Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adopting a School?

I ran across this article in October when I was catching up on some e-journals from 9 Marks. Justin and I were on our anniversary trip in our cabin (where we got some great time to sit in peace and quiet to read!!!) and I kept saying, "That is so incredible! What a practical ministry to the community!" I hadn't started this blog yet, so it got pushed to the back of my mind until it got reposted a few days ago on a favorite website of mine, The Gospel Coalition.       

The rundown is that in 2004 a church felt convicted that they "were not displaying the generosity of the gospel to [their] community". They wanted to make a tangible difference so people would ask what compelled them to love so freely. This conviction lead to an opportunity to help an elementary school in their community that was probably going to be shut down in 2 years at the rate it was going. It was the worst performing school in county. 
"Over the next several years we led several innovative projects for that school. Many of our people started tutoring children. Small groups adopted classrooms and teachers, housed refugees, and met physical needs of families in the school. One soon-to-be-married couple in our church asked that any gifts for their marriage be redirected to a family in the school whose house had been destroyed in a fire. 
As that first year ended, the principal asked if we would pray for her kids during the end-of-year exams because the school would be evaluated chiefly by their scores. We gladly obliged.
By the fourth year of our involvement, the school had the highest percentage of kids pass their end-of-year exams of any school in the county. And the principal officially credited the church's efforts with helping to improve the school's academic performance. [1] At a subsequent teacher's banquet, one of the teachers said, 'I have always known you Christians believed you should love your neighbor, but I've never known what it looked like until now.' "

What's amazing about this story is that it doesn't just stop there. Improved lives and test scores are great things, but the opportunity that followed was even more amazing than anyone at the church expected: an open invitation to share the Gospel with the entire city. The pastor recalls: 
"In front of our entire city government, I explained that our church's generosity was a response to the radical generosity of Christ toward us. Christ had done for us what we could not do for ourselves, so how could we not extend that to those in need? When I finished, the school board, mayor, and city council gave a standing ovation. 
...The work of the local church is to proclaim the gospel and makes disciples. But the effective witness of Christians must contain both word and deed. Without word, there is no gospel. Without deed, we fail to confirm our testimony with our lives. As Francis Schaeffer famously said, the love on display in and through the church is Christ's 'final apologetic' to a skeptical world."  
I was drawn to this story because it reaffirms what I feel about getting involved in the community as a part of a philosophy of education. Teaching the next generation to serve unconditionally is a dying art these days. What a great testimony of this church to get everyone involved in a school that needed help. They didn't just throw money at the situation and hope things would get better. They got to know people and CARED about them on a very personal level because Christ did it for them first. I would wager that a lot of these people who did this didn't even have kids in that school or even lived in that area. These Christians have radically transformed the educational experience of both parents and children in their city. This article is a good reminder of our role in our own communities.    

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Education: Here and Now (Part 3)

Not my child, but a cute one!
People often ask me why we're choosing to homeschool, and I wish I could explain to them as thoroughly as I did to you in Part 1 and Part 2. To fully explain our decision in a few soundbites or a long Facebook post, can't be done. However, our reasons do seem to fit into two categories -- academic and social. I'm going to layout the academic position here in Part 3 and the social position in Part 4.

Please know that these are the conclusions for OUR family, I am NOT trying to put anyone down for the educational decisions for HIS/HER family as everyone's circumstances are different. I just think it makes sense for me to explain why so you'll have a context for future posts on philosophy.    
Class Size
If it's just you and your children the teacher to student ratio is pretty small. Even if you go to a co-op class in the community (which we will do), they're intentionally small. The implications of this are pretty obvious, the overall quality of teaching improves when you can give more individual attention to a student. I could be wrong, but I think most teachers would agree with that. Our goal is to train our girls to do work with confidence yet always have the freedom to ask for help whenever it is needed. The bottom line for me is that I can know more intimately when my child has mastered a skill and what we need to continue to work on. That means I do not have to have a ton of paperwork or charts and graphs to know where my child needs improvement. It means I can tailor the curriculum to suit each child's needs and interests best and at her own pace. I don't have to "teach to the middle" like so many teachers are being forced to do out of necessity (class size and the variety of needs in the classroom).     
This is what it felt like almost every day trying to teach literature!
Time to Process
I'll grant that this may be related to me being an English teacher, but when you're reading a weighty book you need time to process. You need some time to think about what you've just read and the wider implications of the text. If you're wired like me you also need time to TALK it out too (drives my husband crazy sometimes!). In my class, genuine teachable moments and deeper conversations were all too often cut off by the bell. The momentum couldn't always be recovered the next day and it certainly didn't go home with most students. I don't want my children's education to be hindered by a bell that says learning a particular subject (even if it's NOT English) has to end. I want to go deep and have fun with our subjects, not just cover what I can before summer hits. Some homeschoolers spend weeks on a subject they're interested in (not the exclusion of all other subjects, just a more specific interest within a particular subject) because they are motivated to learn. Also, the older I get the more I see the need in my own life to slow down and not talk prematurely. Sometimes my initial thoughts and feelings are not fully formed and I would do well to take time to process. As my husband wisely reminds me, it's easy to bypass critical thinking for the quick answer and the fast pace.   

