Monday, September 22, 2014

It's OK

I moved to Oklahoma eight and one half years ago to marry my husband.  It wasn't a matter of having some lifelong dream of living in the Plains or simply dying to make my home in Tornado Alley.  I moved here because I loved a guy who lived here and we were getting married.  I didn't give it much more thought than that.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Oklahoma was (how shall I say this?) a unique place.  For instance, take the size of the spiders:  ENORMOUS.  I didn't like spiders when I lived in Washington, but the buggers out here make even the big guys there look like mere child's play. 

Then there's the trucks.  Now, every town in America has a truck.  But in Oklahoma, 6 out of 10 cars on the road are trucks.  And they're the big kind, too, most harboring some over-sized, drooling canine in the cab or the bed.  

And I dare not fail to mention the heat.  Let's see, how shall I convey the heat of Oklahoma in understandable terms for those who have never lived here?  Imagine, if you will, the hottest day you have ever experienced in your life.  Multiply that times 10.  Add 60 more days exactly like that during the year.  For good measure, throw in an electric blanket and turn on the central heating system.  (You're getting close.)

All of that said, I haven't exactly been a huge fan of Oklahoma over the past eight years.  I don't like spiders, trucks, or heat.  But I really love my husband, and my daughter was born in Tulsa.  So while I have recognized that good things happen in Oklahoma, there has been about a three-year period of living here during which I did little else but think about how much I'd like to leave it.

It was during this time that the Lord started to teach me some things.  Keep in mind that I'm a really slow learner, incredibly mentally stubborn and extremely dense.  So even though the Lord is All-Powerful and stuff, there are nitwits like me running around with which He must deal.  And deal with me He did, through exceedingly patient means, but not without a well-deserved spanking or two thrown in.  

The first clear recollection I have of His Dealing With Me regarding Oklahoma is this:  One quarter of a watermelon at the Sonic Drive-In.  On a scorcher of an August morning when Lilia was two, I took her to the nearby Sonic play land.  The temperature was probably at least 90 and climbing.  We took a break from playing to sip our ice waters while gazing out at brown grass and dying trees.  I very clearly remember hating Oklahoma.

As we sat there, two middle-aged gentlemen engaged in some manual labor for the restaurant sat down to eat one huge mother of a watermelon for their lunch break.  I watched them dive into the melon like schoolboys lapping up popsicles.  They talked and laughed and ate, and then they caught sight of the pitiful image of Lilia and I wilting in the unbearable heat.  

One of them asked if we would like some watermelon, and before I could form half of a smile, they sliced off a huge section of it for us.  So there we sat, my daughter and I, eating watermelon with voracious delight, juice running down our faces and clothes.  We laughed and giggled as we ate.  Nothing had ever tasted so good before.

I think it was that very moment when something like fondness for Oklahoma entered my heart.  Part of it was the simple kindness of those Oklahoman gentleman.  Part of it was enjoying sweet relief in the misery of heat.  Part of it was watching my daughter's introduction to watermelon.  I really can't pin it down exactly, but I do know that God was teaching me something in that moment about gratitude.  I still hated Oklahoma and the dead grass and the heat.  But I was so thankful for that delicious watermelon. 

It was a slow process of growth after that (like I said, I'm extremely dense).  There were many occasions of cursing the drought-ridden land and pitifully wailing for topography. (Ask my husband because he heard it all, poor man.)  But something happened over the past few years that I can't really explain.  I think dear Jim Manry, an Oklahoman from Texas, summed it up best when he told me, "Oklahoma grows on you."  It seems strange to be sitting here admitting it, but what he says is true:  It does grow on you.  Despite the heat and the flatness and the spiders, there is something that is rather -- I suppose -- charming about it.  

There are these majestic storms, you see, that roll in from the west, both terrifying and delightful at once.  There are hay bails piled in neat rows in pastures along the road.  There are oil drills slowly going up and down, up and down with predictable monotony.  There are sunsets made of hues for which I don't even know the color. 

And there are people, too, people like those two gentleman who gave an exhausted mommy and her little girl nearly one third of their watermelon on a scorching day.  There are people like Jim Manry, Kelsey Kennedy, Nietzie Toothaker and Melanie Taylor -- all people I met in Oklahoma, who became friends and touched my life in some beautiful way that I won't forget.  

