Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dear Congress

For all of my friends that have not ever homeschooled in SC, here is a quick explanation of how you can do it legally -

1.  You can call up your school district and request that they list you as a homeschooler under their supervision.  You go to the school and take the standardized tests and as long as your kids stays on grade level, everything is fine.  They in turn give you all the textbooks and materials you need to teach the state mandated curriculum in your home.  This sounds reasonable on the surface, but some schools are very anti homeschool and can figure out MANY reasons to invade your privacy, rights, etc.  Some schools are very supportive of homeschoolers, and in those districts the materials and support could be good for parents interested in homeschool but nervous or overwhelmed with how to begin.

2.  The second option available is for those families that still wish to report to a state organization and have many resources available to them, but want a broader choice in curriculum.  The organization that runs this group of homeschoolers is called SCAIHS, or South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools.  They have their own requirements and testing is included in these requirements, but instead of reporting to a school district, the family reports directly to this association.  Many first year families like this option because of the enormous help and resources provided and the ability to test independently from the school district.  One main area of concern with SCAIHS is the high pricetag that comes with this option.  My family, for example, could easily spend upwards of $600 plus dollars to utilize the opportunities and pay the membership fees. 

3.  This brings us to the third homeschool option.  A family can instead join an independent association that keeps up with the basic paperwork and allows a family to report to the state legally.  The family then can choose to homeschool in any fashion or style they so choose, using any (if any) curriculum, and have the most freedom to parent and educate in the manner they feel best fits each child's needs.  The drawback is the lack of direction for those that wish to have a plan outlined for them.  There is no school district handing you textbooks and giving you the yearly goals all laid out on a nice big chart.  The parent has to make decisions.  Lots of them.  The benefits are that the parent has the ability to make decisions.  Lots of them.  They get to pick materials and curriculum that best fits each child.  The family can explore fascinating topics of interest that frankly, for lack of time or resources or public opinion, are not included in the state's standards. The parents are the ultimate decision makers and have the most rights under the third option.  No testing is required.  What is required is daily journal entries or lesson plans, progress reports, and attendance documentation.   Five subject areas must be covered through sixth grade, seven subject areas in seventh through twelfth.  Most of these associations also offer some advice and additional resources that are priced individually.  So, if you have a middle or high schooler, and you want transcripts, college advice, and someone helping navigate credit requirements, an extra 50 bucks a year can get you that.  If you have a kindergartner, your fee will barely cost more than a lunch date.

We do the third option.  Most homeschoolers do the third option.  While I cannot speak for any other family than my own, I will tell you why we chose to homeschool and why we ultimately chose the third option.

Dear Congress,

Up until this year my boys went to "real school".  But, after a long hard hunt to find the educational plan that would best fit my boys, we realized that nobody, not even the private schools, could really meet their needs.  One school would be perfect for one boy, and absolutely terrible for the other one.  Or the opposite.  One school would be terrible for one boy and great for his brother.  Two different schools were considered.  But the two schools that could meet their needs were located thirty minutes apart, started and stopped at the same time, and one of them was a private school that would mean me finding a better job to pay that particular kid's way.  I was a substitute teacher.  Actually, before kids, I was a public school teacher, then a private school teacher, then a tutor, then a preschool teacher, then a substitute teacher.  But as of late, I was the substitute.  And that job doesn't come close to paying private school tuition, much less solve the car line timing issue.  So, we embarked on a new adventure as a family. 

We chose to homeschool. 

Quickly I dove into picking what I should teach, how I should be legal, and figuring out what resources would be necessary to educate my boys at home.  And, though I am naturally structured but not good at following others' rules, I did initially organize much of my day mimicking the "school at home" method.  I called educators and asked what curriculum would be best, I attended a homeschool curriculum sale, and I organized a closet with everything.  Being that I had taught back in the day and had just spent the last year substitute teaching, I figured I was prepared. 

Turns out... I was. 

But not because I had already assured doubters of my teaching degree, my openness for advice, and my definite decision to test the boys regularly.  Turns out...I was prepared because I am their mother.  And I care a whole lot more about their education than anyone else, maybe save for my husband.  I also very quickly figured out that homeschooling is miserable if forced to be "school at home" and that my boys are, well, boys.  My boys learn a whole lot better cuddled up on the couch in the morning and out running around all of the historic battlefields in the afternoon.  The Revolutionary War came alive once we visited reenactments and talked with soldiers and held their powder horns and heard their muskets and saw their feet wrapped in rags because there weren't enough shoes for the army back then.  Nature focused into great detail once we dissected flowers and pumpkins and pine cones and brought home to our dining room table the sea life that had washed up on the beach.  Soil takes on a new dimension once picked through and examined under a microscope.  Especially soil from your own backyard.  Reading exploded once they could video each other with my phone and act out poems wearing a tricorn hat and pajama bottoms.  "School" came alive, and it was far more effective without silent lunch and concern about bullying and sitting still enough in crisscross apple sauce style.

***Now, it isn't that those things (except the bullying) are bad or ineffective.  And it is a privilege to stay home that most simply do not get.  But this privilege has saved my boys' education.  And I can save this for another time, but those of you looking at me thinking I am just rich and lucky should know there is sacrifice.  It may not be your sacrifice, but it isn't all coming up roses either.*** 

But, here's the thing.  My boys are absorbing information constantly, and they are absorbing it as they are exposed to it.  We'll go to the library and I will finally relocate them in the section about space or government or soldiers or fantasy or or or.....And so the books come.  We have ended up opening worlds I wasn't initially planning on getting to this year.  We no longer match in the least the state standards.  But really, I simply do not care.  These boys are thinking and researching and living school.  I can see every single day that they are learning.  I do not need a test to tell me that.  And I especially do not need an organization or a state mandated official testing them on information they haven't yet explored to tell me how they are doing.  Again, I am their mother.  So I can see and I care a whole lot more than some test proctor can see or find noteworthy on one given day in May.  My kids, frankly, might knock those standardized tests out of the water.  Or they may fall flat on their face because they haven't been sitting in that circle time.  And it really wouldn't be relevant at all to what makes up their true knowledge. 

So this is why I love the third option.  We can bring home those library books and take the time to prance around in tricorn hats and build a million science experiments out of Legos and learn all about phonics from a 1920's book and diagram sentences just because they seem a whole lot like puzzles.  With the third option we can do all of these things and more.  But a test at the end of the year will not help us.  In fact it will end up being a huge imposition. 

I started homeschooling to solve the school crisis in my home.  I will keep homeschooling because learning is now the filter through most everything we do.  There's a word some homeschoolers use - Deschooling.  It means the time it takes to let go of the institution of public or private school.  Most suggest a month of adjustment for every year spent in school.  I thought the whole idea a bit silly, honestly.   For Key that would be five months, Kelly one month, me approximately twenty five months.  We are finishing up month seven.  And I would say now that what they suggest is probably true.  It takes awhile for it to sink into your bones that you are free.  And you are responsible for the outcome. 

And that is okay.

In fact, to us, it is now how it should be.


Patty Hatch