As some of you may recall, I have stayed at home with my two sons (now, ages 17 and 13) for the last eleven years and have homeschooled them both that whole time.
Homeschooling isn't very socially acceptable yet, I have found. Oh, sure... not a whole lot of homeschoolers are arrested nationwide anymore (some are, though) as the laws slowly change to make homeschooling more acceptable (once each state's government decides just how much of your homeschooling life it demands control over)... but, by and large, whenever I have told people that our family was homeschooling, the reaction universally was negative in some form or another.
(And if you don't believe me when I say that homeschooling is generally looked upon very negatively in our society, just do this little exercise: Imagine that the mother or father of a homeschooling family decides to run for President of the United States and picture just how far he or she would get. I rest my case.)
So I didn't talk about it much. I built up a sort of a scab over my wounded heart and kept quietly homeschooling. Much of the time, even family members were less than thrilled about our choice, but we were homeschooling because if we didn't, the boys would never see James (due to James' work schedule and/or the fact that we've moved so often, etc.). It was a choice we made so that we could be together as a family as much as possible and so the boys would see their father. And it worked - we've been able to spend time together as a family even through James working night shifts and going through DS training, etc., and the kids and I have always traveled/moved with him wherever he has gone.
Over the years, I have endured much rudeness about homeschooling. People telling me, either directly or indirectly, that my boys would end up social outcasts, or not learn as much as they would if they were in school, or that THEY could NEVER homeschool THEIR KIDS, blah blah blah (what I always wanted to respond was: "I could never homeschool your kids, either!"). I spent many an evening Googling stories of homeschoolers who had grown up and done well, just to try to make myself feel like it really COULD all turn out okay, in the end.
As a homeschooling mother, I flogged myself into knowing absolutely everything about every curriculum for sale to homeschoolers so that I could make "the perfect choice" regarding curricula for each subject. I inwardly yelled at myself for not doing enough, or taking too many days off, or not having a structured schedule like everyone else, etc. (We leaned a bit to the "unschooling" side of things sometimes.) I wondered if everyone who judged me could be right - if homeschooling WAS a lesser choice - because, let's face it... a homeschooling day can be long and thankless and lonely sometimes. That and the homeschooling community really does tend to be extremely OCD/perfectionistic, and we all sort of compare ourselves to each other and always believe ourselves to come up lacking.
I also tend to do many things differently than other people. While 99.999% of all Foreign Service families seem to choose their children's schools before even arriving at post (sometimes months or years in advance!), I am not like that. When we were preparing to move to Chengdu, I knew that there were a few different international schools to choose from, but I utterly refused - REFUSED - to be pressured by forces outside our family into choosing one prior to our arrival at post. (Mercifully, James felt the same way.) I also wanted to hedge my bets and keep my options open. Namely, that if I got here to China and I didn't like any of the international schools, I was going to homeschool and just let everyone judge me and think I was crazy. NOTHING NEW THERE.
A few days after arriving in Chengdu, we toured the international school that was our potential top choice. Both boys really liked it - the facilities, the administration, and the teachers all seemed wonderful.
But... BUT... we were career homeschoolers, with not a single transcript or single standardized test score to our names. (Yes, you read that correctly. Not a single standardized test score. I have never once had my children take any of those horrible things that I believe are ruining our entire educational system.) No transcripts meant no grades, no levels, no NOTHING. Sure, some homeschooling moms create what are nicknamed "Mommy Transcripts," but I figure those aren't worth anything to a school. It's not accredited so it has no weight.
When we visited the international school, I sat with the boys and the administration and we went over what subjects they'd taken with me, at home, in the past. It wasn't such a big deal for Zachary, at the start of his 7th grade year, but the stakes were higher for Matthew (starting 11th). The school decided that it was going to sit my boys down and test the heck out of them. I figured, okay, that sounds reasonable. We've come to the point where testing was pretty much the only weapon in the aresenal, and, besides, a school needs to be able to evaluate incoming students, especially those with not a single piece of paper to their names.