Flexibility and Time Efficiency 
In order for school systems to work you have to have class transitions, assemblies, meetings, discipline, bathroom/locker breaks, etc. I'm not sure how they can avoid this on any given day based on the numbers of students they have to provide for; it's a huge undertaking. I want to trade those hours of transition for school work, co-op classes in my community, playdates, volunteering, relaxation, crafts, meal planning, Bible study, etc. In other words, I get to use time more efficiently to maximize on family discipleship, academics, friends, and straight up fun -- the things we value as a family.  I'm really excited about finding creative new communities for us to become a part of regularly, and as I found out at the homeschool curriculum fair this year, they aren't hard to find in this city! I want my kids to feel free to be a kid without having to go go go go go all day long. Also, after being able to determine my schedule for the past 3 and half years I'm pretty reluctant to let it be dictated by someone else every weekday. Maybe that's the choleric in me talking...      

A Chance to Relearn and Discover
This is really topping my list these days. The wife of one of my favorite professors at Bryan says that she homeschools so she can get smarter :) I am excited that I can learn and connect new things now as I go through curriculum and life in general with my kids! As I have mentioned before, I have always been slow (therefore resistant) in math and science, but I was encouraged when I read an author that said math especially is a subject that needs to be redeemed for the glory of God. He orders our world through math and science, so we have the opportunity to worship Him through that part of His design for Creation. That's a much more compelling case (as opposed to staring a textbook) to relearn some tough stuff! I want the joy of learning, no matter how insignificant the thing might seem, to be natural to our girls!                 

Quality Control
Paycheck cashers. We've all had them. The teachers who choose not to teach well or at all. Even though I have many fond memories of exceptional teachers, I still haven't forgotten the really bad ones. I have spent a lot of time under the tutelage of my husband for some of those "mistreated" areas. Teenagers aren't known for being the best motivated group of people, so the blame does not solely rest on the teacher; however, it's still not a gamble I want to take. 

College Credit Limitations
At my ten year high school reunion I was talking to a classmate of mine who was near the top of the class. He was telling me about his educational shock during his first year at Furman. He started comparing transcripts with his college buddies who talked about how many Dual Enrollment Classes and AP classes they had racked up prior to college. He had to tell them that in our school (one of the biggest and best in the county, I might add) they could only offer so many of those courses; it was not feasible for them to do more with the large class sizes of the regular classes. I sympathized with him and said that of even those small college credit classes offered I could only take one that would have helped toward my major. I don't place the blame on the school system (they can only do so much in this area), but homeschooling doesn't have to worry about that. There are so many online, correspondence, or community college courses available nowadays and CLEP tests for college credit (which was also NEVER promoted as an option in my school), but you have to have a flexible schedule to do many of them. I can do ACT prep for a whole week before my kids have to take the test to improve their chances of getting a better score. With what college costs these days compared to what we live on, taking full advantage of these options will be very important for our family.     

These are just a few main things that came to mind, so if you have more feel free to comment. Stay tuned for Part 4, the social reasons for us wanting to homeschool...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Taking Shape

Over these past few months, I've told you a lot about how our philosophy of education is constantly being shaped for our family, but I wanted to take this opportunity to encourage you to really think about your own philosophy. I say this to EVERY person who is reading this post -- whether you're married, you have kids, you're single, you're a grandparent -- you need to know what you think about learning! Questioning things by rethinking and reevaluating isn't just for the contrarians anymore ;) 

Here are some ways I want to get your started via my blog: 

1. I am starting a monthly series called "Talkin' 'Bout My Education" (with apologies to The Who). Each month I will feature a friend who will guest post something thoughtful concerning education. These people are from all over the country with all different family, educational, and career backgrounds. I have NO idea what they are going to say, but I know that you will be encouraged from their perspective! I'm very excited about this! 

2. I will start up some book reviews periodically. Some will be children's books, some will be pedagogical books, some will be sociological books, some will be hey-I-learned-this-new thing books, etc. I hope to get a bit of something for everyone with the aim in helping your form your own philosophy.         

