Monday, January 20, 2014

Big Brother Can Suck My Big Toe

Because this entire post is significantly lacking adorable pictures.
Remember when I said that the only reason I started this thing is because of my fellow mom friend Stacy? I don't even remember the conversation that brought it up. I think maybe we were talking about homeschooling, and how we're both feeling strong convictions to do that for our daughters. Whereas I have the full support of my husband, she's had to slowly persuade hers to the cause.

That seems to be a common factor among my fellow nerdy mom friends who are also considering or are already homeschooling. In fact, a small group of us had an entire conversation the other day on my Facebook wall about it. The subject came up when I posted a link to a product I found on the Toys R Us website that I greatly desired not just one of, but two. The item I'm talking about is a little kid's school desk. Not the vintage school desk that I'd have to pay millions for that I really, really covet, that I used to have as a child, but a cute little one that models the design in a more modern way.

So this got one of my friends kicking off the conversation of starting a mom group that caters specifically to us poor, forgotten Red Dragon Inn icons who fell into parenthood and out of role-playing. Geeze, I miss role-playing. I'd probably die if it weren't for Facebook, which allows me to keep in touch with all these beautiful minds that I wrote so many amazing stories with. And now we write about our kids. Hah!

Let's talk a minute about why homeschooling. I mean, why would I even entertain such a wild notion? I went to public school and I turned out all right. Right? If by "all right" you mean that I grew into a pretty level-headed, intelligent woman who managed to avoid teen pregnancy, drug addiction, food stamps, and STDS. Yeah okay. Sure. That happened, but I can only really thank public schooling for half of those things. Thank you, 5th, 7th, and 9th grade Health Classes. Without you, I-- No. That's not right. Those were just refresher courses to the things I had already learned from an anatomy book my dad kept in the basement that he had no idea I had found and read cover to cover. Because of some of the illustrations, I thought it was porn. Don't judge me!

Yeah. I'm pretty sure that long before I had ever brought home the permission slip for my grade school sex ed. class that I knew quite a bit about the birds and the bees. Thanks to a book. Truth be told, almost everything I have ever learned has come from books. I was so horrible at math in school because none of my teachers could ever explain it in any way I understood. The books were no help either, until I got to college and took a remedial math course with a book that made sense. I still ignored my professor, and spent my time reading the lessons while doing the homework, since attendance was mandatory.

If attendance was not mandatory, I probably never would have gone to school. Primary, secondary. Any of it. If I had known that homeschooling was an option, I probably would have begged my parents to set me up. The only positive experience I got out of formal schooling is the friends I made, and only because we've managed to maintain and rebuild our relationships since. Everything I ever learned in life that was worth knowing, I pretty much taught myself. By reading books, and through practical experience.

As an example, my high school English classes come primarily to mind. Fun fact, I was never in any advanced placement classes, and I think that's because I was terrible at memorizing terminology and reading retention. However, I was (and am) an amazing writer. I'm just going to put that out there because everybody tells me so. People have been expressing awe at my writing talent for as long as I can remember. All the girls in my Speech & Basic Comp. class, when reviewing any papers I wrote, would whisper aside, "How do you write so well?" The truth is the same now as it was then; I don't know. I just do.

And I'm sure my grammar isn't perfect. (Look right there. Starting a sentence with a conjunction. Geeze!) But boy do I know how to tell a story. You know how I learned to do this? Studious application. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote . . . all the live long day. When I should have been listening to a teacher explain something, I was instead writing stories. It probably looked like I was taking notes, but I wasn't. My brain has always been stuck in a fictional world, and I had to let it out!

So what did I learn at school? How to write, and write well. Did school teach me how to do this? Not really. No.

I tried college, because the one thing school did teach me was that I should continue going to school. I finished one semester, four whole classes, before giving up on it entirely, but that's another story. I have loads of stories. The more time went by, the more I realized that finishing a college education wasn't really going to get me anywhere. What I really wanted to go to school for was a major in Creative Writing, but the Capricorn in me kept (and continues to) saying that such a dream wasn't exactly practical. I mean, what the hell was I going to do with a degree in Creative Writing? Write a book? Well. Shit, son. I can do that without a fancy piece of paper hanging framed on my wall.

