Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Confessions of A Public School Parent


Six Reasons My Husband and I Choose to Put our Children in Public School

6. Exceptional Examples

In the school system, there are a lot of children who often make poor choices and/or have poor behavior. Then, there are children who regularly make good choice and have good behavior, but make poor choices regularly as well. Last, there are children who rarely exhibit poor behavior and make good choices often. Our children are not perfect. However, they generally have good behavior and make good choices, especially when they are at school.

As representatives of Jesus Christ, we encourage our children to make choices that reflect our beliefs. Our oldest son had a peer in 3rd grade who was often in trouble with his teacher. He was also not very nice to other children. My husband and I talked with our son and decided that maybe the boy was jealous he didn't have any friends and didn't know how to appropriately make friends. Our son befriended the boy. Over the course of the year, the little boy's behavior in class improved, as did his interactions with his peers. He did not become an incredibly great child in class. He still misbehaved and taught our son a few things we had to discuss. But, ultimately, we felt like our son had been a good example for this boy. Our son was also able to see the effect of his example on a peer.

I want my children to understand what it's like to be a good example for others and recognize bad examples. We talk about it at home and church, but I feel our children's experience with example is most noticeable in the school system. They can be an example to their siblings, but our children mostly get along and see only a limited number of behaviors that their siblings may emulate (whether good or bad). They also interact with many children at church who are all making an effort to exhibit similar examples. In the school system, my children have been able to see a wider variety of bad examples and choose not to follow those. They have seen a wider variety of good examples and learn from those. They also have been able to be a good example and see how they can affect those around them for good. The examples they set for their peers are also different every year as they have learned and grown. In the public school system our children see how a variety of people are examples, whether good or bad, in a variety of circumstances. We want our children to understand how they can learn from those around them and influence those around them. We feel this experience is more salient for our children when they are surrounded by a wider variety of ideas, a wider range of people from different backgrounds, thus a wider variety of examples to provide our children with a practical understanding of how to interact with and learn from others.

5. Balancing Boredom

I have never been in a job in my life where I have been entertained or busy the ENTIRE job, including meetings. I have been incredibly bored at times in my life. When I worked at Subway as a youth, there were slow times with no customers and an already spotless kitchen, serving area, and dining area. I am a busybody, too. I have to be working. I don't know how many times I scrubbed the floor at Keva Juice when I worked as a night manager there because I was bored. Meetings, though necessary, can be incredibly boring at times. Some classes in college were boring................very boring...........to the point where I celebrated when I was able to stay awake the entire class period. There are even times when............gasp..............I'm bored at HOME! Certainly there are things to be done, but I'm bored of cleaning and laundry and cooking and teaching............

We want our children to learn how to be effectively motivated by boredom. Some children may get in trouble more often if they are bored, but I don't find that to be the case very often. Our children have rarely been in trouble at school, but often have times they tell me they were bored. I've also seen children in classrooms (I volunteer a lot in my children's classrooms) where the teacher has something for the children to do that is important learning work, but the children are off misbehaving. They weren't bored, just misbehaving because that's the choice they were making at that time. We want our children to realize when they are bored and be able to refocus if they are in an important learning time. We also want them to be able to figure out how to effectively use their time. If they get all their work done at school, they are able to read or find something to do to keep themselves occupied. They are much less likely to get bored at home because they are more free to move from one activity to the next when they feel done with something, thus giving them significantly fewer opportunities to figure out how to deal with boredom effectively. This entire summer I only remember our children twice saying they were bored.  

When our children get a job, we want them to be able to be self-motivated to find things to do if they find themselves getting bored. We feel that at home, it's harder for them to be self-motivated. At school, they can't always ask the teacher what they can do when they're bored. They have to figure it out for themselves! They learn to think ahead by bringing a book from home or look around at school for something effective to do, like getting ahead on homework. 

4. Incalculable Intelligence

My husband and I, like most parents, want the best for our children. We want them to be smart and successful. I do feel like our children would progress more quickly through the subjects they are learning if we home schooled them. But, intelligence, or IQ, is not the greatest predictor of success. Check out this 6 minute video from Angela Lee Duckworth - Ted Talks on "Grit." One of the greatest predictors of success in life is "grit." This is perseverance, passion, stamina, and so forth. Our children may progress more quickly at home in their intellectual understanding of subjects, but I don't know that it's the place our children are learning the most "grit." 

