Once upon a time I thought homeschool was detrimental to a child's well being. That was a long time ago, before I had children of my own or was finished with my own public high school education in rural Pennsylvania. I liked school. I liked being with my friends all day and joining a ridiculous amount of extra curricular activities. I felt bad for the isolated homeschool student who was stuck at home with their mom all day unable to join Student Government, the Drama Club, Spanish Club, Art Club, Ski Club, M Club, Marching Band, Orchestra, Varsity Field Hockey, Environmental Club or sport around campus in their Honor's Society sweater.
Now that I am grown and there is some distance to look honestly at my education, I realize how stifling and lacking it really was. I excelled because of my own drive to learn and because my parents sought out extra lessons and opportunities to assist me in my learning. My mom was a huge advocate for improving the public education system in our community. She worked doggedly to make sure that we got the best of what was available. I can only imagine what our school would have been without her voice calling on teachers and administrators to do better. It is my turn now to advocate for my own children...
Let me put my disclaimer in now: I believe in free education for every child in every part of the world. I believe strongly in investing in the public school system wherever it exists. I feel it is the right of every child to have access to pre-school, primary school, high school and junior college...(Yes, I believe some tertiary education should be free!!) There are few jobs I feel are more noble than being a public school teacher. If we still lived in Brooklyn, Shine would attend the local public school. Jamaican students who attend the top schools in the country, consistently out perform their American peers. There are a lot of great things about the education system here, but like anywhere else in the world, there is room for improvement. I no longer believe homeschooling is detrimental to a child's well being.
Now back to the post:
Currently Shine is enrolled in a Montessori School. Mo and I are thrilled that we could afford to send him to such a school. (In Brooklyn the cost of a Montessori education was out of our price range.) We felt like it would help him develop self confidence and a sense of independence, which it has. It has also served as a good transition school for him having come from a daycare in Brooklyn that a friend called, "Montessori Lite". We have been very happy with his school this year, but it is only a preschool/kindergarten. He could attend for one more year but eventually we have to make a determination about the rest of his education.
Most students graduate from the Montessori School and go on to Preparatory School which would be like attending a private school in the U.S. There are also Primary Schools here which can be considered "public school". No matter which school a child attends, they must wear the uniform of that school and the parents must pay a tuition fee (and an activity fee and admin fees and lunch fees and field trip fees plus purchase textbooks and workbooks, etc. etc.). Primary schools cost less than Prep schools but they still cost...a lot...for most Jamaicans. Generally speaking, the problem with education in Jamaica is not what goes on in the classroom but getting to the classroom. Truancy is a huge problem because parents just cannot afford to send their children to school.
So one of the reasons we are considering homeschool is to reduce the cost of educating our children. When we add up the figures for when Shine and Song are both attending school, we could potentially be paying half of our monthly income in school fees! It's just not sustainable.
Another reason we are considering homeschooling is because corporeal punishment is the main form of discipline in the school system here. Parents who have requested that no such discipline be used on their child have told me that teachers still spanked their kids because they are just so accustomed to do so. There are many people in the Ministry of Education who are advocating that spanking be taken out of the classroom but it is going to take a lot of work and many years before a cultural mindshift can be made. I don't have to tell many of you reading this that hitting a child does not inspire them to learn more or do their homework better...
Anyone living in the U.S. who has a child in a public school knows the frustration of standardized tests. Well imagine this: when students here reach sixth grade, they take the Grade Six Achievement Test or GSAT. This test will determine the student's entire future!! Think I'm being dramatic?? Think again. It is an entrance exam for high school. Your score on the test determines which high schools you are accepted to. Score high and you have access to the top schools in the country where you will be encouraged to strive for academic excellence and be prepared for college. Score low and you are sent to a vocational or technical high school were resources are scarce and moral low. Forty percent of students attending technical schools drop out! The pressure on students preparing for the GSAT is immense. Earth Mother just sat the exam at the end of April. For the months prior her weekends and after school time were dedicated to studying for this exam on top of doing her regular school work. She is currently still waiting for her results. Mo says that he has heard of students taking their own lives after learning their results. It's way too much pressure for a child.
Shine is a very intelligent, articulate and creative little boy. He loves to learn but he has a lot of anxiety about learning the right thing and saying the right answer and performing at the same level as his classmates. In a recent conference with his teacher, she was saying that Shine was feeling frustrated because his friends were ready to read blended consonant sounds and he was still working on long vowel sounds. He insisted that his teacher allow him to read the same book his friends were working on. So she let him try it but he realized (in a wave of embarrassment) that he wasn't ready for that book yet. My fear is that if he continues in a traditional classroom, that he will continually compare his own performance to that of his peers and place a lot of undue pressure on himself to perform. Eventually, I think he would just give up on learning all together. In order to build his self confidence, I think he would do better in a one on one or small group (5-6 students) learning environment.
Mo and I also want to develop Shine's amazing imagination. We would like to give him an arts based education and so we are looking at using a Waldorf curriculum with him at home. Shine has also expressed interest in learning a musical instrument (the guitar) and a foreign language (Japanese!!). The Waldorf method emphasizes both music and foreign language and by homeschooling we would have the extra time and money to provide him with these lessons.
Our vision for our family is to become truly international by spending a few months here, a few months in the states and maybe a few months in Europe or South America. Having a flexible homeschool schedule would be ideal for this kind of lifestyle.
I think we are lucky to be living in a time where there are so many education alternatives to choose from. I also think we are very privileged to be able to consider homeschooling as an option. It will be interesting to see where this journey takes us...