Saturday, January 30, 2010

And So Become Yourself

I dedicate this blog to the two commenters: Jakarta Rocks and the ever-prolific Anonymous who wrote in and asked, “Woman, you live in a city with legions of educational opportunities and yet you chose to opt for e) None of the above. What’s UP with that?”

Okay, they were nicer and more circumspect in their questions. Perhaps the question was from the voice in my head. Either way, I felt this question needed answering and then I started gnawing my cuticles. I gnawed because I’m a well-meaning idiot who tries her best and usually screws up (See: most blog entries). And, yes, we can all agree I’m a bit of a goober but the instant I start writing about what I’m doing with my kid, I know that a percentage of the population reading this post is going to hear it as “You, reader, aren’t doing what I’m doing and that makes you bad. BAD. I take great pleasure in judging you. I also eat more cruciferous vegetables than you. And I floss.”

The minute anyone starts talking about parenting stuff, the odds go steeply upwards that someone’s feelings are going to be hurt. Remember, my goal here is to have a party at which everyone feels welcome so, if at any point during this explanation you feel as if I’m talking meanly about your family’s choice, remember this: last night, I let my child have Jamba Juice and a scoop of ice-cream for dinner.

You’re welcome.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has just over 694,000 students which gives it about the same population as Austin, Texas. After the 4th grade, a classroom can have up to forty students. A percentage of these students aren’t speaking English at home and need help to get ready for the standardized test which directly impacts both the teacher and the school, making this the educational elephant in the room. By Thanksgiving, even the teacher who left college eager to enlighten and support his students has settled into trying to get the best possible test results from the thirty-plus kids in his class. A good student is likely to be conscripted as a “teacher’s helper." You can deny this occurs if you'd like, but it has happened to no fewer than three kids I know. If you’re reading this and you’re thinking “But I live in Los Angeles and my local public school has been an incredible experience for my family!” then I’m thrilled for you and I hope you know how blessed you are. It doesn’t happen that often and it’s going to get rarer as the worst of the state's budget cuts trickle into effect. Did I say "trickle"? I mean "come crashing."

So why not private school? Daughter’s been in two private schools. One was good and one wasn’t. And let's just say it’s a lonely sensation to write a midyear tuition check to a school you suspect is essentially babysitting with silent auctions. But the good school was actually pretty good and we’d be back there if it weren’t for my being greedy. Not greedy with my money — although private elementary schools in Los Angeles can cost over $20,000 a year (not including silent auctions) — but with my daughter’s time. I want her to struggle a little bit in school, to work beyond her abilities, to take pride in mastering something hard and then I want her to play in the afternoon. I never found a school where you got both. Schools in LA, and I suspect most other places, tend to define themselves as “Progressive” or “Academic.”

Children who attend progressive schools have ample time to play in the afternoon and can often sing a solid Teach Your Children Well ; but their spelling will be a little lighthearted and, given the opportunity to study Spanish at their own speed, they might spend an entire year on the first chapter.

[That was me. My mother still pinches the bridge of her nose when she thinks of my year in the progressive school.]

At the academic school, children will make lovely cross-cut sections of the earth’s crust and read Canterbury Tales before they are completely toilet-trained but, to keep up with the workload, you and your child will work from the minute he comes home until eleven at night. See the mother over there dropping a shot of Diet Coke into a pint of Red Bull, weeping into her sleeve and mumbling something about PSAT vocabulary quizzes for her second-grader? That’s the mother of a child at an academic school. The kids learn a lot, but quite a few seem pretty burnt out before they leave middle school. Their mothers are burnt out well before then.

There are also religious schools but I didn’t look too deeply into those because I assumed the bolt of lightning smiting me as I crossed the threshold would be off-putting.

So it comes down to this: I want it all. I want my kid to work hard and play hard and stare off into space and work hard some more and dress the cats and decide to read more about Rasputin not because she has to, but because it’s a pleasingly disgusting story. She’s got all sorts of afterschool activities with people her own age and, knock wood, I don’t think anyone pegs her as the weird homeschooled kid.

They do, however, wonder about her mom.


Blogger Marie Green said...

I think what you are doing is great, and I think you are smart enough to know if it wasn't the best choice after all and then make changes. That's what we all have to do for our kids, right?

I was very interested in homeschooling until I found myself living in an idyllic small town with a better-than-perfect elementary school 5 blocks from my house. It's working great for our family, but if it wasn't, we'd make the appropriate changes.

Way to go!

P.S. I just finished your book and I loved every word. You are an awesome writer!

