Caring for Children In Our Nation’s Schools Is About A Lot More Than Just Proper Socialization And Test Scores

Recently I was at a small holiday party when a longtime friend of mine, a teacher at a public high school, made a statement that turned every head in the room.

Towards me.

My friend said, “I really feel no child should be homeschooled in high school. All kids should go to high school because all kids need to get used to being around different kinds of people.”

Since everyone in the room knew I homeschool my children through their high school years, they all looked at me to see what my response would be. I guess they thought there might be an argument.

There wasn’t.

I simply said we would agree to disagree. And the holiday festivities continued.

But, of course, I have not forgotten the remark. It rankled. And not just because it seemed to be an attack on the choices I’ve made. The remark illustrated much of what is wrong with traditional schools. That is:

Schools and teachers are often driven by sweeping gestures and grand statements that have no relevance to the needs of individual children and families. They place academic, cultural, and behavioral ultimatums on every student, no matter how unnecessary or inappropriate for any specific child at any given time.

Indeed, the situation that precipitated my friend’s negative remark about high school homeschooling was just the sort of thing that should never be addressed strictly by one single idea, rule or school policy.  You see, my school teacher friend had a student in her high school class whose mother was thinking about homeschooling her. The 16-year-old student, a quiet and diligent student who had never caused the school one moment of trouble, had recently been expelled for bringing a knife to school. Because she was suicidal. Because she was being bullied. Rather than have the child face placement in an alternative school with an ugly reputation, the mom was considering the homeschooling option.

THIS was the scenario that caused my friend, a public high school teacher for 25+ years, to slam homeschooling for all high school students under all circumstances. Even when a child is being bullied. Even when a child is suicidal. Even when a child is facing the probability of placement in an alternative school filled with chronic rule-breakers and troublemakers.

In that moment, the schism between private parent and professional teacher never seemed wider to me. Parents could care less about the school’s idea of “proper socialization” when their children are sad and suffering at school. Parents prioritize concerns and they put their children’s safety and well-being at the top of the list. They are sad when their children are sad and alarmed when they are bullied and threatening suicide.

Is it really too much to ask that school teachers—the people who care for our children the majority of their days—spare us the platitudes and set aside their politically-correct agendas when a child’s health and welfare are at stake? If they can’t, the crisis in America’s schools is a lot worse than just a bunch of bored and unmotivated kids and a string of declining test scores.

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

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The American Right to Homeschool and Raise Children is Something Worth Being Thankful For

One of the tragedies of modern American culture is parents have no idea they have the right to be in full control of their children’s lives and education. When children reach five years old, without thought, parents walk their very young children to the bus stop and send them off to a local institution to be raised and educated — five days a week, 180 days a year. Many great parents hate this moment and know there’s something inherently wrong with it. But the routine is so ingrained in the psyche of our culture that we do it “no questions asked.”

I did the same thing. I told myself that kindergarten would be fun. I told myself that my son would enjoy the bus ride, the fun school activities, and the wonderful teacher. I told myself these things because I never considered the options.

As it turned out, my son was bullied on the bus, he hated the kindergarten activities, and the wonderful teacher was powerless to turn things around for him. It was only this sad turn of events that inspired me to consider alternatives.
As the daughter and granddaughter of public school teachers, as well as a former public school teacher myself, perhaps I was more clueless than most. But, as I started researching the options for my son, I was stunned by the possibilities. Parental freedoms are alive and well in America and available to all.

Here’s the bottom-line: The right of American parents to educate and raise their children as they see fit is astoundingly broad and absolute. Yes, there are a few restrictions, boundaries, and “guidelines” as set forth in court cases that have framed parent and homeschool freedoms. But, generally speaking, parents have the right to teach their children what they want, when they want, how they want, where they want, etc. The state supreme courts of our land have agreed that parents don’t even have to homeschool well, lest states would rush in trying to measure and evaluate children based on the state’s values, rather than the values of parents.

My oldest son suffered in school. Struggling with illness and anxiety, he hated every minute of it. The moment when I realized we could dump the whole thing and start something new was a precious one. I remember when I told my son:

“You mean I really don’t have to go there (school) anymore?” my son asked me in wonder and disbelief, the stress literally rolling away as the happy realization settled in.

I was relieved and happy, too. I was happy for my son, but even happier for my family. All the sudden, a new world opened up to us. We could frame our family life around our loves, our desires, our values, and our faith. We could establish life-long bonds and create something truly precious apart from the constant intrusions of other peoples’ expectations. We could decide and fully manage our time, our schedule, our lifestyle, our friends, and our activities. Our lives became our own again.

