There is a cognitive dissonance about public schools. Everyone knows public schools in the US are terrible, but everyone thinks their school is the exception. The reality is that your school would be the exception only if it teaches using project-based learning. Which it doesn’t. The public schools that are exceptional are exceptional at teaching to the test – a process that’s widely discredited.

Give your kids more credit than that.

Public schools suck. Reformers say child-driven learning and project-based learning are best. Parents are the only educators in a position to do that. So all kids will get a better education at home. And kids can teach themselves if you don’t knock the wind out of them with school early on.

I put links in that paragraph, but I don’t think I have to. I think all I have to tell you is that public school suck and Time magazine is telling you that you’re delusional about your particular school being the exception to the rule. Do you need someone more mainstream than Time magazine telling you that?

Take some personal responsibility. It’s so easy to bemoan the status of our public schools. And hope someone else fixes them. But get real: Our country is too diverse and too much in debt to fix those schools. The problem is too big. Maybe we’ll solve the problem, but not in your kid’s lifetime.

Talking about school reform is a way to shift the responsibility of educating your kids from you to someone else. Who really, you don’t even know. Because who is in charge of fixing schools, really? Who knows? Instead of talking about school reform, take your kids out of school.

Instead of practicing learned incompetence, admit that you could do as good a job at project-based learning as a school that is not even trying it.

 

There will be days when I will forget how bad things were. It’s like how people think their psychiatric meds are doing nothing, so they go off them. And then it’s bad.

I can already tell there’s gonna be a time like that for homeschooling.

The manic-depressives have to have a scrapbook of what went wrong — like all the sex partners they had during the last manic episode so they remember that mania is not going to feel as good as they think it might feel.

This post is my scrapbook.

It’s the math sheets my son did on his first days of school.

I called the school and said these are not appropriate for a kid who, according to their own tests, is doing math at a second or third grade level.

The school thought it was fine to give him these worksheets.

I want to remember how hard it must have been for my son to do math so far below him. I want to remember that he was so tuned out in this class that on the question that asked how many triangles are on the line, he colored in two and then wrote one.

My six-year-old made it through three days of school.

Before school started, when I could see that he wanted to go, I asked the school to test him, so the school would be very aware of how far ahead he is. For example, he tested at the end of second grade for math.

On his first day of school, the math he did was circling two balls, and writing the number two. Stuff like that. He brought it home. I said nothing. Although I noticed that after a page of this sort of math, he started making mistakes like writing there is one shoe instead of two shoes.

On the third day of school, I found him in his bed, crying. He said, “I was so excited to go to school and now I’m not excited anymore.”

He said the playground is too scary because there are third and fourth graders and the first graders can’t do anything. He said his best friend got beaten up and no teachers saw.

“What? Beaten up? Like how?”

“His skin got peeled off. Really. I’m not kidding.”

I don’t know about the skin. I’m sure he’s scared, though. The school playground reminds me of Lord of the Flies but without starvation to keep kids focused on the serious issue of hunger.

I called the school to say I am taking him out of school until he gets a differentiated math curriculum.

The school said they thought the math he was doing was okay for him.

So I told them to forget it. He’s not coming back.

I don’t think single parents can homeschool. I think it’s too scary. (There’s a good discussion about that in the comments on this post.)

According to Shane Krukowski, CEO of Project Foundry, homeschooling is increasing at the rate of 30% per year. And only 38% of homeschoolers today do it for religious reasons. The bulk of homeschoolers are moms who have a college degree and a husband and live in a school district they don’t think is acceptable for their kids.

So this means that

1.     The moms with a college degree and a husband are lying to themselves that the kid’s school is good enough and/or that they cannot homeschool. (Don’t tell me it’s about the money. It’s a bad excuse.)

2.     The school systems should cater to helping single parents and parents without college degrees, because other parents can handle schooling on their own and should stop relying on the public to support them. (A microcosm of this issue is teaching a kid to read.  My friend, Lisa Nielsen, education maven for New York City public schools, explained to me once that kids who have educated parents who read to them do not need to be taught to read — they’ll just learn. The reading programs are only necessary for kids who don’t have educated parents at home reading to them.)

Conclusion: Most moms lie to themselves about school, and then they send their kids there. Me, too, I guess, since I have a kid in public school. It’s hard to make a good decision when public schools are the best all-day babysitting program in the world, and homeschooling demands so much time and energy from the parent doing it.

My son came home with a list of words. The goal is for all first graders to read that list by the end of the year. He read the list out loud while he ate his after-school snack.

