Today is the start of the 2015 FPEA Florida Homeschool Convention, the largest homeschool conference in the nation with some 17,000 attendees (plus many of their families). This is my first time attending, and as I soak in all the energy, it’s hard to believe a year has passed since we first started looking into homeschooling. All those months we spent mulling it over, analyzing every possible angle, researching pros and cons, and praying for wisdom and guidance. And here I am, a year later, doing it. If this were a Facebook status, it would say “I am feeling accomplished” with some assortment of emojis.
Looking over the conference agenda, I can’t decide which classes to pick. So many good ones. I’m also reflecting on how I came to be here in the first place. No, not as in by way of the Turnpike. But, as in, how did I end up a homeschooler? As a family, we get asked this question constantly. Sometimes people are curious, intrigued or even perplexed. Why would any one choose to homeschool? I can’t speak for other homeschoolers out there, but here are some of my reasons, in no particular order:
Education is more than just learning information. Schools can be very linear in their definition of education, focusing on reading, math, science and the like. And while those are great and very important, there is more to a person than the amount of facts they know. I want to use these formative years to focus on molding their character – for them to understand their place in this world, to know and love God, to be kind, to be passionate, to be respectful, generous, hard-working, creative. Being home with them allows me to teach them these things as we go about our day and our schooling, when they have energy and are attentive, rather than trying to squeeze these important life lessons when they get home from a long day at school.
“One Size Fits All” doesn’t apply to Education. Honestly, it shouldn’t to clothes either, but let’s just focus on education for now. Not everyone learns the same way, and not everyone expresses knowledge in the same way. Most people I talk to agree on this point, yet, traditional schooling by default favors certain types of learners – those who can take in information passively, can sit for hours without fidgeting and are great test-takers. My oldest is one of those “perfect” students. Since preschool, many a teacher have told me how they wished all their students could be more like him – quietly learning in his chair, following any and all rules, while patiently waiting for direction from the teacher. And yet, I feared 12 years of this type of schooling would only reinforce his “compliant” tendencies and not challenge him to step out of his comfort zone. Because, let’s be honest, Life doesn’t always favor those who passively and quietly wait.
Then there’s my six-year-old, who is the complete opposite. When he was three, his preschool teacher cheerfully pointed out one day, “He loves to ask questions!” I chuckled inside because I knew that was code for, “He’s overwhelming me with questions!” Yes, this boy questions and challenges everything, even things that are in his favor. (“Mami, but why don’t we have to eat vegetables today?”) That’s who he is, constantly wanting to understand and push the boundaries around him.
My four-year-old, on the other hand, doesn’t even know there are boundaries. Life is a party and Fun is his goal. He has a constant need to be moving. My fidgeter. In addition, he’s a Summer Baby, and would be one of the youngest in his class. Maturity not being one of his, uhm, strengths, I envisioned future parent-teacher conferences… “He is a very sweet boy, Mrs. Broderick, but he doesn’t stay seated, or listens and gets easily distracted.”
I didn’t want their particular personalities to hinder them in a class-room setting. At home, I can leverage their strengths, and challenge them to grow in the areas they are weakest in.
Testing. This was a big one for me. While my oldest was in K and 1st grade at our local school, I kept hearing how the emphasis on testing was not only going to get worse, but that they were going to start pushing it earlier than 3rd grade. Sure enough, this year testing has been all over the news nation-wide, and it truly is tragic. I’m not against the general idea of testing, after all, when they eventually have jobs, their employers will most likely administer performance evaluations. However, testing has become the end goal and not a tool to measure the child’s real learning and growth. And, when did it become acceptable to pressure 9- and 10-year-olds to the point of physical and mental stress, because the future of their schools’ funding and teachers’ raises rests on the results of their tests? Just like the Pearson math problems, it doesn’t add up for me.
The State of Florida has different expectations for your kids, depending on your race. Yes, that’s right. There is after all a supreme race, and it is Asian. Congratulations if you’re Asian! The State hopes to have about 90% of your kids at reading level by 2018. African-Americans, however, with a goal of 74%, get the short end of the stick. Are your kids multi-racial, like mine? Sorry, no goal for you. You must choose to be American Indian, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic or White. Economically Disadvantaged, English Language Learners, and Students with Disabilities are the other categories with specified goals. But don’t worry, according to Florida’s State Board of Education Strategic Plan: “Continuing on this trajectory, all students will be proficient in reading and math by the 2022-23 school year.” (Sorry Class of 2021!) That is, of course, if they don’t modify the goals once they review it at the end of this year, after the new assessments are fully implemented (or rejected.)
Now, I’m not against goals. I like having goals. I think they’re very important and provide guidance. But, why choose race to breakdown academic goals? Why not just break them down by age groups or grade level? My strategic plan at home is much simpler. I only expect them to give me their best work in whatever it is they’re doing.
One of my kids must invent an ‘app’ that will make us rich. Seriously though! How will they ever have time to do that with all that homework? All kidding aside, being at home we can use our time wisely. The actual “schooling” doesn’t take more than a couple of hours versus the six they’d generally spend at school (plus the hour or two they’d spend on homework). This gives us plenty of time to explore their interests and passions. Most days, this would be building Legos at my house. But, my oldest has suddenly become fascinated with electricity, sparked by a few books he read on Benjamin Franklin. Truthfully, pre-homeschooling, I don’t know if we would’ve had the time and energy to discover this.
I want our family to be strong. Life today is very demanding and even puts a strain on the family unit. Most careers take up more than the traditional 40-hour work week, and with technology, there are no clear boundaries of when work starts and ends. You’re always one email away from needing to log on. School itself also takes up the whole day for the kids, and as they grow older, homework and sports take up the rest of their time. Most weeks I felt like we were just trying to survive until the weekend, when we’d have birthday parties, weddings, more sports activities and church. Leaving virtually no time to relax and just be together as a family. You know, so you can actually get to know each other and learn to love each other deeply, not just because you’re related.
Deciding to homeschool did not happen overnight, but these were certainly some “nudges” from God that led us to question our views and thoughts on education. It has been eye-opening to redefine our long-held beliefs, but certainly worth the journey. I encourage everyone, whether you homeschool or not, to sit down and think through these things and have your own goals for your kids’ education, and not just delegate it to the State. Especially if you’re not Asian.
So, what about you? What are some of the reasons you’ve chosen homeschooling or traditional schooling? Have you ever thought about having your own goals and standards for your kids’ education?