Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Home Schooling

We didn’t originally plan to home school Alex, but choosing to teach him ourselves has been one of the best decisions we have made. Having work schedules that accommodate our need to be home with him has been a blessing. Ed teaches college English classes in the afternoon and evening, and I teach three middle school English classes in the morning. This allows Ed to be home with him in the mornings, and I have my afternoons free to spend with Alex. One or both of us is always available to him. As teachers who have varied interests outside of our teaching field, we felt comfortable in the role of home school parents. In addition, circumstances pushed us into this position, making us see that we needed to supervise Alex’s education ourselves.

When we had Alex evaluated for autism, we had this done through our county school system’s special education department. After they determined that he had autism, they offered him special education preschool classes. At that time, we felt this was a good setting for Alex, and he really enjoyed going to preschool the first several months. Later, some classroom practices came to light that we felt were wrong. For example, his teacher decided to punish Alex if he did not use the toilet during the scheduled times. She would deny him playground or gym time with his classmates, and/or she would not allow him to have snacks during snack time. Apparently, she felt these were strong motivators for him, but we sent him to preschool to learn social skills, and singling him out for this punishment inhibited his ability to interact with his peers. Another time, she told me that she had sent him to the hall for making silly noises, which I felt was an appropriate consequence for his actions. However, she also informed me that she made him hold a sign that said, “IGNORE ME!” Since Alex could read the sign, this struck me as demeaning, akin to a dunce hat students of old wore. After that, I decided to observe his class and discovered that she was restraining him in a seat belt chair (which is intended to be used only for children who physically cannot support their bodies) during the entire class, again creating a form of isolation from his classmates. Since Alex was not a threat to himself or anyone else, I questioned the need for restraint. She told me that it kept him from wandering around the classroom. Knowing that Alex was very compliant, I suggested that rather than putting him in the seat belt chair, she could tell him to sit down and teach him discipline that way. While she agreed that he would be cooperative, she told me, “It’s just easier to use the seat belt chair.” That was the final straw. We sensed that teaching Alex was not the priority, controlling him—a very docile and obedient child—was her emphasis instead. Knowing that we needed to advocate for our child, we immediately pulled him out of school and began home schooling him.

In Indiana, home schooling requirements are rather straightforward. After registering with the Indiana State Department of Education as a private school, home school parents must agree to teach their children 180 days per year, keep a calendar record of the days of instruction, and teach a curriculum comparable to that which students receive in the public schools. Finding curricular materials has never been a problem, as we have easily found books from Barnes and Noble, Christian Books, and the library. Being able to teach Alex one-on-one has enabled us to use his strengths to address his weak areas, and he is an ideal student, eager to learn. Through this process, he has mastered one of the most important lessons: how to find information he wants to know. He is a whiz at researching topics of interest online and in books, a good skill to use throughout life. What pleases us most, however, about our decision to home school Alex is that not only has he thrived in this setting, but he has never lost his self-confidence or his love of learning, unlike many students. His desire to learn will help him reach his full potential. As writer Robert Louis Stevenson once noted, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” For Alex, home schooling has been a strong means toward that end.

“Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.” Proverbs 16:20

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