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Leaving Public Education
This article, by Ellen C. Bicheler, was originally published in the January-February 1997 issue of Home Education Magazine.
Unlike many homeschoolers, we didn't start out with homeschooling as a vision when our children were young. Instead it generated out of our daughter, Melissa's negative junior high experience. She was assaulted, teased and bored. Melissa begged us to get her out of junior high school and presented us with a proposal to homeschool that made so much sense, we made a one year commitment to homeschooling.
For me the decision to allow Melissa to homeschool was agonizing. I felt that it would add so much work for myself at a time when I wanted to pursue free-lance writing and spend more time working in my gardens. How ironic that homeschooling more than anything provided a path for my own interests to flourish. While watching Melissa pursue her interests with intensity and commitment, I realized that there are other ways of doing things then the old public school and college model I was familiar with. We could pursue our own interests and not have to follow curriculums that others deemed important.
The first year was an unraveling year for me. I had to let go of, untangle and sort through all the old layers of public education and myself. I was a staunch supporter of public education and I had enmeshed myself into the system as Site Council President and was a constant volunteer in the classrooms in the elementary school my children attended. I had seen changes that I advocated (such as music and art as part of the curriculum) come into fruition. To leave this system that I was so involved in was far more difficult for me than my children. I was competent in that system and was constantly acknowledged for my participation.
In the beginning the number of choices for homeschooling were a bit overwhelming and we used an independent study program as a crutch to get us through. Fortunately, the teacher we worked with was very flexible and allowed Melissa to have the biggest voice in her education. Along with this we joined our local homeschooling association and attended almost every event to make new friends. Every day Melissa was taking classes with other homeschoolers or we were on a field trip. Unfortunately, this meant that I was driving all over the county every day with a two year old tagging along. The result was burnout for me. I had to rethink the whole homeschooling idea. The primary reasons for the choice to homeschool was to have more time to pursue individual interests. We were gone just as much with the homeschooling as we were with public school. We began to prioritize and determine what activities were the most important and gained some crucial time at home. Lindsay (age 9 at the time) decided she had liked what she had seen with Melissa's homeschooling and joined us. Now our whole family was homeschooling and we decided to try it without the independent study program.
For our family, the transition to homeschooling has been very beneficial. After two years we are a much closer and stronger family unit. Respect for each other has grown. The process to get there, however, has been difficult. The second year was actually the most troublesome for us. With the shift to homeschooling we were spending much more time together and came face to face with all the things that weren't working in our family. Through marriage counseling Michael and I were able to get back to being a couple, a role we had sublimated since the children were born. It was a very painful process and at times leaving seemed like the easiest alternative. We re-committed ourselves to each other, started going out on dates again and spending time each night communicating with each other. It was necessary to discharge a lot of anger before we could really be with each other. Our relationship is much more nurturing now and it definitely filtered down to the children. Michael begin to spend more time with the children and to show more appreciation for my contribution to the family.
I also sought out individual counseling at this time to help me deal with Melissa's anger that was directed at me. What I found was that I hadn't been addressing my own needs. I took care of everyone else's needs (a lot of times when it was unneeded and even detrimental). I also began to see some ineffective aspects of my parenting. I used control and manipulation too much and some of Melissa's anger was a manifestation of this. It was necessary to give my children more freedom and independence. As the year progressed, I began doing more writing, reading and gardening and created a space of my own in our house. Household responsibilities such as vacuuming, childcare and cleaning the kitchen were turned over to other members of the family. We met as a family to determine who did what and allowances were increased for the extra work. Melissa chose to do childcare instead of housework and that has worked out fine. For the most part I have stopped my control and manipulation, although under times of stress it sometimes comes back. I'm actively working on my own goals in writing and have experienced a lot of personal growth.
One of my biggest challenges came from the scrutiny we received from the general public and in particular the neighbors about our methods of homeschooling. When the neighbors first asked Lindsay what she was doing for homeschooling, she would say, "Nothing." She would say this because we were no longer studying out of textbooks. We were going to the pond to study pond life. We would supplement this with talks from naturalists and books from the library. Lindsay was no longer studying a prescribed curriculum and I guess nothing resembled her classroom from the previous year. The worst moment came when an elderly neighbor accused me of neglect for running an errand for my husband early in the morning. I had left Dylan, Lindsay and Glynnis (Lindsay's friend) with Melissa for half an hour. When I returned I found a lemonade stand set up in front of our house and the girls soliciting the neighbors to buy their lemonade. My neighbor seemed to think that they should have been in the house learning their lessons. I believe they were genuinely concerned about the welfare of the children but couldn't understand what we were trying to do. With some diplomacy on our part and time they are gradually accepting our undertaking. There are still a few scattered comments that question our methods, but for the most part the scrutiny is gone.
In this third year of homeschooling we are much more confident. Melissa has decided to attend our local junior college (children are eligible in their freshman year of high school) and attends classes 3 days a week. She takes the bus to get there and seems to enjoy her classes. She continues to work on the magazine, "Windchime" with three other homeschooling friends that they put out quarterly. Melissa is looking for an internship at a wildlife or environmental center. I work individually with Lindsay (10) and Dylan (4) . We read, do art, sew, garden, write, play math games or whatever they are interested in doing. Sometimes we spend the whole day on a field trip to a beach, forest, museum or the city. I make it a priority to write for 2 hours each day and have been quite successful with my commitment.
One unexpected benefit of homeschooling has come from getting away from the cultural, consumer values of the school. My children no longer have the peer pressure to have the "right" pair of jeans or the current toys. They are thinking more for themselves and now actually point out to us unethical advertisements and politics.
Homeschooling offers a lot of educational choices. We have had to find out what works and adjust accordingly. Melissa is very self motivated and thrives on doing most of her homeschooling on her own or by taking classes in specific areas of interest. Lindsay and Dylan like me to work or play with them or to play with friends. This year Dylan, Lindsay and I came up with a long list of things they wanted to do in the next year.
There are a lot of people in the homeschooling movement these days that come into it from public and private schools. Making it through those first few years is a challenging task. Everyone will have different things to work out. Support groups, friends, counseling and homeschooling books and magazines are what got us through. We have made homeschooling friends in the city we live in and that has made all the difference for us. Our life is much simpler this way.
I think the key to a successful transition into homeschooling from other systems is to take it slowly and be patient with yourself and your family. Make sure you have a support system for yourself - people that can bring you back to your homeschooling ideas. Accept that there are people out there that aren't going to agree with your ideas. There are bound to be emotional times since it is such a major shift in thinking. Get counseling for yourself or other family members if its needed. Allow your children and yourself a lot of time in the beginning to think. Be flexible and discard things that don't work and don't be afraid to try new ideas. Get involved with other homeschooling families with similar values to your own. Let your own homeschooling system evolve for your own family. It's bound to be quite eclectic.
© 1997, Ellen Bicheler
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