Friday, August 29, 2014

15 Reasons Home Schooling is Awesome (and Why I'll Never Home School My Kid Again)

I entered a contest once called 2KoP (Two Kinds of People) in which you highlight two opposing viewpoints a person might possess. I wrote about those who would and those who would never pee in the shower. It was a smashing success and the two types of people came out of the woodwork to either high five me or voice their disgust.

There are also two kinds of people when it comes to home schooling. There are those who love it and those who think it's weird as hell and only religious freaks do it.

I wasn't in either camp, particularly, but there came a time, two years ago, when I had to make a choice as to which of these two types of people Cindy Brown would set up camp with.

My oldest daughter had entered high school, made friends easily, became a cheerleader, and was one of the popular kids. I was a bit shocked when she came home and asked me to home school her. She had missed some school due to illness and she was feeling some pressure from teachers to make up her work quickly. This wasn't the first time. I have sickly kids. It's been a battle.

I was a stay at home mom and a smart lady. I thought about it and did some initial research and decided we could do this. Besides, her logic was sound. How could I argue?

I feel like I could get as good of an education as public school or even a better education at home.

I wouldn't have to sit around and wait while teachers help other students.

I could finish high school in half the time and start college early.

Sick days wouldn't matter anymore and I could still do the work if I'm sick at home.

I could help you clean the house if I were home to do it.

I'd be able to concentrate better at home.

I won't miss my friends. I'll still do things with them.

I did my research and found that the possibilities were endless and agreed with her logic. I drafted a letter of withdrawal from public school and expected to have to explain myself. What happened next both shocked and disappointed me.

Not one school administrator, staff member, or teacher asked me why I was withdrawing my child.

Not one.

In light of the fact that it seemed they didn't give a hoot about my child, I was pleased with my decision... initially.

I had done my research and found that she could still easily enter into college as a home schooled student, even Ivy League and even without accredited home schooling. She wanted to go to Yale.

I found an online program where she (or any other household member, for that matter) could do as many years of schooling as desired for $400 a year.

My younger daughter stayed in public school. She loved it and there was no reason to remove her, so we didn't.

The first year of home school with my oldest daughter went quite well. Without further ado, the top 15 reasons we loved home schooling:
  1. No pressure. Go at your own pace.
  2. Sleep in if you want. Get your work done in three hours? Nap time!
  3. Save on gas.
  4. Field trips seem like cheating.
  5. Want to finish high school, start college, and get your license, all when you turn 16? Okay!
  6. Multitude of programs available; easy, difficult, cheap, expensive? You decide.
  7. Your education is in your own hands. Dumb? Smart? It's up to you.
  8. Want a better grade? Study up! Do-overs are allowed.
  9. Scheduling things is a breeze.
  10. Save on lunch money. Feed your child nutritious meals at home.
  11. Spend time with your precious cherubs.
  12. Hard to cheat when mom is watching over you.
  13. No dealing with teachers, lunch ladies, or coaches. Jumping on the trampoline is PE.
  14. Sick on Tuesday? Make it up on the weekend.
  15. Housework, cooking, bills, etc. are Home Economics (now FCS - Family/Consumer Science). My house was so clean and I was teaching her life skills.
Now, the truth is that although all of that was awesome, it turned out that she did miss her friends and wanted to return to public high school for her sophomore year.

Fine. I understood. I tried to put the wheels in motion for her, talking to every school representative I could get my hands on and... failed.

Guess what? I found that it would have been easier to get her into college as a home schooled student than to get her back into public high school in the state of Illinois.

Even though she had worked hard and gotten straight A's her freshman year at home and I had kept full transcripts and charted each and every assignment with an Excel file and detailed grading procedures, our school district turned into Dr. Seuss on me.

We could not, would not, take her back.
We do not care if she's on track.
Not by herself, not in a crowd.
No home school credits are allowed!
We cannot, will not, test her in.
She can come back, as a freshman.
She'd have to repeat all she's done.
To be with her peers for public school fun.

As you can imagine, this went over like a lead balloon. She didn't want to repeat the year she'd done at home and we didn't want to feel like we wasted a year of her life, my time and effort, and four hundred bucks, which is twice what it cost for public school education when I enrolled her in her freshman year there.

In all the talks with superintendents, however, a comment was made to me that "it might be different if it were an accredited school we're familiar with."

Being ever so observant of this comment, I embarked on a new goal for her sophomore year of home schooling: get an accredited program to avoid future problems.

I soon discovered that this was neither easy, nor cheap, and that some of the top programs that met what we were looking for were religious, not secular. We are Christians, but we wanted a secular program. This post would go into book form if I took the time to explain why.

