So yes, PK and I are going to start homeschooling next month. Officially. (I’m already sneakily showing him the occasional documentary and of course his entire life he’s had tons of books, etc., so.) I’m kind of apprehensive about it because, you know, I haven’t done this before; moreso because PK is not in a great place right now where “school” things are concerned. Mostly he wants to avoid all talk of “school.”
How’d we get here? A brief, truncated explanation: kindergarten was great; he loved his teacher, had a couple of good friends, teacher loved him. For first grade we’d moved back to the US and he was enrolled in a “good” (read: high test scores) school. Suddenly we had tons of homework, his being occasionally a couple minutes late meant we got letters from the district about his “habitual truancy,” the teacher was rigid and not real patient with PK’s social difficulties (“if he’s going to have long hair, he’s going to have to expect that,” when I told her his classmates were hassling him for using the boy’s bathroom). By the end of the year he was regularly crying himself to sleep at night with worry over “being behind” and hiding homework in his desk.
So the next year we switched him to a different school, still public, that was run very much like a coop. Parents were expected to volunteer several hours each week, they helped teach small groups in class, the classes had mixed grades, there were lots of campouts and handson artsy craftsy stuff. Kind of a hippie school. Socially, he was much better off; academically, he was bored, but his 2/3 teacher was a fabulously empathetic young man who pretty much allowed PK to read whatever he wanted and opt out of “centers” (small group). The 4th grade teacher was far more rigid again (he left the school after one year, actually; it wasn’t his bag) and put PK on a “behavior contract” because by that point PK had gotten pretty used to being allowed to do whatever he wanted. Also, to be honest, PK has always been extremely comfortable arguing with adults and has had a temper–so when he was frustrated with adults or his peers, he would often end up yelling. I spent most of that year backing the teacher and giving PK incentives/punishments for adhering to the behavior contract. He did get much better about restraining his temper, but I think he also got more frustrated because he perceived that even when he restrained himself, the adults around him didn’t change the behavior that was frustrating him or insist that his peers do so (minor bullying, etc.).
In 5th grade he had a sympathetic teacher again, who was particularly appreciative of his math skills. He enjoyed her class but continued to be frustrated with the academic pace of the school. There were also one or two kids he disliked intensely and, as the year wore on, it became clear to me that the teacher who would have him for middle school (the school went K-8) was apprehensive about PK’s “behavior”. I was also growing frustrated with the school for different reasons. So PK visited the “regular” middle school, was excited by seeing that they had a “real science lab!” and opted to go there for 6-8th grade. I made a point of having him tested for GATE over the summer in the hopes that that would help get him more interesting academic content, which is what he really wanted.
Only it turned out that GATE only applied to Language Arts and Social Studies, that 6th graders didn’t have a separate science class, and that his math teacher was again, very traditional and rigid. She wouldn’t hear about PK’s frustration with doing pages and pages of math homework that covered things he already knew, or his refusal to “show his work” on problems he could do in his head, and we started having the screaming crying anxious fights over homework every night, like we’d done in first grade. By the end of the first semester PK hated school, talked about suicide, and was generally incredibly angry and hostile. Amazingly, neither teachers nor administrators observed this–he was keeping it in during the school day–but that meant that they didn’t believe me when I said there was a problem. He was also getting some bullying for his long hair and unconventional attitude, and felt as he had in fourth grade that the adults weren’t responding to his complaints about bullies with any kind of real action.
By the end of that semester, the school had called the “crisis team” out; two social workers from the county showed up at the house along with two policemen.
PK did not go back to school after that. I put him on what our state calls “home hospital”–our pediatrician was very sympathetic and willing to provide an anxiety diagnosis and a note saying that PK should not go back to school–and he had a tutor come out for five hours a week to make sure he “kept up.” The first tutor was not a good fit and walked off the job after the second meeting, so the district called his former fifth grade teacher (who I had talked to, and been telling them wanted to be his assigned tutor, and had been asking for) in and she helped him finish the year.
But even so, he had to use the sixth grade textbooks, which he loathes (“Mama, these are SO STUPID and BADLY WRITTEN”), and because his teacher had to “provide documentation,” he still had to do a certain amount of homework. During this time we also had him tested for all sorts of things: pscyhological problems, learning disabilities, IQ, academic achievement (what does he actually know), etc.
It turned out that academically, he’s working 3-8 years ahead of his grade. His reading and math reasoning abilities are at about the college level. His IQ is very high. But the speed with which he writes? Is that of a third grader.
No wonder the kid didn’t want to show his work or do all that damn homework.
So, as I said, we will be homeschooling starting this fall. In addition to figuring out how to “teach” him I’m having to figure out how to treat his anxiety and possible depression, his current hatred of all things school, his distrust of and hostility towards most adults, and his mild (and I think situational) agoraphobia. We’ve come a long way just over the summer in learning how to have reasonable discussions about things we disagree on rather than screaming fights, and he’s becoming much better at listening to me tell him things he doesn’t want to hear. I’m collecting tons of possible learning resources, reading all sorts of shit about “gifted” children (I have a problem with that word, hence the scare quotes–but it’s the one that everyone uses) and home schooling (which, like “gifted” education, is often associated with things I dislike: hostility towards public education, religious-based education). I’m having, obviously, to tackle some of my own prejudices and preconceptions, including the preconception that PK would manage to get through middle school the same way I did, by keeping his nose in a book and ignoring the crap that bored or bothered him. PK, it turns out, is not the type to keep his head down when something offends him. I’m learning to listen to him, to see him for who he is, and to figure out how to differentiate between “changing” him and teaching him how to get along in the world.
Luckily, I have a good, mutually-supportive marriage; the husband has a well-paying job that he loves (today, as it happens, is our 20th anniversary and he’s on a road trip vacation with some work buddies); we have good insurance that covers lots of therapy; the husband has a strong science and math background and I have a PhD in English and mad research skills.
Most luckily of all, I like hanging out with my kid, and always have. Hopefully that will see us through.