My 12 year-old son, R.: “Why didn’t he just post them on his blog?”
I never thought I’d be one of those parents–the homeschooling kind. Before this year, I would always say, “My kids and I would drive each other crazy, it would never work, etc. etc. etc.” And that’s true for my 17 year-old daughter—she and I would never get past the idea of a good reading list (my idea: Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickinson, and Whitman. Her idea: can’t we just watch the movie version?). She is a social creature who thrives in her public magnet school.
But, my son—my son is from a different universe. Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he would rather be anywhere else than school. He once told me that he would love school—if he were the only student. That about sums it up for him. Other kids annoy him, and he can’t understand their social customs or cues—they are noisy, germy, erratic, touchy-feely monsters in his mind. Academically, he was fine. It was the mass of kids, the cafeteria smells, and a thousand other not-so-little things that wore him down every day.
What wore me down were IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings. I would try to explain what would help R., but I knew full well that the administrators and teachers would do what was easiest most of the time. His elementary school principal was an awful woman who challenged his diagnosis (“he looks fine to me”), fought us on providing an aide for him, and when his behavior turned aggressive (due, in part, to him not having an aide), she told me that the other students’ “personal safety” was her number one concern. Watch out, a 40 lb. first grader was on the loose! Hearing other parents’ stories, I suppose we were lucky they didn’t lock him up in a closet or restrain him. I took to going by his school every day on my lunch hour that year to check on him. The school’s phone number on the caller ID caused my stomach to turn.
Middle school was better as he had grown out of the aggressions mostly, but there were still teachers who “forgot” to make accommodations, teachers who didn’t believe that he needed any, and a principal who was more concerned with test scores than individual students. All the while, I had a copy of the federal IDEA act in my hand and a signed IEP to back me up, but, really, they were empty words on a page.
After seven years of slogging through public schooling, I finally sat up in bed one night and told my husband, “Let’s homeschool him.” It kind of came out of nowhere, but it felt right.
Like many of the other against-the-current choices I’ve made in life (being a vegetarian, hyphenating my name after marriage, birthing one of my kids at home), this choice met with a range of reactions from mild curiosity to outright opposition. Even my supporters had only one big question: socialization. “How will he ever learn to be around other people?” “Will he ever have friends again?” “Yeah, public school is tough, but it prepares you for the real world.”
The S-word looms large in the homeschooling world. Every family deals with it in their own way, but my answer is usually, “Really? Do you really think he’ll never see another human being ever again? Do you really believe I want to turn my son into a Bubble Boy? Do you really think that an overwhelming amount of crappy social experiences prepares a kid with social deficits for the real world?” Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Other homeschooling lessons learned so far:
1. Don’t assume that a 12 year-old kid will find Latin boring and hard. My son likes it, surprisingly. Try to find Latin being taught in a public middle school these days.
2. Homeschooling days are shorter than public school days since we don’t need time for settling everyone else down, changing classes, or pep rallies.
3. Sometimes, we do drive each other crazy. And that is real world experience right there.
Now that we’ve been homeschooling for a few months, I can say that it is both easy and difficult. It’s great to set our own schedule and to be able to tailor the curriculum to our kid. Finding good curriculum was another matter; the mostly Christian-based curriculum that’s out there would never work for my fundamentalist atheist son. I had to craft his curriculum based on middle-school reading lists, a quick look at the state standards for his grade, and suggestions from secular-leaning online discussion boards. We couldn’t do this if he were younger and less independent. We couldn’t do this if one of us wasn’t really good at math (not me).
Even though we’ve opted out of the system for now, I still have so many issues with public schools and their lack of responsiveness to kids who fall outside the “norm.” I do get it–it’s about time, money, and the lack of resources. As the awful principal liked to say, “I’m responsible for all of the kids.” Well, Ms. Awful Principal, I’m responsible for just one kid. And I decided that my energy would be best spent on creating a great education for my one kid instead of spending all my time and effort on reforming your school. And that choice, while not possible for everyone, is working for my kid for now.
The Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther for posting his grievances. If I nailed my list to the schoolhouse door, would the overworked teachers and principals even notice?