This is the first of what will be a three-part series on our choices regarding schooling our children. (Part Two and Part Three)
I've written before about the fact that when Craig and I embarked on this journey of parenthood, I didn't really think all that much about things like labor, delivery, breastfeeding, etc...we've always settled into what seems to have worked for our family.
When it came to sending our children to school, I had some pretty strong opinions on some things and not on others. Those opinions are still strong today, however they have changed a bit.
Background: I attended a Head Start preschool program. Then I attended public school in kindergarten and half of first grade. I attended Catholic school from first grade through eighth grade. I attended public high school. My husband attended Catholic school first grade through high school.
I don't remember Craig's opinion on school before we began. I know that we've acted together and have been equally committed to each of the decisions we've executed with regards to our children's education. But I can't remember if he had much opinion one way or the other before we had any kids in school.
My first thought about educating my children was that I didn't care whether we sent them to Catholic school. My experience in Catholic school wasn't something I looked upon all that fondly. To be fair, my life turned upside down with the separation and divorce of my parents in second/third grade and growing up without a father present in my day-to-day life was bound to take its toll on my happiness meter. I can't blame Catholic school entirely for the fact that my childhood is not something about which I reminisce. However, being in Catholic school didn't particularly help me out in that department either.
Kids are kids. And they are that regardless of whether they attend Catholic school or not. Kids can be cruel. And they can be cruel even as they have been raised in a family that would be mortified to learn of their cruelty.
My attitude at first about educating my children was pretty much this: At least at a public school, I wouldn't have to heal hurts inflicted by other children who were supposedly being raised with the same value and faith system with which my children were being raised.
For some reason, it seemed to hurt me more (so I thought) to deal with other Catholic kids in a Catholic school ridiculing me than it would have to deal with supposedly non-Catholic kids in a public school environment doing the same. I'm not saying I was right to make such an assumption and I'm not saying it makes perfect sense either. All I knew was that I went to Catholic school where I was on the receiving end of some perceived injustices and life would have been better (in my broken opinion) if I wouldn't have been at a Catholic school receiving such treatment.
Of course, when Sarah was first born (and then Dani), school wasn't the first thing on our minds. But it became something we began considering as we learned NFP and, for the first time, came into contact with families that educated their children at home.
I was fascinated by the idea of homeschooling. It was so foreign to me. Sure, I knew of one or two families growing up that took their children out of our Catholic school to homeschool, but I never got to see those kids again. I was, after all, in Catholic school and when you're a kid, you see other kids (not in your family) at school and that's pretty much it. I have a picture of me with a very good friend named Kristine at my First Holy Communion. I think the next school year, her family (they had 9 children I think) began homeschooling and I never saw her again.
Anyway, the couple that taught Craig and me NFP homeschooled. I also worked with a man who, with his wife, had 8 children and I knew they homeschooled. Just so happens the man I worked with and the man in the teaching couple were very good friends. So, through the process of learning NFP, we became friends with both of these families. Our lives have been blessed beyond measure to know these holy people. I wanted our family to be just like their families. I wanted my children to be just like their children. I thought the way to do that was to homeschool.
I had an experience while at Adoration one fall evening in which I thought I heard the call clearly that Craig and I needed to get to a position where we would homeschool. Craig was working part-time at the casino, waiting for a chance to go full-time. I was in a job I enjoyed but that had stagnated with regards to opportunities to advance. I wanted very much to find a way that we could homeschool.
I thought homeschooling was the way to get my family to be a truly holy family. I thought it would help my family be like the two families I mentioned. We could have a complete and authentic Catholic curriculum. I wouldn't have to worry about anyone telling my child one thing and doing something completely different in the context of their personal life. Craig and I were learning so much about our faith at this time and I was bound and determined to ensure my children grew up knowing what I was now learning.
If I homeschooled my children, they would never wander away from the Church because I thought I would be able to protect them from influences that would lead them away.
Looking back, I see an awful lot of pride and a lack of humility in my intentions.
I feel compelled to state that many of the homeschooling families I know are very humble and not prideful. My statement there is truly about me and where my heart was at the time. Back then I wouldn't have thought myself prideful...but I know I was.
Three main issues came up that kept us from homeschooling.
First, my level of education (MBA) was an obstacle to what I wanted for the first time in my life. My salary, let alone my earning potential, was larger than my husband's. I had a strong desire to be the main teacher for the children, however there was no way I could become a stay-at-home mom so that I could educate my children. We busted our budget over and over again. Yes, we removed lots of luxury type things -- cable, dance lessons, volleyball for me and golf for Craig -- but no matter what we did, there was no way we were gonna make it on Craig's income alone from being a dealer at the casino. It just wasn't going to happen. I have student loans (written in present tense because I am still paying on them). We had some other debt (written in past tense because we no longer have any other debts). It was all too much to just say "buh-bye" to my income.
Secondly, Sarah needed a traditional school environment. I couldn't see it so much when she was three and four. But as she neared school age, I couldn't deny that Sarah's brain is wired for a traditional school environment. She loves routine. She loves goals. She loves to read. She loves to excel. She loves to be recognized. Yes, she loves to be recognized by someone other than her mother and father. She likes to perform. She loves to make new friends. She loves the extra-curricular activities that go with school. At first it was Girl Scouts (we don't do scouts anymore, but Sarah enjoyed it). Now it's Challenge Club and Volleyball and Choir. Seeing Sarah now, I can see that she would feel suffocated and stifled in a homeschool environment. And now I see that all my children (so far) thrive in a traditional school environment. Dani enjoys the social outlet that the traditional school environment supplies. Time will tell with Helen, but so far, school (she's been in preschool) has provided an environment that tames her wild heart a little bit. Where I fail to teach her things as her mother (because Helen knows how to push my buttons and I haven't figured out how to deactivate my buttons), the teachers succeed.
Perhaps I see things this way because we've gone the traditional school route, but I have to say that I'm glad I didn't test those waters.
Finally, Craig and I needed the school environment. What I should say is that Craig and I needed THE RIGHT school environment. I've come to see that just any school environment wasn't going to cut it. As I mentioned, even at the beginning, I wasn't sold on a Catholic education for my children. The fact that I am now in the camp that I will sacrifice to continue to provide a Catholic education for my children through high school is testament to the fact that we've found THE RIGHT environment for us. Ultimately, God led us where we needed to be to have the school environment that brings us the most peace.
Read Part Two...