The Definitive Answer to the Public, Private or Home School Question

WE HAVE FINALLY FIGURED IT OUT. The answer regarding which is BEST — public school, private school or homeschool. After having our children in a cumulative 54 YEARS of school (five kids is a lot of kids, guys), we know the definitive answer, which is YES.

Question: Which is best — public, private or homeschool?
Answer: Yes. All of the above. Depending on the child, the year, the circumstances, the environments, the family, and the outside challenges, yes; each of them is the VERY BEST option.

Please understand; no one is more disappointed by this answer than I am. I was raised, after all, to believe in SYSTEMS. There are Good Systems and Bad Systems. My main job was to revere and adhere to the good ones like Evangelical Christianity, Public School, Republicanism, and Making My Bed Every Day.

Clearly, I failed.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now, we’ve had our kids mostly in Public School over the years. We’re big fans of public schools. We’ve always voted for school bond measures and support tax increases that benefit public schools, even during the years we had kids in private school, because school bonds and paying for public education benefit all of us. In fact, we’re dismayed by reports this week that the federal government plans to gut public school funding and are wholeheartedly against Betsy DeVos’ plan which will undermine them horribly. Because blech.

So we’ve mostly had kids in Public School… and one kid in Private. But at least I didn’t do anything TOO radical like homeschool, you know? I had boundaries. LIMITS.

I mean, I wasn’t opposed to homeschooling in principle. I understand people can homeschool effectively. Especially if those people have things like a background in education and, well, patience.

I, on the other hand, LOVE sending my kids to school-school where school = Anywhere But My House.

I am the parent who NEVER CRIED on the first days of preschool.

I am the parent who ONLY LAMENTED PRESCHOOL DAYS WEREN’T LONGER.

I especially love school-school for the teachers. The TEACHERS, friends — real, not make-believe, who dedicate their WHOLE LIVES to educating our kids, preparing them for a future the teachers often don’t get to see. Yes; teachers are real but also MAGICAL. Teacher-fairies, if you will. And teacher-fairies put up with a LOT. Ever-changing rules, administrations, and markers for student success. They put up with PARENTS. They work weeknights and weekends and spend money from their own pockets to subsidize what kids don’t receive from the school budget. They receive lower rates of pay than jobs that require the same amount of education. And most of them are GOOD AT IT. Like, really great. Showing up day after day as a holy calling.

I, on the other hand, am not a teacher. Not by education. Not by calling. Not by talent. There are no teacher-fairies in this house. Which is why I decided to never, ever, EVER pull my kids from school-school and homeschool them.

^^^That’s what I said for YEARS.^^^

And I was RIGHT.

Except I just pulled my kid from school and I’m homeschooling him.

In retrospect, I’ve identified how this happened and will disclose it so you can avoid the same mistake: When our kids started school 100,000 years ago, we made a commitment to evaluate on an ongoing basis what each child needs from her or his education. <– That’s our problem, right there. Treating kids like individuals who may have different needs at different times.

And this kid? He needs to be home for a while.

We tried to get around it. We tried to delay and avoid going to HOMESCHOOL EXTREMES. But he asked on repeat that we reconsider. He wants freedom to fly through a higher math curriculum. He wants a break from the anxiety of attempting scholastic perfection. He wants to conduct computer and science experiments and to build a fort in the backyard. He wants more time to read for pleasure. It became more and more challenging to look this kid in the eye — this kid who adores learning, and is motivated, and already performs in the 99th percentile in his grade in every subject — and give him a reasonable answer as to why he couldn’t try. HE WORE US DOWN is what I’m saying.

So even though he had a teacher-fairy who was working her fairy magic…

And even though his twin brother is still going to the school-school…

And even though the school year is almost over…

And even though he has a mother who is not a teacher-fairy AT ALL…

Here we go. Homeschool is upon us.

It’s been just over a week now.

On morning one, I woke up with tiny thoughts of dread, like “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” And, “I CANNOT DO THIS.” And, “THERE IS A REASON TEACHERS ARE TEACHERS. It’s because they have an AFFINITY FOR TEACHING, and TALENT, and EDUCATION TO BACK THOSE UP. On the other hand, Beth, YOU ARE A FOOL AND A PRETENDER and YOU ARE GOING TO RUIN YOUR CHILD.”

And then Cai, the 4th grader, walked into my room and said, “OK, Mom, I have the schedule all figured out. I’ll be reading a time travel series for Free Reading time, and working on dividing fractions as a refresher for math in preparation for the more extensive curriculum you’ve ordered, but then I need you to take me to the library so I can study 19th Century French Architecture. Unless we already have a curriculum on 19th Century French Architecture somewhere around the house? No? Then definitely the library, Mom.”

And I thought, like I often do with parenting, “Hm. OK, then. Maybe I won’t screw this up quite so bad if I just get out of his way.”

So that’s the new plan. We’re homeschooling — the Thing I Said I’d Never Do. And maybe I can get far enough out of my kid’s way so he can fly.

So far, he’s studying exponents, chemistry via bread baking, touch typing, magnets, hard drives, and, of course, 19th Century French Architecture.

He’s happier than I’ve seen him for months. More confident. More engaged. More interested in learning.

And that — definitively — is the RIGHT school choice. At least for that kid. For now.

