Wednesday, January 15, 2014

She is more than a number

This has been an exceptionally hard re-entry to a schedule.  I know pictures on Instagram or posts on a blog make everything look peaceful and happy and joyous, but the reality is that even while we do have moments of bliss, the back story is that there may have been moments of anger or frustration or exhaustion just before the shutter snapped.  

However, there are days that are just about as perfect as one could wish.  We need these days to cling to on the days that are less than rosy, when the air is bitterly cold, and the body is weak, and the mind is tired.  These days are our anchor.  They hold us steady and show us what we are capable of.  These are the days that reassure us when doubt creeps in.  These are the days that we strive for, knowing that if they happened once, they will most assuredly happen again.

Applying for a grant to create a vegetable garden to feed those in need.

My struggle right now is how to do I reconcile the life I have chosen, the one that I know is best for my family, with what I know other children, those that attend school 8 hours a day, are doing?  For some reason letting go was almost too easy for elementary and even for middle school.  But now, now with high school right around the corner, the comparisons are creeping in.  Unfair comparisons, for we made the decision not to school at home, not to choose a boxed curriculum, not to do correspondence school, not to school at all in fact, but to unschool.  

Writing a collaborative story with a friend in Alabama.

As I’m sure is the case everywhere in the homeschool community, lots of emails are floating around the homeschooling Yahoo groups.  Emails about whose child got accepted into which elite ivy league school and which  homeschooling philosophy or method was used to achieve this accomplishment.  Emails about homeschooling workshops being given by parents who have “successfully” homeschooled their child (success being defined as college acceptance), and who are now offering workshops on how I too can achieve the same level of success.  Emails about potential classes for high school freshmen that will ensure success on AP tests -- at 14 years old.  Success again being defined as a score, a 5/5. 

Making a musical instrument during a chemistry lesson.

I am so sick of these emails.  I am so sick of the parental peer pressure and competitive nature that we parents have and pass down to our children.  How do I define success?  Being capable of making sound, healthy decisions. Having enough money to cover your needs and some of your wants.  Waking up every day and knowing that the next 12 hours will not be wasted.  Making a positive difference in the world.  Having love.  Having friendship.  Having interests.  Knowing your talents.   Being kind.  Being generous.  Being true.  Being honest.  Knowing joy.  Knowing faith.  Treating yourself with kindness.  Treating the world around you with kindness. 

Delivering cake pops and a donation to a local fire house.  30 individuals lost their homes in a horrible fire.  The girls wanted to give back through their cupcake club.
 When my children experience something that meets these criterion, then they are successful whether they are 11 and 13 or 41 and 43.  I cannot continue to worry about the minutia.  I cannot continue to stress about the insignificant for I know that the days like these are the ones that truly matter.  The days that matter define who we are and what we are far more than any test score ever will.   We do not walk around with a test score scrawled in Sharpie on our foreheads.  I do not know, nor do I care, what my friend’s SAT scores were, or how many AP tests they took, or what their high school GPA was.  Why do we identify teens and value their worth as students and ultimately as people this way?  Why is it so very hard to let go of this standard that we all grew up with?  Why do we continue to buy into a system that is designed to make money off our children and cause them stress and anxiety then score them, and grade them, and rank them, and turn them loose to compete in the college marketplace?

Cartography "class"
I don’t want to pay for a college advisor.  I would rather pay for baking supplies.  I don’t want to pay for test prep courses.  I would rather pay for gas to transport my children to their volunteering activities.  Sometimes I think I am just naive and sometimes I think we (parents and students) should just say "no more, I am not playing by these rules anymore".  Accept my kid because she has a great portfolio packed with book lists, projects, volunteering photos, has studied a variety of subjects, has watched documentaries, worked with mentors, interned at cool places, held a job, designed her own courses, participated in the community, participated in sports, plays an instrument, knows a foreign language (assuming she keeps it up!), has interests, goals and dreams.  Or don’t.  But don’t determine her value based on a score.  She is so much more than a number.

