Friday, June 4, 2010

High School at Home: One Mom's Experience

I loved home schooling from the very beginning. Of course there are many ideas about home schooling and what it should/could be like, so I should clarify here. The ideas about home schooling that I was sold on were presented by Dave Guterson in his book Family Matters: Why Home Schooling Makes Sense. They were presented by the Colfax family during their interview on the Donahue Show and in their book Home Schooling for Excellence.

I was given a picture of how they could be artfully and enthusiastically put into practice at a home school convention. There Jessica Hulcy explained how she and Carole Thaxton prayerfully set out to teach in ways that encompassed every possible venue for learning a teacher could exploit: music, art, theater, dance, reading, writing, hands-on field trips, personal interviews, you name it. I was excited as other parents shared that they had discovered how much more rewarding and memorable it was for your students when they could create multi-faceted presentations of what they had learned instead of utilizing the fill-in-the-blank tests so common in my public school experience.

I joined a home school support group. I was almost suckered into the Movement by that one, but I am too sincere in my self to be absorbed by the Borg. They spit me out, though. I did not leave of my own volition. I think I would have eventually. I am sure of it. But they pushed me out first so we'll never know.

It was a Christian home school group, but when I joined the focus was still on education. It had only recently come up with the "statement of faith" requirement, and while I found it distasteful, I needed friends for my children and other parents to create the group learning experiences I wanted for my students.

I was very active in this group, even being appointed president one year. And I can gladly say that while I was involved, the focus remained on support and education. The focus was NOT on making perfect Christian clones out of our students. Though judging by their web site today, it has devolved to that, sadly.

I get excited about those early days all over again just writing about it! It is such a beautiful dream, and for those who stick to it, an amazingly fun and rewarding educational adventure. I was a teacher, coach, arts and crafts director: a fellow sojourner on the quest for learning. Yay!

But as middle school years hit my oldest and my marriage relationship grew rocky, things changed. My daughter will attest to this fact, though neither of us are proud of it: she was so resistant and spiteful, everything was a challenge. Gone were the days of exploring the world together- she wanted nothing to do with me!

I bought Switched on Schoolhouse for many of her classes so I could spend my time with my son doing the fun things. She was fine with that. We switched to Saxon math in middle school, and she was able to keep up with that on her own. She eventually made it all the way through Calculus pretty much solo. I went from being a teacher and co-learner to being a supervisor. I graded papers and checked to see that she was making progress.

By the time my oldest moved on to high school, I didn't even do that much if I could help it. I confined myself to paying for things and making sure she was where she needed to be at the right time. I paid for online classes with University of Oklahoma High School Online and University of Nebraska Lincoln High School Online so someone else could teach her. She also chose a foreign language I had no experience or interest in, and so I got her a tutor for that. (That language is now her major in college, so that was a good call!)

All in all for high school, I taught very few classes, and those were usually co-ops with other students. Without the other students, it would have been a drudge, but I love teenagers and (unlike my daughter) they seemed to like me. So English literature and American History were fun for me in her high school years, but only because I had a group.

(For the record, my daughter and I are pretty good friends now. She just finished her sophomore year of college. But this bit is supposed to be about high school. I digress.)

Now my youngest is in high school, and I have come to a realization. It wasn't just the strain on my relationship with my daughter. My son and I get along great, and yet high school is still not all that fun for me. I am a Tigger-type person and fun really needs to be on the list somewhere for me to stay motivated. =)

If the early years were all about discovery learning, high school is all about whip-cracking.
"Did you finish your math?" Kerrack!
"Where are you in chemistry? Are you behind again?" Kerrack!
"Oh my, I haven't graded your history in two weeks?" Kerrack @ myslef!

Thankfully there is another part of having high school students that I do enjoy. I realize that much of what I enjoy about having teenagers will make movement home school moms point at me and shame me. But I am not ashamed, so I will let the world know.

I love the window into pop culture. I have learned so many new songs, artists, even wholly new musical genres that I would never have known about were it not for my teens. Who knew that Screamo existed or something called Industrial/Trance?

Yes, my teens can listen to whatever they want. I can feel free to relax this way because I know for a fact that:
The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Psalm 24:1

My only rule was that for the one who leaves the radio on all night, it be on Christian radio while she slept. But even then, it's not like I checked in on her in the middle of the night to see what station the radio was on. I am pretty lenient about enforcement of all rules in high school. If I catch you breaking a rule, there will be consequences, but I do not go around looking for infractions. Life is too short and especially with my daughter, our relationship was too fragile.

They can also read whatever they wanted, and pretty much watch whatever they wanted on television if they could convince me it had merit. I consider laughter meritorious. :)

I have been surprised to see that there are some really funny shows out there with some pithy things to say about life, religion and politics. Most of these shows I would never have watched if a teen didn't push me out of my comfort zone.