When I think of these things and people, I realize that somehow, I've actually grown to like it here.  Like Jim Manry said, it grew on me.  It didn't happen quickly; it took a lot of time, and it took some serious chipping away at my hard, stubborn heart.  But it did happen.  In this past year I accepted that if we stayed, I could obey the Lord in that, with even something like contentment in my heart.

Now we're leaving.  And I must admit, I have shed a few tears over the thought of going.

Don't get me wrong, I'm exceedingly thrilled about living in upstate New York with its fall colors, outdoor recreation, and (surprisingly!) very friendly people.  I'm jazzed about living less than an hour from the Adirondacks and potentially taking up cross country skiing as a hobby.  I can clearly see God's hand in this new chapter of our lives.  Jerry and I are delighted.

But I'll miss it here in Oklahoma.  I won't miss it in the sense that I'll fondly recall the heat and the spiders and the pseudo monster trucks with the large canines.  But I'll miss the uniqueness of it because there is no place like it.  And even though I'm incredibly dense, the Lord has managed to teach me gratitude in this place.  I don't think I could have learned that lesson so well in any other place but here.

I was driving in my car several weeks ago when the song "Oklahoma!" came on the radio.  I smiled reluctantly as the words rang in my ears:  "We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand.  And when we say 'Yeeow!  Aiyipioeeay!'  We're only sayin' you're doin' fine Oklahoma!  Oklahoma, O.K."

And it is OK.  It really is.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Defense Speaks

Whenever somebody asks me if I have enrolled my daughter into preschool, or which preschool she attends, or when she will start Kindergarten and which school that will happen to be, I address the question in one of three very wimpy ways:

1. I pretend not to hear.
2. I give a half-nod with a half-smile.  
3. I mumble something that sounds vaguely similar to "mm-hmm," which could be taken either in the affirmative or the negative.  (This last one is my own personal favorite).  

If I didn't happen to be one of those individuals who retreats from any form of confrontation like The Plague, and if I didn't mind that glassy-eyed look that inevitably arises when someone clearly suspects me of quirkiness, then I would simply answer their questions candidly:  No, she isn't in preschool.  No, she won't be in preschool next year, either.  No, I'm not enrolling her into Washington Elementary.  The fact is, I'm going to home school my daughter.

(Insert awkward glassy-eyed stare and frozen half-smile HERE).

I've entitled this blog "The Defense Speaks" because this is my way of sharing and defending the reasons (we're at 20 and counting) why my husband and I have decided to school our daughter at home.  Like I said, I just don't do confrontation.  Call me a wimp.  Call me yellow.  I'm actually prone to agree with you on those points.  When it comes right down to it, I write much better than I speak, and blogging my reasons helps to insure me against that dreaded glassy-eyed stare that may come in a face-to-face discussion.  

Before I share our reasons, I would like to offer a few disclaimers.  First, I am by no means asserting that everyone must home-school their children.  I would be lying if I said I didn't think that home school is by far the best option out there, especially for Christian parents; however, many thoughtful and loving parents simply cannot currently pursue this route, or else they feel that another alternative is the best choice for their family.  I support those parents who give the schooling decision thoughtful and careful consideration.

Secondly, I know many extremely fine public and private school teachers.  Some of them are very good friends of mine.  I used to be a classroom teacher.  As I lay out these points, I intend absolutely no disrespect to the teaching profession, which is a noble one.

Third, you are more than welcome to disagree with me.  If you do, then I probably disagree with you, too, and thank goodness we have the liberty to do that!  I will add, however, that the issue of schooling my daughter is not up for debate because she is, well... my daughter.  So while you are more than free to engage in a dialogue of ideas with me on this topic, please do not assume you are free to make inroads into our family decision.  That means such comments as, "You really shouldn't home school your daughter" or "You aren't doing the best thing for her" will be about as welcome as a pork tenderloin dinner at a Bar Mitzvah.  Just fair warning.