Our oldest son is a natural at perseverance. He does what it takes, how long it takes, to reach his goals. He doesn't quit when things get hard. He tries harder. Math especially does not come easy for him, but he works hard until he understands. At school, he has to use more perseverance as he learns math because it's not one-on-one. He struggles with math in a group setting. When I teach him at home and help him with his homework, he catches on more quickly. Of course we want our children to grasp difficult concepts more easily and have one-on-one time, but we also feel that they need to be able to learn how to work hard and persevere when things are more difficult. 

Our daughter is more easygoing. She doesn't quit easily either, but can sure learn more about perseverance. School work comes more easily to her. At home, with the student-teacher ratio of 3:1, our children wouldn't have to wait so long for help or try to figure as many things out for themselves. When I teach them at home, I try my best to let them do things on their own. But, if they came across a problem that is difficult to solve, they are more likely to come to me more quickly than their teacher at school, who has 18+ students to help. They learn to try harder on their own at school before they ask for help. When they really can't do it, they ask their teacher or bring it home for me to help them. 

I don't feel like our children are geniuses or better than average in their intelligence. But, I do know that our kids have a greater likelihood of success in life as they learn to persevere. Our children are learning to persevere in greater degree in the course of a regular day at school than they would at home. We feel that if we believed our children were too smart for school and we wanted to focus only on their educational intellectual-IQ type growth, we would be depriving them of other types of intelligence, like social intelligence and other behaviors exhibited by resilient children. We feel our children's success is measured not only by IQ, but also by social and interpersonal skills, and other valuable characteristic traits like perseverance. It's much more difficult for our children to develop some of these traits at home because neither my husband, nor myself, excel at everything and can only be an example for a limited range of characteristic traits. 

3. Empowering Exposure

Our children live in a society rich in inappropriate things. Some children are very disrespectful at school. Some talk about things that are inappropriate in a school setting. Some use inappropriate language. Belonging to a church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) with a unique perspective on appropriate and inappropriate adds extra challenges. Our children often hear language that is okay with many families, but not with ours. They hear discussions about sex or other topics we believe are appropriate in a family setting, but not in a public setting. They see children being incredibly unkind to other children. They hear endless talk about things we believe are a waste of time, but are fine with other families (e.g. video games for hours and such). They hear students talking back to adults. There are a lot of inappropriate things that happen at school.

I don't like it. But, I believe it's also been beneficial for our children to see the world as it is. We have been commanded to be in the world, but not of the world. We want our children to be able to know how to navigate the world around them and decipher which roads and voices to follow, or how to lead. Now, if the environment they are in is too pervasively negative that they aren't able to function, we would certainly pull them from that environment. But, some negativity and inappropriateness are opportunities for our children to develop positive qualities. Heavenly Father even tells us that he allows bad/hard things to happen to us for our growth and learning. We certainly don't want to put our children in situations where bad or inappropriate things can possibly happen, but we know as we're prayerful about the decisions we make in behalf of our children Heavenly Father will help us. Heavenly Father allowed Satan to do some awful things to Job. These trials made Job stronger. Last year, our oldest son had a very rough environment in his school class. It was hard for us to allow him to suffer through the year, but we felt he needed to stay where he was. During the course of the year, a friend in his class did something inappropriate. Our son stood up for the right and told the teacher. He lost a friend for a time, but he also learned something important about himself. He learned that he could do the right, even when it wasn't popular, and the consequence was feelings of confidence and joy. He also learned what a true friend was. (If you're interested in reading the whole story about this event with our son click here.)   

Even if our children are exposed to some pretty terrible stuff at school, we feel like the things they have gained from these experiences have made their spirits stronger. As I watch our oldest son begin his 5th grade year, I can see a change in him from things he learned last year. He's already being proactive in his search for appropriate friends. He also recognizes when he should help someone in need that is being mistreated by another student. Our daughter has gained confidence as she has helped those that needed an extra hand. With all the inappropriate exposure our children experience at school, they are also exposed to the true nature of who they are and what they are trying to become. 