We discussed everything and began researching home school programs again. My daughter thought her freshman year was too easy and requested a harder program.We found a fully accredited program she could do online with full teacher support, online class requirements, etc. and put her on a fast track college prep course of action. It was a religious program, but only required her to take one religion course. We could handle that. All work was done online, taught and graded by very competent teachers, with report cards, transcripts, even virtual Biology labs were done online.

My daughter was motivated and ready to take on the world and we were ready to see her succeed. The public school allowed her to come in for driver's education, but that was it. No sports, nothing else. This home school program was much different than the last. We braced ourselves for tuition at Yale and dropped the nearly $3,000 for her sophomore year of accredited high school online private schooling at Alpha Omega Academy without trepidation. We wanted nothing more than to see our child excel.

Okay, roll the Jaws theme music. This is where home schooling devours the whole family.

I now give you the top 15 reasons we hate home schooling:
  1. Pressure. She only had 8 months to complete her work on the fast track plan. We were allowed a free extension of two months, but any additional months would cost $200/month. She took the entire 10 months and even needed a couple of extra days, which they didn't charge us for since a teacher was out when she needed to do an over-the-phone French assignment.
  2. Get up at a decent hour because it takes six hours minimum a day to complete your work. No time for naps, breaks, etc! You want to go to Yale? This will sure prepare you.
  3. Save on gas, but pay nearly $3,000 for one year of school, so who cares?
  4. No time for field trips. Each day was scheduled out with an online planner and you had to keep a schedule.
  5. Do two years in one year? Not with this program! It was extremely hard and she became quickly overwhelmed.
  6. The program was not only difficult and expensive (although there are programs out there that cost five times as much), but once 30 days is up, you're stuck with the program. No refunds, no changing the type of schooling (online vs. books), no get out of jail free card. You pay, you play. Also, she did not agree with the religious content and had trouble reconciling her own religious views with what was expected in the courses.
  7. Her education was in her own hands. She wanted to be smart and excel, but the stress and overwhelming nature of the entire experience left her exhausted an exasperated. She lost her drive to succeed.
  8. Do-overs were not only allowed, but required for low grades in many cases. This is a benefit for those who are on track and love the program, but a time drain and stress inducing factor in trying to keep on pace when you just want it to be over and accept the grade, no matter what it may be. My straight A student struggled to maintain B's and C's.
  9. Scheduling things was not easy since we were constantly stressing about keeping her on track.
  10. Cook something nutritious for her? Sure, but she would refuse it and you can't force food down a fifteen year old. She was never hungry and/or wanted only to snack through the day; not healthy habits!
  11. Due to the fact that I was always harassing her about keeping on track, our relationship suffered. I became a prison warden to her, banging my night stick on her cell bars, instead of enjoying my time with her as her mother. We fought more and she and I were ready to do anything to be apart by the end of the year. She couldn't stand me by the time it was over and I dreaded even waking her up in the morning because I knew the stress would start right then. It wasn't fun.
  12. She finally went into complete block out mode and began fibbing her way out of work. I'm a smart woman, but it took me a couple of months to catch on. Did you know that if they have their headphones in, you can't tell if your child is watching a video for an assignment or watching a TV show online unless you catch her by glancing over her shoulder through the window while you're outside doing yard work? I then had to crack down even harder, which strained our relationship even more. "This is what you wanted!" was not what she wanted to hear. "I can't stand you!" was not what I wanted to hear. We resented each other.
  13. She became sluggish, quit working out, and seemed like a caged animal in a very small enclosure. She came up with any excuse to delay the start of her day... shower, pooping, tired, have to wait to get a hold of a teacher for an assignment... I could tell she was miserable, but she had to finish the year. It was torture for both of us. She couldn't concentrate and everything distracted her. I had to be on her every second and checking her every move. Her friends were busy with school activities and we live really far out of town, so rarely did friends come out to see her. She felt isolated, but refused to join any local home school groups.
  14. There was no time for a sick day if you wanted to keep on track. She was sick just as much, still couldn't work when sick even though she was at home, and the pressure from me was no less than it was with her teachers in public school. Getting behind caught up with her to the point that it almost seemed impossible to finish the program, but she made it. We did have to drop one semester of one class, but it was a relief. She just could not grasp the French language at all, even with my help. 
  15. There was no time to help out with housework or cooking. There was no time for teaching life skills. We both hated home schooling by the end and our last nerves were tattered and frayed from the experience. With every fiber of our being, we were done with home schooling, no matter what.
Yes, in one fell swoop of a year's time, we went from 'Go, home schooling! Hip hip hooray!' to 'Please kill me now, in the event that I should ever consider home schooling again! I would choose death over this!'

