As this school year was beginning, I was doing a lot of reflecting on my biases regarding schooling: public education, home schooling, private schooling, and the many different methods employed in each. I started writing about the subject and my calendar filled up, so I’ve left that post hanging. Other current events have the subject on my mind again, though this time I’m thinking more about the state of higher education, so there will likely be spinoffs that take the original idea in a different direction, but for now I’d like to finish what I started. I’m hesitant to post as it has become rather long and not really in line with my usual content, but then this is my space to work through things on my mind, after all. Feel free to come back tomorrow for Joy Pockets if this subject doesn’t strike your fancy.
The Public High School Years
I left part one of my story at my transition from home schooling (or pretending to homeschool) to public high school in what should have been my 8th grade year. I won’t write a long drawn out tale of my high school experience, but I’ll give the important bits.
Socially and Emotionally
My biggest challenge socially was meeting people, which happened relatively quickly. Of course there was the issue of being the youngest student in the entire school, but that wasn’t too much of a challenge, and the issue of actually being around good-looking males all day. That last bit was something of a distraction from my studies, but I pushed through. I do not feel that homeschooling put me at a disadvantage socially. I made friends easily, was elected to student council, and really enjoyed being a part of my school community and interacting with both students and teachers. I think this was the greatest benefit of public school for me, and it was something I craved during my years at home.
I was fortunate in that I never experienced or even saw bullying, peer pressure, or really any of the negative things that are often associated with school. This may be a feature of the community in which I went to school, a small town with only two elementary schools and one middle school feeding into the only high school. Most people had known one another for years, and their parents often knew one another as well. I believe that finally feeling a part of this community, once I reentered school, did a great deal for my emotional and social growth and development.
Overall, I think I thrived in the public school system, but I saw many students for whom it was not working. I always got along well with adults, and had the sort of personality that made me want to please others, so doing homework and participating in class was not something I ever had issues with. Of course I would likely have excelled all the more if I were following my own desires and interests and not working to please teachers, but as this was something ingrained already, I don’t feel that staying home would have given me the opportunity to truly follow my inner guide any more than public school did.
I needed someone with a thorough understanding of math to help me learn. I had tried off and on, with the help of both parents at different points in time, but it was not my strong point or theirs so I focused on other things. I struggled with the subject all the way through high school, and into college, but eventually I think I built a solid foundation that I never would have with my situation at home, and personally I’m glad for that. I do feel that my home-based learning and the avoidance of math that it involved put me at a severe disadvantage with math in particular, but I feel like I have mostly closed that gap at this point.
I was able to study and excel at French and Spanish, something that interested me in the past but that was far easier to dive into with a regular course and other students to practice with. Foreign languages became my greatest passion, academically speaking, and I don’t think I would have become so enamored with them if I had not had the opportunity to study formally. I’m grateful I did.
English was always my strong point so I took an honors course and it helped me refine my skills and learn a great deal along the way. I did become far more interested in the social aspect of school and lose sight of my academic goals toward the end of my high school career. I skipped classes here and there, and chose to take a regular English course instead of continuing with honors, simply because I wanted an easy year. All of these years later, those decisions seem to have mattered very little, however.
History and civics were subjects I had learned virtually nothing about in my years at home. I was not drawn to them on my own, so I simply didn’t become knowledgeable in them. This did put me at a disadvantage, but I navigated those courses just fine. I did find college history courses extremely frustrating, as I felt I was lacking a great deal of information that was common knowledge for my peers. I was able to work to catch up and do as well in these courses as any, but I felt I had to put in more work than most to succeed, and this frustrated me.
Overall, my high school experience was extremely positive and given my own unique set of circumstances, I think it was the best option for me. I have no regrets regarding that decision and for this reason I long thought I would send my own children to public school.
Before Annabelle was born, I worked as a Children’s House guide in three different Montessori schools over a period of six years. During my pregnancy, I worked for one school year in a traditional school, as the long term sub for a fourth grade class. I could write extensively on how these experiences colored my thoughts on education, but I’ll keep it simple: I firmly believe that if children are to be educated in an institution, Montessori is the ideal. Traditional schooling, with children grouped by age and learning the same thing at the same time, largely while sitting still, does most children a grave disservice, particularly in the early years.
I see very few, if any problems, with a Montessori program designed by adults with a true love for the children and belief in the method. It respects the child’s freedom, gives them all of the resources and motivation necessary to develop a well rounded understanding of the world, and nurtures their natural love of learning.
There are a select few children who thrive in traditional, desk-based learning. There are also a number of outstanding teachers who work tirelessly to understand their students as individuals and take an individualized approach that involves minimal time at desks. Still, even the best teachers are limited by a flawed system. Going from Montessori to a traditional classroom was a challenging experience for me. I did not feel good about what I was doing, as much as I tried to give each individual child the best. My one year, cut short by maternity leave, in a traditional school setting was enough to convince me that I, personally, would likely never feel content with sending my children to a public school.
To Be Continued …
I won’t wait so long to post part three. It will be up next week, barring unforeseen circumstances, and will pull all of these reflections together to explain my goals and hopes for my children’s education. Later on, I’ll reflect on and rant about higher education in a spinoff post.