In America, the rights and freedoms our ancestors fought for and our brilliant forefathers insisted on sometimes get lost in the routines and expectations of daily life. But today, on Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful and thinking about how wonderfully different the life of our family has been because we stumbled across an educational “alternative” and family-centered lifestyle called “homeschooling.”

Until next time…Be fearless.

Here’s to the Troublemakers…

I have a confession to make. I have a soft spot for children who break the rules. I’m not talking about defiant kids. Or ones that just want to call attention to themselves. Or ones that break the rules simply because they can.

I have an affinity for children who break the rules because they simply have something much more interesting and important they want to do than what they have been told to do.

These are hard kids to raise and hard kids to teach. But, oftentimes, they turn into very successful adults.

Did you hear about the five-year-old Kentucky girl who walked away from her kindergarten class on the first day of school this year? She was found more than a mile away from her school, strolling down the sidewalk in front of the Wayne County Courthouse. When a police officer asked the child why she left school, she said, “because I was bored.”

This child wasn’t trying to make a statement, defy her teacher or parents, or scare an entire county. She simply wasn’t interested in wasting her day. This kind of thinking reminds me of a little girl who lived in our old neighborhood. For the first two weeks of kindergarten she snuck into the school cafeteria so she could eat with the low-income children receiving free breakfast. When her mother asked her why she did it, she said “because I was hungry.”

Last year I was teaching a line dance class at our homeschool co-op and noticed a boy I didn’t recognize dancing in the back row. I asked him what class he was supposed to be in, and he told me he was enrolled in a science class. When I asked him why he was in my class that day instead of science, he said, “because I like dancing a lot more than I like science.”

On the one hand you want to strangle these kinds of kids. But, on the other hand, there’s something about their initiative, cleverness, and good sense that’s impressive. These kids march to their own drummers, manage their own lives, and find the world around them so immensely interesting a set of rules couldn’t possibly contain them.

Now, I fully understand that children need to learn to follow rules and do things they don’t always want to do. I get that. But it bears pointing out that rule breakers sometimes have more “going on” that compliant children who never challenge or question the status quo.

Penelope Trunk, an unschooling mom who writes a popular education blog, makes a good point about following rules. She says: “When I tell people we don’t do forced curriculum at my house, invariably people ask me how my kids will learn to do stuff they don’t like. Here’s what I think: How will your kids learn to stop doing things they don’t like?”

I think Penelope has a point. Our world has lots of compliant people who sleepwalk through life. It’s like they’ve been conditioned (probably at school and at home) to be content doing things they don’t like or enjoy. They never make a bold move. They never do anything truly wonderful. They don’t even do the things they really want to do.

Because I have two internationally- adopted children I often have people say this to me: “I always wanted to adopt, but I never did.”

Because I homeschool I also have people say to me, “I admire you for homeschooling. I wish I could do it.”

My husband and sons recently took a week to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail. I can’t tell you how many times people said, “I always wanted to do that, but never did.”

These kinds of responses make me want to scream out: “YOU CAN! YOU CAN! YOU CAN!”

I think people get so comfortable with the routine and used to the mundane that they work harder to find happiness within their mediocre circumstances than to actually change the circumstances. Just as the little girl in Wayne County took a look around her kindergarten class and said “there’s got to be something better than this,” we need to look around our own lives and wonder the same thing. The spirit it takes to make a change and forge a new path needs to be encouraged and embraced in both children and adults.

Schools are the worst place to foster a spirit of independence and urgency in children. Because they are institutions serving large numbers of people, they must be rule-laden and rule-enforced. Children who think for themselves need not apply.

For the past 10 years I’ve been part of the leadership of a large homeschool group for high school students. This experience has given me some perspective beyond my own children.

Here’s what I see: The children who give us the most trouble as high school students are often the most impressive as they grow older. These “troublemakers” are not defiant students (we rarely have those), or mean students (we never have those) or lazy students (OK, we probably have a few of those), but I’m talking about students who politely decline to follow the rules because there is something much more interesting to do than what someone else has planned for that moment.

I’m thinking about the students who spend more time talking to their neighbors than listening to their teachers. Or the ones who are late to class because they can’t pull themselves away from their friends. Or the ones who skip out because they missed lunch and McDonalds is just down the road. I’m even thinking about the student who lit a fire in his desk (and all the boys who egged him on) because watching a fire burn seemed more fun than participating in a class discussion. These kids must be addressed and disciplined, but they should be treated with respect. Because this year’s fire starter is next year’s Bill Gates (he was once arrested), or Ted Turner (he was expelled), or Steve Jobs (who occupied himself in school by getting in trouble.)

“I was kind of bored for the first few years (in school), so I occupied myself by getting into trouble.” Jobs once said. “They (school leaders) really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me.”

