I love hearing the how and why of other home school families and after being asked again today about why we are home schooling one son and likely not the other, I was prompted to post this. (Written October 2006)

Our story has 2 parts.

Part one -- my husband was home schooled from grade 6 to grade 12. If ever there was a poster child for successful home schooling, I'm married to him. His father was/is a pastor and they moved quite a bit due to his vocation. This played a large part in the decision to home school their children. He has a younger brother and a younger sister...who were both home schooled from grades 1-12. Joal received a college scholarship as a result of his high ACT scores and musical talent. We met the first day of college and have been together ever since. He was valedictorian of our class in college and graduated with honors from 2 different colleges with 2 BS degrees--Biblical Literature and Vocal Performance.

People are often shocked to learn that Joal was home schooled. He's a born musician and songwriter. He is the kind of person who happens to life instead of the other way around. In high school, Joal did things like start a band and make 2 inde albums, work several jobs, play soccer and travel to Alaska (from New York) on a missions trip. Knowing him as I do, I have no doubt that a traditional school setting would have stifled him horribly.

Vocationally, he is a sales manager and trainer for a legislative research company and has been with the same company for 8 years now. He talks about life and liberty with good Americans everyday. He blows the alleged home school/socialization problem out of the galaxy. In truth, he's far more socially adept than I am.

When we were engaged, one of his parents main concerns was if I was open to home schooling our future children.

I was/am the product of several public school systems. I was an OK student...good grades, no real problems, no stand-out areas either. School wasn't necessarily something I hated but we did move several times and that was somewhat traumatic. My siblings are all significantly younger than I am and the year I graduated from public high school, my brother started third grade. My father was/is a pastor and there was what my parents considered to be a moral problem with my brother's third grade class that prompted my parents to begin home schooling. Less than 3 months later they moved to Texas and have home schooled ever since. I have 2 brothers and a sister...oldest brother is in college in an engineering program, next brother is in the Army about to ship out to Italy and my little sister graduated from home school last May. She will start college in January 07.

So, yeah, my parents homeschooled everyone but me.

With that in mind, I was open to homeschooling when my husband-to-be asked me how I felt about it, although I wasn't completely sure about it. We were married in 1991 and Julian was born in 1996.

This is part two of our story...a special-needs child.

I was all set to home school until we started to realize that Julian at 1.5 years was experiencing some significant developmental delays (walking, talking, fine motor skills). At 2 he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a complication of premature birth. At 3, his pediatrician recommended that we have some testing done by the school system and that resulted in several doctors and therapists advising us to have him enrolled in an early pre-k program. School at 3! Hindsight being what it is, I can't help but wonder what I was thinking.

I was led to believe and accepted that my child had needs that could only be met by a professional in a school environment. The one time I dared to ask if any of these services could be received in our home instead of in the school setting (he was only 3 after all) the therapist told me that he needed more than I could give him. (What I would say to that now!)

Honestly, I regret that I didn't fight harder for my child. I wish we hadn't spent 5 years wading thru a very broken school system. Julian was in the special ed program his entire time in school. He was passed along and moved around (to 3 different metro schools) thru 2 years of pre-k, k, 2 years of first grade and then 2 months into second grade, his teacher told me she didn't have time to plan for him so she had moved him to a table in the corner and given him coloring sheets instead of work in hopes of keeping him from distracting the other children. I remember thinking if that's all she's doing, I could certainly achieve that at home.

At this time his behavior was deteriorating due to sheer boredom and he was showing up in the principal's office for an inability to control his impulses. In truth, Julian enjoyed the principal's office. It had a comfortable sofa and a fire extinguisher and a window with a view. It also offered him interaction with adults, something he has always preferred. By this point I had encountered a therapist at the school who was determined that Julian should be placed in a special school in Madison (we live in Bellevue) where 100% of the students have "challenges". Knowing how much Julian responds to external input, I had no intention of even considering placing him where there was no positive, normal peer influence. Not to mention the extreme distance of 30-40 miles from our home.

