Friday, February 20, 2009

The Great School Debate

OK so this is what consumes an embarrassing amount of my mental energy these days; what to do about school. Right now is registration time for next year so I am needing to make a decision. I have to remind myself that no decision is permanent and that we can change paths at anytime. In this post when I say "school" I actually mean our local Montessori and when I say "homeschooling" I actually mean unschooling.

I'm so jealous of the people who are sure and confident about which of the two is right for their child. I'm so on the fence its driving me crazy so I'm going to try and talk it out and ask you all to weigh in.

OK lets get the first big issue down; social skills. While I truly think its possible to homeschool children and have them be socially skilled I have actually never met an adult example of this. Now this said, most adult homeschoolers I know were homeschooled for one of two reasons; they lived so rurally it would have taken too long of a bus ride to get to and from school OR they were fundamentalists Christians being sheltered from the sinners. Not exactly great social situations. Calgary has a large and vibrant homeschooling community (10,000 or so students) and about 80% of Lyric's current friends will be homeschooled. We are very busy socially and it was actually difficult to pare down Lyric's bday party guest list to the 24 kids allowed. I dont think alot of the social skills learned at school are valuable anyway. i.e. how to judge people based on their appearance, gender roles, follow the crowd and fit in etc. I like the idea of being more involved in the development of her social skills and know from observation how awful the current playground culture really is. Its shocking. I regularily hear 8 and 9 year old boys yell at girls on the playgroung "Suck my dick" etc. Recent studies show that by age 10 close to half of girls have already done just that. Not the kinda socialization I'm looking for. Any doubters of how awful school playgrounds are should go hang out near one everyday for a week. Its really really sad. And yet I have the lingering fear that if I homeschool my children they will be "socially awkward."
Next thing; education. I, like every mother, want the best education for my child. I worry that a child like Lyric will receive little individual attention/instruction at school. She is calm, quiet, learns easily etc. These are not the children who get the majority of a teacher's energy. I would say in Lyric's current classroom the teacher spends WAY more time managing behavior than educating. I also think there are major gaps in a public education. There are so many useful skills I was never taught but instead learned about the Russian Czar system. I think so much of what is learned at school is forgotten almost immediately because it was not of any interest at the time it was taught. I also want to keep my children's passion for learning alive. I want them to LOVE to learn. However there is a small doubt within me that I can properly educate my own children well enough to keep all doors open to them. I would hate for them to not be properly prepared for university if that's the path they choose.
Next thing; my own life. As a single mom is it really reasonable or desirable to try and be home with my kids for the next 15 yrs?? What about persuing my career in midwifery? Is that easier if they are in school? Can I stand to be around them all the time??
Next thing; extra curricular activities. There are many many extra activities Lyric would like to be involved in. She has asked for lessons in violin, skating, snowboarding, Spanish, gymnastics, skiing etc. ALl this and she is only 3, so many more things to come I am sure. One thing I know for sure I DO NOT want to be is the mom that spends 3 or 4 hours after school everyday shuttlng from one actvity to another. Everything from girl guides, to music lessons, to sports etc. is available as part of the homeschool daytime curriculum in my city. If something werent available, then the "school day" could be a quieter day so that the evening activity could happen.
Hmmmmmm what else......oh I know commercialization. I hate how commercialized school children seem to be. Ok well most children in general but anywhere you have a big crowd of them it multiplies. The children who Lyric meets at school dont seem to really know how to "play". They just act out tv shows. Seriously its weird. They have pre-written plot-lines and they stick to them. They are agressively marketed towards and I dont like what people want to sell to little girls. Ever really looked at the Bratz dolls or similar?? They are awful. On the other hand her friends who do not go to school seem to be capable of much richer play. They are more imaginative and cooperative etc. They suggest new scenarios and compromise on story-lines. Along with commercialization comes the garbage food that she will see more as normal at school. Anyone who spends anytime with me knows I dont shelter my kids from any kinds of food - including prepackaged crap. I just dont want that to become the only accpetable lunch because thats what everyone else eats.
Ok naptime is over and this is long enough for now. I ask you all to weigh in and help me figure out what to do...............


Leah Jones said...

Let's start an all girls Montessori/unschooling school!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness. Are you inside my head?! EVERYTHING you said (and I mean EVERYTHING) is exactly what rolls around in mine daily. No help, just nodding in agreeance.

Marcie said...

Hey Gemma, saw your status and decided to check this out and could not agree with you more!!
Where we are living there is also the option of community schools which emphasize the outdoor education and community involvement there is alot less comercialization and I even saw an adbusters workshop posted! Still the exposure to unrealistic standards, current degrading culture and everything else these days has been one of the major deterants in me ever considering having kids!
Very big decisions, best of luck in making them!

