Welcome to Day 14 of #30PostsHathSept. [PLEASE READ all my other challenge posts HERE.] Enjoy!
To understand the real reason why I homeschool, I can’t just talk about my child’s school experiences. I need to go back to my own. All the way back to my elementary school.
I loved my old school. Deeply. It was in a part of town that was anything but affluent, but what the school may have lacked in funding it made up in so much more. The school was unique, though at the time I didn’t know it. There were no grade levels. Students could choose their own schedules, their own classes. They could do what they wanted to do. One student could decide they wanted all art and science classes, while another literature and history. I was a student who loved math and writing. I loved having the right to choose. It was exciting to learn right alongside the bigger kids.
Mrs. Jackson was my favorite teacher. Maybe she was my favorite because she paid attention to me. But most of all, she engaged me in learning and guided me when I needed advice. I always knew I could count on her to inspire me and show me the best in myself.
School was like one big community. Everyone came together to learn because it was a place where everyone was engaged. The classes were as challenging as you wanted them to be. My school was part of a 1960’s experimental approach to education. I couldn’t imagine a more wonderful place to be.
A few years later, my family needed to move. That’s when my world changed for a long time. My new school didn’t feel like my old school. The kids didn’t feel like my kids. I was prevented from doing what I wanted to do and prevented from moving ahead as fast as I needed.
I argued, but no one wanted to hear what an elementary student wanted to say. Still, I did what was required of me, and followed their rules, for as long as I had to. I waited for many years. Every now and then for fun, I did writing assignments that my brother, two grades above me, was assigned. One such assignment that I recall was: ”Write a two-page essay discussing the following quote by John Donne”.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
I wouldn’t know for many years the personal significance this quote held. At the time, I was thrilled just having something to do.
But in this new school something else was missing. My new teachers were not like Mrs. Jackson and it would be many years before I found a teacher like her.
Back in my old neighborhood, Mrs. Jackson would tell me how I could reach for any goal I set my mind to. She told me that it was O.K. to break and bend rules when the rules were wrong. She told every one of us that we were special and that each of us had an important job to do. She looked us in the eye when she spoke to us, and it always felt as if that moment was the most important moment of her day. I’ll never forget her and the valuable lessons she taught me.
Educators like Mrs. Jackson change lives. Educators like Mrs. Jackson engage kids not just for one class or for one year. They engage the kids for a lifetime. Listen to educator Rita Pierson’s powerful talk on TED.com entitled “Every kid needs a champion”
So what exactly does this have to do with why I homeschool?
When we first enrolled our now teen son into kindergarten many years ago, it was with the same warm memories of my own early elementary schooling. But it didn’t go that way.
The school didn’t understand my gifted son’s enthusiasm for learning, his energetic passion to discover, his earnest desire to engage with everyone and everything around him. It seemed as if they could only see in him someone who didn’t fit the rules of what their worldview told them about children. They wanted to label him instead of educate him. He was an outlier. But isn’t every child who feels out-of-place, unrecognized, ignored, and unsupported, an outlier in some way? I’ve previously written a bit about his early educational experiences HERE.
In retrospect, our decision to homeschool was nothing more or less than a travel back in time to an education very similar to my own. There are no grade levels. My son chooses his own schedule, his own classes. He can do what he wants to do. He always loves having the right to choose. My son is engaged in learning.
In a sense, what Mrs. Jackson did right, and what my son’s kindergarten did wrong, comes down to one word: ENGAGEMENT. If I kept my son in school any longer than I did, I fear it may have been as Rita Pierson said in her talk,
“Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”
Kids know very quickly when someone cares – often far more quickly than do adults. Kids can’t easily pretend to engage with people who do not seem to care.
I’m not touting homeschool as the answer for all kids. There are wonderful educators to be found in schools everywhere. Unfortunately, educators’ time is becoming more limited, making it increasingly difficult to stop and be attentive to the little things.
As we all know, it’s always the little things that make a difference. The little things can engage a child’s heart and mind. A smile, a kind word, a moment that lasts a lifetime.
John Donne’s words couldn’t feel more perfect. We are all indeed part of a great whole. A great community. Each of us – adult and child – has an important job to do.
Regardless of whether you already homeschool, plan to homeschool, are in a school with adoring teachers, or in the midst of a difficult situation without a clear path…If you remember only one thing, and one thing alone, remember this: ENGAGEMENT.
Nothing matters but engagement to a student’s learning. They need the sense of belonging and being special, loved, and supported. If we can engage a generation of students in whatever form of education – traditional or homeschool – we would make all the Mrs. Jackson’s of the world very proud. Every student deserves to feel that each time they connect with a teacher, that moment is the most important moment of that teacher’s day. For that student, that moment may be more important than the teacher could ever imagine.
If there is no engagement, then the educational setting may be a mismatch and in need of change. For our family, this meant homeschooling. Simple as that.
We all depend upon each other. We are parts of a whole. As such, we can be our best selves by showing children their best selves.
Because…“No man is an island, entire of itself.”
[You can enjoy all the daily posts from the #30PostsHathSept bloggers HERE]