I was so upset that I offered him another bowl of ice cream so we didn’t have to talk.

I thought I would have fear that I wasn’t teaching my homeschooled son well enough. But all my worries are for the boy who’s in school.

It happened so fast.  I called a consultant to help me teach math, and she was very gung-ho on trying the school. The same day, I met with the school to tell them I’m homeschooling, and I felt scared to lose the only part of the community I have gotten to know during the year I’ve lived in rural America.

Then my six-year-old had a crying fit that he hates living on the farm. Maybe it is because he is sick of me fighting with my husband. My son said we could live in the city and see my husband once a week just like we see my ex husband – my son’s birth dad – once a week. My son painted a city picture of a parade of dads.

He also said he wants to be able to walk to friends’ houses again. Not that he ever did that. We never lived in a house long enough for him to make a friend. He’s moved five times in six years. So of course he thinks it’s time to move.

So I deal with the friends part of the problem and I put him in school. He asked to go. He said he wanted to be with other kids.

I know a hard-core homeschooler would say, “The parent decides.” But I didn’t have the guts. Or the heart. Or the brains. I don’t know what I was missing.

I meet with the elementary school principal. I bring her lunch so it feels more like friends having lunch and less like I am the most demanding and unsatisfied parent in the school.

I’m a half-hour late, which is an improvement from last time, when I missed our time slot completely. The principal is incredibly forgiving. She has a son with autism and understands, more than most people how I can be brilliant at some things and absolutely incapable of doing other, very basic aspects of life.

Sometimes she has an obvious agenda, like when she had to tell me she was sending me to the truancy officer. Sometimes I have the agenda, like this time, when I tell her I’m taking my kids out of school.

She says, “I know. I read your blog.”

I tell her I don’t exactly want to take both kids out. I want the first-grader to come to school three times a week because he loves being around the kids.

She says no. He’ll fall behind.

I point out he’s two grades ahead.

She argues that he’s not gifted, but I think it’s more about setting an example for the other parents.

Parents want to take their kids out for cattle shows in Colorado, and Disney World in November, after the corn harvest is done. The school would go to mayhem.

I show her my doctor’s note. I think it might work. Because no other parent in the district would think to do this. The note says my son is gifted and he needs to go to enrichment classes outside of school two days a week and his mental health depends on this stimulation. I thought it would be good to add the mental health part because it sounded more like a medical thing.

The principal reads the note. Twice. She looks at me and says, “Did the doctor laugh while she was writing this note?”

When I’m deciding if I should homeschool, I don’t need to decide if homeschooling is the answer to this country’s education problems. I only need to decide if, given the school district we live in, could I do as good a job educating my children as the school district could?

I have spent a lot of time with strong performing high schoolers from our district. I do not want my kids to have the education these kids had.  It’s not the education I had. There are different values. For example, the high schoolers don’t read for fun. They don’t go to enrichment programs over the summer. These are things I assumed every high school kid did before I moved here. I was ignorant, I know. But it doesn’t change what I want for my kids.

The problem is that my choice becomes a referendum on the school district. And then all my neighbors take it personally. I’m scared to publish this. I don’t want to be alienated from our community. But I’m not sure I have a choice.

During an interview with The Washington Post, Vivek Kundra, the federal government’s chief information officer, was explaining how outdated the government is when it comes to technology. He said that people are assigned PDAs based on a how long they have worked for the government and the square footage of their office. He said that most school kids are carrying better technology in their backpacks than government officials have on their desks.

I live in a school district where kids do not get assigned homework that requires a computer at home because so few kids have home computers. At first I was shocked but then I told myself that my idea of school is messed up because I only have personal experience with rich districts.

I’m sure that most government officials are the same, but they cannot talk about most districts and kids like they are rich. It would not be politically correct.

And then it scares me that I just normalized the problems and the consequent behavior of one of the poorest school districts in the country.  I start to doubt my judgment.

Check this out: I am in a Title I school district, but the parents I have spoken to have no idea what Title I means, let alone whether or not they are part of that.

Title I means that my district — the Darlington, WI district – is estimated to be performing in the lowest 20% of the country. Why is there no serious discussion of this in the community? Why aren’t parents scared? How can we send kids into the world to compete with the other 80% for jobs?

There is no way that people in my community are going to accept me because I am not going to be able to shut up about this. The best way to make a community better is to talk about what needs improving. What are people talking about improving in Darlington? I’m not really sure.