5:11 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I really enjoy your blog entries on all topics.

I say bravo to you for homeschooling. I substituted in the Los Angeles public school system and private school systems. (As an actress in LA and NY, there are few jobs I haven't done).

My first class as a teacher? Boy bangs his hand INTO a sharpened pencil. I could not have predicted or prevented that. Kids are allowed pencils. Second class? A little girl in sixth grade shows me a condom. I cringe and croak. Those were among the less shocking experiences in the LA schools, and likely why I've vowed no kids. LOL!

If I were you, I'd do the same thing. I say way to go! Daughter is lucky.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

P.S. I wrote a review of your book for (Positive, of course.) I think all should read your book!

P.P.S. Since I've started reading your blog, I've gone from being a waitress to full-time freelance writer. It's inspiring to me (and obviously many others). :) Unfortunately, my writing isn't nearly as inspired and often takes the form of instructional articles. But it's a start. :-)

5:29 PM  
Blogger TheHappyHomemaker said...

We're leaving private school and going to home school (I call it boarding school) for the same reason. I'm greedy for time with my children and time for them to learn AND play.

(Our neighborhood school teaches English as a second language to 90 percent of the students. My guess is my English-speaking children would become teacher's helpers, too.)

6:12 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

You've got my wholehearted support. My kids did the private school thing until it merged a bigger school, at which time the homework went into overdrive.

At that time, I would have done the homeschool thing in a heartbeat, but the resources available now did not exist then. The internet did not exist then. Some parents were actually still homeschooling at that point, but I was not up to the task under the circumstances.

Given what can be done, and learned, at home these days plus the extracurricular activities available, homeschooling can be an excellent choice and experience. Even for parents like me, who are hopeless in math and science (and don't have a Consort to pick up the slack), tutors can work wonders in short amounts of time. And I know this because they are also sometimes necessary when your kid goes to pubic school.

We move around a lot, so my kids got some good public schools and some not so good. They didn't stay long at the not so good ones, but it was great when they hit the good ones.

So everyone just makes their own choices based on their own private criteria and circumstances at any given time. It certainly doesn't mean anyone expects the whole world to do what they do...although, yes, there are some - but we'd never mistake you for one of them.

You know how I'd love for my grandchildren to be educated? Sailing around the world with me on a catamaran, learning history in the locations where it took place and languages from Rosetta Stone online while getting most of the other stuff from Maybe some tutoring by Skype. I'm going to start working on convincing my kids as soon as I get the cat and learn to sail it.

All education is a matter of choice.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Good for you. I admire you for homeschooling. Teaching for 4 years made me realize that I could probably never homeschool... though when I look at the options here (meh-public, progressive, ridiculously expensive academic and somewhat expensive hopefully balanced private) I'm not sure what our choice will be and if I won't reconsider. We're currently in the somewhat expensive hopefully balanced school, but I find the drivers, country homes and lifestyles of the other families a bit intimidating, not to mention the tuition. Must make more money or find patience and energy to spend entire day teaching my child. Oh wait, I forgot. I find the granola homeschooling moms I know intimidating too.

7:16 PM  
Blogger Quirky said...

I think homeschooling is an awesome idea. After all, who knows what is better for your child than you do? And while a public school education didn't make me a complete dunce, there was an awful lot of wasted time that could have been put to better use (all the hours we were allowed to play spades in World History comes to mind).

PS to Rebecca above,
Can I be homeschooled with you too? I would also like to sail around the world and learn languages from Rosetta stone and local history. Plus I can totally help tutor (except for maybe world history...although I'm a total shark at spades). Please please please?

9:32 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We've done it all, private, public and homeschooling. What I always say is, you do what works at the time. Private school might work for a year or so, and then you get a nutsoid teacher and you end up pulling out your kid. Public works for a while and then you find out that the school committee has voted in some insane curriculum and out your kids go. Homeschooling works for some kids when they're young and then fails miserably as they get older. Nothing is a panecea, and the good parents are the ones that find out what works for their kid at the time.

9:33 PM  
Blogger Dawn Maria said...

Did you feel like you had to explain your choice to homeschool? Honestly, it's none of our business.

I've met every type of school choice parent in my nearly 17 years of parenting. One extreme was a home schooling mom who proudly told me how she threatened her kids with public school every time they misbehaved. This was after I mentioned my kids were in public school. There's a tony private school right in my neighborhood, but most of its parents don't talk to me because they're too busy patting themselves on the back for being so smart to send their kids there. But the vast majority of folks I meet doing something different than our family are struggling as much as I am to handle homework and the pressure kids now face.