I'll admit - I was nervous. Okay, I was terrified. The boys had never tested before and, to be quite honest, to say that last year was a homeschooling nightmare would be an understatement. In my pursuit of my passing score in Chinese at FSI a full month ahead of my allotted time (EFM issues!), I studied like a lunatic and pretty much ignored my children. They pretty much did their work on their own and only got whatever leftover time or energy I could give.
(Which also earned me derision on my own blog. I still remember the cruel comments I got when I tearfully talked about how hard it was to balance FSI with homeschooling. At the time, I wanted to write something pithy like: BITE ME, PEOPLE BEING MEAN TO ME!, but I refrained.)
Matthew (my 17 year old) sat for the hours-long testing first. I waited downstairs in the school's waiting area. The school was going to wait until after Matthew's test results before talking about what classes it was going to allow him to be placed into. Again, very reasonable. I sat, pretending to read a book, praying and worrying and trying not to vomit.
Hours later, Matthew and the cutie-pie guidance counselor (I swear, teachers nowadays look like they're 16 years old! This is probably because I'm ancient.) emerged from the stairwell, and I could tell that Matthew had done splendidly. Even though the prior academic homeschooling year was a MEGA FAIL, even though he'd been on perpetual vacation for months (due to packout and traveling and visiting family), even though he couldn't review anything at all prior to the testing (it's not like our school books fit in our suitcases!), he had blown every piece of the test away. I nearly started crying from the relief and the joy.
The school took one look at his scores and placed him in all manner of awesome classes. And I am convinced that his experience this year at the international school will be priceless and far, FAR better than anything I could ever even dream of providing for him myself.
A few days later, it was Zachary's turn (my 13 year old). Same thing... hours of testing while I nearly developed ulcers waiting for him to be finished. Same results - he did well, and even better than "well" in some areas, getting scores that would, in the US, qualify him for the gifted program. In fact, in a few subjects, the issue of having him skip a grade was even discussed, though in the end we decided to keep him with his age group for all subjects.
Both boys are now at the International school. It's been a challenge... entering the school year six weeks after it started, especially since they haven't gone to school before. But they LOVE their teachers and their school, and they've already made tons of friends and have learned so much! It's a gift - a huge gift - I can't even describe the gift.
I don't see us ever returning to homeschooling. Matthew will graduate here, with honors, and as long as we can "stay out" (very, VERY hard in DS!), I see only International schools in Zachary's future.
So now the homeschooling chapter of our lives seems to have come to a close. (Oh, mercy, I'm so going to start crying.) I can't even tell you how glad I am that we homeschooled. I would make the same exact choice if I had it to do all over again.
And you know what? The days that we blew the schedule, the days that we goofed off or hung out with friends instead, the days that we just sort of sat around as a family... at the time, those days always left me feeling so guilty and so inadequate. We had blown our schedule! And were now "behind!" (Whatever THAT means.) But now, looking back, THOSE WERE OUR BEST HOMESCHOOLING DAYS. And I wish I'd treasured them and appreciated them instead of letting them make me feel so guilty.
If any homeschoolers are still reading... maybe because you, also, have Googled stories about people who have homeschooled for decades and had it turn out well, in spite of your failures as a mother or teacher... I would encourage you to:
Be kind to yourself
Treasure each day as much as you can, even if the day seems like a failure
Have more fun
Take more breaks
Relax if the schedule sometimes goes right out the window
See the genius in your children - not what *you* want them to learn, but what *they* want to learn
Use your library cards more and your curriculum less
Remember that you will turn around what seems like tomorrow and they will be grown
Know that you will be grateful you did this
Know that it will all be worth it and your children will be JUST FINE, if not *better* than fine!
And someday, sometime, they will be ready to leave your educational sphere and will be strong on their own and all will be well. I wish I'd tried harder to enjoy the journey, rather than fretting so much about what the outcome was going to be.
A few days ago, James and I attended Parent/Teacher conferences at the boys' new school. Every teacher - EVERY teacher - without exception - told us how great the boys were doing and what wonderful boys they are. How they're joys to have in the classroom, liked by the other students and teachers, etc., etc.
One chapter of our lives closes, and another one begins... and I'm going to try harder to enjoy the ride.