This fall, I experienced my very first encounters with a public school.
As a child, I attended private Christian schools for day care, preschool, and elementary. Then I was homeschooled during secondary school. So I never attended a public school.
My children have only been homeschooled. I’ve taught them myself for over 15 years. So until recently, I didn’t even know what it was like to parent a school child. I never expected to ever send any of my children to a public school, because I knew (for several reasons) that it isn’t right for our family.
Then suddenly, I was.
We are foster parenting twin first-graders whom we will adopt in a couple of months. As a condition of placement, we agreed to put them in public school until adoption (this was recently ammended and now we can homeschool them with their siblings). So for one semester, I got a personal education in public elementary school. And what I learned surprised me.
I started sharing my observations with my Facebook friends in what came to be known as “Things I’m Learning About Public School.” The series of posts was so popular that I received messages regularly asking when I would update my list.
I also received quite a bit of backlash.
A few homeschool parents and public school parents were angered by my personal observations.
As you’ll see, I had good and bad experiences. I looked for the good and tripped over a few inconveniences. Some homeschool parents were mad I would say good things about public school experiences. And some public school parents were offended I mentioned things about public school I didn’t like. I couldn’t please either side of the aisle. And I didn’t try.
“Things I’m Learning About Public School” was just that — my own personal experience. I did not — and should not — express the opinions of others.
Surprisingly, the most supportive of my series were classroom teachers. Without fail, my friends who taught in public and private classrooms relished my series, contributed their own two cents to the discussions, and sent me regular messages of encouragement. They were glad I had an overall positive experience, and they recognized there are flaws in the system.
The most critical comments I received were from homeschool parents who had switched to public school.
So, there’s that.
At one point, I felt I simply must address the rancor:
To my friends commenting on my “Things I’m Learning About Public School” series:
Over a year ago, a publisher asked me to write a book defending why everyone should homeschool. I declined, even though I knew it would lose me the other project I was pitching. My husband and I simply do not agree with the premise that one educational model is for everyone. Public school is God’s plan for two of our children right now. Homeschooling is right for the rest of us for so many reasons I’d love to share with you sometime.
I have had no exposure to public school culture until now. I went to private and homeschool as a student. I’ve homeschooled my children their entire lives. This is a fish-out-of-water scenario during a period of stressful changes in our family.
My sharing what I’m learning and what I’m observing is simply that — what I’m learning and what I’m observing. Not judgment, not criticism, just surprise and sometimes delight. I don’t intend to stop because my understanding friends have responded with and messaged me helpful encouragement that I greatly appreciate. And many have texted or messaged me thanks, that they appreciate the eye-opening dialogue, though it has become heated at times (let’s be kind).
I have never observed homeschool parents ridiculing or distancing themselves from new homeschoolers struggling through first-year difficulties. So I’m really surprised that many in the public school community are not as supportive as I anticipated. It makes the friendly, encouraging ones that much sweeter.
And for those helpful readers, thanks for believing the best and guiding me on this journey.
Like I mentioned, my foray into public schooling is over. Everyone is at home (I’m teaching 5 children and teens this year, my oldest having graduated) and the family feels back to “normal.” At popular request, I’ve catalogued below the series as it appeared on Facebook. Italicized portions are added now where further explanation is needed.
Things I Learned About Public School
1: Children have very little time with their parents. My six year olds only have 3.5 hours with me between school and bedtime. If they rode the bus, that would be decreased by an hour. The 4 days they have soccer or choir, the time will be shortened by 1-2 hours. This is compared to over 13 hours a day for my homeschoolers, taking extra curriculars into account. That’s shocking to me.
2. First day of school was spent learning how to line up, practicing cafeteria routine, demonstrating repeatedly how to sit “criss cross apple sauce” and rehearsing playground whistle codes. They had one story read to them. One twin got to color half a page and brought it home because he wanted to finish it. The other one didn’t use pencil or crayons. No ABCs or 1, 2, 3s. They asked me at home to do our usual calendar time together because neither one found a calendar in their room, and they wondered how many more days in this month.
I’m serious, if I’d known, I’d have called them sick yesterday.
3: THE WAIT LIST WORKS! Praise the Lord, the twins were just moved from the furthest school from us to the closest — only 1.5 miles away! That will save our family 60-90 minutes each day!
4: Twice a week is “dress in _____ color day” and we never have that color. When is “dress in ripped jeans, stained tshirt, and holey sock day”?
5: The experience varies widely from school to school and teacher to teacher, even in the same town. This should be taken into account when discussing educational quality or social experiences. Our first day at the new school was night and day different from the past two days at the other school, from classroom to office to nurse to car line.