3. I hope to find some blogs that are of educational interest as well. If you of any good ones, please comment and let me know. I consider my blog to be "Philosophy Lite" as the really really in-depth stuff hurts my head and would probably bore most of you to tears. Justin says I'm trying to be the Malcolm Gladwell of the educational blogging world -- bringing the ideas down from the ivory towers and to the peoples :)   

4. If you're just dying to get started on some of this educational stuff (because I know you are...), here are some questions that Justin and I have come up with for you to ponder or write out answers to. If you're married I would encourage you to talk to your spouse about these questions. Feel free to comment on here as well.   
  • What were the pros and cons of your own education?
  • How as a culture did we move away from lifelong learning to the K-12 model?
  • When you were in school did you ever think about what you wanted out of your education?
  • How did we go from the John Adamses of the world (self-taught, read Cicero for fun by candlelight) to begging kids to graduate high school?
  • If you had teachers that inspired you, what was it about them that created that fondness?
  • Why did your parents choose to educate you the way they did (if you're a parent/grandparent, why did you choose what you did for your children?)?   
  • If you're a parent of young children, what does a success in education look like for them?  
Happy thinking!  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians

Being trained for Secondary English, I always loved teaching classics like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, but had virtually no exposure to children's literature. That is until I actually had children. Then I found myself on my own in the library overwhelmed in the children's section trying to figure out what "my style" was. Do most people care what their style is when it comes to children's books or is that a strange habit of mine? Ironically, the ones I liked best have never been on anyone's top reading lists. They are simply ones that I pulled off the shelf, leafed through and "tried out" on my now 3 year old.

I've discovered that I really enjoy unique illustrations coupled with a zany story. Stop That Pickle is about as good as it gets. The Green Gourd is hysterical with its outrageous Appalachian dialect. Hamburger Heaven is a creative rhyming story with clever pictures. However, the book I am about to review is actually not a zany story at all; it's a story that is deeper than one or two readings will give you. I don't usually go for the sentimental stuff, but what this story taught me about community was too good to not share here. 

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris is about a little guy named Melvin who is inquisitive, somewhat absent-minded, and very into books. He practically lives in the library as he goes there most days after school. Whenever he has a question he asks the three librarians (Marge, Betty, and Leona) who each go out of their way to help him find the answers he is looking for. 

The book follows Melvin grade by grade as he receives all kinds of help and encouragement from these three very different women. They cheer for Melvin at the library, from their homes, and at the academic events Melvin gets involved in. The women are invested in Melvin because he respects them, he loves to learn, and oozes with curiosity. What adult wouldn't want to be this kid's friend? Over time, these women who have helped Melvin become a life-long learner and public servant, see the fruits of their labor when Melvin comes back to work at the library that gave him his start. Though, I suspect that even if Melvin hadn't become a librarian, they would have helped him just the same because that's community, folks! I really was delighted to happen upon this book because it features positive role models and a positive view of learning (not making it "nerdy") without being cliche.    

Aside from the story, the illustrations are fantastic. I found myself looking over the detailed expressions of the librarians, their outfits, and graceful age progression. 

After going to preschool time at our own local library every week, I know the Melvins and special librarians of the world are still out there today!     

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Crank to Thank

I had originally planned a rather ornery post about our bloated American society, but my tooth changed my heart. Don't get me wrong, I am still sick of Black Friday attitudes and our culture of indulgence as it relates to passing those habits onto our children, but I'm just going to leave in the draft folder for now :) 

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that I have had some major teeth problems this year. Actually that's a big understatement. Try 3 root canals with 3 crowns still needing to be done in January when the insurance resets. Make sure you read the whole rundown so you actually understand why I am thankful for my teeth.

Mid-September: My jaw feels bruised and it hurts to swallow on one side. After a day or two of Ibuprofen Justin and I look up abscessed tooth on Google. Yep. Consult with an old church friend who is a dental hygienist  She told me that I needed to get on some antibiotics ASAP. That made me feel much better. 

Late September: Went into the hygienist's office to confirm I needed a root canal on my tooth with a crown. X ray said heck yes. After many phone calls I found out that their billing was broken up by procedures instead of a lump sum and I would be paying more out of pocket to go there. Had to pay $50 for the X-ray though. Since the slight delay from going to the first dentist because I didn't understand billing and procedures I was on round 2 of the antibiotics. Got the pulp treatment done from the endodontist with no problems.

Mid-October: After a week of coming off the antibiotics I still was feeling sluggish. Called the endodontist and he prescribed Round 3 -- a stronger antibiotic. 

Late October: Since I was coming in to finish up the root canal for the one tooth he said he would take a look at the two teeth I was going to have to get crowns on. He said both teeth needed root canals. Sadly signed the piece of paper with the billing amount (insurance was maxed out) and got those treated. A few days later I will still going down hill, so I got round  4 of antibiotics. Pretty sure I had no bacteria left in my body at this point. My father-in-law offered to do bloodwork at his office if I didn't feel better by Christmas.    

