On School Ambiance

I spend a lot of time going back and forth on my decision to homeschool. Is it the right thing for my family? Is it the right thing for my kids? Am I going to fail them by not teaching them the things they neeed to know? Will I successfully wear both hats of mother and teacher? Lately my thoughts have been trending more toward the plus sides of homeschooling.

My sister sends her kids to school and my nephew is starting sixth grade this year at a middle school which happens to be located in the ghetto. Their first problem with this school arose when my sister found out that my nephew was not allowed to bring his textbooks home, despite having paid a textbook rental fee. She emailed his teacher to find out why and the teacher replied that too many of the students weren’t taking care of their textbooks (read: damaging them beyond repair), so they were no longer allowed to take them home. My sister then asked him how her son was supposed to study at home in order to do well in his class if he wasn’t allowed to take his textbook home? After a bit more back and forth, the teacher relented and allowed my nephew to take his textbook home. This is a fairly unusual experience for public school. My oldest nephew was always allowed to take his textbooks home, as was I. I remember one instance in middle school where we were not allowed to and that was simply because there were not enough textbooks to go around. They had ordered them but half didn’t arrive until later in the year at which point we could take them home again. So I guess we can chalk this down to another way the poor have a harder time making it. If you’re a poor kid but happen to actually want to study and take care of your textbooks, too bad. No extra study time for you!

Then last week, my nephew was late for class because he had to take his trumpet to his locker. He couldn’t take it to the bandroom like usual because he had been gone that morning for a dentist appointment. So his teacher docked him 20 points for being tardy. And my sister ended up writing an email to this teacher. I don’t think she’s received a response yet, but it does get tiresome.

I also met with a friend last week and we were discussing the pros and cons of homeschooling–she’s still up in the air about it and figures she’ll let her son decide what he wants to do– and I mentioned that one thing I was glad we didn’t have to deal with was the locked down nature of today’s schools. I really hate how when I go to the local public school, the doors are all locked, there’s a camera, you have to buzz the secretary, who then opens the microphone and then you have to state your purpose and get buzzed in and then go in and sign in on a little book. That and the high quality, cinder block construction make going to the local school more like going to the local prison. It’s actually easier to get into the State House where I live than a local public school. I can just walk right in. Furthermore, I can walk in while conceal carrying a fire arm and the security guard won’t even look up from his paper, unless I look like I don’t know where I’m going. Then he will probably give me directions. Not so in public school where kids can’t even exit the building at the end of the day with out being carefully escorted by an adult to their waiting parents’ cars, almost as though this were Iraq and the woods were full of insurgents instead of ticks carrying lyme disease.

“But that’s normal these days. All the schools are like that. You might notice it, but your kid won’t,” my friend pointed out.

“And that’s the problem,” I responded. “They won’t notice it. They’ll grow up thinking it’s completely normal to go to a school where they’re locked away. Then when they get out into the real world, they won’t feel secure without it. It’s like when you raise chickens. If you don’t let them go outside before they’re 8 weeks old, even if you open the door to their coop so they can go outside, they won’t.” According to the FDA, ‘free-range’ officially means that chickens have to have access an outdoor yard, but since egg producers don’t want their chickens going outside, they just don’t open the door to the yard until they’re over 8 weeks old. Then the chickens have access to their yard, but never actually go outside. Ta-da! Free-range eggs, brought to you by the magic of regulation.

It’s the same with kids. They have to know that they are safe in the world. Sending them 40 hours a week to a place where they are implicitly told the world is a dangerous place is not the way to do it. School shootings do happen, but they are the exception, not the rule. If our desire is to prevent school shootings, a more effective way to do so would to take all the money we’re currently spending to increase security in public schools (via Department of Homeland Security grants, mind you, not local taxpayers) and use it to treat and raise awareness about mental illness so that people who would snap and shoot up schools can go and spend some time in a nice mental health hospital instead.

For a cross country comparison, Finland used to be number one in school shooting deaths per capita. I don’t know where it is now since this was before the Newtown shooting. In spite of these shootings, when I went there in 2008 and my husband wanted to show me his old school, we just walked right through. No signing in at the office (though apparently nowadays you do have to do that), he just showed me around. And students at Finnish schools are allowed to leave during the day if they have a free period and are trusted to come back for their next class. Heck, they can even walk to school! It’s amazing.

And for all the smug homeschoolers who say, “yep! School shootings are why I homeschool,” shut up. School shootings are not why you homeschool. Statistically speaking, children are more likely to be killed by family members than by random people, so really if the physical safety of your kids is why you keep them home, you’d actually do better sending them to school. You homeschool because the odds of your kid dying are small either way, but the odds of them getting a good education are higher outside of school than in it. And perhaps because the school environment leaves a little something to be desired as far as convincing you that it’s a good place to learn.