Monday, May 26, 2008

Relax, You Can Do It

I rushed through my Relax, You Can Do It speech as my audience, all new and wanna-be homeschoolers, had a lot of questions. I felt it more improtant to address what was on their minds at that moment. So, here is the whole, planned speech to read:

Some years ago I was preparing to leave for my first speaking engagement. My son Buster, just 4 at the time, was hovering about obviously with something on his mind. I stopped packing, sat on the bed, took him onto my lap, and asked what was going on. He looked up at me with his big saucer eyes and said, "I don't want you to go. I want you to stay here with me." I explained, "Buster, it's really important for me to go to this conference. I have an opportunity to help a lot of people. There will be a thousand people there and I'm going to tell them how much I love homeschooling."

He was seemingly satisfied with this explanation as he jumped off my lap and went off to play. However, it must have stayed on his mind, as he came back a little while later to exclaim, "Mommy, I love homeschooling too! I never want to go to real school!"

Ever since then, my children are fond of say that they go to fake school.

Yet, my children do in fact go to real school. Their classroom is in our home instead of a school building, and their teacher is their own mother instead of certified teacher, and their principal is their own dad instead of an administrator, but it is still a real school. It is a place where learning thrives and little children grow not only in knowledge but also in love for the world that God created for them.

Studies have consistently showed over the years that the race, income, and education, of a child’s parents has a huge impact on how well they do in public schools. However, recent studies show that this is not the case in homeschools. Children in homeschools consistently score well on standardized tests no matter their parent’s race, income, or education. The child whose parent is a high school graduate does nearly as well as the child whose parent is a PhD.

The study doesn’t tell us the reason for this phenomenon. I think it’s because no one loves your child more than you. You’re not going to let your child fail. You’re not going to let him slip through the cracks. And there’s no hiding in the back of the classroom hoping the teacher doesn’t call on you.

All the teachers I know are loving, caring people. But still they aren’t my child’s parent and don’t care for him the way that I do. I’m going to do everything in my power to help him succeed.

The most important criteria in being a successful homeschool is the burning desire to take your child’s education into your own hands. Not a college education, not a lot of money, not outstanding organizational skills. THE BURNING DESIRE.

If you prayerfully look for God’s will in making this decision, take it before the Blessed Sacrament, and heed that will, you CAN overcome most any obstacle.

Take my oldest child who was severely dyslexic. It took three years of slow and steady work. There were days when I was tired and worried that we weren’t going to make it, but we got through it. I wasn’t going to let my child fail. It was hard but we did it. Perhaps if I knew going into homeschooling that I was going to have such trials thrown at me, I would’ve said, “No way Jose!” But when the reality of dyslexia was staring me in the face, I rolled up my sleeves, looked for outside help and did what I had to do. Today this child is nearing 18-years old and you can’t get his nose out of a book.

If I can do it, so can you!

In fact, I once had a neighbor come to me with the announcement that she had made the decision to homeschool. I asked her what brought her to this decision and she said, “I figured if you could do it, anyone could do it!”

You know, she was right. I don’t have a teacher’s certificate. I’m not wealthy, able to buy whatever curriculum catches my fancy or high outside tutors. I’m a regular, everyday, mom. No more, no less. Yet, I am very ably educating seven children.

If I can do it, so can you.

Dyslexia isn’t the only learning disability found in my house; we’ve also dealt with speech impediments, ADHD, and Asperger’s Syndrome. But we weren’t hit with all these things at once. As they came up one by one, my husband and I sought help and counsel and we got through it.

Sometimes the obstacles we run into are found in ourselves, the parent. I have an autoimmune disease that goes in and out of remission. About 10 years ago, I found myself in the middle of a particularly bad exacerbation. I was unable to drive, I couldn’t even walk two houses down the road without having to turn around and come home. Trust me, the subject of packing the kids off to school crossed my mind.

But then how would I get them there. I couldn’t drive. How would I work PTA and bingo? I was too exhausted. And when would the kids have time for household chores? I found that instead it was easier to keep homeschooling. Though I found myself homeschooling from the sofa, or even from bed. And at the end of that school year, the children still did well on their standardized tests.

Maybe you have a problem pregnancy, which entails complete bed rest. You can still cuddle with the kids and read real books. You can answer questions about assignments from the bed. The children will learn quickly to be self-directed learners and to help Mom more with chores.