Early November: After flossing one night about 1/4 of my molar broke off. The next morning I called so I could have the endodontist smooth the tooth and put more temporary filling material over it. I cried a good bit before I called though. I was so tired of saying, "it could be worse" and it ACTUALLY getting worse. The next day I got a call saying they could squeeze me in to finish up my root canals. The next day my beautiful crown that he had to drill through came off, so I had to get squeezed into my dentist's office on Monday to get it put back on. The next day part of my filling in one of the molars fell out leaving a hole in my tooth.    

Today (Late November): Went into for the endodontist's last appointment for the day because my molar with the filling missing was acting up. The dentist extracted a somewhat detached part of my tooth that was apparently jabbing into my gum every time I bit down. Had no idea it was that bad.  

I am going into my regular dentist on Monday to get posts and build ups for those teeth, so I can make it through Christmas when I can have the crowns done. 

So why did I tell you all this? Because it reminded me of how cranky I was yesterday about our Black Friday culture, completely forgetting about the blessings at my doorstep. 
  • I had a husband who took time off of work almost every time he could (though it put him behind at work) to help me get better. He works 40+ hours every week to provide the funds for my teeth though he has only had one filling his entire life.
  • I had parents who work from home and were able to adjust their schedules to watch the girls for some of the other procedures.
  • I had people at church praying for me and asking me how I was doing every Sunday. One of my biggest prayer warriors was a retired dental hygienist. I also had several friends ready to commiserate because they were going through root canals or having major tooth work done.      
  • I got to know the staff at the endodontist's office and have conversations about Christ (hey, they played CCM the whole time!). Turns out both the doctors and all the staff are Christians.
  • I did not have to worry about finances because we had socked back some savings. However, even if we did not have the means to pay I knew of several ways the Lord would have graciously provided the funds.
  • We opened up new culinary possibilities after making all kinds of soups when I couldn't eat much else. 
  • My mind kept going back to a thankfulness for convenience. If someone can watch my kids, I can just walk into a an office and get the treatment I need. The church we partner with in Haiti (to my knowledge) has still not been able to get a dentist to come to the medical clinic because they do not have infrastructure for one. As an American, I literally can't imagine dealing with such agonizing pain and having no way to treat it.             
I have much to be thankful for this year through this unexpected 2 months of life lessons. I hope my children will learn that if they focus on how Jesus is actively working in their lives, even in the most frustrating situations of dental hopelessness, He will prove faithful.   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Papaw: Education Through a Life Well Lived

Some of you may have seen this last year when I linked it on Facebook, but Justin's tribute to his grandfather bears repeating. The "education" Justin received from Papaw was one that can never be matched. I got to know all about Papaw when Justin and I were dating. In fact, I probably knew more about Papaw than most other members of Justin's family if only from the numerous stories Justin told me. Once I actually met Papaw, it wasn't hard to see why Justin admired him so much; he truly walked his humble Christian talk every day. 

Justin used to take his college buddies to Papaw's house in Georgia to get away from college life so they could experience the slow pace of small town life. There are not many young adults that can get friends to go visit their grandparent's homes for fun, but Papaw was different in Justin's mind.  

Justin proposed to me in Papaw's front yard where his dad proposed to his mom. When your husband thinks the most romantic spot in the world is in his grandpa's front yard, you can tell how much the man means to him. That's not to diss Justin's choice because in the moment he proposed I knew in an instant WHY he chose that spot. Papaw's house had so much history and so much of his life's education wrapped up in it. It was the kind of thing only his novelist's heart could sense and Justin knew I would sense it too.  