Of course, the story doesn't end there. I had to go back through all of the school administrators again to try and register her, thinking that due to the comment made to me about school accreditation last year, we might at least have a chance this year that they would accept her and just give her credit for the one accredited home schooling year, especially since it was through the same regional accrediting body. Not so. They still wouldn't budge. I had to improvise.

I pulled out every gun I had (transcripts, mid-year testing scores, accredited home school information, highlighted pages from the district's own policy manual, made phone calls to the Illinois State Board of Education, the regional accrediting agency, etc.) and loaded up a manila file folder for a meeting with the superintendent, who then had to pass it through the lawyer and the school board for approval.

Whew. I get exhausted just talking about it.

Good news, though. We have her back in public school, but the circumstances are not exactly as we had hoped.

Mr. Scary Superintendent (the guy looks like a marine) was actually very gracious in giving me his time and upon his recommendation, the lawyer and the board agreed that she be allowed to proficiency test into her grade, which she did. I think she is the first student they've done this for. Hooray! All was right with the world and she could return to public school as a junior. I won the battle. She won the battle. We were elated!

Just one tiny hitch. They still are not accepting any of her home school credits, which means that she would either have to make up two years of credits or she cannot graduate with her class. Yes, they have every right to do this. I've checked. It's our district's policy to not accept any credits and the upper-level superintendent who made the suggestive comment to me about using an accredited school they've heard of didn't even remember talking to me the year before. Even though I reminded her, she restated the district policy and Mr. Scary's hands were tied.

In order to make credit accepting exceptions for our daughter, there would have to be a district wide policy change and quite frankly, most people they have home school experience with just don't do like we do and seriously home school. The dean of students told me that five people withdrew to home school last year and they were all due to truancy issues. We and our serious home school efforts are apparently not the norm in our district and we have to suffer the consequences the bad apples have put in place for us.

We cut our losses and decided that the most important things were getting her back into public school and saving our sanity, credits applied or not.

I am tired of fighting. I am tired of worrying. I am tired of stressing. She will live a good life and the world will continue to turn, turn, turn. It's going to be fine. I promise.

For crying out loud, my daughter's latest stated goal had morphed into becoming a Disney princess and I took the question, "How old do you have to be to drop out of high school?" as a hint that we'd better do something fast. I'm not knocking Disney princesses, but going from a goal of Yale to that was just bizarre. We knew we had to meet the school district in the middle.

She was able to start school the day after it officially started and she is thrilled to be back in, at the same level as her peers (with the exception of foreign language classes). I can see her slowly coming back to life and I think her passion to excel in life will return, at least somewhat. She's been nominated for the homecoming court, aspires to be valedictorian, and has joined Code Red, where she and many classmates will root for their sports teams throughout the year. Her first football game is tonight and she just got her driver's license a week ago today. She is ready to fly like an eagle and just... be... a normal teenager in high school.

Don't worry, she can still go to college if she wants to. It isn't a death sentence. Trust me. I've checked. She has a high school education. It just hasn't been a traditional one.

Even with all of the stresses of public school, we now realize that home schooling is not the answer for us. Sure, we could have forced her to keep home schooling. We could have gone all Goldilocks and the Three Bears and kept looking for yet another program to suit her, saying, "This one was too soft, this one was too hard, but this one is just right!" To be truthful, however, the lack of porridge zapped our energy and we just wanted our daughter to be happy and motivated again. We knew home schooling wasn't going to accomplish that, not for her.

Let me be very clear that I am not bashing home schooling in any way or Alpha Omega Academy (it's an excellent program). It can be an awesome opportunity for a child and I know many people who love home school and do it successfully in their households and are happy as clams. Their children go on to excel and enter college at a younger age. They are smart and motivated and happy. Good for them. It just wasn't good for us.

If you'd like, share your home school stories with me. Do you know a person who home schooled or have you ever thought about it or tried it? I'd love to hear about someone else's struggles or success stories now. I have blown enough hot air into the blogosphere for one day.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Little Identity Crisis

I have an identity crisis with my blog. I am a humor writer. However, all I can think of lately is serious subject matter. So, do I write serious matter or do I bite the bullet and make all of my serious subject matter funny? Do I avoid serious subject matter or wait until the funny hits me and go with that? Life is a funny thing, I'll give you that. However, it's not always ha ha funny. Sometimes, it's strange funny. And stressful. I'm at a crossroads. Help.