No caption needed!


Diane said...

Bravo!!! You just said everything I feel and have wanted to say for so long. I hope you don't mind that I will be sharing this post to help express my feelings on the subject as well. We are not letting our kids have childhoods, even in the homeschooling community. All I ever hear especially once you get to the high school level is - dual enrollment (not for us), the same four science classes that will get you into college (not for us), the same schedule of math classes (not for us). I am so ready for doing it differently. I really wished we lived closer to one another because like minds are great for encouragement and support.

Jessica said...

I was a little hesitant about publishing this. I don't want to offend the people who are doing these things because it works -- for their family. But it will not work for our family. I am sure parents with kids in school get the same stress depending on what track their child is on. I remember being a senior in high school and beginning the day with a current events seminar class. Before class began the names of graduating seniors were read along with the colleges they were accepted into. I never put my name in because I felt, why bother? It is not Yale, Harvard or Pepperdine. No one will care. I can't compete. Ugh. My heart still breaks for my 17 year old self. I know competition is part of life and you can't escape it however, how and what we choose to compete over seems a bit ridiculous to me.

Feel free to share. I do wish we were close enough for a cup of coffee and a chat about these things. I wonder if sometime we can do a multi-person chat over some program and link up Karen in AL and others who have girls our girls age and are homeschooling in a similar way......could be fun!

Diane said...

That would be absolutely wonderful. I not incredibly techno-savvy but would love to chat live about all this stuff we write about. Just to show how much of a small world this is, I connected with Karen in the beginning because she lives in my home town in Alabama where I went to high school and she knows all my favorite haunts. Keep up the good work with your blog. Believe me what you write is a real encouragement to me.

Karen said...

This is perfect. I think it may be my favorite post ever from you and that's saying a lot! Jess, when the girls are older they will look back at this time of learning at home and have amazing memories of wonderful learning experiences. What will those other kids have? Memories of long nights cramming and tests and worry. Do you think they ever spent days at the pool, or baking for the firemen, or laughing with friends around the kitchen table while collaborating on a story, or writing at the beach, an amazing internship or a thousand more things our girls will have.

Also keep in mind these are the PARENTS who are spouting how wonderful this is, I just bet it you could get them to be truthful, the kids would have a different version.

Just get off those goofy lists. :)

Phyllis said...

I love this post. You have voiced so elegantly what I have felt with all of my heart. {hugs}

Jessica said...

I do think I am going to get off the main list. It is for the whole state and most of what they post is just too far for us to get to.

I don't this a homeschool/public school issue because I know kids who are carrying 5 AP classes in one semester and I know kids who have chosen not to take any. For me it is more about us as parents who get a payoff from saying "my kid is in AP this and AP that" or "my kid just scored a perfect 5 and took three SATII tests, and applied to x,y, and z university".....that is driving me crazy and it is universal whether our children are in school or not. But I have no idea how to break the cycle and not get caught up in the anxiety that is cause by doing these things and the anxiety that is caused by NOT doing these things! Does that even make sense???

Jessica said...

(((hugs))) right back at ya! Thank you very much.

Mary Prather said...

I think as homeschoolers we are all learning to think outside of the box and challenge a lot of social norms.... just like you are doing in the post. You know I agree with you, Jess -- and I'm so proud you continue to blog here and express your thoughts.

Bravo, my friend!

Karen said...

It makes perfect sense. As homeschool parents we all worry more. At least in PS we can point a finger to a teacher. Now it is US who is responsible. That being said for all the 'oh no' thoughts I have, I have MANY more positive ones about our wonderful lifestyle and raising these amazing kids. Some parents are just the kind who say, "My child is "fill in the blank with the most awesome thing" parents. The thing is, what are these parents going to do when their children are gone and finished with 'SAT, ACT, Honor Roll, AP" sort of things? I will never be able to say "Keilee is a cheerleader or the Valedictorian, etc but I do know she has done more at age 14 than most HS Seniors.

