June 20, 2019
I just un-enrolled my son from Public School. He just completed 5th grade.
This decision did not come easily, and it’s been a subject that Steve and I have been wresting with for about a year. But to be perfectly honest, it’s been on the horizon for several years and I only recently realized that God had been planting little seeds along the way. That doesn’t make it any easier. I wasn’t the stay at home mom who planned to homeschool her children from birth. Looking forward to lesson plans and pouring through curriculum ideas. I have no reference or local example of what the daily life of a homeschool family looks like. I never wanted to be a teacher and I don’t really enjoy doing homework with my children. Especially math. I work full time, self-employed, which means that my productivity equals my paycheck. Most of the time, I enjoy, but being responsible for generating your own paycheck has it’s own pressures. I love my kids dearly, and I loved our time apart when they are in school and I am… not. “I could never homeschool my kids.” <— me, on repeat for years.
However, I have come to realize, (and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of criticism for declaring this): Education is not THE most important thing in life. Therefore, it should not be the CENTER of our life. And our family’s life. And I don’t mean schedules and hours in the day – although that is a huge factor and so is my own schedule and career. I mean that our entire family’s lives are on constant standby to meet the increasing social and emotional needs of our child who “endured” public school and all of it’s increasing challenges for the sake of getting an education.
My daughter goes to a “private”/public (re: FREE) specialized Performing Arts High School that she had to audition for, take a test to get into, and was finally 1 of 20 students in her specialty to be accepted into her Freshman year. Think FAME for all you old timers, or “High School Musical” as she likes to call it. Think of every FUN high school movie you can, and all the times you thought “wow, I wish that was MY high school or even a REAL high school” – well turns out there is a real one, and that is hers. I didn’t even know such an amazing school existed until recently and she’s blessed beyond measure to be a student there. We often joke that her school “is the worst” because calling it like it is doesn’t seem real. She’s just completed her first full year, after going through our township middle school the past 3 years. As a 6th grader, I watched my well organized, confident, excited, Type A child – be practically swallowed up whole over the first 2 years. By eight grade, she finally found her stride, when she wasn’t drowning in projects, homework and typical social pressures from peers who want to be anywhere BUT school. Her personality type helped her to push through and protect herself and she was determined to not allow the environment she was in to completely change her. Although, even the best people, who work the absolute hardest, will partially be a byproduct of their full time environment.
My son is the opposite. He’s more mad scientist than organized and his self confidence is still wrapped up in how others treat him. He’s the over-excited, extremely social introvert who struggles with sensory regulation. Put him in a gym with 100 students, a loud cafeteria or with students who often hurt’s others feelings by just “being kids” and it takes it’s toll on him. Compound that with changing classes and teachers, managing the work load through a filter of 8 different teacher’s expectations and different guidelines, no downtime or quiet time to recharge, and very little time to nurture and give extra attention to the talents and subjects he excels in. Over the long term, significant damage is done to social, emotional and mental health. The increasing pressures of testing, projects, homework, and Code Blue Drills (don’t even get me started), is slowly squashing my son’s personality to fit into a mold that his just doesn’t, at least not naturally.
Persevere, right? Overcome it, right? Work through it, right? And so we did. Over the past year especially, I’ve worked very closely with his teachers and his school and they have done everything they can to foster an environment for Academic success. Academic success, with a side of emotional and mental health when possible. While balancing politically correctness, separation of church and state, racial equality and fairness in all things – policies – as not to offend anyone, ever, of course.
My son’s spiritual growth was completely paused (
silenced) during his most alert hours in the day. He was curious if others knew about his Christian faith, but he knew he was not allowed to discuss the subject with his peers or teachers. He said “hallelujah” in response to something totally unrelated and his teacher quickly reminded him “you can’t say that here”. We have an amazing church and he has lots of support at home to help him grow; but he had become increasingly frustrated that his two worlds were totally separated and he couldn’t understand why. We considered Christian schools. We thought maybe being surrounded by a group of adults who share our core values and could speak to our children freely about their beliefs would be beneficial. Even praying with them when needed. We explored many. Before we could calculate costs or evaluate options, Steve and I both felt like it was a clear “no”, and that this was not the path we were meant to be on. For no particular reason, it was just a “no”, so onward we persevered.
