Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Keeping up with the Public School Joneses pt II

Yesterday, I wrote about my own personal inner conflict with my ideals as a homeschooler and my drive to make my kids excel, in comparison with their public schooled counterparts (see Part I here).  Today, I'll talk about what it looks like to *not* keep up with the public school joneses.

There is a huge push to get all kids performing at the same level.  We want our country's children to grow up and be big contributor's to our nation's innovative growth.  In other words, we want our country to produce the top scientists, inventors, business managers, manufacturers, you name it!  We look at what we're starting with: kids from poverty stricken homes, kids unable to read or write, kids struggling with basic math.  It doesn't look good for our country.  Our country's performance is compared with other nations, and we see ourselves drifting downward, while Singapore and Finland are examples of two countries at the top.  We want to be competitors with the top tear countries!

So we push our kids forward by creating educational goals earlier.  In my era, kindergarten was spent socializing, and getting acquainted with letters, numbers, shapes, and colors.  Now, your kindergartener needs to graduate with the ability to read short books, and add and subtract numbers abstractly (without apples).  In my era, advanced students entered Algebra I in 8th grade, but this was not the norm.  Average students entered Algebra I in 9th or 10th grade, depending on readiness.  Now, many schools across the country are streamlining all students into Algebra I in 8th grade.  What happens to those students that are not ready for Algebra?

I've found more success with my own children when I put blinders on, put the checklist away, and start where they are at.  And then, we progress with understanding wherever it is that they can go.  We do better when my kids can tell me, "this is what I understand, but this other stuff is new", or "it doesn't make sense".

This has meant that some of my children didn't graduate kindergarten with the ability to read.  This was an uncomfortable feeling, and sometimes it was embarrassing.  It didn't reflect well on me as a homeschool mom that my kindergartener couldn't read like the other public schooled kindergarteners.  Eventually, around 2nd grade, I had a reader that out-performed and enjoyed reading.  It just took us a little longer, but in no way impaired her ability to learn later on.  She wasn't at a disadvantage.  In fact, the opposite happened.  Because a firm foundation in reading was laid, and extra time was spent in her reading development, she was able to move ahead.

Is it a fluke?  I'm seeing the same thing play out in writing and math.  We fall behind, fall behind, fall behind...all while laying a solid foundation and then SWOOSH! zoom ahead.

Homeschooling naturally grants the ability to do this: tailor the education to the specific needs of the student.  However, it isn't the only educational model that can do this.  Every once in awhile, you'll hear about a public school that is doing remarkable things and the students are gaining in understanding and ability.  Or, parents that after-school their own children, or hire tutors.  The key is to start at our children's specific learning needs and work forward, not be a slave to an arbitrary checklist.

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