January 04, 2003

Real-Life Homeschooling, by Rhonda Barfield<

I have two "special needs" children. My son, Will, is 15. When he was 10 we took him to a doctor to see if what we saw as profound driftiness was something like ADD. The teachers at school blew us off when we mentioned it. One memorable teacher told me he had to "learn to be more responsible." He failed the TOVA (Test of Variable Attention). miserably. Medication and therapy followed and for a time he did better in school, better at home and found some friends. I acted as his executive secretary. This year he decided that the meds make him too "gorked" out, to use his words and he wanted to try school without them. And we, as parents, decided to let him give it a try. He is failing all his core classes.

My daughter, Abby is 12. When she was in 1st grade she didnít learn to read. She learned how to memorize books that were read to her and recognize words in those books. Abby is a smart cookie. The teacher, bless her, thought she was reading. So after some long chats with the teacher we got her tested by the school. They decided she had language deficits warranting special interventions and Abby was moved for language and reading from the mainstream classroom and its Whole Language method of teaching reading and writing to a Direct Instruction special ed room. Within weeks she was reading and within months she was reading for pleasure. I love Direct Instruction and phonics. We did all the usual work with her. I got her a Franklin Speller. We sounded out words. We practiced using phonics rules. We used the dictionary. We wrote and rewrote and rewrote assignments. I rewrote math problems vertically so she could read them. We used graph paper rather than lined paper--the squares are easier to work with when you can't see a letter or number amidst all the "clutter" on a page. We did math drills and more math drills. We never watch TV on school nights, which isn't that big a sacrifice. She got by but was isolated. Kids in special ed are "stupid," "dumb," etc. Her self esteem suffered. She is belligerent with and resentful of her peers. She can't be in sports because she needs the time to do her schoolwork. The teachers tell me she is always alone. And this year she is failing all her core classes.

I tend not to completely trust experts. I tend not to trust rules. Some are good and there for my safety. I always stop at a red light, even in the dead of night when I am the only one on the road and could scootchy on thru with no one knowing but myself. But when my kid is failing in an institution set up to get them ready for "life" and no one knows how to fix it and I have been working for years to help them make it in the setting they are in, I am willing to look at alternatives. Outside the box alternatives. So I picked up this book and read it.

This book is about parents who have chosen to homeschool their kids. There are 21 stories of how and why and what they did to get their kids ready for life. Some were more interesting than others. Some were more helpful than others. Some were so far outside the box that I just didnít buy it. What the book did was show me that there are alternatives. I am not sure I will homeschool my kids or even if that would help them. But after reading this book I know I can do it. It is not beyond my abilities. And that gives me a little more energy to deal with the situation at home and at school.

Posted by Deb English at January 4, 2003 04:38 PM

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