Monday, September 23, 2013

Profile Overhaul Part II - Routine, Reality, and The Scarlet Letter

We've been public schooling in lieu of homeschooling for a month.  Because hubby and I never do anything the easy way, this switch involves an hour commute for the kids, and sometimes requires both Emre and I to drive out separately to handle pick-up times.  We wake the kids up at 5:45, launch them through their morning routine, and out the door at 6:30.   They get to town around 7:30, board the yellow bus at 7:50, and arrive at school around 8:30.  Their school days end at 3:30, at which point one of us picks them up, and barring traffic, we get home around 4:45.  Cue dinner, homework, maybe half an hour for t.v. or play.  Then it is time to get ready for bed, select outfits for the next day.   I pack their lunches between 9 and 10 pm.  The amount of patience and discipline this requires from all of us is crazy.

Crazier still: this routine-on-steroids, the public schooling, the imposed structure, all of it is working.  Let me be absolutely clear: it is working in a way that homeschooling was not working, and could not ever work for my family.  In fact, I can say this now:  Homeschooling was failing my family.  This is not hyperbole.

We'd expected John Paul to be below grade level; so Emre and I held him back a grade.  His many fine motor/gross motor/vision issues have always kept him behind where we should be in the curriculum, and running him to all of his therapies, and all of them to their many activities, consumed precious chunks of instructional time.  Therefore, over the summer we enrolled him in the second grade instead of the third grade, thinking that it would make for less stress in his transition, that he would be able to handle on his own a "re-do" of the second grade.

We didn't expect his reading to be even lower than second grade level.  In two days of testing, without me or  his dad there to coach him through a book, it was ridiculously clear that his reading was far lower than the second grade.  Miserably, frighteningly low.

The hard truth is that John Paul has special needs.  While I addressed some of those needs privately and at home without labeling him, I could not ever possibly address everything with him.  Every year I sacrificed some part of the curriculum because there just was not time for me to get to everything for everyone, especially when met by his resistance.  One subject I could never stick with was spelling. We could work phonics, but I could not get him to memorize spelling lists. Yet in three weeks time at this public school, John Paul has learned his spelling words rapidly and proficiently.  His first quiz grade was a 90%.

Part of my profile overhaul is to say that my son has special needs.  I am relieved to say that at his school, I can call him "special needs" and not feel judged or condemned.  On the contrary, the teachers and staff at his public school have gone out of their way to support him, and me, even without the bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo that awaits us all once we've moved to town.

My child is being well cared for at his public school, by people who are more qualified to help him than I could ever hope to be (unless I go to school for such specialized education myself).  His teachers have been schooled; they have done the research, they have worked in this field with many other students and they have the background to help John Paul.  These people are godsends, and I give thanks for every one of them.  I wish every student in America could have access to these kinds of professionals; one fact that I am very much aware of is that if we lived someplace else, we might not have this type of a resource for our children.

A scarlet letter of sorts must also be picked up and worn by me, not an "A" but an "F," because here is where (and who) I failed.  Gianna, who has no special needs, must redo kindergarten.  Her math skills are fine, but she could not identify more than a handful of the fifty sight words the reading specialists presented her with.  She confused several of her letters and phonics sounds, too.  She is six, and will turn seven next month.  We had thought she would be OK in the first grade, but the first week of class revealed to the teacher (and on some level, to Gianna as well) that she was not at the same place the other students were.

Folks.  I am a literature teacher by trade.  And yet, and yet, my youngest school-aged children, who are six and eight, as of last month could not read alone.  Do I need to say more on this score?  Can I trust you to understand this very specialized hurt that I've had in my heart this month as I've been forced to confront the reality and scope of the failure of our homeschool?   Have you ever wept so hard that you've made yourself physically ill?

I don't wish my experience to be a condemnation of homeschooling.  As always, I offer my experience, however embarrassing and raw it may be, as a touchstone that might help others.  I am putting this out there as a reality check for those other mothers who right now have a suspicion, a nag, a gut feeling that something is off.  Such a mother is right now surfing online as I often did, looking for the affirmation and the encouragement to keep going, because she is too afraid of something else to stop.  And that fear leads her to conclude that homeschooling is her only option.

Someone we all know once said, "Do not be afraid."

I know many of my readers have zero trust for any area the state is involved in, and that the phrase "public schooling" rings for them like a death knell.  You know something?  I was afraid too.  However, I am finished with parenting from a place of fear.  That is an emotion that needs careful evaluation before allowing it to guide a decision.  I had to ask myself, 'Is the fear rational?'

It is good to be cognizant of the fact that I send my kids into a secular space, but I should not fear doing so as if God Himself is not there, as if man-made rules could ever drive His Spirit away from my children.  True, their faith must become internalized to a place where they function by feeling God's love, and not rely on hearing me preach about it.  Sending them into a secular space without me at their side requires me to trust in God and trust in my child.  It also requires me to trust my fellow man.  It requires me to model virtue more consistently, and in my case, it gives me the breathing room to pray, to preserve myself for the battles to come, and not just hop from melt-down to melt-down.  To my mind, these are all pro's, not cons, in my decision to school in the world again.

God gave us our feelings for a reason.  If I'm going to be honest, let me be all-out: my feelings around homeschooling have always been complex, and have rarely felt comfortable, especially when under scrutiny from others.  Scroll back through my blog and you'll see it, too.  My emotions here should have told me something: homeschooling can be the best thing in the world for someone else, but it was no longer right for my family.  The irrational thing, the insane thing, the damaging and dangerous thing would be to continue doing what I'd been doing.

I have carried a weight of uncertainty and worry each academic year, a burden that only grew heavier, no matter the homeschool groups with which I associated or curriculum to which I switched.  This weight  lifted the moment we decided to put our kids in school.  Even as the sad reality of their less-than-proficient reading settled on me, even as I had to tell Gianna she was not ready for the first grade and had to change classrooms and teachers after her first much-loved week of school was finished, the weight of uncertainty and fear that I'd lived with for twenty-four or more months did not descend on me again.

Already this red mark, the "F" on this moment of homeschooling Motherhood, and its concurrent chasm-ing open of my heart has wrought good in me, in a way that only God's hand can design.   I am treating with the reality, and I now have direct experience with the adage that "The Truth shall set you free."