We took a field trip into the unknown today. We visited a school. A real, bricks and mortar, sit with other kids in the classroom school. And we survived. My older even liked it.
I’ve always said I’d homeschool as long as it works for all the parties involved. If I’m not pulling out too much hair, if the child is learning, and if we’re glad to be together (on the whole), we continue to homeschool. But until today, neither boy has expressed anything short of revulsion for and panic about formal schooling. We visited a local Catholic high school’s open house, not with the intent to enroll, but rather just to see that school was, well, kinda neat.
The place has a strong ooh, shiny factor. It’s a new site for an old school, and is frankly gorgeous, from the spotless and generous athletic fields to the classrooms filled with the latest white board technology. No, not the kind with the stinky markers that leave shadows after erased. The kind that allows you to see the text from a book up on a screen and mark it up. The kind homeschoolers don’t have because buying one would necessitate charging tuition and the kids just don’t get that much birthday money to make that happen. The lab tables are fresh, unblemished by decades of spills and accidents with heavy sharp objects. The floors and walls gleam. ooh, shiny, indeed.
And the kids? They were dressed in ties, made eye contact, and were able to carry on a conversation with kids and adults. Now, that alone might be worth the $10K a year and two hours of back-and-forth driving a year. Additionally, my older son noticed the kids aren’t giants. He’s a mighty small kid compared to his age peers, and one of his main concerns about attending any school is being teased for being small. I can’t say it wouldn’t happen there or anywhere else, but at least he realized many other eighth graders aren’t exactly giants.
So will he go there? No. Beyond the price tag and the drive lies the reality that we like our homeschooling lifestyle and the freedom it affords. We like being homeschoolers, not full-time schoolers. Besides, they flunked my litmus test for schools, and that’s hard for me to overlook.
When my older was preparing to enter first grade, he was accepted to a local public gifted school. My question to his potential teacher was this: What will you teach him in math? At five, he had long been adding, subtracting, and multiplying four digit numbers and playing with negatives. First and second grade math, as traditionally taught, would offer him nothing other than how to endure an hour of boredom a day, and that’s not an acceptable math curriculum to me. So I (innocently, at the time) asked my question. This long-time educator of gifted children said that in her classroom, they didn’t move beyond second grade curriculum because that’s what the children needed for the MEAP (Michigan’s standardized test) and, besides, children at 6 and 7 can’t conserve number value. Meaning that while my child could abstractly consider negative numbers and apply them to concrete events, he was, according to her, unable to see ten objects he had counted and hold that those 10 objects were still indeed 10 objects if rearranged.
Thus the math litmus test was born. It’s not failsafe. The Montessori he did attend that year answered the question correctly (he can move along as fast as he wishes) but really meant he could move through hundreds of repetitions regardless of his readiness to move on to new material. I’ve become more savvy over the years about discerning what programs and classes are most likely to work for my PG kids, but I haven’t vetted a school in quite a while.
So as we entered one of the math rooms, my son surveyed one of the precalculus books, noting how much more he liked it than the one we were using while I surveyed the web of math classes listed on the board. I turned to the teacher nearest me and asked what was offered after AP Calculus. I received a bland expression followed by an explanation that no more was offered. I proceeded to explain that my son was studying precalc currently and would likely be ready for Calculus for next fall (well, if we pick up a bit of steam). She stiffly stated that the school had no arrangements for students to study at local colleges (most public do, and so does another major boys’ Catholic school in the area), and, besides, it wasn’t needed. She explained that students who came in with Algebra from middle school really didn’t know it well and that they could just start the honors math track, an algebra class with some Algebra II and geometry, both continued the following year.
I questioned further, but was met with resistance. Of course my son could take the finals for the three classes preceding Calculus. But, she noted, he was unlikely to pass. Case closed. As the informational math meeting began, my mind flashed back to my first math encounter 8 years earlier. Little had changed, it seemed. A young man’s voice interrupted my bitter thoughts. He was in geometry and wondered what math he’d head into. He was curtly told what I was: chances are he needed to start at the beginning again. His shoulders slumped. After the meeting, I thanked him for his question and told his parents of my encounter with the teacher minutes before the session. We had a moment of mutual recognition of time and talent wasted and unappreciated and went with our respective tour guides.
Somehow, I’d thought high school, especially private high school, would be different. I thought ability might be appreciated and encouraged, nurtured and shaped. And while I know that teacher isn’t the whole department (although the other teacher in the room made no comment in the face of either discussion), I doubt the culture of the school is much different. After all, if you can’t put on a good face at the open house you’re not likely to be more accommodating after the checks are written.
But our purpose was met. My older thinks school, especially the labs and computer rooms, are appealing and that the kids aren’t giants. He’s asking to try a few classes at our local high school next fall, filling his desire to have time with agemates while still being a homeschooler and my desire to see him spread his wings while being accountable to someone else for part of the day.