Without further ado, here is the loving piece that Justin wrote after Papaw passed away:          
I’ve heard it said that the chain of wisdom always skips a generation; that the lessons of lives long lived are instilled in grandchildren by their grandparents while their parents are working to make ends meet. 
That’s not to say that our parents are not wise, rather that our ability to absorb their wisdom as children is clouded by familiarity, authority, and selfishness–we’re predisposed to doubt what they tell us until we grow up to realize they knew exactly whereof they spoke. In the time between birth and that epiphany of maturity, God interposes grandparents.
Maybe we listen to them because they’re a curiosity–we don’t see them daily as we do our parents, their gray hair and glasses make them seem softer, their habits and customs from an earlier time are both confusing and inviting. Maybe we let them teach us because they offer us love with an infinite patience bolstered by the peace and quiet of living somewhere else (without kids) most of the time. Whatever the reasons, this cross-generational transfer of wisdom seems to be part of the design of life.
 I’m thinking about this now because my grandfather passed away yesterday at the age of 86, and it’s hard to look at my life and values without seeing his fingerprints everywhere.
A child of the Depression, he taught me that the pursuit of “stuff” was futile and that the simple joys of life are the most enduring: growing your own vegetables, chopping your own firewood, cooking good food and eating the leftovers all week long, and spending evenings with card games and conversation. These habits forged in hard times are as necessary today as ever.
He taught me that life is best enjoyed slowly through his hobbies: fishing from the bank with a cane pole and live bait; taking long walks to no place in particular; working crossword puzzles on the front porch. 
Even though he only went through eleven grades before finishing high school, he taught me that life is an ongoing lesson. He was always reading a book or two about whatever caught his fancy. He loved to travel and find out what people were like in different parts of the country and the world by striking up conversations with total strangers (I remember the time he asked a rather stunned coffee-shop waitress in Milo, Maine what kind of crops they grew in that area). He consistently took an avid interest in my school work, even if my lifelong inability to grasp math puzzled him. 
By his service in the army at the end of World War II and the stories he told about that, he taught me the value of being a part of something bigger than yourself and of forging lifelong friendships with those who share a difficult experience with you. Even after a year in Japan, he came home to Pine Mountain, and more or less stayed put for the rest of his life. In that, he taught me what a community was and why it was worth putting up with the bad and the ugly to be a part of the good. 
Through his daily routines he gave form to generosity and neighborliness. He shared the overflow of his garden with anybody who drove by. He took in more dogs over the years on his little country road corner than most animal shelters. He would insist (to the point of argument) on paying for our family’s meals when we ate out together. In short, he knew that money and possessions make us happier when we use them primarily to meet needs and give good gifts to others. 
By his commitment through thick and thin, choir, Sunday school, VBS, and Wednesday suppers, he taught me the vitality and value of the local church. Following Christ is not something we can do in private, and he loved his church, warts and all, for decades. 
When I think about all these things and more as the memories wash over me, I recognize that most of the areas of my life that are distinctly “me” are often my subconscious attempts to be like him. The world of today is a far cry from his rural Georgia upbringing, but the person that made him is a type of man the world needs more of. I only hope the Lord sees fit to bless me with a life long enough to pass some of these things on to my own grandchildren some day.
Every time I read Justin's tribute I think about the legacy I am leaving. Are you? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Education: Teaching in Public School (Part 2)

Part 1 explained my educational background and how that inspired me to be a teacher. Here's the story of my 3 year teaching career and how it impacted my decision to homeschool. Hope you have an hour or so to read it. If you don't, just read a little, take a bathroom break, and then finish reading :)  

Well, every day was not the Mr. Kotter vision I had hoped for, but I think I came close a few times in Yearbook and my 11th grade English classes. Achieving my goal of "mentor and teacher" was a lot harder to manage because I was only 7ish years older than most of my students. At 22 I wanted them to take me seriously, so it was hard to let down my guard down. Darn you, Mr. Kotter, for making teaching look so easy and wonderfully sarcastic!   

 A lot went on in those 3 years and I was privileged to teach basically whatever grade/standard appropriate English-related thing I wanted (not something you hear from most teachers in the system these days). I got the impression from the administration that if  a) the parents didn't complain and b) everything on the Gateway and Writing Assessment was covered, the rest was up to me. A nice vote of confidence, but a little daunting at times since there was so much to choose from within those parameters. My first year was basically "survival mode" using the same textbook from when I was in school 10 years ago -- kind of nostalgic really. 

The best thing I ever assigned were the short journals the students wrote two or three times a week; it really helped me see their "process," know what was relevant to them, and get a feel for their writing style. It also helped me give better feedback to parents about their child's ability to interact with the readingsThe journaling also gave me an extra outlet to encourage my students -- no peers were there to judge their comments, just me. It doesn't take long in teaching to figure out that trust is crucial to teenagers. So much of their adolescent life is DRIVEN by peer-dependency, so there weren't a lot of places where they felt safe to share specifics. Having their trust made me be a better teacher to them. 

And, man, did I love my students...and want to strangle my students :) If you don't find something simultaneously compelling and off-putting about teenagers, you can't teach them. I'm going to save up my student stories (both the laughworthy and the heartbreaking) for later blog posts, but just know that they were a huge part of why I love education so much and why I still look back on the years at my school with fondness.        

To that end, I loved doing unique projects that would stretch my students, especially when I saw their excitement from connecting the activity with the text. I loved when they would eagerly talk to me about the positive choices they were making in their lives or their new-found quirky interests because they knew I wanted to affirm them. That was the essential training I learned from my teachers growing up -- shepherd, shepherd, shepherd. However, some days I felt like (whether they realized it or not) I let my students heap more emotional burdens on me than I could handle. It's not like I was ignorant of things like teenage pregnancy, suicide attempts, disturbing violence, excessive profanity, divorced parents, cheating on tests, superficial Christianity, or manipulating other teachers (...the list goes on...). I think it just stings more when it's happening directly to those you're intentionally trying to disciple. I so desperately wanted them to see that through Christ they could make better choices, but that peer dependency was eating them alive. My fresh idealism (that so many new teachers have), was starting to wear down. Every day was a new drama unfolding with unexpected twists and a lot of it left me emotionally drained and ready for prayer or venting when I got home. I wish that I had more often acknowledged that God was in control of my student's lives, not me. It would have lightened my burden considerably and sharpened my focus on the days I felt emotionally overwhelmed. 