2. Discover Diversity

My husband and I try hard to be open and loving to those around us. We befriend our neighbors and truly enjoy our neighborhood and community. However, even though we try hard to be involved with a variety of individuals, our circle still seems to lack some diversity. We have a few friends that believe differently from us and even fewer friends of various races. In essence, we are surrounded by like-minded people. We don't believe this is bad. We like to surround ourselves with people who enjoy the same things we do. But, we feel that our children also need to experience more diversity: of religion, race, language, ethnicity, thought, political views, socioeconomic status, teaching style, personalities, and so forth. The circle of people we surround ourselves with provides only minor opportunities for our children to interact with people in varying circumstances. Chances are, they will have to interact with a wider variety of individuals as they go to college, serve missions, and begin a career. It will be much easier for them to integrate into diverse situations if they have experience interacting with a variety of individuals.

It makes me think of Christopher Columbus. He was surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals. They all thought the world was flat and he was crazy. No one would fund his quest for a long time. If our children believe the world is flat and are surrounded by people who think the world is flat, they are missing something! Our son had a black teacher for first grade. He'd hardly had any interaction with blacks until that moment in his life and was quite afraid of her for a short while. She turned into one of his favorite teachers. Our daughter just had the same teacher without any of his initial fear because our circle was widened and she saw her brother's experience. As our children encounter different ideas at school, they bring them home and discuss them with us. We're able to regularly talk about respecting other's ideas and beliefs. We are also able to discuss what we believe and how what they learn fits into the circle of their widening world. Our children also have to learn about different teaching styles and how to learn in a variety of ways. They also learn how to interact with a variety of personalities as they are placed in groups for group work. Our daughter had to learn how to work in a group with a child that misbehaved. Our son had to learn how to work in a group with a child that didn't want to do work. These kinds of things will happen in the workforce as our children grow and get jobs, or they may have these experiences in college. These experiences in grade school will give our children experience to know how to handle these types of situations. We believe our children need this diversity and we just don't have ample opportunities within our regular circle to provide that for them. 

1. Spiritual Sense

This is the NUMBER 1 and MOST IMPORTANT reason my husband and I have chosen to put our children in the school system. Every year, we pray about what is right for our children. Should they stay in the public school system, or should we home school them? Every year we have felt that they need to be in public school. This year was very hard because our son had such a rough year last year with the students in his class. It was a great balance for him to have such a fantastic teacher. Our daughter had an incredible year last year, but we also feel she could progress more quickly at home. We decided we would pray about it for weeks and see how we felt at back-to-school night. As we went to the school with the children, everything felt right. Our daughter's classroom was happy, bright, and her teacher oozed with enthusiasm and love. She has the same teacher our son did in second grade and this teacher has been his favorite since (although he's had some great teachers). Our hearts felt light and right. When we went to the 5th grade hall I wasn't nervous (as I thought I'd be). His teacher seemed okay, nothing awfully special. But, as we left the school I felt light and happy. This is where he's supposed to be as well. All the praying and fasting that there would be appropriate boys in his class this year are going to be answered. 

I hear so many reasons for why parents home school their children. I rarely hear why other parents choose to put their children in public school. But, it is a choice. For us, it's an important choice that we don't take lightly. I'm sad to see my children leave me for hours every day when summer ends. But, I feel like they are also gaining the experiences they need for their own growth and development. Our daughter has had opportunities she wouldn't have at home, like helping a peer with their morning work. She also has a minor level of anxiety in large groups. Being in school gave her the opportunity to be in a large group in a classroom without the craziness of unexpected movements and noise. This has helped her learn to manage some of her anxiety. She's less fearful of groups and no longer hides in a quiet corner if she's at a birthday party with kids running all over. She still doesn't like the noise and craziness, but she is also not afraid of it anymore. Our son has been able to learn to speak up. He was incredibly shy as a young child and refused to talk to anyone other than family or close friends, until his kindergarten teacher helped him learn how to speak up with unfamiliar people. That was something we could not do because he was always surrounded by people we knew. We couldn't force him to talk to the checker at the grocery store to just say, "hi." But, his kindergarten teacher's gentle encouragement helped him start trusting his voice. 

There are certainly great reasons to home school, but there are drawbacks as well. There are great reasons to put children in the public school system, but there are also drawbacks. There is no perfect system for educating our children in a well rounded way. I am very grateful for the wonderful teachers my children have had in their schooling. I may still home school at some point if it ever feels right. But for now, I have a confession...............I am a public school parent!

Note: I hope you realize that these are very personal for me and my husband and our children. Every parent needs to decide what is best for their child and some children may have different needs than our children. 

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