Alisha said...

Me too. I just posted about this recently.
Why couldn't we start an AP Progressive school? Or infiltrate one anyway.....
I think I am just going to take one year at a time.
I am going to put K in Reggio next year because I really VIBE with the teacher, and then go from there.
If I were you Gemma, I wouldnt make any decisions. I would just pay the money to hold her spot and then figure it out in Sept. :)

Renee said...

Our kids learn everything they need to from us in the first 5 years, why not continue that way? Not that I really think that, I actually think about everything you wrote regularly, but my thoughts are not nearly as eloquent as yours...

Cathy Brehaut Snell said...

It seems to me, based on your blog, that you already know you want to home/unschool, so go for it. There are no guarantees whichever decision you make and there are drawbacks to everything as well as upsides. You can always choose to put Lyric in something at a later date if it isn't working out for whatever reason.

Lindsie said...

Gemma, I think you would be the most awesome unschooler ever. You've already taught her how to eat, walk, talk, read, etc. so what makes you think you can't teach her anything else? If you could swing it financially, and not go crazy, and get a break from time to time, it could work.
As for the social aspect, I think a 4 yr old with over 24 close friends is pretty much set! Schools don't teach real-world social skills anyway. They teach you how to survive in a class of 30 kids your age. With all those extra-curricular activities, Lyric would get tons of social interaction.

I'm hoping to unschool my kids too. Can you tell?

UCda mama said...

Gemma, I can relate to everything you've written too -- and I decided to keep my clever girl out of school. That was 8 years ago, and she is now a beautiful, self-assured, smart, funny, sociable, and EMPLOYED young woman. She follows her passions (which for 2 years have been animation, and as of this year include coaching young kids in gymnastics). I never even considered putting my much-more-difficult, sensory-processing-issues, sensitive boy (who likes to wear pink and rainbows, and has over 100 stuffed pigs, and likes to sing) in school -- wouldn't want to know how he'd be treated there (ok, I DO know), and wouldn't want to see how he'd end up. You ARE an unschooler. Come join and hear from many more amazing people who do this. It's all good! Still waiting to meet IRL...

Valerie said...

Not sure why you want me to comment, since I think I've already told you how I feel on all these points. LOL.

A few things though, since you are discussing one of my favourite subjects.

I know many, many people on both sides of the school vs. homeschool debate that have their moments of doubt. It took me a while to come to peace with my decision to unschool. I don't think it was that I all of a sudden knew so much more, but once I had made a decision it was easier to become more confident, since I knew that without the confidence I wouldn't be able to truly do justice to my decision.

The only home schooled adult that I think we both know is Dan (Kyla's SO) and I quite like him. I agree that most homeschoolers aren't going to be the cool kids, but that only matters in school anyway. I wasn't a cool kid and I have managed to have a fairly successful and happy life. However, I think that happiness becomes much easier once you are more authentic with yourself. Trying to fit in at school (and even a few years after school) kept me from being happy, since I wasn't being truly myself and participated in destructive behaviour. I don't care if my kids fit in completely with the mainstream, I want them to be able to be their authentic selves. Also, I think that the important social skills that people truly need involve things like respect, caring, politeness, openness to others, willingness to give and such. I wouldn't consider that most of these are really the social skills that are learned in school. Maybe I am less worried about this since I was a socially awkward teenager even though I was in school so I figure that at least if my kids have their quirks they won't feel that they are worthless because of it.

Do you really think that your kids need the first ten years of school in case they want to go to high school and then get in to university? Great thing about public school is that if you decide that your kids need high school there are all sorts of resources (even for home schoolers) to catch them up if needed and to get them up to the necessary standards. Plus there are so many intelligent, capable moms and dads who home school that I am sure you could find someone to help your kids out if they needed it. I used to tutor high school calculus for an example.

I think the big thing is making it fit with your life. You seem to really want to be able to unschool but I am sure as a single mom it can seem overwhelming and whether you are up to it is a decision that is ultimately up to you. I think you would be an amazing unschooling mom if it provides any reassurance. Just remember that there are women who love you and will be there to support you no matter what and that I am very much among that group of women.


pipersmama05 said...