In addition to the emotional responsibilities, there were some serious paperwork responsibilities. I had to e-mail progress reports for every student every month or 6 weeks (I can't remember now?) and answer any questions the parents had via e-mail. I also had to grade reading and vocabulary quizzes (for 100 students), homework (for 100 students), tests (for 100 students), long essays (for 100 students), research papers (for 100 students), have separate curriculum for Honors classes, work on the school yearbook, and co-lead National Honor Society. It was a lot of work to manage. 

By my second year, Justin and I were already talking about having kids and I was slowly realizing that there was no way I could do all of the paperwork, read and write new curriculum, help keep the house clean, manage the day-to day needs for our family, and be emotionally available to my husband and children. And I say me, as in me personally because strict organization is not my strong suit (ask my husband who helps out a lot at home!). My co-worker, who was a paragon of organization, seemed to balance everything so well! She was generous to everyone, graded papers diligently, raised a son with special needs, and most likely kept her house clean. I mention that only to say that God gifts and equips people in different ways, but I knew I would personally be overwhelmed and not worth what the school paid me if I added children into the equation of busy teacher. In other words, I could give my all to the kids at school or I could give my all to my own kids. I was not personally capable of "having it all", as they say, and God was pointing out my weakness in organization to show me that I would better serve my family and myself by having a different kind of workload.               

During all this, Justin and I revisited the idea of homeschooling. My eyes were being opened  (uncomfortably so) to some things on a philosophical level after working in the school as opposed to just going to school. Ironically, it had very little to do with the teachers and more to do with the failings of the system itself. It was such a burden off my shoulders to be able to separate in my mind the hard-working teachers I learned from and worked with from the system that so often let them down. Once I started seeing how top-down the educational system was, it made sense why things weren't working efficiently. With layer upon layer of bureaucracy, the buck kept getting passed--both up and down because everyone needed something from the other and neither seemed to actually ever get it! For 3 years, I questioned why there was so much accountability expected and demanded from the teacher's end and very little from the unmotivated parents and students when it came down to it. All of these things were ROOTED in a problem with the school system's watered down educational philosophy -- that success in education amounts to knowing and reciting the right set of facts for grades or test scores. In the pursuit of trying to meet so many needs and put out so many fires, the most crucial thing -- critical thinking -- got lost in the system. It broke down in homes. It broke down in Central Office. It broke down in some classrooms. It was very difficult to teach critical thinking well within the system structure. So much was expected of teachers (especially from absentee parents), that by necessity, the quality of education suffered, but as a teacher you just do the best you can some days. My perspective, of course, is coming from the high school side of things where I saw the culmination of the disconnected educational system, student apathy, and parental neglect and it wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright frustrating a lot of days for everyone involved all the way up until graduation.              

One particular incident during my 2nd year really raised a red flag for me. My principal told that a guardian of a student accused me of physical assaulting her son. If you know me, you know I'm animated, but not naturally a toucher or hugger (Weird, I know. Ask my mom who hates that fact). When you're 23 and your students are only 7 years younger than you, you're better off to give no sign of affection other than smiles and words of affirmation. The situation was dealt with by the principal who knew it had everything to do with my gradebook and nothing to do with my character, but he was wise to give me a warning to stay clear of the disgruntled student because if the guardian had wanted to pursue it I could have lost my license (i.e. my word was worthless next to a student's allegation). After much crying to Justin, I realized how quickly my life could change depending on how far a parent wanted to take his/her threats. That was a was a painful and ugly look at how the school system is forced to operate in these kinds of situations; their hands were essentially tied. I wasn't ready to lose my hard work, my degree, my students, and my reputation for blatant lies.  

However, by the time my contract was up, it was still bittersweet as I tried to deal with both my admiration and sentimentality for public school as well as the stark reality of its flaws. I had so many good memories of students who touched my life in a way I will never forget. I enjoyed so many of my colleagues. I loved to pop in their room or office to chat, get advice, or see them invest in their community. I relished the parents who were really and truly concerned about their children's learning experience in every subject.  I loved people so much that I wasn't sure how I could handle having the hustle and bustle of relationships taken away. I was just hitting my stride and yet I was giving those rights away to become a homeschool mom. I didn't want people to call me a traitor and a hypocrite for choosing a new educational path that didn't involve classroom teaching. Having Christians work in the school system is more needed than ever (and I applaud you teachers reading this for your vital ministry!), but God graciously showed me when my time was up and how through having a relationship with so many teachers that I could still encourage them to be salt and light in their ongoing careers. 