And that's when I realized... My children can do the same thing.

I'm not very good with statistics. I don't even know what to Google search to give you "the numbers." What I do know is that today jobs are goddamn scarce. Unemployment levels are high. People are putting themselves into tremendous debt just to secure themselves that piece of paper that says they're qualified for the jobs that are not there. So I realized that "the system" is jacked, that going to school isn't going to ensure my children anything.

So I have done the other thing I am good at; I have researched. I have read, and read, and read, and read everything I could possibly get my hands on regarding education. My favorite so far is the Sudbury method, which in its simplest form is basically professional unschooling. I very much like the idea of unschooling, that the child's entire education is based upon the child's interests. Many people reject the idea that children are capable of learning without structure and lesson plans and being taught by some authority figure, but my experience, again, begs to differ.

My oldest is only three years old. Since she was born, I have pretty much instinctively been teaching her. From the moment she learned to ask "uh-dat?" and point at something inquisitively, I have been teaching her. Even before then! We teach our babies from birth. They watch. They absorb. Even the experts will tell you that babies are little sponges, drinking in all the information and knowledge of the world around them. So long as we aren't keeping them in a box, devoid of stimuli, our children are learning. Every single day.

Pretty early on, my sister-in-law and mother-in-law, and various other people, asked me if I was going to enroll Lilah in preschool. I could not, and still cannot, imagine why. Preschool costs money that we do not have to spare, unless it's a Christian preschool, and you all should know how I feel about that already. I'm told Head Start is free, but I'm not even sure I want to bother with that.

What can preschool teach my child that I cannot teach her at home?

That is the one question nobody has been able to give me an answer for. And you can't even say "socialization," because then we'll just get into an argument about the definition of that word and... Just forget it. She learns social skills, what everybody actually means, just fine without having to be boxed into a room with twenty or so kids her exact same age all day long.

If we're talking math, science, history and all that general information that she needs to prepare herself for formal schooling, I'm pretty sure we've got that covered at home, too. We signed the girls up for a reading program at our local library called "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten," and the premise is pretty obviously simple. The goal is to read a thousand books to your child before they start Kindergarten. The idea is to instill a love of learning and a love of reading into your child so that they continue to learn. Once you read 500 books to your kid, bring them back for a free book. Once you read a thousand, the kid gets a t-shirt.

With the program packet came a paper that listed all the skills my kid would need to have learned before entering Kindergarten. Lilah is three years old. Out of the fifty some odd skills, she is only lacking achievement in about ten of them. I don't doubt that she is capable of learning, that she might even possibly be applicable for early placement. I don't doubt that she is eager to learn either, but that's exactly where I want to keep her. I don't learning to become a chore for her, as I felt school was for me.

I have heard that now kids are being sent home with homework as early as Kindergarten these days. I don't remember doing homework until I was in 6th grade! Parents are being pressured, too, to enroll their kids in a hundred and one extracurricular activities on top of all that. When do children simply have time to be children anymore? And the government wants to cut back on recess? Make school hours longer? Add more days? I'll just allow Sir Ken Robinson to better explain what I'm trying to say:

Let me stress again that Lilah is only three years old. Three years old, and the following is an incomplete list of the things she already knows:
  • The Alphabet - She can identify all 26 letters, upper and lowercase, visually. She knows which sounds all of them make, and can sing the alphabet song.
  • Numbers - She can identify all single numbers 0-9, visually, and the number 10 (one and zero together). She can count from one to ten without problem, and is starting to advance eleven through twenty ever so slowly.
  • Shapes - She can visually identify circle, square, triangle, rectangle, octagon, pentagon, oval, and sometimes trapezoid. She can draw circles.
  • Colors - She can visually identify all of the following colors: blue, yellow, red, green, purple, orange, black, white, and gray.
  • Spelling - She can recite the spelling of the following words: Lilah, Amelia, Mommy, Daddy, and cat. Additionally, she can write her own name, though her penmanship needs a lot of work still.
  • Counting - She is currently capable of counting groups of objects up to a maximum number of ten. Groups of things that do not exceed the number of five she can add up without having to individually count them.
  • Navigation - She knows which direction to turn out of our driveway depending on where we intend to go. If we are going to the library, she knows to turn right. If we are going to the park, she knows to turn left. I've noticed, too, that she has my innate ability to return to a location she has previously been, or backtrack, with shocking precision.
  • Landmarks - She knows what specific buildings are when we pull into parking lots. She knows what our house looks like, what the library looks like, what the "Farmer Store" looks like, what Walmart looks like, what her cousin's house looks like, and her friend Addison's house. She knows when we have arrived at our destination, generally proclaiming, "It's _______! We're here!"
  • Music - Though I can tell she shares my unfortunate issue of tone deafness, she can sing all of the following children's songs: "ABC Song," "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," "The Wheels On the Bus," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Theme" (and various lesson songs), "Super Why! Theme" (and Pig's Alphabet), "Old MacDonald," and many more.
Most, if not all of the above knowledge, she figured out on her own, and (gasp!) from watching television. Yes, I let my kid watch videos, but I monitor her viewing. We watch only age appropriate programs, things like Blue's Clues and Super Why! (her two favorites). She watches what she chooses to watch, within reason, on Netflix, where there are absolutely no commercials.

What she did not learn from TV, she learned from asking questions, from being curious, and from observing the people around her and environment in which she lives. She learned all of this from practical application, from repetition, practice, and from my reading to her. She is already beginning to understand how letter sounds blend together, and I imagine she'll be reading independently by this time next year if not sooner.

So I ask again: What can preschool, or any school for that matter, teach my children that I cannot just as well teach them at home? Or, for that matter, that they can learn on their own? Especially with the library a mile (20 minute) walk up the road.

ps: If you're interested in joining our Nerdling Academy Moms ONLY group on Facebook, where we talk about this and more in a lady friendly, judgement free environment, feel free to shoot me a message, or search for "Nerdling Moms". Peace!


  1. *raises hand* Ooh, ooh - I know, I know! School CAN teach her many things - to blindly and unquestionably obey authority; to passively wait to receive instruction on how to do things rather than trust herself to begin exploring and searching for the answer on her own; to tolerate drudgery; to do whatever it takes to fit in with a group, or else suffer the consequences; to place a high value on completely superficial things... I could go on and on and on...

    1. Everybody always jumps in immediately with "socialization!" As if by not enrolling my kids in school they're going to miss out on some valuable people skills that they couldn't possibly learn anywhere else. I've read and researched enough to know that theory's bogus. The only time I feel like I'm sheltering her is right now, during the winter, because it's friggin' COLD out there. *I* don't want to leave the house. But we take the girls grocery shopping with us every two weeks. We have play dates. She goes to ballet class once a week. When it's warm I pop them into the stroller and walk to the library or the park or anywhere. And the neighbor kids play with her when they're outside. Varying ages. It's silly. Anything academic that school could teach her right now, I've pretty much got handled.

    2. Yeah if you're sick of hearing "but what about socialization?" now, just wait. At this point it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me! One funny response I've heard multiple times - what do teachers say to kids in class? "This is not time for socializing, you can do that after school!"

  2. PS. I have seen those old school desks around at yard sales, they're not that hard to find. I'll keep an eye out for ya. Also, I LOVE that Ken Robinson video - it sums everything up perfectly.

    1. If you find me one of those desks, you will be my new personal hero. We used to have one when I was a kid, in our lower level living room. I used to play pretend school on it all the time. Loved it. Would really like two of them for my girls, but everywhere I look online it's like "Sell your kidney for this piece of vintage, antique, awesome!" And it makes me cry that I don't have that kind of money.