It is a cycle, like most things. I remember years ago when I lived in San Fran during the dotcom explosion I could not believe how expensive apartments were. And I always said, "If everyone would just say NO, we are not paying this much" things would change. Unfortunately it is hard to get that 'wave' going.
Your girls are just wonderful. And they will continue to become even more so. :)

Shel said...

Oh Jess, this post totally rocks! It's completely how I feel and my girls are nowhere near high school age yet (though with the way these days and months and years keep flying by those long off high school days will be here before we know it)! Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us! Keep doing what ya'll are doing cause your sweet girls are turning into amazing young women! xo

Jessica said...

Thank you very much Shel. Your words always mean a great deal to me!

Jessica said...

We can challenge them.....but at least for me, sometimes challenging the status quo or a institution or a social norm is so exhausting. I don't want to be the ostrich with my head in the sand, but I also don't want to use homeschooling as another way to compete. We all hear families that think homeschooling is "superior" to traditional schooling, or how some people love to go on and on and on about what their homeschooler is accomplishing. I actually heard some moms bragging about how many hours their child spends away from their family in the bedroom studying latin. Part of me wanted to ask if the door was closed because really? They probably were not studying the whole time...... I want to step away from competitive parenting and focus on what we are all really trying to achieve, happy, healthy, productive people (kids) who like themselves and treat themselves, others and the world around them the way they want to be treated.

Thank you Mary!

Jessica said...

I was talking to a friend about this today. She said something very insightful. That often parents who do this are living vicariously through their children. We had our time. Our time to be 14, 16, 18.......this should not be about US. It is about them. So give them skills, teach them well and then let them be.

Love this conversation! Thanks Karen.

Sandra said...

I love this post too. I think part of it is tied in with your post the other day about sporting Mums (sorry - Moms) and somehow thinking that the more you have your kid do, the better it is for them and therefore a sign of what a great parent you are. One of the many problems with this line of thought is the opportunity cost - what is your kid missing out on if they are spending all their time studying for AP classes etc. Another is burn out. My husband (who teaches at university) and my two oldest (who are both university students) notice this a lot - very few students exhibit interest in the subject beyond the minimum they think they need to pass the test. I understand the desire to do the best by our kids - I'm just not convinced that "encouraging" them to do more sooner is always the best, especially not in the long run. Childhood is such a short period of time it seems sad to spend it in a pressure cooker environment. Again I recognise that what seems a pressure cooker from the outside, may not be from the inside (we planned for my oldest to attend university at a younger than average age because it was definitely right for him - we didn't plan that for the others because it would not have been right for them). I can see why colleges and some employers like test scores - such a quick screening device (scores under such and such are automatically eliminated) but they don't tell you anything about a person at all except for how well they did one one test . Keep on doing what you are doing and don't let the doubt creep in. Your girls look like they are thriving and having happy childhoods.

Jessica said...

Thank you. I agree that testing is easier and provides a comparison for evaluating hundreds or thousands of applications. I wish I know what percentage of kids just are not good test takers. I know so many very bright teenagers who do not score well. They are capable of doing the work, have interest and determination but their test scores do not reflect that. I would love to see colleges move away from testing, in favor of a more holistic entrance process but I know that with the power of the college board, and the deep pockets of the testing services and publishers, there is no real incentive for true reform. Until that happens we, as parent, just have to do best for our children, like you said.

Thank you for your wisdom and for sharing it with me.

Anonymous said...

I too say well said. Having a daughter that is graduating from college this year l feel my views have changed. The past four years and even what she did in high school to get there. She was on the swim (captain too) and graduated with IB classes. In college the classes she is forced to take to graduate this year angers me. The $400 book for or one class or the professor that asks the class what grade to you want, makes me rethink the homeschool education I am giving my two younger daughters. I so enjoy this time I have with younger daughters to say what is it you are interested in rather than this is what you need to do to get into a good college and then when you get to college it will be all about your grades and test to have a the diploma. I am blessed not as a do over but we just are fortunate to do this now. DTBLE

Hwee said...