Given my background and Joal's, we knew that we were going to have to take the bull by the horns and be the parents God meant for us to be. We started looking at options and more and more the only thing that made sense was for us to bring him home to school. Over the course of about three weeks, I began to get educated about modern home schooling and tackling the learning problems he was facing that were not being addressed. Our new mission became clear. The best thing for Julian was to get out of a system that was failing him and giving up on him and into the care of his parents and family.

I do not have a teaching degree. I do not have special training to deal with learning disabilities and attention deficit. However, no one is more motivated than I am to find what he needs to learn and become a Godly man, a good and productive citizen and a well-educated person, despite the learning disabilities he faces. We have one motto: We do not give up. We find a way. Sometimes we do it personally. Sometimes we find the right professional for advice or interaction. Parent-led education does not mean that the parent does it means that the parent is responsible for getting it done thru whatever means necessary.

I am blessed to not be in this fight alone and yes, I do call it a fight. It's not easy. In fact, it's the hardest thing I have ever done. Everything we have been thru has taught me that "train up a child" does not look the same for all children. Thanks be to God that I have a pediatrician that I trust and who shares our faith. I have a child psychiatrist who listens to me and trusts my judgment as much as her own. I have Christian parents and in-laws who are invaluable based on their many years of experience and their vested interests. I have a husband who is my champion. He never fails to believe that we can find a way to see Julian succeed...even if that way looks different from every other schooling model around. I am blessed with a younger son who appears to have none of his brother's challenges and who has a smile that brightens my every moment.

So, looking back, I think we were brought to this place of home schooling kicking and screaming and feeling monumentally unqualified and unable...but God is faithful and He provides wisdom when we need it most. We were definitely running away from a poor, unsuccessful traditional school setting that no longer had Julian's interests at heart. I went thru a period of anger toward the system but have since just moved on. From the inside out, based on 5 years of experience, for children with special challenges or gifts, I do believe that much of our American education system is failing. I do not claim to have answers and I admit that it may seem selfish to say I am saving my child as best I can but at this point that is my goal. I pray for our schools and our school administrators and board members regularly. I realize that schools are necessary and can be a good experience for some children so I hope for the best for them and pray for their improvement (and vote accordingly).

UPDATE: We have just entered our fourth year of home schooling Julian and while what we do looks nothing like a traditional school, it is meeting his needs--educational and emotional. It's still very difficult and something that requires constant daily re-evaluation. It's a very sensitive topic with me--hence the blog entries.

I think the ordinary citizen has very little idea how broken the Special Education system is. Is this a national problem of just a local one? I don't know. I've only participated in 3 schools, all in the Metro-Nashville system. Inclusion is not all it's cracked up to be. In many cases, inclusion (which at times feels like nothing more than an over-reaction to years of exclusion) seems to be the excuse for not providing what a child actually needs.

Students in an inclusion program can be blamed for slowing down a class or for being a distraction to the class. One of Julian's teachers looked at me with such disdain when I asked if she had completed some of his IEP worksheets. She indignantly reminded me that she has 30 other students to plan for and take care of. "He gets his attention from the Special Ed teacher" she said. "I have 30 other students who need me." This from the teacher who he spent half his day with. Don't think the other students didn't pick up on her attitude. Believe me, they did.

And there are funding issues. Many funding issues. At one point in the IEP process, I was told that the entire team agreed that Julian needed an aide (a one-on-one para-professional person) but that there wasn't enough money to provide one. No alternatives were given. It was a simple consessionary fact: the school could not do what needed to be done.

Is this common? I don't know. Should I fight it and *demand* more? Do I want to be that parent? I considered all the options. Even if I threw a fit, went to the school board, demanded what was legally his by law, and got it...what does that gain him? Suddenly, he's the child of "that mother". Will that really serve him in a way that is helpful and educational? I just don't think so.

At the end of his time in school, it was recommended by the principal that I come to the school and eat lunch with Julian every day, because he had such a difficult time managing the cafeteria. I did so for more than a month. Every day, with a small baby in tow, I ate lunch with my son and managed his behavior. It was an eye-opening experience. With G in tow, it was also a pain, but we survived.

