Never Say Never...
I am almost reluctant to write this post, because every time when I was very certain about something, my life laughed at me and made me change my plans. For example, just a little over a year ago I was explaining on my blog why we don't consider acceleration of our gifted daughter and then a year later we chose to skip her. But I think the lesson here for me and for other parents is that life is fluid. All this debate over whether homeschooling is a good choice should really be is it a good choice for my family and this particular child of mine at this given point of time? Just as homeschooling parents have many reasons to choose their path and can be very vocal explaining their reasons, I will try to explain why we are continuing on our journey through a public school system. Interestingly, Leanna's question reminded me that I already wrote about it once long time ago when my daughter was just 3 years old and I was thinking about her future education. A lot of those reasons still hold, but now I am more experienced with public school system in the United States and have a somewhat different take on some things.
Reason 1: Teaching Is a Full Time Job
I never dreamed of becoming a teacher. I studied to be an engineer, I started my career as a software engineer, and then my life led me to technical project management. In my career, I took classes and spent hours and hours practicing my craft. I cannot imagine a teacher, even an excellent teacher, stepping in and managing successfully my projects at work, because he or she attended meetings before. Neither can I imagine stepping in and teaching my child everything she needs to know without spending hours on prep, buying materials, or outsourcing certain tasks to others - all this just because I already know how to read, write, and do elementary school math. Teaching is a calling, and I don't have it. I'd rather entrust my child to those who had that calling, followed it through professional training and has multiple resources at their disposal to do their job, In the meantime, I will do my own job and get paid enough money for it to afford living in a decent school district.
Reason 2: Public School Is (Almost) Free
It's fashionable to complain how public school is not really free. We are not talking about taxes, but about yearly expenses to educate our children. All those school supplies, parent donations, fundraisers add up, but they are still "peanuts" in comparison to the costs of homeschooling and don't even get me started on the cost of private schools in our area. Yes, homeschooling got a lot cheaper lately with so many amazing free options available online, but... it's still expensive, especially if we consider the "opportunity cost" of one parent not working or working only part time. This especially becomes true when kids get older. Our new middle school has a well equipped science lab, a Makerspace with 3D printers and real tools and an experienced instructor. It has subjects like Drama and Leadership. Kids are learning to play ukulele in music classes. Trying to provide the same opportunities in homeschool is financially challenging, especially for multiple kids.
Reason 3: Keeping My Sanity
My daughter is a sweet and easygoing child... most of the time. But... she can also be as stubborn as a mule. As she is growing up, she wants to have more and more control over her life and she resists activities that were not chosen by her - this is partially why you don't see a whole lot of "activities" on my blog lately. I cannot imagine the power struggles that would unfold in our house if we were homeschooling her. Ironically, she takes direction readily and cheerfully from the teachers in school, because the roles of a teacher and a parent are fully separated in her head. Of course, there is also a self-directed unschooling option, but... neither Smarty nor I are cut out for that. I'd go crazy with worry that she is missing foundations by skipping boring work, and she would readily spend her days reading fantasy. No, really, both of us are better off with a structure of school, and separation that comes with it does make heart grow fonder :)
Reason 4: Sharing Responsibility
Personally, I feel a huge responsibility for raising a child who will be able to function independently, work in groups, and choose her own way in the world. I am glad to be able to share some of this responsibility with caring adults who were trained to educate our children. My friend Colleen, who homeschools her gifted learners, wrote eloquently about why it stinks to be gifted in schools today. It has not been our experience. Our public school journey was not without its bumps, but we have never met a teacher who hated our child. Most of Smarty's teachers were outstanding in their ability to address very different needs of their classroom. Our two school principals were just the best of the best and actively supported our request for acceleration. It's a great privilege to be able to share my feeling of responsibility with others who "get it".
Reason 5: Friendships, Including Adult Friendships
I participate in an active online community for parents of gifted children and a moderator asks the same question from time to time, How did you find friends for your children? Well, the answer is easy - I did not have to find them. She found them herself in school. Not all gifted children are being homeschooled. In fact, Smarty's grade had about 10 students out of 85 identified as academically gifted through California COGaT testing. Her best friends came from that cluster, but she was also liked and respected by her other classmates.
Not only Smarty found friends through school, we also found new friendships by meeting other parents and participating in different projects together. As we live far from family, it's good to know that we have a bigger "village" to call on if we need urgent help.
Reason 6: Being a Change Maker
As a public school parent, I feel that I have more say over the direction of public education in my own school and in my community. Last year, I made a point to attend our school district meetings and appreciate both the sincere desire to invest into our children and the difficulty of balancing district budget. We have community hearings on our goals, and I spoke during the meeting arguing that the services designed to provide differentiated instruction should not be cut. Among other things, these services are essential to keep parents from defecting to private schools and homeschooling options. The more parents get involved in the lives of their school communities and their districts the more change we can drive not just for our own children but for all our children.
The Grass Is Not Always Greener on the Other Side
I will not lie - we had moments when we were very frustrated with the system. But it's the system that is failing our gifted students, not necessarily individual schools and teachers. As a public school parent, I have my moments of frustration - with age-based curriculum choices, with math class going over the same thing in 10 different ways to address needs of learners with different learning speeds and different learning styles, with too much time spent in classroom management. But I also know that my homeschooling friends have their dark moments when they are very tempted to send their rebellious offspring off to school, preferably to a military boarding school. Then we all take a deep breath, count our blessings, remind ourselves why our choices are the best for our families and just keep raising our kids... one day at a time.
What influenced your school choices for your children?
More Thoughts About Public School?
From my blog:
- An interview before the start of a new school year
- Writing a letter to your child's teacher
- Back to school for gifted learners
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