School has started in our neck of the woods this week and it feels a bit strange. This is only the second year since I was a young child that I have not been going back to school, whether as a student, a teacher, or both. School has been such a huge part of my life for so long that it feels strange watching the back to school busy-ness from a distance. I am involved, however, in that I’m reflecting a great deal on my own school experience as I work through my thoughts and concerns about school now that I’m a parent.
As someone who previously made a career in the field of education, I find the subject of school to be an important one. Until recently, I thought my options were pretty simple: public school, private school, or homeschooling. Thanks to the blogging community, however, I have discovered the concept of unschooling as well, and the existence of a whole spectrum between unschooling and rigid, hyper-structured schooling. It seems I have a multitude of options. Two years ago, I would have told you that my children would go to Montessori primary school and transition to a public elementary around first grade. The daddy, on the other hand, would like to see our children homeschooled.
As she gets older, I believe the choice should largely be left up to Annabelle. I was so inspired by the way MJ trusted her own children on the schooling decision, and I wholeheartedly agree with the value of doing so. Still, I think it’s important that the daddy and I examine the pros and cons of various possibilities in the months and years to come so that we are prepared for our part.
All that said, I have come to realize that I have a great many biases when it comes to the issue of schooling, and I think it’s important for me to examine them now, before they creep in and influence my choices as a parent.
My Schooling Journey
My official education began at a private preschool in Arizona. My memories of this time involve tricyles, one special friend, having to sit in the corner during rest time, and that one day that we got to roast marshmallows and make S’mores outside.
By my kindergarten year, we had moved states and I was attending a public elementary school, my memories of which include painting, being grossed out by a boy who ate glue, and walking to and from school. That’s about it. Before first grade, we moved again, this time to a rural area where my sister and I went to a new public school. I did well and enjoyed my class, but there were a couple of girls on the playground who singled me out and teased me regularly. It bothered me a great deal because they insisted I was stupid, and I identified very strongly as exceptionally smart, so this drove me crazy. The whole issue really upset me, and subsequently my mother who decided to pull me out of school halfway through that year.
My mom worked with me one-on-one for the rest of the year, simply teaching me things as she saw fit. I enjoyed learning new things, but when the next school year started, I eagerly went back to my public school. By this time, I had received enough one-on-one attention to be far ahead of my peers in terms of academic skills. I was restless, and I was also the “teacher’s pet.” I always finished my work very quickly, so the teacher would look over it to make sure all was correct. My job for the rest of the time would be to collect the rest of the students’ work and mark it against my own, then set it aside for the teacher to record. Other times, I was sent off to the library by myself to choose and read books which I would write reports on to present to the class. My teacher’s husband happened to be my sister’s 5th grade teacher, and I was often sent me up to his class as well.
As you can probably imagine, this didn’t do much for me socially. I developed a superiority complex and took my role as, “like, the smartest kid in class” very seriously. I can only imagine how obnoxious I was, and how rude to some of my peers. My sister was never one who cared for school, and I’m surprised we have maintained such a close friendship since I liked to point out, at every opportunity, the fact that I could answer questions in her class that she couldn’t (this probably happened once and I never let my poor sister live it down). I also loved to brag about my adventures in the 5th grade when I returned to class with my ordinary 2nd grade peers.
My parents wanted me to skip a grade, but the school district was firm in their policy of keeping children with students their own age wherever possible, so it was decided that I would go to a private Christian school the next year. This school used the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, consisting of fill-in-the-blank booklets that students completed individually and checked against score keys. Because the school was expensive and a 45 minute drive from our house, it was decided the following year that my parents would purchase the curriculum and I would use it to home school.
I started off strong, but eventually realized there were far more enjoyable things to do than fill in workbooks, so I started copying answers from the score keys before my mom woke up. After a while, I realized that no one else was checking my work, so I left entire booklets blank and simply took the tests. I remember spending the following summer with my grandparents in another state and waiting nervously every time my parents called, certain that someone had looked at my work from the school year and found me out. No one ever did.
Fifth grade was similar and in the years that followed, I don’t remember having a set curriculum, but it’s possible that we continued with the same. Despite my lack of interest in the official curriculum, I loved to learn. If I could convince my dad to take me to work with him, I would ask to be dropped off at the library and spend my days reading. At home, I would sit with the encyclopedias and read up on any issue that sparked my interest that day and flip through, reading all of the “see also” references, getting lost in the same way that I do nowadays when following endless links from Wikipedia.
Speaking of Wikipedia, in hindsight, I’m pretty proud of myself for discerning at such a young age that our curriculum wasn’t worth my time. This from the wiki on Accelerated Christian Education:
“D. Flemming and T Hunt of the education journal Phi Delta Kappa wrote in a 1987 article regarding the emphasis on rote learning.
“If parents want their children to obtain a very limited and sometimes inaccurate view of the world — one that ignores thinking above the level of rote recall — then the ACE materials do the job very well. The world of the ACE materials is quite a different one from that of scholarship and critical thinking.”“
During these years of homeschooling, I struggled a lot with the lack of social stimulation. Many homeschoolers have fantastic cases against the argument that you have to send kids to school in order for them to learn social skills, and I definitely side with the homeschoolers on this one now. Still, back then I was starved for good friendships. We lived in a very rural area, thirty minutes from the nearest gas station, post office, and grocery store, and thirty minutes from all of my friends. At eight years old, the friendships I had built were based entirely on attending the same school, so when I stopped attending that school, the friendships dissolved. I remember crying alone in my room on my ninth birthday because I wanted a birthday party, but I realized I had no one to invite anyway, so there really wasn’t a point. It was pretty sad.
|The summer before starting high school I also convinced
my parents to let me go to St. Petersburg, Russia.
When I reached middle school age, I started attending a church youth group and finally started making a few good friends. I didn’t get to see them nearly so much as I would have liked, however, because of the distance. I was dying to go to school. Finally, the summer between what would have been my 7th and 8th grade years, I wrote a long letter to my parents detailing all of the reasons I felt it was best for me to go to the public school, and they agreed. My parents still felt that it would be “too easy” for me, however, so we went to the district and they agreed to let me take a placement test. I did well and they agreed that I could skip 8th grade and start at the public high school the following year. I couldn’t have been happier!
To be continued…
(Update: You can find Part II here and Part III here.)
What type of school did you attend? Has your experience colored your decisions surrounding your own children’s education?