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Why did we really quit home school . . . and how’s it going? Part I

Earlier this week, I wrote about getting rid of the last of our home school books, which we hadn’t touched for over six years. I talked a bit about why I kept them around so long, and why it was so hard to make the decision not to home school anymore — especially considering that the photo above was taken on the first day of school, while I was teaching in the next room.

The feral kid is fine, by the way. Wears pants and everything.

Two readers asked for a follow-up of Tuesday’s post:

I was wondering if you could say a few more words about how sending your kids to school is helping your family.  What are the benefits that those of us on the homeschool side are missing?  I have always wondered what it would be like to send the kids to school.  How has your family benefited from this choice?

and

I would be really interested to hear your specifics: what were your fears and why they weren’t rational, why didn’t you feel that the “blessings” that are supposed to accompany homeschooling were being realized, how traditional school has benefited your kids/parenting, and how did you discern the difference between frustrations that indicate homeschooling is the objectively wrong choice for your family and frustrations that are simply tempting you to give up something worth it but hard. That last one is, I think, the crux of people’s conundrums.

First, I want to be clear that I’m talking about my and our experience. I don’t have any grand theories about education in general, and I know there are as many different ways to do it as there are people, and then some. I write about our transition mainly to help other people sort through their experiences. I never encourage people to quit home schooling! For many people, home schooling is the best choice (and for many others, it’s the least bad choice). I only encourage people, especially unhappy parents, to realize that change is not necessarily the same as failure.

But you’re busy, so I’ll condense my thoughts into a quick pull quote:

I think that all home schoolers are arrogant, repressed weirdos, and I am gleeful about turning my children over to the state so they can catch atheist HPV from Dungeons and Dragons. And I say this because I’m bitter and feel guilty.  Now leave me alone so I can give my kids their Adderall-n-bits, which I serve them with a side dish of not learning cursive.

 

Tee hee. I must have my leetle joke. Well, this post is turning out way, way longer than I expected, so I’m breaking it into two parts. Next time, I’ll talk more about the specific benefits and drawbacks of traditional classroom schooling. 
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This time, I’ll answer the other questions my readers asked.
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What were my fears, and were they rational?
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I was afraid that they just plain wouldn’t learn anything, at all. Not rational. In fact, they are getting a far, far better education than I did, and a more well-rounded one.
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I was afraid that the schools would be forcing all kinds of loathsome cultural agendas down our kids’ throats. In fact, most of the teachers are just trying to get kids interested in learning. They don’t get paid enough to be in it just to pervert anyone. They just want to teach, and they’re passionate about their subjects. We don’t agree with them about every last thing, but they respect our authority, and we really appreciate their devotion.
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I was super afraid of picking up germs. For us, not rational. Other than a few bouts of head lice (which is no fun, but not the end of the world), we aren’t any sicker or healthier than we used to be when we were home schooling; and no, my kids are not great about washing their hands before eating.
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I was afraid we would be scorned and rejected because we’re a big, weird, Catholic family and we dress kind of funny and our van is dirty. This didn’t happen (or maybe I just don’t know about it! Either way, no worries). Well, the high school kids think our van is creepy, because they’ve been told that vans are creepy, but oh well. The high school kids do have to put up with some trash talk about religious people, but they can take it. Not a bad thing to get used to dealing with.  In our charter school, which goes up to grade 8, there is nothing of the kind. We feel right at home, we have guests over, the kids have friends, the other moms talk to me, etc.
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And I’ve learned that lots of people, even those who look like they’ve really got their act together, feel like they don’t fit in, so I try to work harder to be welcoming, rather than being defensive against people who I’m afraid won’t welcome us.

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I was obscurely afraid that someone would report us to someone for something. I had very deeply ingrained fears of child protective services prying into our family life and taking my kids away because we pray the rosary or have frayed shoelaces (even though, in our state, CPS is actually under fire for being too lax, and for not prying enough into the lives of children in danger). Not a rational fear. I’ve heard horror stories about overzealous government agencies, and some of them are surely true, but many turned out to be false or incomplete. We aren’t cavalier — I have to watch what I say in public, because there are busybodies who can’t take a joke — but I’ve learned to take scary stories with a grain of salt, and also not to submerge myself in paranoia by listening to talk radio and reading websites devoted to alarmism.
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Why weren’t the blessings of homeschool being realized?

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All the reasons. Maybe it would have worked if we had had some spending money; maybe it would have worked if we had had an active, thriving, supportive home schooling community; maybe it would have worked if I hadn’t been pregnant and struggling with debilitating anxiety; maybe it would have worked if we had had no other choice. Maybe it would have worked if I had been a Chinese jet pilot. I just don’t know. But I could see that things wouldn’t improve without drastic changes, and drastic changes didn’t seem possible.
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Some of these blessings were being realized, but not often enough to offset the bad stuff.
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And, as it turned out, some of them were achievable without home schooling! We still spend lots of time together, play, work, read, sing, dance, pray, and goof around together. We’re still us. We still value what we value, we still influence our kids enormously, and we still call the shots.
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How did I discern the difference between the frustration of “this is hard but worthwhile” and the frustration of “this is just not working”? 
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I knew that I couldn’t do everything, and that home schooling meant that other things would be sacrificed. But at a certain point, everything was being sacrificed, and nothing was being done well. The kids weren’t learning as much as I wanted them to, they weren’t having good extra-curricular experiences, the house was a wreck, dinner was out of control, we were broke all the time, and I was in an agony of anxiety at all times, and would have emotional breakdowns regularly. It wasn’t just that some things were getting the short end of the stick — it was that there was no long end.This being the case, I started asking some hard questions about why we were still doing it, if the benefits were so few and far between. I realized that it came down to pride, guilt, and fear: those were my main motivators.
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Pride: I wanted to be That Amazing Home Schooling Family, rather than That Family With Happy, Stable, Educated Kids. That’s-a no good.

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Guilt: My sister once said that someone gave them a couple of pretty white couches. She immediately covered them with slipcovers, to keep them from getting dirty. Some time later, she realized that the slipcovers had to stay on, or else everyone would see how dirty her couches were. She had no idea when the transition happened, but there it was. I was home schooling, in part, because somewhere along the line I had transitioned from protecting my kids from the outside world, to hiding my kids from the outside world. And as it turns out, I had some things to regret. There were some ways that I hadn’t done well by my kids, it hurt for other people to see this. But it had to happen, if I wanted things to change.
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Fear: Well, I think I’ve covered this one. I also had a lot of fears about the kids getting shot, getting kidnapped, etc., if they were out of my sight, and I really had to be weaned off this. We are still careful about safety, of course, but I no longer feel like it’s inherently dangerous for my kids to be away from me.

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Phew, I guess that’s enough for one day! Next time (probably next week), I’ll get into some specifics about how traditional schooling has been good for our kids and for our family, and I’ll also discuss some of the drawbacks and how we deal with them.

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