I want to be absolutely clear on one thing: I do believe my son’s public school is wonderful and has done everything in their power to help him succeed in every way they are able. Going above and well beyond other elementary schools in their care and support with the best PTA on the planet. I can’t even imagine being a teacher or administrator today. The expectations are crushing. The schedule is ever increasing, while the PAY, is decreasing. My son is one of many children in the classroom that need a little extra redirection and accommodations. And they are expected to know exactly how and to implement them all, 100% of the time. All the while, teaching to standards that increase each year so that the funds (while decreasing) will be secured for next year’s paycheck. I know they did their jobs. And I truly believe it was to the best of their ability.
I’ve been asked if I believe our “system” is failing our children and the truth is I just don’t know. I do believe that the “system” is comprised of the smartest people in their field doing the best they can with the resources they have. But I’m not even sure the smartest people in the system can keep up with the staggering social and emotional challenges students are facing at an alarming, exponentially increasing rate caused by a thousand different reasons. It’s a spreading wildfire and there aren’t enough firemen in the world to solve this problem in enough time to help my kid. The people in the “system” are working tirelessly for reform to stop the bleeding because they know there is an issue. The culture has changed. The priorities have changed. I pray that we can make dramatic improvements for the next generation and I’m happy to pull up my sleeves and contribute to that cause, and I do, in several different roles. But in the meantime….
Every day my son came home from school his spark was dimmer and dimmer. Not because of any one thing. He had friends. He did well on his assignments. It was just taking everything he had in him to get through the day. He would come home a different person – a shell of the child that I sent off in the morning. Some introverted time allowed him to recharge and some family time helped reset him by bedtime. Happy and smiling, he usually went to bed, and by morning I’d send him off again to repeat this same process.
My son is an honors student. There are many positive things about school he really enjoys and contributes to shaping his life. He’s smart as a whip, tests well, and knows way more than I do already. His brain is a sponge and
he enjoys learning used to enjoy learning. But somewhere along the line, we were all taught that academic learning trumped everything, and “school is the most important thing“. Because of this, it felt totally natural that we kept sending our son back into an environment that was crushing his spirit, on the daily.
We certainly could continue this path of “perseverance”. There are many lessons to be learned there. We could send him into middle school into an environment that will be 100x more difficult for him than the one he’s in now. We can continue to stick this square peg in that round hole and “make it work”. In all likelihood, he’ll survive. He’ll adapt and he will make it work. He will “get through it” just fine.
But when did we allow ourselves to life a life of just “getting through it”?
My deepest fear is that we DO make it work. And the result is a different child on the other side of middle school. One that he is not meant to be. That we might lose the best parts of him and all of the positive attributes of his personality will be gone for the sake of “academics” simply because he’s just surviving.
Education is not THE most important thing in life. Therefore, it should not be the CENTER of our life.
You know what is the center of our lives? Jesus. Family. Ministry.
An academic education is important. VERY important. But it still falls below all of those things in our household that are more important.
We have other options now for getting an education and putting it in it’s proper place in the “Priority Pyramid”. If you were to ask me 10 years ago I would not have even considered Homeschooling. The very idea still overwhelms me. Not the work ahead, but the idea of being responsible for my –smart as a whip– son’s education because I’m worried I won’t be able to challenge him and push him to the best of his abilities because I am under-qualified and under-equipped. Thankfully there are online academies now. Virtual teachers. Co-ops, support groups…. so many things. For the last year I’ve been sponging up all of the information that I can to confirm we’re making the right decision. Reading every book I can and talking to as many homeschool Mamas I can find. If you are a full-time working homeschool Mama, please contact me, because YOU are hard to find! Bonus points if you are self-employed! lol
And if there is one thing I have learned in this life, is that God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. So thankfully, my qualifications don’t even matter at all.