In the past decade, there have been a multitude of studies done on successful entrepreneurs, those people who earn at least 70 percent more than the average worker. Three different studies (from the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Arizona, and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Research.) found four commonalities among successful entrepreneurs. The first three were not surprising. Successful entrepreneurs are 1) smart, 2) confident, and 3) have been raised in middle-upper class, two-parent homes.

Guess what the fourth commonality is? Successful entrepreneurs tend to engage in aggressive, illicit, and/or risky behaviors when they are young.

So the next time you catch your child breaking a rule or causing trouble, don’t be alarmed. Ruminate on this quote from Steve Jobs instead:

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Stephen Jobs

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

Taking Care of Trouble in the Schoolyard

I was listening to the radio recently when I heard a commercial about schools that made me sit up and take notice. The commercial was dire and disturbing. Here’s what I heard:

“Today in school I learned a lot.  In chemistry I learned that no one likes me.

In English I learned that I’m disgusting. And in physics I learned that nobody loves me.

Today in school I learned that I’m ugly and useless. And in gym, I learned I’m pathetic and a joke. 

In history, I learned that I’m trash.

 Today in school I learned that I have no friends. In English I learned that I make people sick.

 And at lunch I learned that I sit on my own because I smell.

 In biology I learned that I’m fat and stupid.

 The only thing I didn’t learn in school today is why nobody helps.”

A few words at the end of the commercial revealed that this was a public service announcement about bullying in schools. It encouraged parents to teach their children how to stop it.

What? Really?

If your child is so bullied in school that he is learning he is “a piece of trash,” this is not the time to try to change the culture or the system. This is the time to extricate your child from it. It’s time for an emergency directive, a protective order, a drastic solution, whatever it takes to keep a child safe and sane. Parents shouldn’t fiddle around with a “tweak” or a “try” at such a time. An immediate solution is the only answer.

Bullying is a real problem with real consequences. It affects almost every child to some degree. I had a child who was bullied. I was bullied. My parents and grandparents and great grandparents were probably bullied.

Schools are breeding grounds for bullies because they are places where children are desperately seeking attention, love, and support. As parents, we need to handle bullying at school with critical care. In the beginning stages we can be cautious and creative in our response, allowing our children to carry most of the responsibility for dealing with the bully. But we need to be prepared to escalate our response and level of action to match the severity of the situation, even if we have to yank our children out of school to solve the problem.

Severe bullying is nothing less than an emotional beating. If someone were beating you with a stick, would you wait around to see what happened next? Would you look around to see if any onlookers cared enough to join you in the fight? Would you try to reform the bully? No. You would (and should) run like the wind. Emotional beatings are even more insidious and lasting than physical ones. Bruises fade away, but emotional scars take far longer to heal.

A couple I am close to has been walking with their daughter through a bullying situation at school for the past several years. When parental advice from home proved insufficient to turn the bullying situation around, the mother went to the school and tried to change the system. She even started a bullying club. Good for her. When that still didn’t improve the situation, she took her daughter out of school. Even better.

This is what good parents do. They get involved and they get active. They don’t wait for life to drop a heavy, irreversible blow on their kids. They stay ahead of the curve.

Another beautiful story about how to handle school bullies was recently told on Britain’s Got Talent. Thirteen-year-old Leondre Devries was bullied at school and he rapped about his experience on the show. Check out the first verse of the song he wrote:

“Please help me God, I feel so alone.

I’m just a kid, how can I take it on my own?

I’ve cried so many tears writing this song.

I’ve tried to fit in, where do I belong?

I wake up every day, don’t want to leave my home.

My momma’s asking me why I’m always alone.

Too scared to say, too scared to holler

I’m walking to school with sweat around my collar.

I’m just a kid. I don’t want no stress.

My nerves are bad. My life’s a mess.

The names they call me, they hurt real bad.

I want to tell my mom, She’s having trouble with my dad.

I feel so threat, there’s nowhere to turn.

Come to school, don’t want to fight, I want to learn.

So please Mr. Bully, tell me what I’ve done.

I have no dad. I’m living with my mom.”

Leondre endured four years of bullying, hiding it from his mother for most of that time. But, thankfully, his song didn’t end with the first verse. Because his mother found out about the bullying. That’s when things started to turn around. First, Leondre stood up to the bullies. Then he changed schools. There was no ignoring the situation. Things had gone too far. It was time for action.

At the new school, Leondre is not bullied and he is happy. That’s why his beautiful song with the anti-bulling message ends with this lovely chorus:

I’m hopeful, yes I am, hopeful for today.

Take this music and use it. Let it take you away.

And be hopeful, and He’ll make a way

I know it ain’t easy, but that’s OK.

Just be hopeful….