6: A sizable portion of teachers, especially in my district, are Christians. For them it’s not just a job, it’s a mission. Roman’s teacher told him of her New Year’s resolution to read the entire Bible in a year, and he was quite impressed. Juliana’s teacher told me at our first meeting that she was praying regularly for Juliana’s attachment to her new home and that she would recover from the trauma she had experienced. I was so moved.
7: Projects. I seriously homeschool to AVOID projects. Now two twins have half a dozen projects required this year. Things that involve glue and paint and creativity and that are way above 1st-grade independent work. UGH!
Fortunately, my lack of visual creativity is compensated by my problem-solving creativity. I’m giving my teens extra credit in their homeschool studies for helping their siblings on projects. Win-win.
Seriously, I don’t know how parents survive this.
(ps. Facebook wants to know if I want to add a donate button to this post. If you’d like to donate to the Lea Ann Project Survival Fund, message me for my PayPal address)
I danced in the kitchen — seriously — the day I found out they could come home because I had a project due that week and we hadn’t even started it. Then I danced around the recycling while I threw out all the project schedules for the rest of the year.
8: There are many Christian students in public schools. Many of them grow to be loving, hard working, wise adults. I married one of them.
9: Picture day. I ordered one 8×10 for each of them. At that rate for 3 total 8x10s, we could take family portraits and access to the media files after adoption. #stickershock
10. Testing. I received a text from the teacher yesterday that the twins start MAP testing this week. It’s the first of three times this year they will receive the multi-day test, which is intended to measure their progress over time. I’m wondering now if this is why they have not received any reading instruction yet this year.
Some perspective: my homeschool students go their entire schooling, preschool to graduation, without any standardized testing other than the ACT. Hence my befuddlement.
They had one more MAP test before coming home. In my interview with the CPS Educational Specialist, she asked what testing I did. After I danced around the issue, trying not to make a big deal out of the fact we do no testing, she stopped me. After her background in education, she said, she was glad I didn’t waste time on testing.
11. Mommy, a boy in my (1st grade) class sometimes comes to school in a dress. My teacher says men sometimes wear dresses. Is that true?”
The large majority of both my public school and homeschool friends appreciate my observations about the differences I’m experiencing this year. I get encouragement in person, in comments, and in private messages every day to keep going. Primarily because the conversation is so informative.
Informative how hateful a small minority on both sides are.
I and the majority of my friends stand against intolerance. The biblical injunction to speak the truth in love seems to be discarded when we share our difference of opinion. That goes for both sides.
I’m saddened and disappointed in both public school and homeschool advocates that we can’t dialogue in a respectful manner. That’s been the most painful observation that I and my watching family have made.
My teens were watching the series and reading the comments. It saddened them.
13: The socialization misconception runs deep.
“Socialization requires that children consistently work with people they’re not used to working with. It’s about discussing things with people who have a different opinion and challenging preconceived notions. It’s about having to do a group project with people who don’t necessarily work the same way as you do, to collaborate on ideas and grow as a thinker. . . This is something that homeschool programs, unless they mimic a traditional school setting, cannot do.”
14: If you cut in the pick up line, I WILL go ballistic.
15: Sick days. I can’t imagine my daughter’s concussion with public school schedules and absences.
16: Chewbacca in the pick-up line. He has a driver, apparently.
Who do you think it is?
16: It’s easy to get into homework trouble, even in 1st grade, even when the teacher tells you how unnecessary and pointless homework sheets are. I’m too homeschooled to do homework in the evening, lol!
17. My six year old can learn from his classmates how to give the finger. Thank you very much.
18: When you give a mom the option to send in 5 cans for the food drive in exchange for a homework-free week, she’ll immediately run to Aldi’s. Even if she has to get twice as much for twins. I’d have bought four times as much if they asked! I freaking HATE first-grade homework!
Oh, yeah, it’s also about teaching children an important lesson about helping others, but whatever. NO HOMEWORK FOR A WEEK!
19. Christmas celebration. Julianna’s teacher answered, “Yes! I’d love to hear the ‘God songs’ you learned in Sunday School! Maybe you can teach me one, too!”
20. Teachers genuinely love students. When it was time to say goodbye, both teachers were visibly upset and the principal half-joked that she was vetoing the withdrawal. Several teachers and aides came to say goodbye and how much they will miss them.
I had a very good experience at Libery Grove Elementary School. The teachers are exceptinal, the campus is pristine, and the arts programs are inspiring. If I ever need to utilize the public school system again, I would insist on using that school.
But I’m glad we’re all home where our family belongs.