Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If I ever doubted our decision before...

I no longer have any doubts that homeschooling is the best decision we have ever made for our children.

The kids and I went to see a documentary tonight called "The Race to Nowhere." It is about children - elementary, middle school, and high school aged kids - and the stresses they face in and as a result of our nation's educational system. The right elementary school, several hours of homework starting in 4th grade, reading readiness issues, "no child left behind," teaching to the tests, AP classes, extracurricular activities, parental expectations, competition, SAT scores, college applications - it's all in the movie. And our children are suffering terribly - headaches, stomachaches, anorexia, sleeplessness, depression, ADD, getting addicted to caffeine and other stimulants, and suicide. And it didn't matter if the children were white or black or any other race, if they were rich or poor, if they attending public schools or private. The pressures they face are equal-opportunity soul-crushers.

May God have mercy on us all, on them all.

I sat there in that darkened auditorium with my kids and held their hands, rubbed their shoulders, groaned, furrowed my brow, and gave thanks over and over for our decisions NOT to test them every week on the things they read and learn or make them write needless essays or take on one or two instruments or go to Sylvan learning centers or any of the other myriad things that children get subjected to - all in the name of "being good students." After all that they endure in high school, they head off to college where they get addicted to alcohol and sex and drugs and grade grubbing and cheating in order to get into law school, med school, business school, and from there, they move into the working world.

And in the end, we measure success by
how much money we make,
how big our houses are,
what towns or cities we live in,
how fast our cars are,
which wines we can identify,
how small our waistlines are,
where we go on vacation and for how long
where our children go to school now and college later -

and we model cheating ourselves
by taking out loans we can't afford to pay back
on houses we shouldn't be living in
and cars we shouldn't be driving
and colleges we can't afford for our kids to attend
so that...
they can be just like us - or even "do better than we did."

But how many of us are happy?
How many of us would say that we are contented with what we have?
How many of us would say that we have enough?
A remarkably small percentage of us.
(The truth is that I can't always count myself in that small percentage...)

I am so glad I went to the movie.
I'm glad I took my kids.
We talked about it all the way home.

I am enormously glad we have avoided, side-stepped, ignored all the people and pundits and opinions that have tried to derail our decision. That have tried to make us worry about whether or not our kids will be able to compete at the best schools - included my own beloved alma mater - Williams College. I LOVED my four years there. I did. I loved it so much that I worked there for two years after I graduated and recruited high schoolers to attend. My niece will graduate from Williams in June. I am excited about attending her graduation and seeing some of my own professors and coaches while I'm on campus.

But I don't foresee either of my children attending Williams; I just don't think it would suit either of their personalities or goals or interests. I want my children to choose a school that suits them, that fits their personalities, that allows them to study what they want to learn at a pace that is not unrealistic or insensitive to who they are as individuals. I want their curiosity and creativity and joy to grow in college and not be flattened by the steamroller of grades and crushing competition. I have no idea how the college process with go with my children, and quite frankly, at this point, I don't care. Everything I saw in that film tonight confirmed our decision to be a laid-back, eclectic, tea-drinking, storytelling, hugging, laughing, back-scratching, trip-taking, game-playing, cookie-baking homeschooling family. Sure, they do study and read and write and are learning Spanish. They have days when they don't want to do the precious little work that they are asked to do. There are many days when I tell them that if they can explain to me the point of the lesson they are working on (they each take three classes online), then they can move on to the next thing. If it looks like busy work and they cannot figure out a point to the assignment, then they don't have to do it. Why should they waste their time on busywork?

On the way home from the movie, I declared that we are taking the rest of the week off from school. I could use a break myself.

Forgive me if I've used these photos before...
All these photos were taken last October in Hilton Head.
A week long vacation. Beaches. Bike rides. Petting zoo.
Watching turtles and alligators in a pond near a golf course.
Simple, quiet togetherness.
We hadn't been that happy in years.
We are returning to that same island, to the same rental house, for a week at the end of April.


Melanie said...

Wonderful post, Gail! At this point, we have not chosen to home-school, but I couldn't agree more that there is way too much pressure, homework, stress an increasingly younger ages these days. My prayer for my kids is that God will equip them to do what He has called them to do & I believe that He will! NO matter what their grades were, or their test scores, or where (or IF) they go to college! I hope to rent this movie soon.
Beautiful photos, by the way! Looks like a truly wonderful vacation & hope that you can recapture that again this April!!

aviva said...

You inspire me.

Launa said...

Gail, I love your depth of love for your children and your commitment to teaching them. You are a wonder.

Michele said...

OK, so I can't read this post without commenting. It is too bad we don't live closer - I think I would love to meet you for tea or coffee someday!

I just graduated my oldest last May, and she is happily studying art at the pace she wants to while working part time. And in the middle of her studies she plans to take a year off, or two, and travel through out Europe. No pressure. We didn't test at all during her homeschooling years, and she passed the admittance test to college just fine. And now with my youngest, in 6th grade, we do pretty much what you said - read, have tea with friends, math, history, take breaks when we need one. But even though she only started reading independently at age 9, she loves it. And even though she is only now understanding multiplication, she loves math too. No pressure, just going at her own pace.

Homeschooling was the best decision for our family too. Thank you for writing about your experience, Gail. And for sharing the pics - even if they are repeats.