Friday, August 23, 2013

Public School Mom (and tired of the judgment)

My oldest starts First Grade next week...He is pumped. We got to tour his new classroom and meet his teacher today. She seems enthusiastic, welcoming, and sensitive to the individual needs of each of her students-- perfect for our boy. This is actually a multi-age classroom our son will be in, with 1st and 2nd graders combined, so he will be spending the next TWO years in this same classroom, first as a "newbie" and then as an "old fogey." This will be a great experience for him. He is in the right place.

And yet, I feel a sort of peer pressure among many of my mom-acquaintances-- a sense of being judged (not directly, of course, but indirectly) for my choice to send my child to a public school. Homeschooling is apparently a big thing up here, and several of my friends homeschool their kids. They have their reasons, and I'm sure they're good ones. They are doing a great thing for their children, as long as it works for them, as it certainly seems to. Their kids are smart, happy, kind, sociable...I admire these moms' hard work to educate their own children in their own home, 24/7 every day...

But I couldn't do it. Okay, okay, I could, if I really had to, if it was what worked best for my child over the public system (and I suspect this may turn out to be the case in the future for my middle son, but time will tell). But it would take more focus and energy than I feel capable of putting into it at this time in my life. And that is okay. My children will be fine.

I was visiting with one of my home-schooling friends one day and we got on the subject of her decision to homeschool her kids (her oldest had started out in public school), which I fully support. But at one point as she was talking, I caught the implication that she believed that mothers who sent their kids to public schools were mostly just being "lazy," that it was "easier" for them, that parents who put their kids in public school were not as involved in their kids' education as she was as a homeschooling mom. While she may be right in a way (see my above paragraph), I think it is unfair to judge all (or even most) public school moms in this way.

I don't send my kid to public school because I don't want to be involved in his education. On the contrary, I am still very involved in his education-- his personal education. I can and do teach him things at home that he will never learn in public school. And I regularly supplement what he does learn in school with at-home discussions (which he often initiates himself) about what he is learning.

As for public school being easier, ha. I don't have the luxury of letting my kid sleep in (which I would totally do otherwise, not to say that's what homeschooling moms do, it's just what I would do)-- or myself for that matter-- in the morning, as he has to be at school at a certain time. And that also means fighting him at night to go to bed early (though to be fair most of the fight is with his younger brothers, who make it hard for Big Brother to sleep if they are not also in bed). Before I send him out the door, I make sure he has everything he needs. And when he comes home, I make sure he still has everything he left with. We had to walk back to the school several times last year after discovering he'd left his lunchbox, or a hat, or a mitten behind. I go through any paperwork his teacher has sent home, keep track of dates and events, and of course supervise his homework. This is not the labor of an "uninvolved" parent.

Then, there is the attitude many well-meaning homeschooling moms seem to have, that homeschooling is best, and any mom who truly wanted the best for her child would homeschool (or send him to Montessori*); that kids educated via the public system have received an inferior education and will never be allowed to reach their own individualized potential or to think for themselves but will rather simply become mindless drones in society, accepting whatever information is fed to them. Hogswash.

 If I did decide to homeschool right now, I would not be doing my kid a favor...I am so terribly disorganized and undisciplined (this could and likely would be different if I didn't have small children, imagine that), and G really needs more consistency and structure if he is going to thrive education-wise. In other words, the classroom setting is definitely better for him than what I could provide.

Any child, no matter what kind of "school" he attends, will always be able to thrive as an individual, provided he has support from the adults in his life-- mainly his parents-- to do so. And this is something that parents can and should give their children regardless of where they go to school. And I strive to do exactly that for my own children.

In fact, I believe as a public school mom, that in many ways my job is actually going to be harder than that of a homeschooling mom (so much for being lazy).

When you are homeschooling, you have control. You can teach your child whatever you want him to learn, when you are ready to teach it; and if you think he is not ready for a certain topic of discussion yet, then you simply don't bring it up. You can still teach your kid about "the facts of life" (and I'm not just talking about sex) but in a much safer and more controlled environment.

As a public school parent, on the other hand, I expect my son to come home having been exposed to many different, and sometimes shocking, ideas and experiences that he may or may not have been mentally or emotionally prepared for. But this is why I work hard to cultivate a relationship with my son, to keep communication channels open and inviting and my attitude non-judgmental. So, I hope he will feel comfortable sharing these experiences and ideas with me, so that we can discus them openly and without embarrassment, so that I can help him to think critically and come to his own informed conclusions about the world, even if (and perhaps especially if) they turn out to differ from my own.

The most important thing I can do for my children is not to homeschool them, but to make their home life-- when they are home-- a pleasant and inviting one. They will go to school, but they will always come home, and I will be waiting for them with open arms and a smile. I will be their "home base."

I just spent a whole summer with all three boys at home with me all day every day, and I will tell you I really am a better, more pleasant, and more patient mother when I have had a break. So, off to school they go (well, my oldest anyway), and may we all benefit from the intermittent separation. It truly is the best thing for our family.

You do what's best for yours.

*which I casually looked up the other day and discovered that the monthly tuition for such a school is almost as much as the mortgage on our new house! Yipes! Umm, I would have to get a full-time job to send him there...then I really would be an absent parent...