Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mourn and Release: Homeschooling

This is the 3rd post in a series of posts titled "Mourn and Release".  The first post explains the point of the series, and the second specifically addressed homebirth.  Now I'm going to whine about homeschooling.  I'd suggest a smoked gouda with this whine, but since this is about homeschooling I guess I should suggest some really serious bleu cheese because then we could map its origins and culture the strain of mold and practice some french vocabulary (How many of you had a judgey moment thinking I misspelled bleu?).  

Anyhoo, we just love to do stuff at home around here.  Just like in the homebirth post, I'm not going to get into the reasons why we chose to homeschool.  There is so much about it out there in the ether that I would be beating a very dead horse.  Gross.  Besides, while homeschooling is still not the most common educational choice, it is more and more mainstream everyday so most people know a few homeschoolers and have come across an article or two on the subject.  Homeschooling is awesome, when it fits your family's needs.

I first had an inkling that I might be a future homeschool Mom back in my pre-Motherhood days when I was in Graduate School to be a teacher.  Once I became a mother and my oldest child approached school age I started to look at it seriously.  Michael and I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking and a lot more reading and a lot more talking in the process of making the decision to forgo traditional schooling.    I did a lot of reading and researching and talking and Michael did a LOT of very patient listening and asking questions and helping me sort it all out.  In all that research of philosophies and curricula and socialization (fellow homeschoolers let's all have a snort together), there was one piece of advice that has stuck with me:

The decision to homeschool in a family should be made on a child by child, year by year basis.  

I wish I could remember where I read this precious, precious gem.  The woman that wrote that deserves a medal, and dessert, and the title: "Super Smart Super Level Headed Genius of the World".  It is the ONLY piece of advice you need.  New homeschoolers can be kind of exhausting with their constant talking about curricula and unschool or classical and blah blah blah.  I know.  I was one of them.  I still love looking at books and reading about homeschool resources and Pin All The Things that I see that I could possibly ever use in our homeschool so believe me, I'm not immune.  But the first most important decision before a single book is chosen is simply "Will this best serve the needs of this individual child this year?".

Way back in the fall, I started to consider that we might not all be homeschoolers next year.  It was just a whisper in the back of my mind but the data was beginning to pile up that the needs of each individual child measured against what I could realistically provide during this season of our life was not a balanced equation.  OUCH.  You see, about 2 years ago, it started to become clear that Owen was having difficulty learning to read and write.  Up until then he was behind his peers but well within normal limits, especially considering he was boy.  Soon though, we had to face that Owen needed more intensive intervention.  He completed Speech Therapy and Vision Therapy.  I cannot say enough about how life changing Vision Therapy was for Owen and I highly recommend that if you have a struggling reader you take them straight to a Developmental Optometrist.  Despite this therapy and continued reading instruction, he fell further and further behind.  I have done every single instructional method and remediation I know, and as someone who holds an undergraduate degree in Linguistics with a focus on Child Language Acquisition and a Master's degree in Elementary Education, I was as "well prepared" as a Mom could possibly be to teach a struggling reader .  But it didn't matter.  My 9 year old, who in a traditional school setting would be entering a 4th grade classroom in the fall, reads at a first or second grade level.  There are no words to describe how difficult that is to write.

It has been a long, hard, terrifying road.  Until my cancer diagnosis it was my all consuming project to find new curricula, new therapies, and new experts to evaluate him.  It was what kept me up at night.  It is terrifying to have a child that can't read.  In the 21st century a kid would be better off missing a limb than being illiterate.  Even more scary is the knowledge that I alone am to blame, there is no one else to share the responsibility for his illiteracy.  A parent whose child is in school can share the blame for their child's struggles with the teachers and other professionals in the school.  When you homeschool, the cheese stands alone.  Even though we have gotten him outside help, it is still on me.  The self doubt and fear you feel as a parent that you could be failing your child in such a profound way can be paralyzing, but we couldn't afford paralysis, we had to keep pushing ahead to find an answer.

