Last week, I wrote, Republicans Don’t Want Better Schools. It was based upon an insight from Digby that Republicans don’t really care about having better public school teachers because these are the same people who most pushed homeschooling, where the parent-teachers are totally unaccountable. I made one of my standard arguments that the problem was that most people homeschool for the purpose of keeping their children away from dangerous ideas from science that would conflict with their religious dogma.
In the article, I specifically mentioned my sister Kim as an exception, writing that she was “well educated and provides the kind of learning and social environment that all but the richest of parents would envy.” In this regard, I offer the following slightly edited article, Why We Homeschool, which she originally published on her blog Adventures With ADD. —FM
There are lots of things we think we would never do, until…
Before having a child, and even when my son was young, I believed I would never homeschool. In fact, I used to be critical about parents who did. But then my son went to school, and the dread of sending him to school every day greatly overpowered any fear I had of homeschooling.
Looking back on it now, it makes me sad about how wrong it went, because my son was so excited to start school. I have a couple of photos of my adorable, bespectacled, and smiling son, standing outside the school where he’d be attending kindergarten. On that first day, we had orientation to learn about the school and the teacher to which my son was assigned. It turned out this teacher used a discipline technique that included a poster that looked like a big traffic light and clothespins with each child’s name on one of the clothespins.
In the beginning of the day, the clothespin would be in the green portion of the traffic light. If a child behaved perfectly, his or her clothespin stayed in the green zone all day, a full school day, by the way. If not, it moved into the yellow zone. After a couple of warnings, it moved to the red zone where it stayed the rest of the day without any hope of returning to the green zone.
About 70% of the time, my son would come out of the classroom at the end of the day, hunched over, with a very sad face and his knuckles practically scraping the ground, and he would say to me, “I got another red today!” He also told me the teacher said his behavior was “ridiculous.” This was because he wanted to explore the room during the first couple of days in class and wasn’t able to sit in circle time. Also, he used to be very social and wanted to chat and play with the kids in his math group instead of actually doing the developmentally-inappropriate math they were requiring him to do. My son wanted to have fun in kindergarten. Go figure!
In addition to the traffic light discipline technique, my son was forced to sit on a bench during the short recess because of his difficulty paying attention in class. Obviously this was counterproductive. After finding out about this, I went into research mode. I found information about learning styles. You know, the idea that different kids learn in different ways, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. Keep in mind my son didn’t have a diagnosis, yet. Though I knew my son was different from most kids, I denied that my son had ADHD, despite my husband’s having taken stimulants as a child.
I tried discussing what I’d discovered with my son’s teacher. Instead of her being open-minded, she became kind of defensive. Granted, the packet of information I presented her with might have been a bit overwhelming. In any case, her response was extreme, in my opinion. She said in an unnecessarily stern voice, “I’ve been teaching for a long time. I know what I’m doing. Your son just needs to learn to sit still, be quiet, pay attention, and follow directions.”
Because I had no luck improving the situation by way of the teacher, I decided to meet with the principal and vice-principle. I told them what our experiences had been so far. Rather than trying to support my son in his education, they defended the teacher’s draconian methods. They told me that other parents would “love” for their child to have my son’s teacher. Okay, so that wasn’t helpful.
The next stop was the school psychologist. Though she was kind and sympathetic, there was no support from the teacher or the administration. In the short, two-and-a-half weeks my son was at the school, he became extremely defiant. Admittedly, he already had a stubborn personality, but it became several times worse. Not only this, he was beginning to have violent outbursts, both at home and at school. Clearly, things were getting out of control.
One day my son awoke with a mild fever and was ill for a few days. Though my son was not feeling well, physically, he actually seemed happier. As for me, I didn’t have that feeling of dread that came with taking him to school every day, wondering what would happen there. It started to occur to me that maybe the people who homeschool weren’t wrong. I knew I could look for an alternative, but we couldn’t afford a private school, and what if the next public school was just as bad, or worse? I couldn’t take that chance.
Since my son was already a good reader, and since school is not a requirement until a child turns six in our state, I figured I could homeschool him through kindergarten, at least. We also found a local charter school that had an independent study program. My son began participating in that, and we also began attending a couple of park days with different homeschool groups. It’s really amazing all the resources that are actually available to homeschoolers, now. Mostly, the academics for that year consisted of reading lots of story books, playing age-appropriate math games, and going on field trips and visits to the library.
It is surprising how quickly so much damage can happen to child in such a short period of time, but it did. After leaving school, it took many months before the violent outbursts stopped. Then it took much longer for the extreme defiance to diminish. We’re still working on the little bit of defiance here and there, but it’s pretty close to that of a typical kid. I’m good with that, for now. I find he tends to show me more respect when I show him respect and speak with him like the person he is.