Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Homeschooling. Who me? Couldn't be.

Homeschooling. Just the mention of this word terrifies and excites me. The idealist in me jumps in with both feet and feels right at home. The realist knows that familiarity often breeds contempt in my household. Yet, like many things in life, we don't choose our paths but we can choose to be changed by our paths.

I have always loved education and am saddened and angered at the terrible misappropriation of our childrens' natural senses of curiosity, creativity and independence in mainstream education. Our children are told to sit down and shut up from the age of 5. No wonder we don't have adults who can think for themselves. Critical thinking is dangerous. I mean Karl Marx dreamed up public education for a reason, right? Had I average, quick-to-cope children who were content to go with the flow, I probably would be keeping my complaints to myself. But I don't. I have exceptional children. As do you.

Admittedly, the first feeling I had when our eldest was first diagnosed with high-functioning autism, was relief. It justified my intuition that he was developing differently than a "neurotypical" child. (For the sake of space and sanity, I will forgo my rant on labels and what is "normal" in child development.) It gave me a name for the unexplainable meltdowns, the dys-affection, the extreme interest in narrow subjects and the non-compliant behavior that arose from a pervasive sensory experience we couldn't see. But it didn't provide any answers or cures.

Our story is not unique. Especially when we encountered the school system. The response from educational bureaucrats are similar to those from any other bureaucrat and boiled down to: "Let's circle the wagons, protect our own and don't let this child get into the community coffers."

In the succeeding years we navigated the system blindly while furiously educating ourselves. We were steamrolled by administrators who told us they couldn't offer our son services because academically he was doing fine. You see, in Henrico County, accommodations don't fall into place until the child fails. (How is that ethical?) We were lucky to have a principal and teachers that did everything they could to help us and provide our son with challenging work and the space to be himself. We finally got a 504 before he started 3rd grade. This allowed him to be tested for the gifted program under accommodations - et voila! - he proved what everyone who knew our son could see within a minute of speaking with him. He tested at the 98th percentile.

Unfortunately, in Varina, our elementary program is divided in two -- with K-2 (Mehfoud Elementary) being in one building, with one administration and 3-5 (Varina Elementary) grades being another -- third grade was a bigger transition than usual. There is a lot of finger pointing going on between the two schools as to the reason why Varina Elementary is on the state's failing school list. (They are "accredited with warning".) Call me crazy, but I don't think adults should act like that. Where's the responsibility?  There are a lot of unhappy kids and unhappy parents at Varina. You see, Mehfoud does such a fantastic job at building their students' confidence which makes their kids excited to learn. (Imagine that.) Varina Elementary takes about 2 weeks to rip that confidence to shreds, under the auspices of preparing the kids' for SOL performance.  (Blah.) (See Varina Elementary's report card.) Again, our experience is not unique. Parents have come out of the woodwork to share their kids' stories with us -- gifted, exceptional learners, average students, bright students, 504/IEPers -- all types have expressed to us similar concerns that the culture of this school needs a cleansing.

In the end, we discovered our 504 was not being followed. Our son was being disciplined for behaviors the 504 explained and we had to remove him from school before he was expelled and developed a police record. The day they threatened this, I picked up my son with not so much as a polite "hello" to the principal. He should know better. He's being paid enough to know better. He should also know, that when a woman nags, or is at your school every other day to help with her child, it's because she cares -- when she is silent, she is plotting.

We could pursue legal action. My husband and I are not fully in agreement on this. "Once a marine always a marine" -- was an unspoken part of our wedding vows.  The marine in him would like to see the whole thing prosecuted to its fullest extent while the libertarian in me says we can do better without them in our lives at all.

This is how we've arrived at homeschooling. We are a two-career family. As I said, homeschooling has always been my ideal. I just could never figure out how it would work for me as a practicing Physician Assistant and for my husband -- who, as a legislative liaison, comes and goes as the winds of government direct. But where I find myself should really come as no surprise for me. A greater hand than mine has always shaped my life and directed me when I found myself on the fence. That's how I found my husband, that's how I found the PA profession, that's how I found myself reactivated in my faith. All of these things have put me in position to be an instrument in His hands to further His work. And all have brought me more happiness than I could have dreamed up on my own.

So...where does this blog go from here? It has admittedly been a mish-mash and certainly not an example of publishing exactitude. But, I thought it would be at least a good place to start sharing ideas amongst my homeschooling buds here in Richmond -- with a smattering of experiences from my first year as a PA. But I also hope to reach those of you in the DC Metro, the beautiful mountains of Virginia and the growing number of my family and homeschooling families everywhere I am lucky enough to know. There are so many places our kids can learn firsthand about most anything they choose. I am told that many of the historical sites in Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, etc. offer special days for homeschoolers. I can't think of many things better than the words "free" and "homeschooling" when put together -- except for maybe: "happy" and "kids".

I'd like this to be a resource for you. Let me start with my first suggestion: The Virginia Assembly is in session...
If you've never been to Capitol Square, I highly recommend it. Just like most historic, or political refuges, its full of surprises. Start with this activity book and Scavenger Hunt.

And don't forget to share your experiences! I'd love to hear what you and your kids found most interesting about your visit.