No matter the cause, it’s not the “systems” job to ensure the social and emotional health of our children. It’s ours – the parents. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is calling us to change this path for my son’s well being, and that public school is not longer the place he’s meant to spend his days. Maybe not forever, but until I know otherwise. I trust that the Lord knows what is best for my kids, even if that means scared-mommy-is-now-teacher. It’s fine. We’ll be fine. We’re all fine. I have no idea how we’re going to do this, but I know why we’re going to do this and that means we’re right where we should be. Trusting God means that you move forward anyway, even if it feels like you are behind the wheel with a blindfold on, on a bridge, at night, alone. lol
We kindof a plan: For this year, we’re going to try a combination of all the things. We’re signed up for one online class at Liberty Online University Academy, because MATH, (and I don’t mean, accounting, taxes, and mortgages kind of MATH – I love those – I mean, algebra, trig, and calculus kind of MATH)… I just ain’t doin’ it and you can’t make me! He’ll have a teacher. She/he can be the mean one. I’ll get to be the supportive Mom. Win.
For the rest we’ll do a combination of online resources, books, projects, trips, documentaries and “unschooling”. Mostly Unschooling, which Greyson and I are extremely excited about. We need to deprogram ourselves from trying to duplicate “school at home” and find a rhythm that works for both of us.
Speaking of: “How does Greyson feel about this?”, is usually the question I’ve been asked when I’ve talked to friends and family. He’s thrilled. The moment I brought this idea to him months ago he sighed a big exhale and said “Thank GOD.” Not because he won’t be in school, but because the second I brought up the subject with him, he said he felt a huge weight lifted off him. I offered to let him start before the end of the year, but he declined – he said he wanted to “finish well”. I guess we’re learning perseverance after all. It’s also with his permission and blessing that I’m sharing all of this because we both feel like there are others out there like us who feel the same and maybe this will help just one person.
He’s been making a list of all the things he’d like to learn. It’s HUGE. Pray for
us, me, pretty please. He’s looking forward to marrying all his worlds together to live the life that God designed for him. While Harmony is slightly tempted to join us on the homeschool train, for now she’s decided to stay at her “awful” school until God tells her otherwise.
Since there’s no time like to present to teach technology skills and since I have no plans to turn this into a Mommy Homeschool blog, if you’d like to follow Greyson’s homeschool adventures, you can do so here: www.greysonsgrotto.com. After he learns some wordpress skills, he’ll be journaling his way through homeschool to serve as double duty for his tech skills and eventual record keeping of what he’s been learning. Apparently New Jersey requires zero testing, annual transcripts, or report cards… AMEN, so… he’ll be blogging to track his progress.
I’m looking forward to this next season. I’m grateful that God has changed my heart completely. That it’s possible that something I had zero desire for, now truly excites me. Something I was completely intimidated about, now seems quite possible.
To any Mama out there reading this thinking, “I could never homeschool my kids”… I will just repeat what my wise friend Angela said to me several years ago ….
“Yes, you can.”
Angelsea Urban is an entrepreneur and portrait photographer helping families to nourish their homes and cultivate their businesses through meaningful portrait photography and business management consulting for entrepreneurs. She serves in several ministries both locally and nationally, and in pro bono work for many non-profit organizations. As a consultant, Angelsea has elevated the careers of restaurateurs, photographers, writers, musicians and general small business owners by planting firm foundations and building clear action plans for long-term success. Her unique photography work focuses on Redefining the Family Portrait Experience® by creating a space to strengthen family bonds. She has photographed for celebrities, Bravo TV, NFL Films, and local families and has been published in magazine print and multiple blogs for her work in photography and in strategic business management practices. Angelsea also teaches both subjects in various conferences and workshops across the country and resides with her husband of 21 years, their two children, and barely 3 pound Yorkie near Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Her passions include Jesus, traveling, creating art of any kind, writing, nachos, essential oil everything, and spending time with her cramazing family.
To inquire about a portrait session with Angelsea Urban, please visit www.angelseaurban.com
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