This performance on Britain’s Got Talent brought the judges to tears and inspired Simon Cowell to press the golden buzzer, an action reserved for just one artist each season who the judges feel deserves the right to be catapulted from a lower round directly to the live finale. That finale is this Saturday night and Leondre is a favorite to win. I’ll be rooting for him.

If you want to be inspired and “hopeful for today,” check out Leondre’s original performance here.  It’s heartfelt and moving and a testament to the great things that can happen when good parents get involved and are willing to do whatever it takes to help their children.

Until next time…be fearless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education is Not the Great Equalizer. Love Is.

For the past 25 years, professional educators and politicians have been trying to level the playing field in education. The reason? No matter how wonderful the teacher, or beautiful the school, or dynamic the teaching strategies, we still find that, as a group, rich children do better in school than poor children. Children with well-educated parents do better than children with less-educated ones. Children in rich schools with highly-trained teachers do better than children in poor schools with less-experienced teachers. It’s a problem we have not been able to fix, although many education initiatives have tried to do so. Can anyone say “No Child Left Behind” or “Common Core Standards?”

Educators and politicians may have looked high and low for the answers, but they didn’t look right under their noses. They need to look no further than the homeschooling community for answers.

The research coming out of the modern homeschooling movement proves home education to not only be a superior educational choice, but it holds true, and to the same degree, for all genders, income levels, family educational backgrounds, amount of money spent on education, and the credentials (or lack of) of the teaching parent. Even more astounding is that homeschooling accomplishes this not by holding the “haves” back (as is typical in most educational initiatives), but by propelling the “have nots” forward. Check out the research: ALL children perform well in homeschooling (from 20-30 percent better than their private and public-educated counterparts) despite differences in gender, economic background, money spent on education, parent education level, and the teaching credentials of the parents. Why are there so few failures in homeschooling, even among categories of students who typically struggle in traditional schools? Because…

Love is the great equalizer.

Unlike school systems and classroom teachers, parents love their children. Most parents will sacrifice countless personal gains, spend hundreds of sleepless nights, consider every possibility imaginable, if they think it might help their children. If a child has a need or a deficiency or a weakness, parents will do everything possible to help. To the best extent they can, parents insure their children’s success at learning and life.

If a classroom teacher ever tells you she “loves” your child, or a school official tells you he has the best interest of your child in mind, don’t believe them. They don’t. Only you do. I know because I used to be a classroom teacher. I liked the kids I taught. I cared about the kids I taught. But I didn’t lie awake in bed at night trying to figure out how to make them smarter, nicer, and more productive. That activity was rightfully reserved for my own kids.

When I moved from teaching other peoples’ children to teaching my own, everything about my teaching got better. Despite a lack of salary, I now immersed myself in learning all the different teaching strategies available to me. I read books and Internet articles. I went to homeschool conventions. I listened to speakers, sorted through curriculum, joined homeschool message boards, and picked the brains of homeschooling veterans. I became a good teacher and my children became good students, far more successful than they were in classrooms presided over by the parents of someone else’s children.

As we progressed in homeschooling, I applied my energies to fixing problems as they came up and making our homeschool days more effective and appealing. If my child was unmotivated, I devised methods of motivation. If they were confused, I teached over again. If I simply couldn’t do it anymore, I hired a tutor to help me. I switched math curriculums at least 10 times. I changed the time and place of my homeschool classroom, I sought out a number of different homeschool classes and cooperatives to help teach things I couldn’t teach well at home.

I tried out both traditional and untraditional approaches to education and my teaching strategies covered the gamut from textbook approach to unit studies to unschooling. I tried teaching all day. I tried no teaching at all. And still my kids kept on learning. The consistent factors? A parent, a child, and a home.

Parents with children in traditional schools love their children just as much as homeschooling parents. And they will work just as hard to try to help them. But school systems are set up to deny them any significant input at all. And, even if they did, at the end of the day, no matter how hard people who loved the children tried to change and improve things, schools would still remain institutions, cold places that, by their very nature, can not care for or deal well with the individual needs of children. Parents, on the other hand, were perfectly and uniquely created by God to do just that.

Recently I had a conversation with a friend who is struggling to homeschool her fourth child. She listed off all the things she had tried in order to motivate her daughter, an impressive list that had occupied many of her waking hours. Her current idea was to hire a recent homeschool graduate who also runs a sewing business to be a tutor. Because her daughter loves to sew, she thought the two would relate well to each other. And she planned to use the promise of sewing together as a motivational tool.

I thought this was a creative and splendid idea, a perfect example of how homeschool parents roll. We set education and life goals based on the unique needs of our children and we don’t rest well until those goals are accomplished.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, once referred to education as “the great equalizer.” I disagree. Love is.

Until next time…Be fearless.