Saturday, March 16, 2019


Next year after four years of homeschooling, Grace will be returning to public school for high school. There are various reasons for this decision.

Primarily she is going because she wants to go. She has never fully adjusted to being homeschooled. The less structured nature of homeschooling has bothered her from the beginning, and she struggles with it. I have not been able to provide the scaffolding she needs to progress in the way that she is capable. I have too many other responsibilities and students. I probably bit off more than I could chew. I needed her to be immediately independent in ways that, if she had always been homeschooled, would have occurred naturally over time, but they did not come naturally after spending five years in a school classroom. I was too overwhelmed to adequately foster it in her after we already needed it.

Even if homeschooling had gone well with her, I don't feel ready to facilitate high school. While middle school can be bungled with no great lasting harm, high school counts. I have three other students, a toddler, and a house still reeling from the chaos of the decade of my working career. The house, even after five toddlers, still is not toddler-proof, mostly because it cannot be toddler-proofed. There are too many open areas that cannot be blocked. There are too many people living in this space with too much stuff that cannot be properly put away. The house is a cornucopia of toddler mischief. 

Even so, this particular iteration of toddler is extremely clingy. I feel like I spend more time wrangling her during lessons than I do paying attention to the lesson I am giving. It is constant interruption. I have no one to hand her to or anywhere to send her. She climbs on me, throws books out of my lap and into the floor, and demands to be held or nursed all day long. Or she is emptying the bookcases. Or climbing up the kitchen table. There is no good place for her to be. It has ever been such in this house, but having students trying to complete work magnifies this reality.

I don't have the margin to properly plan and implement high school right now. I don't have the margin to properly plan the 90 minutes of music classes I teach twice a month, which is a recurring source of stress for me as I pull lessons out of the air on the fly class after class. I do not want Grace to suffer academically by my misguided attempts to do what I cannot do right now. I have read too many horror show threads about 20 year old homeschooled high school sophomores who have thrown in the towel and are now trying to pass the GED.

Grace will be going to our zoned public high school. I have misgivings. It is a mediocre high school in a mediocre school system. The lunch room isn't big enough to accommodate the students so they spill out into the hallways. They only offer French or Spanish in foreign languages. I have heard other rumors of mismanagement and misplaced priorities. There are worse things, I suppose. We cannot afford a private school or a Catholic school and cannot afford to move into a "good" school zone. It is what it is. This is our only option for high school if I cannot teach it myself. 

My own high school experience was one of extremes. The school itself had both a terrible and an excellent reputation, and both were deserved. You could have a rigorous and demanding academic high school curriculum. You could also slack your way through nothingburger classes and get passing grades for breathing. It really depended on the student and his goals. The way my high school was arranged gave the student more control over his fate than any I have ever seen in a high school since, for good or for ill. If you didn't want to learn, nobody made you and nobody cared. If you wanted to learn, you could and get a fine education. I have a small hope Grace can scrape such an educational opportunity out of the mediocre reputation her high school carries.

However I learned this week the high school will be moving to block scheduling next year. I cannot adequately express my disappointment. I loathe block scheduling. If you are unfamiliar with the term, block scheduling as will be implemented here means that the school day is divided into four classes instead of the traditional six, and the year long credit classes are condensed into a single semester.

Thus you could take Freshman English in the fall for a full credit, not take English in the spring, not take English in the fall, and take Sophomore English the spring after for another full credit. The loss of continuity in the core classes is devastating to the overall education conferred over the entirety of a high school career.  It also handicaps music and art programs because the student cannot afford to spend 25% of his class time in band. There are too many requirements for the other three class slots every semester. I have also heard rumors certain math classes will remain full year classes. I do not know how they handle the old semester long classes I used to take. Surely they don't cram them into nine weeks, but maybe they do? The distortions introduced into what should be a well-rounded education are many.

They claim the same amount of material is covered due to the intensive hours spent during the single semester. I do not believe this for one moment. Dave has taught in block-scheduled high schools. What actually happens is the attention span of the students is spent in the normal amount of time and the rest of the class period is study hall. The amount of material covered for the full credit is significantly less. The real "benefit" of block scheduling is never having homework. Now I hate homework with the best of them, but I realize this is the trade-off.

It feels helpless to send a child into an educational morass that you know will not provide what you hoped you could give, but we will have to make the best of it.

As it happens, I am hosting the bookclub this month for the upper elementary set. The book we are reading this month is _From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler_ by E.L. Konigsburg. Towards the end of the book, I discovered a paragraph that exactly expresses why I find block scheduling and the compression of classes so objectionable:

     Claudia said, "But, Mrs. Frankweiler, you should want to learn one new thing every day. We did even at the museum."
     "No," I answered, "I don't agree with that. I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."

I believe in the slow, bite-sized integration of knowledge over time. It is how I arrange my homschool. Block scheduling feels hollow to me. It is the opposite of knowledge integration. It seems designed to cram information for the end of term test with no real concern about retention or long term knowledge. The long and steady laying of a foundation to enable life-long learning is tossed in favor of the box-checking rat race. The slow soak is out of style.

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