we felt like Shannen had the most to gain by staying home. Public school has been hard on Shan. The bullying because the first week of kindergarten. It's gotten worse from there. Most days after school last year, Shan got in the car in tears. A clique of girls long ago targeted Shannen for "outcast" social status. By second grade when the class got two new girls, the clique had exerted enough social pressure that Shan had no friends. The clique ostracized and excluded anyone who tried to be friendly to Shannen. The new girls were told that Shannen was a "snobby b-word." One of the new girls chose to cozy up to Shannen anyway so the two are friends in isolation. They sit alone at lunch. They play alone on the schoolyard. They're not invited to anybody's birthday party and when the class is forced to sing the birthday song to either of these girls, the female part of the class silently glowers instead of singing. Now that middle school has arrived a new taunt has been added to the chorus of jeers. My daughter and her lone friend are now "lesbians" and "perverts." If either of them so much as glances at a boy, she's teased for days about being a "slut."

Academically Shannen has spent the past 7 years being an A-honor roll student. Twice now she's scored perfectly on the objective verbal/language skills portion of the state standardized test. She's been reading on a college level since 4th grade. Her math skills are weaker, but only by comparison. She's excellent at mental math but gets a little lost in writing it down sometimes. She's capable of doing math a level or two ahead of her grade.

Unfortunately her organizational skills are very poor. She frequently loses assignments, often after she's already completed them. She forgets homework, forgets to bring home the books necessary for the homework, forgets to return the homework. Her locker (as well as her bedroom at home) is full of trash mixed in with useful things. Her handwriting is sloppy and nearly illegible at times. She scares us all when she uses scissors because of the way she holds them pointed toward her belly but no matter how many times we guide her in holding her scissors properly, she always defaults back to that dangerous position. She was 7 before she learned to tie her shoes and she still has trouble tying them well enough to stay that way for very long. We blamed it all on her being a lefty for a long time but I've wondered in recent years. We've tried many, many strategies to help her learn some minimal level of organizational skills but so far haven't found one that works for her.

The other big problem we've had with her may sound familiar to parents of children with Asperger's syndrome. When she's motivated to learn something she learns in minute detail. When she's not motivated there seems to be very little we can do to get the information into her head. Luckily, so far her intelligence has kept that from hindering her at school too much but she's probably on the verge of hitting a brick wall in regards to math. Meanwhile, if "Star Wars" were a school subject she'd be operating on a Ph.D. level of work. Similarly "Harry Potter" and "Percy Jackson" are subjects in which she can share a level of detail in which probably even the authors are uninterested. As a matter of fact, most anything in the Greco-Roman mythos is intimately familiar to her.

She recently came to me complaining of boredom. I thought I might try to "teach" her how to wiki-surf. We went to Wikipedia and she entered "Greek mythology" at my direction. Then she turned to me and said, "Mom, I've already read this." I told her to be patient and click on one of the links in the article. She'd read it too. I told her to click another link. After two hours of systematic clicking and paging back I discovered that this was something with which she was all too familiar. She had already read EVERY link in the main Greek mythology link and followed each link in those articles. She's basically read Wikipedia on everything remotely related to Greek literature and mythology. For kicks and giggles I decided to try something. I found an old test in my files from a college course I took in mythology and had her take the test. All of the objective standards were 100% correct when she finished but the majority of the test was short answer and essay. I spent two days looking up some of the things she included in her answers. She was right on all of it. Beyond that, she showed a high degree of analysis of her information. I pulled up a few other mythology tests online (tests from college courses, not the silly Quizilla style things) and she aced those as well. This kid is probably capable of doing grad-level work in mythology. But it's amazingly lopsided for her. Greek and Roman mythology she knows inside and out. She grasps an overview of Norse mythology but has no interest in it at all. Japanese mythology is almost as intimate as Greco-Roman. She's apparently still working through Egyptian mythology in her head. She can repeat stories about virtually any figure in Egyptian mythology but she can't draw conclusions about that information yet or relate it to other mythologies.

With all this sort of thing in mind, we felt like Shannen had a lot to lose by going back to school. But The Hubs is still nervous about chucking it all to homeschool. I suspect that his very disapproving mother might have something to do with it. Either way, Mindie isn't as hampered by school. What harm it probably does her seems minimal. She fits in better with her peers and has many friends of a variety of ages both within and outside of the school environment. School might not challenge her as much as I would like but it provides her with opportunity for intellectual growth. It doesn't seem to stifle her creativity or curiosity since she still comes home and pursues learning and creating opportunities on her own initiative.

And so when two paths diverged in a wood, we took both paths.


  1. I think that's great that you are able to do what works best for each girl.

    Shannen sounds a lot like my son. Especially the math and handwriting. He's not quite as advanced as she is in reading but he knows everything about anything he is interested in. And he'd probably have a PhD in Star Wars too. lol

    Recently, I read that children who are advanced do much better with discovery learning and less structure. Also that "gifted" children usually have asynchronous development. is a good website to look at.

  2. Do you ever feel a little guilty for not caring about your son's interests as much as he does? Shannen's Star Wars thing gives me this massive guilt complex. I mean, I've seen the movies and know the characters but I just don't really care that much about it. She loves to get into long discussions of Star Wars things and I just really don't hold up my end of the conversation.

  3. Oh yeah! I get Mom guilt about not caring about a lot of things he's much guy stuff! At least you have a girl! haha I get quizzed on every detail of every character from the movies because I watched them when I was a kid. I barely could keep up with the story line of the 3 newest. I have no clue what happened when. lol