Alright I'll finally comment, although my opinion should have little weight since I not to long ago debated the other side of the fence with equal passion :) My recent revalation is this. I think you a) need to truly enjoy spending time with your kids and b) truly believethat they are capable of learning what they need to know when they need to know it. If so, all the rest will fall in to place. To address specific concerns. Socialization - now I have zero experience firsthand with this, but my thought is that given how large the homeschooling community in Calgary is, I think somewhere along the line you're still going to run into the social issues in schools. In peer groups, classes taken outside of the home, drop-in activities etc. you are still going to run into a lot of the same people over and over again and chances are some of those kids will be "cool" some will be artsy, some will be athletic, some will be nerds etc. I've noticed even from my recent foray into the boards that there are still people I like, people I don't like, people I thik should definitely not be homeschooling...enough of a variety in reasons for homeschooling, the way they are doing it etc to produce a wide variety of children similar to the wide variety of children in schools. So really I think children that are homeschooled and end up socialy awkward would have been socially awkward if they went to school as well and there's also those that would have fit fine into the school system who will also do fine homeschooled. As for midwifery, just remember that as they get older they can do so much more on their own and really I think working side by side shows that you value learning too and sets a great example! My longwinded two cents, realy I just want you to unschool so we can hang out :)

Kelly said...

I am so there with you! Dave really wants to homeschool, and keeps telling people we are homeschooling, but I'm pretty sure the final decision will be mine, since I will be the one actually doing it. I do actually want to homeschool, I just tend to doubt myself a lot.

Everyone I have talked to who homeschools said that socialization is not an issue whatsoever. Most homeschooled kids these days may also have better social skills because they learn to interact with people of all ages, and not just their peers. Although I've noticed with Judith she tends to like kids older and younger than her, but not really other 3 year-olds. So I've purposely signed her up for a few activities that will encourage that. I don't think she HAS to sit in a classroom all day with kids her age to be socialized. I'm pretty sure most homeschoolers these days don't just stay home all day every day with their kids. I see homeschool families out all the time during the week!

Oh, also, I am definitely proof that you can go to public school and still be horribly socially awkward...

And both my best friend and Dave's best friend were homeschooled, and then went to public high school. They are both amazing people, and they both think homeschooling is awesome and public school was lame, lol. Dave's best friend is actually 6 years younger than him. He was 2 grades ahead, and Dave was a grade behind, so they were in highschool at the same time and started a band together. I actually know a LOT of people my age that were homeschooled, and they seem totally fine socially and academically, and they all actually are planning on homeschooling their own kids! There was only one family that I knew that homeschooled and were a little kooky, because the mom is a little 'out there', but the kids actually turned out ok, and one has a daughter and is planning to homeschool...

I also don't think Judith would do well in a classroom setting. She is just like Dave, and he did poorly in school because he just can't learn in that environment, even though he is really VERY smart. He is the type of person that would excel at homeschooling because he has such a passion for learning new things. School just really broke his spirit and he will tell you those were the worst years of his life (from K-12). I did really well in school though, and I do learn well in that environment, but I just had a hard time with friends and a few teachers, which really ruined the experience for me and made me a very insecure person.

Another reason I'd like to homeschool is just so I can re-learn everything myself! I think it would be fairly easy thanks to the internet. I didn't retain a lot of what I learned in school because I was so stressed all the time. I would retain what I needed to for the time being, but then shortly forget. I got excellent grades, but I don't think I was really all that "smart". I just figured out what the teacher wanted and did that. I would love to research all kinds of things in order to teach my kids!

I'm not anti-public school though. I think there are a lot of great teachers out there that can really make a difference in the life of a child (but a lot of bad ones that don't care either). I think the Montessori and Reggio and Waldorf schools sound really cool, but that's not really an option for us financially (or logistically, they are pretty far away). I think kids can definitely benefit from school. But for me, I think that since I am in a position where I CAN homeschool, and I want to and thinking/reading about it gets me excited, that it is a really good option for us.

I think overall, the most important thing is that the parent(s) is involved with the child's learning, whether they are in school or not. I think, really, a person's true social skills, love of learning, and confidence are learned at home, no matter where they get their education.

Sorry for totally writing a blog instead of a comment. This has been on my mind SO much lately...

Anonymous said...


Loralee said...

okay I left this on our facebook chat...but I will put it here too just in case you don't see the facebook one.

I am halfway through your school post and already I have a comment. :0) There are socially awkward and socially "acceptable" people in school and there are some of both in the homeschool world. Some kids get pulled out to homeschool *because* they are socially askew. These kids will remain socially awkward but for the most part they are accepted in the homeschooling world so they grow up as fairly confident, socially awkward kids as opposed to socially awkward, insecure, and possibly angry kids. :0)
If a child was meant to be socially awkward, they will be that no matter where they are. :0)

next point: (just playing devil's advocate for you- although you did a nice job of that yourself) universities seem to be easier for homeschoolers to get into these days than the "regular" population. Most universities have special admittance policies just for homeschoolers. Harvard has people hired just to recruit homeschoolers! and the part about you not being qualified to teach? Gemma, you are one of the most intelligent people I are soooo qualified!