Homeschooling was a decision that Justin and I prayerfully made together (as you will see in Part 3) and I have been amazed at the outpouring of support that we have received from so many (our church, our friends, and most especially both of our parents who are just as excited as we are!). As the days go by, I am more and more confident that in me stepping down from classroom teaching to invest our children and local community, we made the right choice for our family. For the past 3 years, people have reminded me that just because I am not formally teaching does not mean that I cannot use that skill set for the benefit of my children and my community and most of all to glorify God. 

Stay tuned for more specifics on why we wanted to homeschool in part 3 (the academic reasons) and part 4 (the social reasons).     

"He thinks my jumper's sexy..."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stand Up for Public Education

Hooray! Here's my first guest post by a good college friend, Michael Reneau. 
The first time Justin and I got to work with Michael was senior year through newspaper class at Bryan. Justin was editor-in-chief and I helped with layout and article writing. Justin had been doing newspaper for 7 semesters (read -- almost his ENTIRE college career), so he saw his fair share of people who just wanted a credit for the class and had no interest in journalism whatsoever. That was not Michael. This freshman was serious, but showed a rare humility you see in the newspaper biz. He turned in exceptional work on time, every time. Justin and I kept telling him that if we could clone him, his work ethic, and intellect we would so Bryan could always have a stellar newspaper staff. After we graduated from Bryan, Michael eventually did his time as editor and also had an internship at Justin's work doing part missions and part journalism. We went to his wedding to a lovely Bryan girl and watched him transition into a position with a lot of responsibility at the local newspaper. 

Michael and his wife have two boys and he is currently working as a communications director at Summit Ministries in Colorado. His other freelance work and thoughts can be found on his personal blogObviously, Justin and I think very highly of Michael (and his precious family), so I encourage you to keep your eye on his career and future articles because he's definitely going places. 

As for the article itself (written for World on Campus), it's a balanced, well-reasoned articles on the role of the Christian community in education. Enjoy!    

Stand Up For Public Education                          

If you've been on a Christian college campus lately or in a church with educational diversity, you've likely noticed the chasms that can exist between various Christian groups: homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers.
In the last 20 years, differences of temperament and pedagogy have become more apparent. Marvin Olasky acknowledged as much a few weeks ago when he wrote a piece defending WORLD's running a few stories on homeschooling.
Rachel Lonas knows this too. Like me, Rachel spent her K-12 years in public school in Tennessee, then enrolled at a private Christian college where the student body split almost perfectly in three between homeschoolers, private and public schoolers. She earned her bachelor's degree in education then quickly accepted a job in the same school system she grew up in. Six years later, Rachel and her husband have two kids. She's no longer teaching in the public system but will be teaching again soon: she and her husband will homeschool their kids.
Rachel now lives in that tension familiar to so many. Leery of the backlash from her former peers, she readily outlines the advantages homeschooling can provide. "I wanted a high level of discourse for our children, flexibility in schedule, coupled with a Christ-centered structure being prioritized in our home," she told me. "It's not impossible to receive some of those same benefits from a normal classroom, but I know it's a lot harder in traditional schools because everything is so rushed and Christ is generally not welcomed."
I'm familiar with this tension too, albeit in a much less immediate sense. While I was the product of the public education system, my wife is a pedagogical mutt. She spent time in public schools, a Christian private school, and at home educated by her parents. With two young boys, education is on our minds and frequently on our tongues. Armed with our experiences, I would echo the last line of Olasky's piece for WORLD. I am for homeschooling, and I am for private Christian schooling.
But I would also add one more: I am for public schools.
Let me explain.
It's no secret the public education system is broken. Even though I'm proud of the education I received in Chattanooga, Tenn., it seems my case may have been the exception, not the rule. SAT scores among public schoolers are as low as they've ever been. The Washington Post reported in September that only 57 percent of test takers scored high enough to indicate success in college. Flawed as it is to base everything on standardized tests, that's abysmal. Meanwhile, we're spending more tax dollars on public education than we ever have. Obviously, money isn't the magic bullet progressivism claims it is.
So why would I be for public schools? According to the National Center for Education Statistics, we're seeing record enrollment in our public schools this year. Nearly 50 million students have enrolled this fall, compared to only 5.3 million private school students and even fewer homeschool students. Our schools are failing, but they're failing a huge swath of our youth. They're failing young men and women who in a generation will be our elected officials, our civic leaders, our businessmen and women, our kids' teachers and administrators. For a host of reasons, we must admit the public school system won't go away. Too many families can't afford any other option. So, I think the real question is: How can we afford not to be for public schools?
I don't mean that those of us who were homeschooled or private schooled should feel guilt or remorse. I don't mean we young parents should uproot our kids from their current classrooms and toss them into the public school abyss. Of course some may be called to do that. I can attest that a public education won't ruin you.
So how should we be for public schools? Certainly we need Christians teaching in the public school system, and we need Christian administrators in the system. We also need better public education policy. The movement toward charter schools I think is a good one, but it won't be enough.
And certainly we need Christian students in our public schools, being the salt and light the Gospel calls us to. I say that with caution, while urging extreme prudence for parents. Ever since John Dewey became an educational powerhouse in the early 20th century, the rampant secularization of our schools has marched forward relentlessly. You can see what that bankrupt worldview has done to our students. This will not be the best thing for all Christian students, maybe not even most. But it's something we should grapple with.
But one thing we all can do to improve our public schools is to let the spheres of society often left unmentioned by progressives - family, church, and the local community - help correct the problem. Get involved in your neighborhood. So many struggling public school students lack those structures supporting them, hence the untenable growth of the school system's reach.
Rachel Lonas put it well: "I would be remiss if I didn't point to the ultimate solution - keeping strong, supportive families a vital part of the community. Strong families flow from communities that have been touched by the love of Christ. The biggest way to improve schools is through Christians reaching out to their neighbors and tangibly demonstrating a love and concern for them individually, for their marriage, for their children."
That's how we all - private-, home- and public-schooling families alike - should be for public education.
Michael Reneau is communications manager for Summit Ministries, a worldview education ministry based in Manitou Springs, Colo. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelReneau.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Don't Waste Your Halloweens