I don't write all this to tell you what a good Mom I am or what a saintly thing I have done. Please. Don't read it like that. Home schooling is a small part of our journey--a path that we walk mostly because we have no other choices. It's not something that is a good fit for every family. It's just one option--one that works for us.

More on that tomorrow.


Anita said...

I love you! I admire you! I pray for you all! God doesn't call the equiped, he equips the called! You were soooo called! ;)

Denise said...

An inspiring story. Thanks for sharing. You were also blessed with patience, I can tell ;) Hang in there!

Magpie said...

I love Anita's comment about God equipping those he calls. Seems like that phrase has been brought to my attention several times this week!

Motivated parents who are not afraid of a challenge can move mountains. It must have been very scary to take the step of pulling him out of public school and deciding to home school, but it sure sounds to me like you are going to triumph! I'll be praying for you.

Robbye Housley said...

Thank you for sharing this story...As you well no that Tony just strted home schooling Bram & Cayte and I needed to here this...I so wished we lived closer so I could spend some time together...Praying for you!

Dana said...

God bless you in the fact you answered when he called. I am glad things seem to be working out for your son. I cannot imagine being in the position of fighting the sustem that is supposed to be there to help...but I know it is broken. I saw it when I used to teach.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,
Well... I am finally taking the jump from interested "lurker" to real commentor! I have followed your blog for awhile, love your scrapbooking style and share your addiction to SR. I found your blog months ago from another link, and just stayed. :)

So, I also have been considering home schooling... but that's a long story.

On to my comment (now that I have bored you with all the preliminaries!) - It may be that the schools you worked with are a huge part of the problem. Before staying home with my children I was a teacher in public school.

We "started" inclusion one year a decade or so ago. In our school inclusion was such a success. Those positive peer interactions you mentioned (why you wouldn't put him in a segregated school) abounded. The first year we "did" inclusion I had 28 students and 2 were functioning well below their grade level peers - a couple of years below. I was responsible for a parallel curriculum for them - the same where appropriate and different when it needed to be. Yes, I had a helper in my class too, another adult. I was blessed in that way. I used their IEPs every day as a checklist to make sure we were addressing all their needs and not overlooking anything. The special ed teacher was more a resource for me then a presence in my room.

How did it work for them?

Well, I want you to picture this... a hot, humid, year end gym task of running the mile around a dusty track. Uh. I was out there with my class and the PE teacher that day to cheer them on (get them through it more likely, man was it hot). So, one after one the children crossed the finish line until soon the only one left was my student who happened to have a disability which resulted in being very small and he just didn't run fast. So... the other kids were all literally laying on the ground, dirty, sweaty, just done. Then - my Bill, the toughest (in personality like in a sports way, not a learning way, although...) boy in class (himself with very severe ADHD and tourettes, though not one of the two I mentioned) happens to notice that Jon is still running. Now, the PE teacher was out there right near him cheering him on... I am watching and ready to go run with him, when out runs Bill. He runs with him and encourages him to go on. Soon he is joined by another student, and another, and another. As I watch with tears in my eyes all my class, every one, got back up and either ran with him (at his pace) or started cheering like wild. The heat was forgotten. They fact that they were "done" didn't matter. All that mattered is that Jon needed them and they were there. It took another five minutes for him to finish - and when he did he was so PROUD (he had never finished before). We screamed until we were horse. We were dusty, dirty, and united as one class. It was the best moment of my career.

Having children included in the regular classroom gives so much opportunity to both that child and the other children. It allows the children to reach out and be more then self-centered. It can stretch the teacher and buy meeting the needs of the "special" child also that teacher better meets the needs of everyone.

Well, sorry for the long story. But I just wanted you to know that so much about inclusions success or failure depends on the teacher. I am so sorry that you had the experience you did. I admire greatly all you have done for your child.

Okay, now I can go back to the lurking masses.

God Bless.