Friday, January 20, 2012
Zari is 5 years old and will be kindergarten age next fall. Ever since she was born, I've been telling myself that I'll do whatever schooling option is best for her needs and best for our family. The problem is, the right option hasn't become any clearer in the past five years. I'm just as undecided now as I was then. To be honest, I don't really want to home school and I don't really want to send her to public school. But I live in a small community with only one school system--no charter schools, no alternative schools, nothing but One-Size-Fits-Most schooling.
I find myself resisting arguments for either type of schooling. Home schooling advocates can seem so...evangelistic in their enthusiasm for home school and their implicit (or explicit) critiques of public school. I just can't buy into the "public school as prison" mentality that gets passed around. I also have serious reservations about how I'd be able to find the time and energy to home school when I have a baby and a toddler to look after (and hopefully one or two more babies down the road). I believe in having a balanced life, and adding home school would seriously skew the lovely equilibrium I have right now. If I added home school, I don't know what I could subtract to keep my commitments at a doable level.
I also get the feeling that Zari needs something more. Honestly, she's bored and antsy a lot of the time and then starts acting up in subtle ways because there isn't enough for her to do at her level. Much of my day is taking care of necessary tasks: getting children dressed and fed, walking around town running errands, cooking meals, and tidying up. As mundanes as these tasks are, they still need to be done.
There's a Christian homeschooling association in town, which could offer Zari opportunities for interacting with other children. But I'm not super enthusiastic about the Christian part (even though I am Christian, I'd prefer to keep education and religion in separate spheres).
With my hesitations about home schooling, you're probably thinking "then just send her to public school!" But I am not thrilled about that option either. Our school district moved to full-day kindergarten before we moved here, and half-day isn't even offered anymore. In addition, the district closed all of the neighborhood elementary schools. Even though we live kitty-corner from an elementary school, Zari would have to ride the bus to the consolidated mega-school that serves our entire city.
I have other misgivings about public school, some specific to our town and others in general. Like I mentioned, we have just one district so there aren't any other options or alternatives. There is one "high ability" classroom from kindergarten through high school, which Zari would likely be placed in. But that also means that she'd be with the same group of peers her entire time at school!
My general hesitations about public school stem from the inefficiency of classroom learning, from peer culture, and from the lack of time for free, unstructured play. I am reluctant to put my children in a classroom for 7 hours a day, when they could easily learn the same amount of information in just a few hours with one-on-one instruction. When I was in elementary and middle school, I was bored much of the time. I'd finish my homework in a few minutes and spend the remainder of class time reading or drawing. In middle school I'd read one or two books every day during school hours.
A common concern voiced about home schooled children is their lack of "socialization." (And I'll admit it, I've met some very, very strange, awkward home schooled children. Of course who knows if they'd be just as odd if they went to public school...) But I don't like a lot of the socialization that goes on in an institutional school setting. Besides the Big Bad Things that children learn from their peers (sex, drugs, alcohol), there's a lot of Little Things that bother me just as much: learning from peers how to be catty, to be a picky eater, how to form cliques, how you're supposed to only interact with those your own age.
I also firmly believe that children need plenty of time to just be children. This means free time to play, to wander around the neighborhood, to ride bikes, to climb trees. The 7-hour school day encroaches on this enough as it is, but then kids are sent home with homework. It's enough to ask little bodies to sit at desks for hours a day. But to send them home with even more work? Criminal.
I'm also really hesitant about having to adhere to an institution's rules. We travel a lot and I want the freedom to take our kids out of school when I want to. The public school does not coordinate its schedule with the university, so fall, Christmas, and spring breaks do not coincide. If Zari goes to school, then suddenly I am not in charge of my day anymore; I am tied to an institution's routines and hours. I resent that loss of freedom.
My ideal situation would be a school that met only in the mornings, that spent much of the time outdoors doing hands-on learning, and that never had homework. Alas, that does not exist here.
I seriously need advice.