When deciding to home school the kids this coming fall the first question I asked myself, which may seem obvious, was “what do I want my kids to get from their k-12 education?” I suppose as a former project manager I can’t help but focus on the end goal. What am I supposed to achieve at the end of my project? What is the big picture? My father used to say, “if you don’t know where you’re headed then how will you know if you’ve arrived?” What seemed like a simple question ended up being rather complex when I really thought about it.
We send our children to public school with what expectation? That they will learn to read? They master reading by 2nd grade. Learn to write? Also complete by 2nd grade. No, it is more than that. At the end of the day this is the list that I settled on:
- College Readiness: I of course would like my children to achieve higher education and I would expect their K-12 education to prepare them for this level of course work. This means their reading comprehension, study skills, and a certain breadth and depth of knowledge. Their ability to complete basic library research and understand the components of a basic sentence.
- Fundamental Understanding of Core Subjects: math, reading, writing, science. But I also want them to know geography, government, literature, history, social studies, philosophy, etc. They need a strong foundation in a variety of subjects. It is this combination of subjects that provides them with a lens through which they can see and understand the world.
- Citizenship: I would like my children to learn how to be contributing members of society, which means instructing them in the value of hard work, community service, and government. This also means learning to be tolerant, respectful and polite.
- Critical thinking: I want my children to challenge assumptions and think for themselves. In an age of media overload I want them to be discerning in their reading and research. My parents encouraged me to question EVERYTHING and EVERYBODY and I would like that same curiosity to be encouraged in my own children.
- Variety of life experiences: I want my kids to have the ability to participate in non-academic pursuits – athletics, the fine arts, school government, etc. The humanities have always been a big part of my life (and David’s) and I want my children to be exposed to this variety.
- Knowledge and Understanding of the World: I don’t want them to live in a bubble (I know, you are shocked by this because I’ve chose to home school and isn’t that what all home schoolers want? a bubble). I want them to know a Buddhist, Atheist, Muslim, Sikh, Jew, Black, Hispanic, Gay, Asian. I want them to “eat from the banquet of life” -to love and appreciate the rainbow of the world and why it all works together to create something bountiful and beautiful. I want them to know that their heritage and their values are not the only ones that exist. I want them to not be afraid of “the different” but to embrace it.
I will be the first to admit that this is a tall order, even for the public schools to fulfill. It is nearly an impossible order when you consider the constraints under which the school system functions. When I started down this path I was trying to prove that home school was NOT the right decision and so I was trying very hard to give the public schools a fair shake. I looked at this list and I assigned a grade for each item, reflecting how well I thought the school was doing at accomplishing these goals. The school system ended up with a 2.16 GPA – they received 2 Ds, 2 Cs, 1 B and 1 A. And the A was in “Knowledge of the World” and the B was in “Variety of Life Experiences” — the recess of the school system. So yes, the school was getting an A in recess but failing everything else.
I am not pulling my children out of school to isolate them. The fact that my son learned the F-word in 1st grade is bothersome, but I can parent around that. The fact that girls in Lucy’s 3rd grade class are watching YouTube videos, unsupervised, on french kissing is troubling but I can parent through that as well. I can even parent through bullying and “mean girls”. But it is not worth the effort of dealing with all of these social nightmares when the academics aren’t performing. At the end of the day the only good thing my kids were getting out of the school system was something they could receive at an afternoon on a soccer field or the Girl Scouts. I definitely don’t need the school to insure that my children are exposed to a variety of cultures or to expose them to a variety of life experiences. I am fully capable of doing that part myself.
The next thing I looked at was how were the academics — really. I had my perceptions based on the results I see as a college professor and what I see coming home as a parent, but I realize that I am not objective. The next blog post will look at the academics.