Every year around this time in the UK we experience the same phenomena of homeschooling yahoo groups overwhelmed with success stories of homeschooled children getting into the Oxbridge universities, which in turn kick off rounds of congratulations and requests for tips to get the next generation of homeschoolers into similar high profile universities. When I read these posts, I am often plagued by a sense of guilt that I'm not pushing my child hard enough or start preparing him early enough to ensure that he is part of the "statistics of successful homeschoolers", while everyone in the homeschooling sphere seems to be gearing up for it.

Thank you for writing this post. You've said what's on my mind very eloquently. Wishing all of you another fantastic learning year in 2014!

Jessica said...

I edited out of my original post that there are even workshops you can attend here (for a fee) that will give you the skill set to achieve the same level of success as a homeschool parent. Homeschooled children are no different from schooled children in that some will be high achievers and some will march to their own beat. I admit I do want my girls to attend college, or a trade school. I want them to have a degree/or marketable skill. However, I don't want them to accrue enormous amounts of debt in the process, and I don't believe the rate of return on Ivy league degrees justifies the stress and pressure and cost involved in the process to apply and attend. I would be happy with a local college where they can pursue their talents and interests, live at home if they'd like to save money and work part time to test out if what they are going to school for is actually what they want to do!

Thank you for your comment and wishing you goodwill in 2014!

Martha said...

I stumbled onto your site looking for information about encouraging children to learn according to their passions. We are on our last child, homeschooling. She is 12. We chose a pretty rigorous curriculum this year and though we keep plugging away a lot of the joy is absent. Over break she became engaged in learning about wolves. She can tell me more info and draw more beautiful pictures of wolves than I could ever imagine. With that said, I am scared to take this leap to let her go at a more unschooled pace. If she was a bit younger, I say to myself. But then I also think, she could have at least a year to see how it would work before high school. High school for me seems to be the point of taking the standard classes. all this to say, very well said! Thank you for your encouraging words. I am scared to death to take this step but God seems to be nudging me in that direction.

Jessica said...

I have my moments of doubt too. I wonder if I should push harder, require more, schedule more. But every time I try it does not work for us. I can buy beautiful books, but they learn better hands on. I can require essays, but they write better when it is for a purpose (like filling out a grant application). So I pray hard and keep on in this direction. I do however, record everything we do. I track hours and keep book lists. I write course descriptions and log volunteer hours and field trips so when I start to worry, I can open my binder and look back on all the learning that is taking place.

Good luck on your journey. I hope you find the peace in your homeschool that you are seeking!

Tricia said...

Thank you so much for posting this! I am in my first year of homeschooling my four kids and I have a high schooler and I have people constantly making comments of what I do or don't do. At first I took it to heart and felt overwhelmed and then with a lot of prayer and some awesome fellow homeschool moms I finally decided we have to do what works for us.

Felice Gerwitz said...

I have homeschooled since 1986 and I'm still at it. Somedays I feel just as you! I've had kids who graduated from college - two who refuse to go and one child who completed a novel series while a homeschooler ... we didn't aspire to be like anyone else, only ourselves. I love that you are guiding your children to be the best they can be. My last two wouldn't write a novel if their lives depended on it! Kids are different, their interests and their focus should be uniquely theirs. You are very wise to choose the higher road wherever that takes you. The rest will take care of itself.

Jessica said...

It must feel overwhelming to begin in high school. You have to do what works for you. Your daughter came out of school for specific reasons and how you choose to pursue her education will be in response to those reasons. They really are not anyone else's business, but I do know firsthand how hard the criticism and judgement can be, especially from those you love. Trust yourself. Best wishes!

Jessica said...

I have to believe that! When we began this journey 4 years ago, a friend told me that homeschooling is a leap of faith you take each and every day. Each of my girls is very different and it can be tiring finding the best way to meet their needs. However, the effort is worth it when you see them achieve some of their dreams and they have so many more to pursue. Along the way, they are learning....all the time.

Thank you for your comment!

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