Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Kids' Education

It's time for me to admit something that Superdad and I have been considering for months now. The revelation is something that will come as no surprise to some of you but to most others I have little doubt that you'd no inkling of our thoughts. I'm sharing it now because even though we've made no final decisions yet, it's something that's been weighing heavily on our minds. And what, pray tell, am I talking about?


There. I said it.


There are numerous reasons that we're so seriously considering this move, but first let me start in a logical spot: the beginning.

I never, ever thought homeschooling would be anything I'd remotely consider. Ever. Homeschooling was for weirdos and loners and losers and certainly nothing I'd ever think of doing. We chose our community primarily because of its reputation for excellent, first-rate schools. We've been pleased with Madeleine's school and, to a greater extent, her teachers these past three years.

Until this past year homeschooling never made a blip on my radar.

And then Madeleine went to first grade; the first serious year of academics. We were prepared to be dazzled. We'd heard glowing reports of the rigorous mental stunts our children would be put through and assured they'd be well trained for any career they might so choose.

Then came home the homework. "Homelinks" is the cutesy term used for their math curriculum's homework. After measuring umpteenth objects in our home, watching Madeleine count tally marks and watching her struggle to subtract six from ten (not on her math homework, I might add, just a mini-mental test from me) we started to get a little concerned.

Superdad and I realized we should probably research and get familiar with her school's math curriculum, both the positives and the negatives. I won't bore you with the details of what we found or get into it too deeply because I know there are people out there who love the Everyday Math program but, I'll be honest, what we found scared us.

We then made the decision to supplement math. That involves bringing a tired six-year-old girl home from a seven-hour school day and having her do, in addition to her regular homework, another twenty to thirty minutes of supplemental homework. There are days I see the other kids on the block whizzing up and down the sidewalk on their scooters and even though I know what we're doing will serve Madeleine well down the road, there are days I want to cry when I see her look up, despondently, at the kids outside before going back to solving a tricky math problem.

And there are all the other things that they don't learn in school that I want the kids to learn: Latin, geography, history (it's touched on so, so minimally), music (I want them to learn who Beethoven was, how to play the piano, identify important periods in music history), art (how to mix colors, who Picasso was, having the freedom to create) and, most importantly, I don't want the kids to feel like they have to walk on eggshells when talking about their Christian faith.

Our day is already filled with seven hours of school, homework, the supplementing we're already doing and then, most importantly, the freedom of being a kid. Something has got to give.

We've checked out every private school within a drivable radius, those with religious affiliations and those without, and none fits our idea of what school should be.

I accept the idea that Superdad and I may have standards that are more stringent than necessary, but I've always regretted not having the same exposure to a great, well-diversified liberal arts education and I want my kids to have better. Isn't that what all parents want? To give their kids better than what they had? I'm now well aware of what's out there that young kids should, in my opinion, be exposed to and taught that I never was. I had to cram it all in, in my adult years, but I feel like my kids should have the opportunity to learn these things now.

To my shock and surprise this past year I've had numerous opportunities to meet lots of homeschooled children, on all ends to the spectrum (classically taught to unschooled) and to my shock and dismay they were... normal. In fact, they were just like I would like my kids to be: happy, polite and smart.

We don't know what we're going to do. Hank will for sure go to the public school next year for Junior Kindergarten. He wants to go and we want him to go. Beyond that we have no idea what our children's educational future holds. Madeleine, however, seems committed to homeschooling her second grade year. I think I'm on board with the idea, but I'm not sure, completely and totally, yet. Selfishly I like having the time away from them, yet, I hear myself say it or see myself write it and I feel like it seems like a thin excuse.

Right now I'm exploring more in-depth the possible curriculum we could use and getting acquainted with the massive amounts of resources out there for homeschooling (overwhelming tasks, both!). Already I've been hooked up with an impressive Latin teacher and a homeschooling mom with a girl Madeleine's age that wants to join with me to encourage the Audubon to offer classes for homeschooled kids. We're also exploring the possibility of a part time college girl coming in a few mornings a week to help with Elisabeth so that I can devote time to Madeleine and later Hank, if necessary.

We might not make the jump. I know it sounds like we don't like our public school but that's really not true. I've just vetted a lot of what we don't like; there's also a lot that we do. We just need to decide which column outweighs the other.

Now you know. If Madeleine is suddenly home with me next year and discussing etymological theory and the wonders of analyzing Latin, you won't be totally shocked. Oh, you might be appalled, and that's fine since if I were you a year ago I would be too, but don't say I didn't warn you.


angieoh! said...