Language is not a problem for me, and I must admit I feel superior to the moms with the software that beeps out the bad words in movies. Bad me. While I want my students to speak respectfully to others, I never insisted that their movies and television be G rated. The world is not G rated, for heaven's sake, and this is the world they will live in when they are grown. It is the world which Christ loved so much He gave his life to win it for His bride. It is the world we are to go into and be salt and light. I don't think we'll be well received if we are haughtily offended at non-churchianity vocabulary.

I was not afraid of allowing my high school students this freedom and here's why. They spent the first fifteen years of their lives hearing from me morning, noon and night. They know my opinion on absolutely everything.

At this point they will either agree with me or disagree, but it will be honest agreement or disagreement. High school is time to start handing the reigns of their decisions over to them, and for me to sit in the back seat once in a while.

Have they made some bad decisions? You bet. Have they made some good decision? Many. Are they things I would have chosen for them? Not usually, on either count. And that makes me very proud of them both, and (may I say so?) of the job I did raising them up this far.

I have learned much from them, and we have had some great conversations. I believe we would have missed out on those if my students were kept bored and sheltered and fed nothing but religious propaganda all day long. I know we would have had less time and opportunity for those conversations if I was at work and they were at school all day.

So while I find home schooling high school to be way less fun than those early years, actually a drudge on most days, the extra time I get with my teens and the new things they teach me more than makes up for it. Next year my final student will start dual enrolling at community college, and I won't even have to give him assignments or grade tests for those subjects. Like happened with his sister, each year my role as teacher shrinks. And let's face it, my role as mom shrinks too.

But, at least I hope this trend continues, my role as friend will grow. I hope, I hope, I hope...


  1. I need to clarify:
    It had only recently come up with the "statement of faith" requirement, and while I found it distasteful

    I do not find faith distasteful! Jesus is my life!

    I find dividing up the home school community distasteful. I find isolating and excluding children from community on the basis of their parents beliefs distasteful.

    The movement to come up with exclusively Christian home school groups was a harbinger of the religious extremism to come. It shifted the focus from education to producing perfect Christians- an oxymoron according to scripture.

    Such exclusivity bears no resemblance to the life of Christ our Saviour.

  2. I have homeschooled my two girls (although both with several forays into a variety of school options) and they are now 13 and almost 12. I am SOO glad that I never bothered to go to homeschool conferences or curriculum fairs where all the Christian homeschool "Movement" crap is pushed (although I was so vehemently anti-christian for most of their early years, I would never have been sucked in). I DID get sucked into fundamentalist Waldorf and neo-hippy socialist education stuff--equally fear-based, isolationist, live in the woods and bake your own bread--I almost had my husband convinced to buy chickens and "urban farm". (No offense against those who enjoy woods-living and urban-farming but lots of offense to those who say it is the One True Way to live properly and all-but-guarantees the best children).

    After I extricated myself from my over-involvement in secular fundamentalism, it was a bit of a journey to facilitate everyone's recovery of the joy of learning and spontaneous Life-living that had drawn me to homeschooling in the first place. One of the first fundamentalist Waldorf rules to be thrown out the window was to deregulate all screen time: unlimited television, including all the nine bazillion DirecTV stations, all the internet surfing, Google, YouTube, and music they could find.

    My still-fundy friends gasped "but they'll be introduced to inappropriate things!". Well, yeah, that's kinda the point: they will be introduced to real aspects of their real world while they are still within my sphere of influence and within the context of a relationship with me that supports free discussion of what they find.

    Now, they are taking most of their academic work through an enrichment center and I am reduced simply supplementing a few things and even those only sporadically. Sigh. I miss being the one who gets to see their eyes light up when they Really Get something they've been struggling to understand. And at least one of my girls is going to our local high school in a year to take advantage of a pre-biomedical program (kinda Pre-Med Prep) so I will have even less chance to be the one to see those Aha!s.

    But I wouldn't trade the relationships that my girls and I have built through homeschooling for anything in the world.

  3. Loved this sentence!

    "they will be introduced to real aspects of their real world while they are still within my sphere of influence and within the context of a relationship with me that supports free discussion of what they find."

    And maybe they'll have an Aha! moment while they are doing their homework. =)

  4. "I consider laughter meritorious. :)"

    I <3 you for that sentence.

    I'm so glad I found this blog.

  5. Janegoth,

    Love your name! =D I went to your blog and see you are in the UK. One great thing my kids have turned me on to is Catherine Tate and her Lauren skits. ROFLOL! I especially love the skit about her "marriage".

    I don't think God is bothered by 80% of the things that bother religious people. So funny!