By Wendi Friend
Standing there in the sterile hallway, wonder crept through me. Was this the best decision? Was this the right thing to do?
From my position next to the lockers, I stood quietly as students ushered out of a classroom in two single file lines, with arms folded in front of them. As the last child emerged from the room of primary colors, taking her place at the caboose of her class, I couldn't help but think how these precious young people resembled little soldiers. Wonder began to fade. One teacher scolded, "Take that out of your mouth. I don't care if you put it in your pocket, your desk or if you throw it away, but I don't want to see it again."
Still waiting silently, I observed the white brick walls. Above the lockers on one wall was an artistic eyepiece: "We are all ethnic." Beneath the header were pictures of African Americans and Asians, along with representations of several other ethnic groups. Just then, my mind flashed to the other day when Nick was telling me about how someone called him a "Nig-white", making fun of him for his mixed heritage. The pictures on the wall were colored so nicely, but where did the lesson go? Why are children calling each other such things in this day and age? Wonder withered.
When Allie was taking too long to clean out her desk, I sent her brother in to see if she needed help. Nick returned alone with head hung low. He'd been scolded and told to wait outside. When Allie finally did emerge, we made our way from the back of the school, through the maze of classrooms, past the repulsive smell of the cafeteria and toward the front door. Each of the kids talked about all the reasons they were thankful they never had to go back. So did I.
Is homeschooling the best solution for every family? Perhaps not, but regardless of the solution that is right for parents across America, the fact is our school system stinks and the repercussions will be severe.
When my eldest child started school nine years ago, I was thrilled. Like most parents, I had anxiously awaited the day that he and I both would find independence. He'd go out in search of education while I'd travel inward to find peace of mind. Of course, I still had his siblings to tend to at home, but the feeling of emancipation remained with a "one down, two to go" type of attitude.
When I received his list of school supplies for kindergarten, I about fell over. More than fifty dollars worth of supplies for what was then an optional prelude to elementary education. Andrew liked school for the first week, but then began to complain. He was bored. He already learned at home what was being taught in class, didn't like being in the masses, and had personality conflict with his teacher. He asked to opt out of the rest of kindergarten and start again in first grade, to which I agreed.
Once settled in first grade, he excelled immediately, but only for a short while before the problems emerged again. Whether it was disruptions in class, trips to the school nurse or conflicts on the playground, if there was a way to get out of class, my son found it. Yet, he had honor roll grades and was in classes for the gifted and talented. Intelligence wasn't in question, but why did he hate school so much? With the exception of two years, which provided phenomenal teachers, Andrew hated every aspect of school and found plenty of trouble.
When I took Andrew to withdraw this afternoon, I wondered if he'd be sentimental about leaving behind any of his friends or school sports. Would he miss any of the social aspects? Once I entered the school, I didn't question so much. Passing the metal detector, the quarters in my pocket set off an alarm. Andrew followed behind me with an electronic game in his pocket, which also set off the alarm. No one's attention was drawn to the issue of security, even though the alarm was sounding.
Inside the school office, the receptionist was cold and unfriendly, even condescending as she cautioned me against issues of truancy. While Andrew went to clear his locker, I provided the receptionist with a written notice that he would be home-schooled, which is fully legal and acceptable under Oklahoma state law. When Andrew returned, the receptionist asked him if he had any books. The answer was surprising. No. Though he had been a student of that school since September and this is now January, he's not been issued one single schoolbook.
On our way out, we noticed the security guard being taunted by one of the rebellious teens playfully. That's when Andrew told me that every day the kids toy with that poor man. They provoke him, then outrun him in the hallways. "It's a joke," Andy says. "When we get to school in the morning, we have to put our bags on a table while we go through the metal detector. Then, he just hands our bags to us around the metal detector. So you could have anything you wanted in your bags—guns, bombs, whatever—and get by with no problem."
Exiting the parking lot, I noticed a sign on the school marquee that read, "Volunteer Subs Needed." Last month's nightly newscasts featured calls for help for teachers here in our state. School funding is in such a state of crisis that teachers didn't even have paper! Local radio stations held paper drives, collecting boxes upon boxes of much needed paper. After school programs have been terminated, programs for the gifted and talented are at risk, music and art programs are being cut, and the teachers are underpaid.
This month, the focus changed to the need for volunteer substitutes. In sync with other budget cuts, Tulsa no longer pays substitute teachers. When a teacher needs a sick day, or quits (many have, right in the middle of class), a volunteer is called upon to provide an education to the children. What are the requirements to become a volunteer substitute? Easy! Just attend a free one-hour seminar on classroom management, and you're good to go without so much as a background check or literacy exam. Anyone can enter a Tulsa classroom as a substitute teacher without pay. Who is teaching your children?
Home schooling wasn't my first option. In fact, we're new to Tulsa, having recently relocated. Part of the reason we moved was because the school system in Las Vegas was in such a desperate state. Vegas schools were severely overpopulated. Most schools there are on a year round schedule, some in double sessions. Teachers work double shifts for little pay and have too many students to handle in the classroom. In fact, that's one of the first things my kids mentioned when they made the transfer from Clark County to the Tulsa school district. All three of my children came home from their first day of school with comments on how spacious the classrooms were. They weren't bigger classrooms, they just had fewer students in them.
Overpopulation in Vegas schools opened up doors to various problems. Due to Andrew's behavioral problems, I was called to the middle school more than once to meet with teachers and deans. Each time I was there, something catastrophic was happening. The first time, a student had been trampled in the halls and was lying in the nurse's office while paramedics examined him, then moved him to the ambulance. The second time, fire trucks lined the front of the school as an unknown student was setting random fires in the bathrooms. Students had weapons, were sexually active, and were reportedly shooting heroine in the boys' bathrooms. This is not what I'd envisioned when I enlisted my children in the school system.
Of course, I didn't automatically blame the schools, the teachers or the system. In fact, I held (and still do) the philosophy that it's the parents' responsibility to insure the education and well being of their children. That being the case, I made certain I was involved. I volunteered in each of my three children's classrooms on a regular basis. I chaperoned their field trips, participated in class parties, helped the teachers grade papers, served as a reading mentor and more. I attended every single awards ceremony in which my children were recognized. School plays, fund-raisers, special events—I saw them all. Each afternoon, I'd sit at the kitchen table with my children and help with their homework and read with them each night. When I knew I was doing my part and my kids were each doing theirs, yet the problems not only persisted, but also increased, I knew there was a problem. I tried everything, including moving away to a less populated, more subdued location.
I've tried doing things the system's way. My children have tried doing things the system's way. The system is defunct. More important than education is attendance. More important than personal learning needs is the ability to fit into a standard scale of comparison to other students in the same age bracket. More important than expressing creativity is the demand to walk quietly, single file, mouth closed through the sterile halls of education.
When my children suggested the possibility of home schooling, I agreed. Was this the best decision? Was this the right thing to do? It seems more logical and humanitarian than forcing them to conform to the demands of a failing system.
You may not agree with the solution of home schooling, but anyone who investigates will understand why most kids (and several parents, too) agree that school stinks.
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