Fourth, I tend to get a little snarky when writing about things I feel strongly about.  I will try to tame the snarky beast, but please know that I do not intend it in a mean-spirited way.  It's really just my means of inserting some humor here and there into the text, and if it gets out of hand, I would like to ask for forgiveness.  

Okay, so here goes (and these are in no particular order):

Reason Number One:  Developmental Research
The verdict is in, folks.  Little kids need to play.  They do not need to be sitting at a desk looking at a workbook.  They need to PLAY, and outside, if at all possible.  They also need to have someone read to them, sing to them, talk to them.  

This pertains, of course, to the smaller kiddos (preschool and Kindergarten age).  There is certainly a place for workbooks and tracing and learning to write letters at this age.  Heck, I do some of that with Lilia at home now.  But physiologically speaking, their eyes are still forming, and they need to be outside seeing at varying distances to encourage the proper formation of their eyes.  The kind of active brain function that comes through play and communication causes those little dendrites in their brain cells to grow, grow, grow.  They need that.   

Jerry and I don't believe that a preschool or Kindergarten class will allow for this in the way it is needed.

Reason Number Two:  Flexibility
How many times did you wake up on a school day and moan aloud, "If only we could do something fun today!"  Well, you get to do this when you are schooling at home.  

Don't get me wrong:  I happen to be one of those geeky individuals who thinks that school and reading and learning is incredibly fun.  But all of us need a break from the monotony of sitting.  That is why so many teachers try to make the atmosphere of their classrooms engaging by adding lots of colors and posters and such like.  Sitting in class gets boring after awhile.  You want to be out doing something.  Home school allows for that (and most parents will make their kids sit and do an assignment after the fun activity, anyway).  

Reason Number Three:  Biblical Worldview
This is super important to Jerry and I.  And let's face it, it's probably the main reason why most families decide to home school their children.  Jerry and I want Lilia to be taught from a solid Biblical worldview because we not only believe in it, but we believe it is true.  That means we think that teaching from a non-Biblical worldview is founded on an erroneous assumption of the nature of existence.  

Not every home school parent teaches a biblical worldview.  Although I wish they knew God, I'm so glad that secular families are seeing the benefits of home school.  I've heard the assumption that home-school is just for "freaky weird religious people."  While I would word it a bit differently, yes, most home school families are religious.  But many, many families of other religions or no religious persuasion are schooling their kids at home.  

Worldview is very important to home school parents.

Reason Number Four:  Safety
In all sobriety, I am absolutely positive that Jerry and I will not forcefully enter our home school classroom and begin shooting everyone in sight.

Reason Number Five:  Teacher to Student Ratio
For our itty-bitty family, this means a 1:1 teacher/student ratio.  Hopefully it will be a 1:2 or perhaps even a 1:3 at some point in the future.  Either way, this is faring much better than any public or private school, where even the good ratio is something like 1:14. 

And this is just a common sense thing, and it is why so many school districts are trying desperately to reduce the size of their classrooms:  It's extremely hard to teach 20 children at once.  Let me say that again, as a former classroom teacher:  It's extremely hard to teach 20 children at once.  It isn't impossible, and lots of good teachers do it well.  It's just a lot tougher.

(Of course, if you happen to be the Duggar family, then this point does not apply to you).

Reason Number Six:  Individual Personality of the Child
This is a big one for us.  No one knows our daughter like we do.  And I can tell you, my friends, that if my daughter was in a classroom setting for six to seven hours per day, five days per week, during the fifth to seventh year of her life, she would be bouncing off the walls like she had just ingested twenty-five bags of cotton candy in ten minutes flat.  She can barely attend four different activities per week now, totaling no more than 8 hours weekly, without bouncing off the living room walls like a racquet ball.  This is partly because she is four, but it is also because she is Lilia.  I know other four year olds without this sweet idiosyncrasy. 

Which leads me to...

Reason Number Seven:  Learning Style and Learning Pace
Lilia is Lilia.  She isn't the neighbors across the street or her best friend a few blocks away.  She isn't Jane or Moriah or Katie.  She's Lilia.  She learns the way Lilia is going to learn, she is "fearfully and wonderfully made," which partly means that she is radically unique from every other person in the world.  