The one thing that I felt bad about during that particular exacerbation was not being able to drive the kids to all of their outside activities. But God is good and sent the help that I needed. I belong to a great Catholic homeschooling support group and had been active in the group for some years when I was hit with this exacerbation. All my friends came to my rescue. Not only did they bring meals to me, but they also volunteered to take my kids to club meetings and other activities.

It’s important for you to build up a good support system within your homeschooling community. We need one another.

If I can homeschool, so can you!

One struggle in my early years of homeschooling was finding my husband’s complete support. His life’s work has been educational reform so he always supported homeschooling in theory, but when it came time to really do it, he struggled with it. He supported my decision to homeschool, but he worried. Worried that we would end up with uneducated children who could never go to college.

We got into this ritual where every summer where he would question whether or not we were doing the right thing. After all, we were having babies every other year, which meant that I was always pregnant or had a newborn to care for. How in the world could someone educate her children under such circumstances? So, off to the open houses we would go, checking out this Catholic school and that. Then fall would come and I would get right back to doing what I knew God was calling me to do – homeschooling.

I grew tired of this routine after about six years and finally one day I threw up my hands and said, “Fine, if you want to send them to school, go for it. I submit to you. But you’ll have to be the one to drive them three times a day, work Bingo, go to PTA meetings, bake cookies, and make sure that their homework is done.” You should’ve seen the look on his face. He sputtered out, “Does it mean that much to you?” I only wrote a book about it! After that we never attended another open house.

That is until my oldest child was about to enter high school. This time it was my turn to question whether homeschooling was right for us. You see, my teen son was one of those kids who had to be constantly reminded to get his work done. Plus, I was struggling at that time with my then-five-year old who has Asperger Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism. I was feeling overwhelmed and unsure if I could teach high school while dealing with a high-need 5-year old.

So, I took teen son and the two of us went off to the Catholic high school open house. I have to say that I was quite impressed at first. The course selection was quite impressive with Greek and Latin, as well as some great history classes. Then we met the chaplain who I happen to know and is an awesome priest. I loved that fact that he meets every week with any boys who have expressed an interest in the priesthood. Since my son was discerning a religious vocation this really appealed to me. I met with the principal along with another mom and he answered all my concerns quite ably. Then as my friend and I walked to the library to check out the religious curriculum, we ran into the English teacher. I asked her what books she required the freshmen to read and gave me a list filled with such dark titles as Catcher and the Rye. My enthusiasm began to wane. It was restored when the librarian brought the Junior and Senior religious texts and books to me. All great orthodox stuff. But then she brought the Freshman and Sophomore books. They were trash. I won’t even go into with you all, but trust me it was garbage. Just then, I looked over to the magazine shelf and saw, prominently displayed, just where the students walk into the library, a copy of Ebony magazine. On the cover was pop star Beyonce barely dressed. That’s when it hit me: the reason I homeschool. My goal isn’t just academics, but formation of the soul. Heaven, not Harvard as they say. I went to meet up with my son who was in the gym talking to the guys on the hockey team. He was smiling and I could see that he really fit in with the guys. How could I compete with an ice hockey team?

That night, I took my son out to dinner. Just the two of us. I asked him, point blank, “What do you want to do.” He answered, “I want to keep homeschooling.” It wasn’t the answer I expected. With a sigh of relief, I asked next, “What do you want to do when you graduate from college?” “I want to be a priest and a writer.” “Christian, can I give you what you need to accomplish that goal? "Can homeschooling give you what you need to realize that dream?” “Yeah, for sure.” I told him that if we were going to make this work that he had to become a self-directed learner. I couldn’t be on his case all the time about getting assignments done when I had other children to tend to, especially his Asperger brother. He agreed, and I made it perfectly clear that if he fell back into old habits it would be off to “Real” school with him.

The great part about this story is that he kept his word and homeschooling high school has been a joy. I’m not kidding. I started something in our homeschooling community called Teen Wednesdays. It consists of a writers club on first Wed., which is for teens who really love to write. On 2nd and 4th Wed. we have Socrates Café, which is a philosopher’s club, and on 3rd Wed. is a readers club. These Wednesdays are heavily attended and my teens have gotten a lot out of the experience.

