Homeschooling: It's More Than an Education Alternative (Thomas Croom)
Every parent of a homeschooled child has a set of reasons why they decided to take the plunge and forever subject themselves to funny looks from strangers. I thought at first my reasons were anything but typical, but now I realize mine are the culmination of what would happen to any child not properly excised from public school at an early age.
That being said, there are some atypical aspects to my story. My “child” is actually my wife’s 15-year-old nephew who I will call Jay.
Jay is above average intelligence, having scored high, above average or very good on practice IQ tests and on PSAT’s. This may seem at first glance to merely place him the realm of above average with most kids, but he really has no foundational basis for his intelligence and testing abilities.
The public education system will do anything to keep a student “on track” with his peers. And as I learned this year, staying “on track” has little to do with intellectual progress. I believe my nephew’s primary problem in school was a lack of focus, direction, discipline, challenge, expectations or responsibility (if those things can be summed up into one primary problem!) that collectively allowed him to fall behind his peers academically and intellectually, while maintaining his “proper” grade assignment with his age cohort.
I believe problems in his private life have been leading to problems in his social life. As a teenager this is perfectly natural. However, a 15-year-old’s social life is essentially school, and when Jay’s personal problems started spilling into his academic and intellectual world, no barrier was there to separate the two. He was smart enough to realize no matter what his actions he took, he would ultimately be forgiven and have another chance to make things right, make up work, or receive extra credit in order to earn a passing grade and stay “on track.” Combined with his unique mental skills – he has a nearly photographic memory and near instant recall ability – he has all the tools necessary to ignore the academic aspects of school and, when needed, focus long enough to “memorize” information in a matter of minutes to pass any test.
Those traits and tools, when mixed, lead to loads of free time in an environment where students are more interested in cell phones, text messaging, looks, poor speech, poor dress, outrageous behavior, sex, drugs, rule breaking, etc. This all, naturally, led to him having severe discipline problems and what would end, ultimately, in expulsion from public school.
Compounding problems was the lack of attention, leadership, and accountability from his teachers and school administrators. Their actions, or lack of, gave this very smart kid all the nonverbal cues he needed to act out. Jay would tell us about how two of his teachers would put assignments on the board and frequently spend entire class periods on the Internet searching for music or cruising dating sites. In other classes, such as English, many stories and “assignments” were nothing more than read along with a tape-recorded narration! And, occasionally, movies were played instead of reading the actual text (this happened most often in biology).
I shouldn’t lead you to believe that my wife and I were completely unaware of the situation or that every teacher acted in a manner to compound the problems. We tried to intervene as early as the first nine weeks of the school year. We communicated weekly with teachers and administrators. At one point we actually called the school to request they search Jay and his lockers, on a regular basis, for possessions we knew he was hiding at school to keep from us. The school administrators were more than willing to help and began a random search process that we hoped would encourage Jay to think twice about his actions.
We appreciate the administration responding to our requests, but ultimately we didn’t get the support we needed, or had hoped for, from the teachers. We were told one week everything was fine and told the very next week he had failed to turn in assignments or complete tests … in the previous week! The teachers nearly always would respond to us incredulously when we would ask why they didn’t tell us when he was actually not doing the work. They would simply say they were too busy that week, or with everything going on they had other priorities. They were never too busy to respond to our emails, mind you – just to busy to tell us what was actually happening.
At some point Jay simply quit going to school and after nearly two months we learned he had missed up to three weeks in several of his classes. Incredibly the school administration offered to put him on an attendance contract that required him to go to class and do his work. In return he would receive passing grades for both the current, and past, nine weeks which he had already failed.
I thought it was ludicrous at the time because it reinforced the situation I described above, but I went along because our primary goals were to get him out of high school and on with life. Imagine our total lack of surprise to see this kid, who not only refuses to actually study outside of school, but had not actually been in some classes for nearly a month, immediately start posting A’s and B’s in all his subject course work. Although I didn’t know it yet, that would be the factor that helped me decide on the home school option. It wasn’t his failure that clued us in to his abilities and problems; it was the ease with which he passed every class after having practically no course work for months.
After his expulsion we decided homeschool was the best option. My wife and I are both college-educated with multiple degrees each, fervent advocates of home education, school choice, parental responsibility and accountability in the school system. There was an element to putting our “money where our mouth is,” but ultimately it was about what’s best for Jay. We feel like he needs oversight just as much as he needs education, and we didn’t think he was receiving either in the “system.” Now that we are actually doing it, I can’t believe we didn’t just do this from the start!
Thomas Croom is a political strategist and consultant in Tallahassee, FL. His blog, PEER Review FL (PRFL), is a syndicated conservative group blog with opinions and analysis of Florida politics, education, entertainment, and occasionally, religion.