After completing Vision Therapy, Owen was also evaluated for Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and went on to have a complete Neuro-psychological evaluation.  Through these hours and hours of evaluations and therapies and research we have determined that Owen is Dyslexic.  It is such a relief.  Now we know why normal remediation couldn't help him.  Now we know where to start finding resources that can actually help.  Owen needs a lot of very intensive one on one attention that cannot be provided in a traditional school environment.  It also cannot be provided with needy younger sisters running around.  Owen will work with an Orton-Gillingham specialist this year in conjunction with instruction provided at home by yours truly.  THIS we can work with!  THIS will be a lot of work for us, but it is work that will bear fruit.  Best of all, Owen's dyslexia would be a terrible impediment to him in a traditional school, but there is no reason for it to be an impediment to him in life.  Dyslexia isn't even really a disability at all.  In fact, many of the best things about Owen, his most impressive talents and skills are as much a part of his Dyslexia as the challenges it poses for his interactions with written language.  We were blessed to have him home to be able to identify it as soon as we did, and we are blessed to have him at home to provide him with the quality and method of instruction he needs.

You're probably starting to wonder...who's going to school?  The big girls (Madeleine and Anna) will go to our wonderful parish school where their very standard, very easy to meet needs will be met so that I can tend to Owen's much more pressing needs without distraction.  The girls are constantly asking me for more school work, and between the intensive attention that Owen needs and the fact that there are still 2 OTHER KIDS in the house, the attention to academics they were begging for just wasn't happening.  They are neuro-typical super enthusiastic learners who like to be around other kids.  It's a no brainer that sending them to school for a year makes sure everyone gets what they need.

So what's the big deal?  Ego alert.  Again.  I have to admit I can't be the "be all end all" for my kids.  I believe that all things being equal homeschooling is the most ideal educational choice, and even with that belief, I have to accept that it's not for all of my kids at this time.  I have to admit I'm not enough, mostly to myself.  I have to admit that I need help.  I have to not just admit it, but be grateful that I even have access to that help and to many different choices to boot.  It is a privilege to have the ability to forgo a second salary so I can be home for the kids who need me at home.  It is a privilege to have the ability to send the kids who don't need to be home to a high quality private school.  It is even a privilege to have a child with special educational needs and be able to identify it, let alone provide the services needed to help him succeed.  Yet here I am, again, feeling sorry for myself because I "have to" send 2 of my 6 children to an excellent school for one year.  Shame, shame, double shame, everybody knows your name.

Maybe after our traditional schooling adventure I'll get to bring everyone home again, maybe not.  Maybe we'll have a mix of schoolers in our house again, maybe not.  Maybe someday they'll all go somewhere else without me OMG GET ME A PAPER BAG!!!!!  Just kidding, mostly.  Maybe they will, and if they do it will be because their needs trump any educational philosophy I can espouse.  Because it's about them and recognizing that homeschooling is good, so so good, but not if it's not right for them.  So when the coo coo homeschooler voice in my head starts yelling at me "You're warehousing your kids!" or "Their teachers won't even know who Susan Wise Bauer is!", I need to tell her to zip it, because that b**** be tres cray (that's ghetto French for "that young lady is very crazy".).  Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hide my denim jumper so the homeschool police can't confiscate it.


  1. Well I can relate to this! As a former homeschooler I get it! I pray for your families transition ... A great school can be terrific for your kids, and your whole family- a good parish school can be like an extended family. It is humbling to let someone else educate your kids- you are giving up "control" over what they learn and how they learn which for me was very tough, and I too have to stifle that little teacher inside;)...but remember although they "go to school" you and Michael will always be their primary educators:)

    1. Thanks Heather! Yeah, control, I'm learning A LOT about giving up control.

  2. LOL @ denim jumper! I always take homeschooling year by year (or even month by month, sometimes) and that advice has served me well, but I'm ashamed to admit I never heard (or realized for myself) the second part, "child by child." I just assume all my kids will be homeschooled (or not.) I plan to look at things differently now. :)

    1. Hi Anon, thanks for commenting! If it hadn't been for Owen's dyslexia I probably would have continued to think of my kids as 1 unit instead of individuals even though I HAD heard the advice that way. It's easy to do. One of the very best things about homeschooling is being family centered but sometimes that can make us forget families are made of individual people with individual needs. It took dyslexia and cancer to help(ok, force) me to see that!

  3. Ahem, sappy moment, por favor? Your grace in all of this has been so inspiring. Truly. Thank you so much for letting us into all of this and sharing so much. The end. You may now commence eye rolling ;)


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