...Okay now I have read some of the comments. There was one that thought that maybe there would be some of the same socialization issues in the homeschool grops as in school because homeschooling is getting so big. In my experience, this has not been the case at all. People don't separate into cliques in the homeschool world. Like I said earlier, even the socially awkward are for the most part accepted. Of course, everyone doesn't always get along 100% of the time and you always have people you click with better than others, but for the most part everyone gets along. My girls know hundreds of other homeschoolers that we see on a regular basis. In a school setting they may never have been friends with such a diverse group of people, but it doesn't matter in the homeschool world. Each girl has about ten kids that they would probably be able to name if someone asked them to name their ten top friends, but I bet if you asked them if there was anyone they didn't like, they might be able to come up with one or two, but they would have a pretty hard time doing it (and they would probably say something like, "well, it's not that I don't like them, it's just sometimes they get on my nerves a little").

I can usually pick a child that isn't homeschooled out of a group in minutes. It is a totally different way to grow up, but the only negative I have ever been able to think of (for homeschooling) is that for a mom you are really giving all of yourself and all of your time (but the benefits of this sacrifice are huge). :0)
Good luck with your school debate Gemma. :0)

Lolly said...

Okay, so I researched this about 19 years ago so my memory isn't very good. The one thing that has stuck with me for so long was something I read about the socialization concern in one of John Holt's books (he was a homeschooling icon at that time - I don't know if he's still around). My recollection of what he said is that, if there was only one reason to not send your children to school, it would be because of the unnatural social environment, bullying, etc.

On the midwifery training front, did you know that MRC is currently considering offering a Bachelor of Midwifery program. I just wrote a letter with my Birth Unlimited hat in support of it.

Good luck with your schooling decision. I ended up choosing Waldorf after I realized that, if I were going to homeschool, I wouldn't be able to work outside of the home since my first dh's earning capacity was quite low (this is when mortgages were at 13.25%). We ended up separating a couple of years later. I was able to put them through Waldorf without any financial support (except in the last couple of years for part of one child's tuition only).

CrazyAssDreams said...

Here are my thoughts on things...I too played with kids (thirty odd years ago) who had storylines from whatever TV show was popular already mapped out for us to enact. This did not stifle my creativity at all, if anything it enhanced it because it made me realize how much more fun it is to create your own thing.

I was picked on a fair bit in school and there were points where I hated it, but there isn't a moment of it I would trade for not being there. It taught me that things don't always go the way we might like, and how to deal with disappointment. The part I struggled with? Not being able to express myself at home, because showing/discussing your emotions was not allowed in my house. Clearly, any child of Gemma's will be encouraged to discuss everything that happens and exactly how it made them feel anytime they want to, so this issue would never be part of the picture.
I have friends who have kids ranging from 5 to 17, and the stories I've heard from them about what their kids experience at school? Not so different from when we were that age, 15-20 odd years ago. Yes, drugs and sexual conversation are more prevalent, of course. Again though, I think the difference lies in the approach we take as parents. Most of our parents were not open sexually or about drug use and didn't know how to handle that type of behaviour/conversation. All those parents I mentioned, and particularly you Gemma, will be able to have such open minded discussions with their kids about all these things that I think that is almost half the battle. My friends kids have so much respect, admiration and comraderie with their kids that it's a whole different ballgame.
I understand why you don't want Lyric and Kaliya to hang around kids who say things like "suck my dick" and act like little kid jerks. I remember kids like that too, and I hated being around them. But you know what? They never go away, and I have to deal with people like that every day in my job, and many interactions in my life. I think no matter what walk of life your in, you encounter assholes. I'm glad I had the opportunity as a child to learn how to deal with them, because if I'd just been around kids who were of similar temperament and sensitivity to me, I think I'd be pretty lost now.
Again, these are just my opinions, and all the things you raised are super valid...just know whatever decision you make, I'm behind you 100%!!!!
Love you!!xoxo

Kyla said...

Hey Gemma, great debate! Even though Isaac is a few years away from going to school I am also thinking about homeschooling/unschooling.

Before meeting Dan I thought that homeschooled kids were "WEIRD" but now I would love for my kid to be weird because that may mean he'd be himself. One of the things that drew me to Dan was his ability to be himself and this is something that is very important to him - he's always wanting to be ego-syntonic. It is only in the last few years that I realized I can have my OWN thoughts and ideas, its pretty sad that it took me over 25 years!

Good luck with your decisions. I think that because you're a social person your kids won't have any problems. Homeschooled kids who are socially awkward probably would have been like that anyway and hopefully they're just being themselves.