Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Living in the Gray Zone Between Classroom Education and Homeschooling

I live in a gray area between the belief that with reform, our education system can address the needs of our learners and the idea that a student is best served not as a student, but as a child being taught by an interested, engaged parent at home. Occasionally, these worlds collide when I am least expecting it. Sometimes, by a well meaning, smart, caring colleague who asks a good question.

"Is he learning?" the question hung in the air. This question came after complimenting me and my job share partner on our work at PACT and asking how my son liked PACT.

I looked at my colleague who asked the question and then across the desk at my job share partner and fellow homeschooling mom, Tracy. I replied with something like, "Yes, don't you know who his mom is? The kid is ready for 11th grade English ... today he dissected a prompt." We all smiled and laughed.

His question stuck with me all day. 

Is he learning? The question didn't anger me. It felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. When my son was in a charter school classroom and then a traditional classroom, that question is not something anybody ever asked me as his parent.

The belief that the system had trained his teachers to teach, that the system would ensure that his teacher would teach him, and that he would learn, prevented that question from being asked to me.

He wasn't the first to ask me the question. "Is he learning?" or "How do you know he is learning?" It is often asked by people in my life who are curious about measuring growth outside of the system.

That afternoon, I watched as Robert answered his question.

I spent the day at home watching Robert use salt dough clay, a knife, and paper to create his own topographic map. Later that night, he responded to the first reader comment on his blog, All Things Boss,  and I overheard him talking to his non homeschooling friend about how, "... our current war is a war against terrorists and that it is unclear if there is a way to win." while his friend patiently listened. Before bed, we decided his second blog post would include a You Tube video about his Nerf gun collection.

It has only been since I started homeschooling that I can confidently answer those questions. YES he is learning. I see it every day. I see it in a way that no test or assessment can measure. I am intimately aware of his progress and growth in a way that I could not have been when he was in the classroom or that I could ever have been with the 180 students that sat in front of me when I was a classroom teacher.

While I was at home watching him learn, students in classrooms were starting the 7 hour process of standardized testing that will answer this question.

Next year, when Robert is old enough for SBAC testing I won't opt out. He doesn't have any disabilities that prevent him from showing his learning in this format and test taking is a skill that I want him to have experience in before he is in a high risk testing situation.

For those who are NOT intimately connected to his growth and progress, it can serve as a measuring stick. It is one way for me to view him through their eyes.

As much as I live in the gray area between school and homeschooling, so does he.

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