Monday, February 3, 2014

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Homeschool Vs. Public School: an 8-year argument (Part III)

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Once again, we were at a stale mate. And it stayed like that for a good long time, almost seven years. We argued about educating our children in Utah, and again in Minnesota, where I did my graduate work, and finally in Oregon where I got a job after graduation.
By this point our arguments didn’t end in locked doors or smug looks. They just ended with one of us changing the subject. We’d gotten really good at kicking the can down the road.
It was 2012 once we really started to weigh out our options. The stakes were higher now because we had two kids. Norah was four-years-old.
We couldn’t afford private school, and we researched the public school Tristan would be attending in the small Oregon town we now lived in and realized that it received horrible ratings. Friends at church told Mel stories of overcrowded classrooms and crappy, un-devoted teachers. We were at dinner with some friends who had a son one year older than Tristan. They told us a story about a bus driver who accidently dropped their six-year-old son off in the wrong neighborhood and he had to walk a few miles to find his way home. And as they told us the story, Mel reached beneath the table and gripped my hand. We made eye contact, and for the first time I saw real terror in her eyes. And it was not until I saw that look that I really started to try and understand her fear and look into a compromise.
I even strongly considered K12, an online school that Mel suggested. More or less, it was a structured online homeschooling program where kids learned online at their own pace. Once or twice a week families in the area got together for a field trip. I will be honest: in theory, it didn’t sound too bad.
I listened in on a videoconference with other families considering K12. A K12 representative, a woman with a cheerful, almost bubbly, voice talked about the benefits of online school. How the kids work "at their own pace" and often end up getting ahead. How they used diagnostic exams to target students’ strengths and weaknesses and develop individualized curriculum.
 But then she mentioned that K12 targeted families with troubled kids who couldn’t function in a classroom, and religious families who didn’t want their children exposed to the outside world. At one point a mother said, “This is a great for us because I don’t want my kids going to school with a bunch of queers or blacks or any of that other crap.”
It was then that I stopped listening. 

We talked about it later that night after the kids went to bed. We lived in a crappy third floor apartment. I was sitting at the kitchen table and Mel was sitting on the sofa. Mel was in her robe and I was in gym pants and a t-shirt.
“Mel, come on,” I said. “Tristan is a sweet kid. He will do fine in a classroom. And frankly, I want him to be exposed to the outside world. I don’t want him associating with people like that crazy lady.”
Mel exhaled and said, “But I want him to be safe. And I want him to be smart. I don’t want him getting dropped off in the wrong neighborhood and having to find his way home. This online school is the best option.”

I even asked Tristan what he wanted. I thought for sure he would choose the regular school. When we lived in Minnesota we’d received a subsidy for him to attend a good preschool, so he knew what it was like to attend a classroom.  He had a lot of friends there.
“What do you want to do?” I asked Tristan. “Do you want to attend a classroom school? Or do you want to go to school on the computer?”
He shrugged.

We had to make a decision, but neither of us was going to reach across the aisle for a compromise. We argued about education until one month before Tristan was about to start school, the last possible moment.
Around this time Mel found out about a charter school that was a 30-minute drive from our small Oregon town. It was in an even smaller Oregon town. The school had wonderful ratings and everyone we spoke to about the school had nothing but good things to say about it. It was the kind of school where kids wore uniforms. The classes were smaller and the teachers were highly regarded. They even had teaching assistants. It was perfect. 
We couldn’t just place Tristan in the school. It was based on a lottery. And we’d already missed the deadline for the first drawing. However, if a child ended up not attending the school for one reason or another, they would once again draw names. It was a long shot, but we put Tristan’s name in anyway. Then we prayed about it over dinner, and at night, and in the morning. We prayed about it so much that Tristan even started to pray about it. “Please bless that I will get into Liberty School,” he said, hunched over his bed, small hand interwoven into one large fist. 

One evening Mel called to tell me that a kindergarten student had dropped out of the school, they did another drawing, and Tristan’s name was pulled. We talked for a little while about whether or not we should do it. If this was the best option for him. How it was going to be a challenge to drive Tristan to and from school each morning. We talked about how we needed to volunteer so many hours to the school. We talked, and we listened. No one raised their voice. We made a plan, and then decided it was best for Tristan to attend the charter school. At the time, it seemed so natural. But it in fact this decision represented a compromise that resulted from years of learning how to listen to each other’s concerns, rather than insisting that I get my own way. And when I think about that, I realize how much Mel and I have grown together. 


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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.




Barrie Evans said...

This one had me on the edge of my seat. It's funny how often I read a blog post like this and want to argue against the writer's experience. I wouldn't have known how to take the "homeschooling plunge" even if I'd thought seriously about this as an option. I hope we'll get to hear more about Tristan's experience with school. More, please!

Clint said...

Thanks for reading, Barrie. Tristan is doing really well in school, actually. In fact, the main reason we moved to Small Town Oregon was to be closer to his school.