Will she be a visual or an auditory learner?  Will she love the "book stuff" or will she prefer the "hands-on"?  Will she need to go for a long walk after only one hour of school, or will she be able to sit for three solid hours doing book work?  Also, will she whiz through pre-algebra, or will she need lots of time for review?  

Again, any classroom teacher will tell you how difficult it is to meet the individual learning styles of their students.  I've been there.  It's very, very hard to do.  

We can tackle these issues much more easily in a home school setting.

Reason Number Eight:  Freedom to Choose and Expand Curricula
It isn't just the flexibility of schedule that is allowed with home school, as I mentioned before, but also the flexibility of curricula.  We get to choose which science book we like.  We get to choose which math curricula will work best for our family.  When our daughter is older, she gets to help make these decisions.  The choices are almost exhaustive.  Such freedom and flexibility!

Reason Number Nine:  Parents teach Social Skills
The "your-child-will-never-be-properly-socialized" argument against home school is not only redundant, it is based on what I believe is a false assumption of what it means to be "socialized" and where this learning primarily takes place.  

First, I emphatically believe that children learn their social skills from the home.  This begins with mom and dad.  If I teach Lilia to be a spoiled and hedonistic little brat, and if I faithfully model this behavior for her day in and day out, then chances are she will exhibit this kind of behavior herself.  If Jerry and I bicker and fight all of the time, and if we cannot model a humble and peaceful way of resolving our conflict, then chances are that Lilia will not be very good at resolving conflict, either.  This is not to say that she won't have her own weaknesses and strengths regarding social skills.  But what she sees from us will be her model, and she will inevitably learn from it, for good or ill.

Secondly, social interaction with one's peers is made readily available in the home school world, especially with so many families moving toward home school.  There are home school play dates, field trips, sports events, co-op groups (many of which offer "classrooms" where middle and upper level students learn from a home school parent with particular expertise in a given subject).  Not only that, but what about getting together with one's neighborhood friends, or with one's friends from church?  

Third, since when does public school hold the monopoly on well-adjusted, socially adept youth???  

Finally, Lilia will have no difficulty socializing with anyone.  She already makes friends, or attempts to make friends, with every creature breathing.  She's the most socially extroverted person I know besides my mother.  And that is saying a lot.

Reason Number Ten:  Parental Job to Teach
Jerry and I believe that the job to teach children has been given to the parents.  Again, this does not mean that every family must home school their children.  But whether you send your kids to public school or private school, you will be teaching them something.  Parents are their children's teachers.   

Reason Number Eleven:  Overall Higher Achievement 
Home school kids rock the spelling bee, the geography bee, and the standardized test worlds.  They get higher grades, generally speaking.  They are prone to be more prepared for college, trade school, or the work force.  

Reason Number Twelve:  Jerry and I are Not Stupid
Jerry and I have fairly well-functioning brains.  We're not morons.  And we both really, really love to learn.  We also possess the geeky tendency of finding pleasure in telling other people about what we learn.  Jerry's IQ is stellar.  I've never taken mine, but I imagine that while I am not an Einstein, I am probably not Vice President Joe Biden, either. 

All of that said, we can adequately teach our daughter.  (And just for the record, even if we were morons, we should still have the right to teach her if we wish).

Reason Number Thirteen:  I'd Miss the Little Peanut like CRAZY!

Reason Number Fourteen:  We Love Her More Than You Do.
Other people love her, but not like we do.  Her teachers can love her (and there's some AMAZING teachers out there), but not one of them can love her like we do.  When the rubber meets the road, it is our decision how she will be schooled because she is our daughter.  She isn't the government's daughter or the local school district's daughter.  We know what is best for her.

Reason Number Fifteen:  Promotes the Family Bond.
Home school promotes the family relationships.  Instead of being separated every day for several hours, parent and children are spending the day together.  Since parents are choosing the curricula and material, they are vitally aware of what their children are learning and can address it in a more personal way.  Parents often learn lots of things alongside of their children in home school!  If there is a discipline issue, the parent deals with it (and in a much more personal way than a teacher is able).  All of these factors help to contribute to the promotion of the family bond and family unit.

