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Blogging my way through this crazy, busy, confusing, every-changing, BLESSED thing we call, Life. I'm not perfect, auto-correct hates me, I don't specialize in anything, I'm not a professional anybody, and I'm full of mistakes, missteps, mishaps and lame choices. I'm constantly striving to better myself, grow closer to God, and live in such a way that I'm at least facing the direction of being worthy of all He's done for me.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

Bittersweet Monday

Somebody recently said they "thought I was totally against public schools." I took very personal offense to the comment, both for it's context and because it implied an air of haughtiness I absolutely don't have. I don't, nor have I ever turned down my nose at parents who send their kids to public school. I wouldn't. Parenting is hard enough without outsiders passing judgment on things they know nothing about. Families are too uniquely and intricately made to be assuming we know better for somebody else, when we're just watching from the sidelines. There are too many variables for an outsider to think they could do a better job dancing in somebody else's parenting shoes. That said, do I like or agree with the management and happenings of public schools? No, I don't. In fact, there is a whole lot I really can't stand and a whole lot I get real worked up over. Here's why;

We began our homeschool journey four and a half years ago, amidst a lot of chaos. An intended out-of-state move (that didn't happen), the final straw to 3 years worth of bullying and not just one, but two schools that failed to do their part to protect my son, were all deciding factors for us at the time. My sweet, sensitive, people-loving 2nd grader was being disciplined for flipping off his daily tormentor, who was routinely getting off scot-free for every assault she made against him. He was coming home in tears, and afraid to go back to school in the morning. We were doing our part at home, but where were the other parents? Why was this girl still getting away with these horrible behaviors left and right? All the while, it began to look like my son was being nailed down by disciplinary actions more because of his gender than anything else. Staff acknowledged the girl was a terror, but made excuse after excuse for her. He'd never laid a hand on the girl who was tormenting him, despite the fact that she had put her hands on him several times. Yet somehow, he was expected to take the brunt of the blame and punishment for every incident, both at home and at school. Even though we fought hard in his corner over the bullying that was happening, it wasn't until much later that we learned he was much less at fault than they had led us to believe. It was gut-wrenching to begin to see how those things that didn't make sense actually fit into the bigger picture toward the end.

Outside of the bullying issue, we disciplined and lectured for several months over what we understood to be in-class behavior problems (talking too much, distracting others etc.). We figured a lot had to do with him struggling with the bullying. He was acting out. It made sense, and frankly, you couldn't blame the kid for trying to find some footing. We would much later learn, our advanced child, a 2nd grade boy, was actually finishing his work right away and then was expected to sit around quietly for the rest of class. His teacher (a 25 year teaching veteran) "had too many students to tend to, to be able to offer our son additional work, or a more challenging project." when I had asked why that hadn't been done. And she was "much too busy to facilitate the testing that would be necessary to allow him to sit in on the next grade up when he'd completed his assigned work." when I asked about that option.
Yes, those were her actual words to me when I finally learned the truth of the matter. Believe me, I was seething! How had those pieces gone missing from the full story for so long? How had I allowed myself to be so misled by these people? These were supposed to be trusted adults. Mistakes happen now and then, but I was supposed to be able to rely on them to do right by my son. Instead, somehow the meetings, emails, notes and phone calls that happened between us and his teacher, his principal and his school counselor, failed to reveal any of those facts. Actually, the info we were given steered us toward believing his teacher was doing her job and it was all behavior problems on our son's part. Who had I been handing my son over to every weekday?! None of it had ever sounded like him. But again, it was a difficult time for him. We thought, based on what we were being told, that these struggles were manifesting themselves through his behavior in class.

So, since we'd planned on homeschooling when we moved anyway, we withdrew the boys 2 months before the end of the school year. Every fiber of my being felt the need to shelter and protect my kids at that point. The guilt I had from being so grossly misled was physically sickening. I cried for days, when I spoke about it all. I wrote out an apology letter to my son that I saved for him to read as an adult. In it, I apologized for not championing harder for him. I apologized for not doing more advocating than I already had, for allowing myself to be duped for so long.

Aside from our personal experience with that one teacher, we know that there are some amazing teachers out there who truly love their students and are willing and able to move mountains to help them feel safe and to succeed. We recognize not all schools or staffs would fail our children the way this one did, this one particular school year. But as a whole, when we look at the misplacement of funding, the struggle those wonderful teachers have to get support and to provide for themselves and their families, the lack of support and funding for important school programs, the one-size-fits-all standards our children are held to, the values/messages we send our kids through twisted policies...It all needs help. So yes, I do think America's public school system is a failure.
My opinions on those things don't change the fact that I respect and appreciate those hard working teachers and staff members out there, who strive to make a difference in these kids' lives. It doesn't mean I am "against" public schools. Assuming otherwise is cramming a whole lot into one tiny shoe box it doesn't fit into. And it's also a serious miscalculation of the type of person I am.