With love, friends,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
14 comments
  1. Yes, this! This is fantastic. All the schools rock and suck and rock and suck. And this almost perfectly captures it (except for the truly terrible parts, which they all have in equal measure, but not equally for all kids).

  2. What homeschooling is like in my house is that my children ask ALL THE QUESTIONS (mostly about dinosaurs at this stage if I’m honest), and I try my best to answer ALL THE QUESTIONS with openness and honesty (and lots of Googling of dinosaurs). Somewhere along the way I try to sneak in time to sit by myself and knit. The end.

    In real life, my kids are 6 and 7 years old and it’s perfectly natural for dinosaurs to be involved in 80% of their utterances and I’m doing a decent job shoehorning natural history, biology, etymology, the scientific method, and historiography in there by making them tangents off of dinosaurs.

    But I am still TERRIFIED that I’ll look around in ten years and suddenly realize we completely overlooked something really important. Like I will sit bolt upright in bed some 3am in 2027 and cry out, “WAIT! We never covered how to make change!!”

  3. Aww Mama… our homechool journey started with my son being expelled from school because the school insisted upon having him medicated for ADHD (which the psychiatrist we were paying out of pocket for him to see said he DIDN’T HAVE,) and when the ADHD meds kicked in and turned him into a demon spawn straight from the depths of a medicine bottle, couldn’t handle his tantrums.

    Our troubled relationship with public school was more complex than that of course, but that’s the gist of it… And homeschooling was the best thing we could’ve done. It took over a year to detox, but once he got through that stage… it was like watching a flower open up and bloom.

    Best of luck with your garden. You’re going to be amazing. And you’re going to be just fine. <3

  4. Once upon a time there was a mother who said, “My kid will NEVER go to boarding school.” The kid went to boarding school. The End.

    1. Once upon a time a mother offered to homeschool her daughter in her junior year. The daughter chose private school instead, but lasted only one semester after losing all will to live when she didn’t make the cheer squad for basketball season. Soccer season was over and the Sharks didn’t have a football team; we were Baptists. She didn’t make it at try-outs because some coaches hated her, probably, in part, for hanging out with kids who did things like smoke herbs, drop acid, skip school and have access to their own apartments. Her mother could not get the !,000 deposit back for her junior abroad trip that was scheduled for the next semester to England. The girl would not trade the experience for a minute, and her mother has already forgotten the lost adventure deposit. The girl has still never been to England.

    2. Yep — that’s what mama said, ’til I begged and begged. She let me go and I (mostly) loved it. KIDS. What are you gonna do??

  5. I went the opposite path – I was homeschooled myself, and started homeschooling my three. This year, the ten-year-old and her seven-year-old twin siblings are all in public school, and in spite of my deeply ingrained (brainwashed is too loaded…) misgivings about the system (some of which I still have – never skip recess, people!), we are all much happier. It never occurred to me that there were people in the world who think that a day with twenty-five first-graders is a day well spent.

    Also, Google “McMansion Hell” and poke around before you let Cai loose in it. She has some excellent history of architecture posts with a millennial approach (tfw Inigo Jones throws shade at Christopher Wren), as well as weekly critiques of a mcmansion that’s currently on the market with tons of sarcasm and irony. I think it’s right up Woolsey Alley.

  6. Wait. There are self-motivated kids?! I didn’t know this when I started! I mean I was kinda self-motivated…pretty much until I had kid. But other ones come pre-programmed for self-motivation?

    Get what I get? Aren’t we playing with Mulligans?! I need a Mulligan! Same kid…but maybe a bit of this motivation thing?

    (But seriously, I kinda want to be you when I grow up. You are rocking the parent thing.)

  7. May the teaching fairy leave you gifts as you sleep, lol! At least you know that you are already good at dealing with his parents.

  8. You may not be a teacher-fairy, but you are killing the mom thing!!! Giving each just what they need when they need when they need it and reevaluating along the way sounds just about perfect. And one of my best friends who is one of the most gifted teacher-fairies I know does exactly what you are doing. Four kids, with a mixture of public, private and homeschooling. They are some of the smartest humans I know. Way to go, Beth!

  9. Oh, and I have been holding the thought of homeschooling in the back of my mind for my sweet, bright, curious, anxious, wonderful 5th grader who struggles with Dysgraphia and a very real anxiety disorder. So far he really wants to stay in school-school (which tries — mightily with great staff who work hard — but remains a system that rewards those who are non-LD by default) and I too am no teacher fairy (!!), so we shall see …

  10. Yay! Fly, Cai! Fly!

  11. Oh, I am laughing so hard at the last part! Who DOESN’T have literature on 19th Century French Architecture sitting around?!? Your kid sounds amazing. It really seems like you made the best decision, Beth, it does. I know there be times when you will want to scream, and question all of your life’s decisions, but you CAN do this. Especially since he sounds very self motivated. Which reminds me, where can I get one of those? We pulled our oldest out two weeks ago due to teacher issues (long story, won’t bore you with it), but she is noooot self motivated where learning is concerned. Le sigh.

    1. Hahahaha! I DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET MOTIVATED KIDS. 2 out of 5 of my kids are self-motivated. The other 3 are like me. 😀 As far as I can tell, on this and every other parenting subject, it’s pot luck. You get what you get. In conclusion, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ — and wishing you all the best.

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