I work for the same school district my boys are in, and all I can say is that there is no such thing as a perfect school. You pick the right situation for your family and do your best.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

You rock, Quinn.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe one major part of being a "good" parent is respecting other parents as well. If I am so focused on how the neighbor or friend is parenting, I am losing focus on my OWN children.

I say this because I learned a long time ago not to apologize for my parenting style (amidst very vocal grandparents) and I hope you truly are enjoying your journey as a parent--- because you should. You are doing what is right for your kid. End of story. And I myself LOVE reading about it.

I am out of the Play-Dough/Lego/PBS years (and miss them terribly) and in the high school/college years, which are wonderful but feel a bit like you are inching your kid further and further out onto the plank and boom, it's time to push them into the real world.

I'll take snack time and Mr. Rogers day day over that.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Elise said...

Your points are very well made. I really admire your complete dedication to the educational well-being of your daughter. She is a lucky girl to have such devoted parents who are always, without fail, looking out for her best interest. What a fine, intelligent, balanced woman she will one day become - of this I have no doubt. As a steady reader of your blog, your love and dedication to your daughter has been a very obvious (and charming) constant.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Jude said...

Thanks for the post and for all those who commented. We are in Denmark for a year and the International School here is imploding under incompetence and it was nice to read about others' struggle to do the best for their children. I've taken to reading Dr. Seuss's book "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" which is about a school that embraces creativity and individuality and by doing so excels academically - my dream school!

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not stop saying, "YES YES YES" to every word of this post. What you want for your daughter is so what I want for all kids. The world is some kind of messed up. I've been in education for almost twenty years (as a teacher and now as a teacher of teachers) and I can't bear that our country can't value the minds and hearts of our kids enough to give them a fair shot. No one can learn in a class of 40. No one should be doing schoolwork all day until 11:)) p.m. I think you are making a wonderful choice for your daughter and appreciate everyone else's work for kids, too.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I LOVE this post.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous George Capra said...

I lived on a Boat in the Caribbean for 5 years and all the children were Boat Schooled. It was wonderful to have a conversation with one of these children, they were always asking questions and exploring on their own. Visiting the other children in the anchorage. I learned a lot about bright kids from them. I would listen to their adventures as much as they would listen to mine, I'm 65,they were 9 to 14. Sometimes as young as 7. Keep working as a home teacher, you will see the results in your children and they will love you for it.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Bridget's Blog said...

Parenting is such a challenge. We all want the best for our children, and since learning is the work of childhood, determining the best environment for our children to learn is a big part of parenting. As others have notated that is a personal choice based on what is best for the child and the family. You are fortune to have a choice that works well for you. Please keep sharing interesting/amusing things that happen during your homeschooling journey.

10:27 AM  
Blogger April said...

Quinn, I can't believe this. I came across this post from The 3 R's, and realized that I knew you many, many years ago - when we were both associated with the Blank Theatre Co. Before I realized that, I was going to ask for your permission to link to this post elsewhere. Please email me admccaffery at gmail dot com. Great to find you again!

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn, I am new to reading your posts, but have been thoroughly pleased with every one.

I just wanted to say that with your vocabulary I can't imagine your daughter would grow up to be one of the "public news/commercial figures" that our schools are currently producing who can not pronounce words correctly. My biggest pet peeve!

Thank you for putting forth one more (few and far between) proper speaking person.

4:39 PM  
Blogger Jakarta Rocks said...

You have explained why you don't like Private school very well and I'm right there with you on the religious school (our first 3 years of private school (involuntary shudder just went up my spine).

Makes me very happy to have my kids in our private school, they use IPC - international primary curriculum which is achieving huge results - and is neither progressive or academic but a great mix. The kids and us love it - Yes I realise you are not trying to convince me to change - I just feel that we picked a winner. If I was as fustrated as you have been, I would have pulled them out as well (and probably paid for a tutor to homeschool because I am incapable of teaching anyone.

But as usual your logic is sound and convincing and it's not like she isn't socialising.

Hope I hadn't offended you. I like your blog - wish I could write even half as well as you.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your daughter couldn't have a better teacher.


1:26 PM  
Blogger Out of Doug's mind said...

I completely agree with your justification. I live in a different area of Calif but your statements relate to here just the same. Sounds like you have a great sense of balance for her which is the important thing for any child. I think some people couldn't pull off home education but obviously have the love and inteligence to do so successfully. She's a very lucky kid! :-)

3:28 PM  

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