On Halloween evening I ran across this quote on my husband's Twitter account:

"Halloween is the one day a year in which it is still culturally appropriate to walk up to someone's house uninvited. Don't waste it."

Ouch. That's a definite blow against our American self-sufficiency. Obviously, something that is essential to a strong philosophy of education is understanding community, so that quote really got me thinking...

My husband (Justin) works for a missions agency and we support several missionaries at our own church. This means we get to regularly hear from non-Americans or expatriates on furlough. There are many stories I can tell about how foreigners see our isolated communities, but one that stuck out to me is the time we had some Asian national workers over for dinner. We were talking about how Christianity is perceived in their countries and they told us that if they did what we did (invite people over for dinner -- a group gathering) that they would be intruded upon and interrogated immediately by police officer-types. They said that people (like extended family or friends) drop in all the time and can stay for extended periods of time with little advance warning if any. That would be unheard of, not to mention exasperating -- bordering on rude --  here in America! We have such a freedom to share things -- food, our faith, good conversation, etc. -- and yet a lot of times we don't bother to venture out of our homes because we "have what we need". Instead of building a culture of openness, we build fences (both literally and figuratively) and assume that no news from our neighbors is good news, when in reality a lot of our neighbors (especially the elderly) have emotional or physical needs that get ignored. I can say at times our family is just as guilty of keeping people at arm's length, so I assure you this post is to convict our hearts as well.        

However, community isn't something that's built over night, but it is something that requires effort. A great example of this are the elderly neighbors down the street from us, the J's (name shortened). 

The J's have lived on our street for 15 years and most likely aren't going to move again before they pass on. We talk to them frequently (they watch our girls from time to time) and they have told us about the relationship they are building with the Hispanic family that moved in across the street from them about a year ago. The father speaks passable English, but the mother and children (who are actually close to our children's ages -- I'll talk more about our visits with them in future posts) know very little. The J's know virtually NO Spanish, but that has not stopped them from being hospitable. They bring sweets to the children and invite them in their home even if neither can understand a word each other is saying. I remember the J's being so excited when they looked up the word for cookies in Spanish -- galletas. However, due to them not knowing Spanish pronunciation they said GA-LAY-TAS, instead of the Spanish y subbing for the double l's -- GUY-A-TAS. Justin and I were tickled at the J's sincere attempt to connect with the Hispanic family! Just last week, they were telling me that they could tell the mother's English had improved by her going to some local ESL classes; they could tell she was understanding more and more every time they talked with her. The combination of the ESL classes and the hospitality of the J's led the mother and father to hint to my neighbors (for the first time) that they would like help learning English from them! Community was happening!!! Justin minored in Spanish and my understanding is very minimal, but we offered to help even if it was just to translate a little or work with their children. 

Life at an intentionally slower pace and having open homes and hearts help us not waste time in building the community God has put us in right now in order to share His Message.     

Update: The J's have now, in addition to the Mexican family, become "adoptive" grandparents to the 4 Guatemalan children that live on the other side of them. The children get off the bus and come to their house for snacks, life lessons, TV, and homework help. The J's will never have any grandchildren, so to see them reach out to these families has been such an encouragement to us. The J's have had some hard times healthwise and I really think the Lord brought these children into their lives to bless them when they need it most. The husband even said he's considering getting Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish! My girls and I love visiting with the children and I am looking for ways to help with their homework, too. God is changing hearts in this little town.