I began homeschooling my kids in large part, to protect them. After the couple of years my oldest had, he needed to know he was loved, that his intelligence mattered, that he could do anything and that his possibilities in life were limitless. He needed to learn that although he always needed to put his best foot forward, he also didn't have to conform... He didn't have to fit into their box for learning styles deemed OK to have. He needed to be reminded that school and learning could and should be fun. We also felt given where we were at the time, that it was vital to give him a firm spiritual and moral foundation to start rebuilding from, because all of the work we'd done to teach and encourage him in those areas had been swiftly undone by careless adults and a few horribly misguided kids.
We needed to help him put back in place the building blocks of humanity, kindness, compassion, respect, fairness and love that his experiences at that school had scattered across his heart. We didn't want him to go on believing he wasn't worth protecting, or that it was ok for anybody to treat another person the way he'd been treated. We didn't want him to hold onto the idea he'd been given that it was ok to dismiss another person's pain, or that respect for bodies or hearts is only given to snotty girls. We didn't want him to go on believing he couldn't speak up because he was a boy, or that he was too smart to be given opportunities. We wanted all the opposite for him. And more!

Yes, I did feel that I could do a better job teaching and nurturing my kids than the public school system could. I still believe that. But I also recognize when I don't meet the mark, when it's no longer my mark to meet, or, when things just need a shift. That's where we're at now.
It's no longer up to me to try to measure up as his teacher. I can teach forever, but I can't make him learn. I can't do it for him. It's time I fall into the background, and time he take up the reigns on his own education. Our oldest (who never fully recovered his love of school and learning) is struggling to see the value in education. He's not taking it seriously and although I would if I could, I simply can't force work ethic, accountability or work-to-real-life connections down his throat. I can't force him to pick up on those work related values we so desperately want him to develop. We've talked, encouraged, lectured, disciplined... All it's really done has put a wedge in our relationships. It's turned our connections to one another into something none of us ever signed up for. I don't want my son's memories of homeschooling to be me drilling him with lectures about time management, the importance of his education and how easy he really has it if he'd just put in some honest work. My aim has always been to build him up, to teach him how to be the best that he can be in everything he does in life. To serve God first, then others, then himself. To love others, unconditionally.
He's a 6th grader now, and based on a litany of struggles we're all having due to his choices, we're entering a forced "sink or swim" stage. Things HAVE to change! Do I think I could do a better job for him than the public school system? Yes. But not like this. This isn't what I want for him. Or me. And although I would choose a million times over to continue homeschooling, I am woman enough to recognize it's not the least bit about what I want, or what he wants. It's about making a choice that's going to serve him in the very best way possible for the rest of his life. It's about setting him up for successes and greatness. I could continue trying to do it all for him, holding his hand through things he should be solely responsible for. But what good would that be for him in the long run? What values or life lessons would he pick up from that? And his self-worth? I don't want that to suffer because mommy enables him his entire life and then when he enters the "real world" that is the first experience he has with expectations and responsibilities that are for him alone. I want him to be positioned and confident enough in who he is and what he's capable of, to be limitless in life. I want him to break every ceiling and barrier put before him. He's not going to be positioned for that kind of success and achievement until he learns some values and lessons he's not wanting to learn from us. He needs a sink or swim environment so he can learn for himself, what he's capable of by himself, and what it takes for him to be capable of it at all.

Today, all 3 of the older boys got out of the car together for their elective classes, for the last time. One blew a kiss, they all waved and yelled "bye mom!" as they walked toward the door. Next week, it'll just be those middle two waving me off as they head for the door and I drive off. The oldest will hopefully wave me off from a school bus next week (assuming he isn't too embarrassed) as he heads back to public school. Middle school. (*sigh*...*cringe*) I'll spend my weekdays teaching his brothers and carting them to their extra classes, wondering how his day is going. He'll likely not think twice about what we're doing, at first. I'll spend a lot of my days and nights praying for his safety, for his little soul to develop into the deep soul God wants for him, and when he comes home I'll pretend to be excited when he is, until the day comes that I no longer have to pretend and can feel more confident in all this newness. It was a very bittersweet Monday. I may never forget that goodbye scene.

I feel a lot like this new chapter is about faith-building. I believe we are being led to this decision because we need to have stronger faith in God's craftsmanship of our oldest, to believe that He's always at work and that His plans are great, even when we don't see the work happening firsthand. I also believe it's going to be faith-building for our son. He's going to be tested and taken through the fire, experiencing a culture-shock as he adjusts. He's going to see and hear things from his peers that he's going to have to make character-building decisions about, and with God's mercy, he'll rely on his faith in God to guide and direct him through the bogs of adolescent nonsense that comes with it all.
This isn't what I want. Not by a long shot! But it's what feels right. So we say goodbye to homeschooling our oldest. And we begin to transition into being a solid support system that waits for him to need to lean into us. And when he does, we'll be here waiting with all the things we have always had ready to offer him, but which he hasn't been prepared to receive from us this last little while. We'll be working on bridging the gaps and wedges that our educational struggles have caused in our relationships, just with different building materials than we'd planned.

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