When I had a guest facilitator for Socrates Café a few weeks ago, I told the kids that he was thinking of homeschooling his own children and had a few questions for them. One of his first questions was, “Who is your primary teacher?” The teens all exclaimed at once, “ME!” This took the gentleman back and asked, “Not your moms?” They went on e to explain, “Yeah our moms teach us to read and guide us when we’re little, but in high school we’re responsible for our education.”

This is what homeschooling is all about – creating self directed learners.

If I can do it, so can you.

And WHAT ABOUT SOCIALIZATION? Isn’t that the big question? When I first began homeschooling I must have been asked that question every other day. I remember one Sunday after Mass when someone asked me, “What about socialization?” I was tired of answering the question and so turned to her and exclaimed, “YES, that’s exactly why I homeschool! Socialization! How insightful of you to see that!” You should have seen the look on her face! She turned and walked away in silence.

It was then that I realized that I had been approaching the socialization topic all wrong. I didn’t need to explain how I toted my kids all over the city in the family mini-van to loads of social activities in order for them to be properly socialized.

THE MORAL CHILD IS THE SOCIALIZED CHILD! By teaching my children the ten commandments I am teaching them how to socialize with their fellow man. By teaching them to love God, His church, and the world that he created, I am preparing them to go out and face that world.

We hear a lot about diversity and tolerance in the public square today. By teaching my children the Golden Rule, I am teaching them to love their neighbor no matter their race or creed.

And if you need some scientific proof that homeschooled children are indeed well-socialized, you need to look no further than a study done at MSU, Michigan State University, a public university. The professor who performed the study is not particularly friendly toward homeschoolers, yet he found that homeschooled children are indeed good citizens and have no problem fitting into society. He interviewed homeschool grads and found that they are far more active in their local communities than their public school peers. They also vote at a higher rate. They marry at about the same rate. The one big difference between homeschooled grads and public schooled grads was that the homeschool grads had a zero-rate of accepting public assistance.

You’re now convinced that you can homeschool, but how do you do it? How do you get started? First, I would get to know some like-minded homeschoolers. If you’re in a rural area and don’t have anyone close by, you can find support online. Simply go to
Yahoo Groups on the Internet and plug in Catholic homeschooling. Or go to my website, Catholic Homeschooling, and there will be a few links to email groups.

The important thing is to get to know some other Catholic homeschoolers who can help you through their own experience. More important, is not to become overwhelmed by all the things that you see veterans doing. They’ve been homeschooling a long time and are doing things that will seem out of reach to you. Just remember, that they were once in your shoes and didn’t get to where they are overnight.

Read some homeschooling books. Of course, I recommend The Catholic Homeschool Companion, but there are also several others such as Laura Berquist’s Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum and Elizabeth Foss’ Real Learning. Check with your library, you’ll be surprised how many titles they have available. And if they don’t have the titles that you really want, then fill out a request form and ask the library to purchase them. Gosh, my library even purchased The Catholic Homeschool Companion. Whenever I check the card catalog it’s always checked out with at least one hold on it. So, get your library tax dollars working for you.

One book that may be helpful to you is Cathy Duffy’s book, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum. Now, this is not a Catholic book so you’re not going to get much advice on Catholic curriculum. However, Cathy has a quiz in there that will help you figure out what style of homeschooling will best fit your family dynamic. Should you use a home study school or design your own? Should you use unit studies or strictly textbooks and workbooks? Cathy also has some good stuff in her book about learning styles and how to figure out your child’s own learning style. Again, I borrowed my copy from the library.

You can also feed your reading habit with a Catholic homeschooling magazine. There is
mater et magistra magazine. And if you get Latin Mass they have a very nice homeschooling insert.

The most important tool you have is prayer. Relax, let go, and let God


Maureen in IL said...

Hey, thanks for posting Maureen! It was great to see you at the conference and have a minute to visit!

Frances said...

Great talk - thanks for sharing it here in full. I'm a long way off from homeschooling (no children yet) but I love hearing success stories like yours.

patjrsmom said...

Hi Maureen,
I missed this talk. I spent that session at Regina's amazing talk. Your post below describes her so well. But, I did come for your second talk on Special Needs students, which was equally as amazing (or is cool a better word?) ;-)

Either way, I wanted to stop by and say thank you for the graceful addition you were to the conference. And please tell your daughter to click on over to our blog if she'd like to read more about Ethiopian adoption.

With God's grace, before long we might even have a picture to share of our newest Ethiopian blessing.

God Bless and Godspeed with your move,
Jane Marcoux