Well, dear, it is because you guys are SUPER parents. You want the very best and know that you can do it. :) I am so proud of you for being willing to do what is different - because you think it is right.

It is not like your kids will be big freaks (and if they do, you can blame their dad...) - they will still be fun, happy and on top of it - well rounded and not afraid to be themselves.

If you need to talk - drop me a line. But don't let fear be your guide!

Bob said...

Sounds like a meet-up with the Dzikis on this topic might be a good idea.

dad said...

we've done it, as you well know, and homeschooling has a multitude of advantages over public schools. Literacy is one of them.
we're on board with you and joe. we believe a decision will tilt in the direction of homeschooling... Lucky little Madeleine

nina said...

Whatever decision you make will be right for your kids if you stand behind it. There is no one right way. We considered the options and sent our kids through the public schools. I remember one day bringing a NYT article on how elementary school kids in NY were learning philosophy and I said "how neat!" and he just smiled.

I learned a lot in those years. (He was, btw, by far my most favorite principal). I learned first and foremost that my kids got ENOUGH of an academic education in elementary school, not any that I can speak of in middle school and an INTENSE one in high school.

I supplemented their math from grade three. I basically finished their text with them so that they could test out of going to class. By 6th grade they were enrolled in algebra. By junior year in high school they had completed two years of calculus and were attending university math classes.

At a cost? Sure, but not great. They still did activities. My little one was Clara in Madison's Nutcracker. Both played instruments and were very young memebers of the Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra. They didn't do sports in any regular fashion and that cleared up tons of hours that other kids were devoting to athletics.

Ours was not the right way on all counts. But they both went to an Ivy League East Coast School and they both say that they are SO grateful for the diversity they were exposed to in public school, for the learning they had about cooperative environments. They felt that kids who were not exposed to that kept to themselves and could not cross bridges that were easy for my two to cross.

In other words, public schools, in some limited way that I could not reproduce in my safe happy environment at home, gave them an ok education in academics and a wonderful education in life, in unfairness, in unequal opportunities, etc.

Of course, living in Madison made the decision easier. I never felt that the schools were fundamentally flawed. And I served as PTO pres for years so that I could contribute to the schools and then place demands on them -- asking for teachers, for scheduling accomodations when it came to going to the UW. And publicly, I fought for the kids who did not have the breaks mine did. Privately, of course, I attended to the needs of my own.

So -- no right decision. But you HAVE to feel happy with your decision or else it just doesn't work.

terri said...

Hm. I have so much to say here. This little comment box is stifling at a time like this...

I think it is a grand & noble thought, and if you can pull it off, I'd be terribly jealous. Especially the posh Latin-speaking child thing. Although, I was also terribly jealous when you moved to the neighborhood with the perfect schools & perfect teachers.

I just typed all of my own internal dissonance on the topic of homeschooling, and, deciding that it was pointless rambling, I deleted it.

It's important that I call you in the morning anyway. ;)

it's me, Val said...

Very very interesting, Cait. I'm going to be looking forward to hearing your decision and why you swayed one way or the other.

I really have no opinion on it because I am just now starting to look into pre-schools. We're moving to a different town for the great school factor (probably for the same reasons you move where you are), but I can see why you might back away from those great schools after seeing what makes them great and not-so-great. Because ultimately, there really are a lot of not-so-greats about most schools. Anyway, just rambling now . . . can't wait to hear your decision. And GOOD LUCK with it. ((hugs))

Donna aka mandowife said...

I had many of the same thoughts you had before we started homeschooling. I've been at it for 4 years now and wouldn't trade it for anything. My kids are not only excelling academically, but socially as well. They are involved in many activities through the church and community that expose them to all kinds of different people. Oh...and we are learning Latin as well....good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any questions...

AlexanderTheGreat said...

WOW! That is a tough decision. I don't know where to start so will just kind of ramble and you can put the logic together yourself.

Current education is a state/federal sponsored institution. Kinda like a mini prison for kids. Can thank the Germans for that, hence the name "Kinder=children" garden.

School allows interaction with the "masses" which your child will inevitably have to deal with, so cannot be shielded from that and may be detrimental in the long run even if you end up with the next Mozart. In society it is important to be exposed to diversity at a young age.

Latin and math are your most two important subjects of concern, and difficult to teach.

Personal devotion to a child at half the ratio of the school system would probably yield four times the education.

Maddy is a BRILLIANT little kid. Give her a chance to play before the harsh reality is imposed.

Give it some time and the answer will reveal itself.

Superdad said...

Thanks for all the supportive comments!!