Reason Number Sixteen:  Shelter
Since when is shelter a bad thing?  Living in Oklahoma, I can tell you first-hand about shelter:  It is there for one's well-being and safety.  When there is an F5 tornado pummeling toward your town, you'd better believe that everyone is heading for cover!  They want shelter because it keeps them safe.  Without it, there is the potential to be either permanently injured or killed.

Home school provides a means of sheltering one's child from factors that can be damaging, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

That is not to say that a parent cannot overly shelter his or her child.  This is possible.  Although I always believe that too much shelter is better than none, Jerry and I have discussed how we will handle that balance.  We have seen this modeled among many families whom we greatly respect:  

Generally speaking, a greater amount of "shelter" is provided during the youngest and most impressionable ages, because they are the most prone to be hurt.  As they become older, certain issues are gradually introduced in age-appropriate ways.  They are discussed from a Biblical perspective so that the child knows how to deal with it through the lens of truth.  This continues in more mature ways as the child continues to grow.  

In a similar way, when taking shelter from a violent storm, one does not emerge from the shelter immediately after danger has passed.  You wait.  You listen.  You open the door and very carefully look around before taking that first step, just in case.  You tread carefully lest there is hidden danger just beneath your feet.  

We do not know how Lilia's Kindergarten teacher will handle the issue of shelter.  And as Lilia's parents, we are far more capable of knowing when and how to introduce her heart and spirit to the brokenness and rebellion of the world around her.  But it will be a process, and it will be at age-appropriate times and not when the school district says she is "ready."

Reason Number Seventeen:  No Bullies
I have heard the argument that every child needs to get bullied at school every now and then.  I presume that these individuals mean that a child needs to learn how to deal with the bully, and not that it is a good thing to be bullied.

To those individuals, I would like to ask two things: 
1. Do you have children?
2. Are you altogether eager to be bullied yourself?

I will assume you do not have children.  If you did, I have a feeling you may change your mind.  

If you do have children and still think they should get bullied every now and then, well... that is too bad.

I will also assume you are not super jazzed about the thought of getting bullied yourself.  And who on earth would be?!  My husband was the typical "smart and nerdy kid" in high school (one of the main reasons he makes my toes curl, but that's beside the point).  He was, on some level, the victim of bullying.  And guess what?  It wasn't fun.  And guess what else?  It caused him some very serious emotional pain.  

When I was quite young, I underwent some "bullying" on a small level in school.  And guess what?  I didn't like it.  And guess what else?  It hurt me tremendously and contributed to an emotional toll that took years to overcome.  

I would like to offer the thought that it is possible to learn how to effectively deal with a bully without actually being bullied.  In a similar way, we can learn how to defend ourselves against an extremely hungry and ferocious grizzly bear without actually inviting ourselves to his dinner table just to get a feel for it.  Make sense?

Number Eighteen:  Less Boredom and More Challenge
Like I said, my hubby has a stellar IQ.  He is very humble about it, but he will also tell you that he was bored to tears in school.  And the "talented and gifted program" doesn't count, because he was in that, and he was still bored to tears.  He remembers one particular project that stimulated him intellectually:  It involved making mini Easter Island head statues on a makeshift Easter Island topographic map (or something like that).  He loved it, and he still talks about it to this day.

The point is that, in a home school setting, there are far more avenues for challenge and stimulation, especially if one's child happens to be academically gifted.  Just think of all the Easter Island heads you could make! 

Number Nineteen:  I Have Worked in the Public School Setting
Enough said.

Number Twenty:  We'd Prefer that Big Brother Stay Out of It.
I really don't want to delve into politics, but I guess I have to do so on some level.  The government has its place, of course.  That place does not involve telling me what to teach my child, when to teach my child, where to teach my child, and by what means.

(And just as a side note, since the government cannot even handle remedial math calculations in dealing with the national budget, then why on EARTH would I want them teaching my daughter to add?)

Okay, there it is.  I think I have given a thorough and thoughtful answer to those who may be prone to ask why we are pursuing home school.  I have laid it out as best as I know how.  Neither Jerry nor I take this issue lightly.  We love our daughter fiercely, and we truly believe that choosing to school her at home will be the best thing for her.  

Enough said.  The Defense rests.