Sunday, November 19, 2006

Home School

Well, I have finally had a bait of the public school system and I have decided to remove my fourth grade daughter from its evil influence and give this homeschool thing a go. Bear with me while I try and explain all of my reasons for finally making this very hard decision.

My interaction with the public school system as an adult has been just as traumatic as it was when I was the kid in school. I've always been a rebel, although in elementary school I was much too terrified of my grandmother's hickory switch to launch an open rebellion. I was way ahead of all the other kids which made it hard to relate and have friends. I guess I was born different or something. High school was different and I was no longer living with my grandmother so all of the angst built up from elementary school mixed with puberty made for a pretty nasty mix with the public education system.

I made excellent grades, despite all of the problems I had with the principal of Clay County High School, and despite all of the teen trouble I seemed to stay embroiled in. I married at 16 very soon after entering the 11th grade and soon after that I quit high school. Quite frankly, I felt and still feel, that they had taught me all they possibly could and there was no reason to stay and torment myeslf for another 2 years. I got a job and my GED and by all accounts I am doing pretty well for myself. I own my home, a little bit of land, both of my automobiles, I pay my bills and provide for my family. Oh yeah, I just completed a campaign for Governor of Alabama and enjoyed more national media coverage than any gubernatorial candidate except Arnold S. in Cali. and more coverage locally for a write-in campaign than anyone quite possibly ever. I hope that challenges your pre-conceived notions that high school drop outs never have good lives or that they are losers who live in their parents basement and watch TV all day. Not to say that there aren't some who live that life....but my life is stellar.

I want you to look at the problem from the angle of maybe the system is failing and not the kids. Our society has changed and the public education system has not been able to adapt. It's too big, too controlled by some Wahington D.C. yahoo who doesn't know anything about what teachers and kids in Alabama are like or what they might need to make sure the kids are receiving the best education possible.

Public education today focuses on making everyone the same, which is impossible. It focuses on teaching kids to pee in cups on demand and submit to terrifying dog searches, strip searches and lockdowns conducted by local police departments all without warrants. It teaches conformity even when it goes against the very nature of the child to conform to an uncomfortable situation. It teaches standing in line, never questioning authority and total submission. Public school today prepares kids for one of two things. Factory work or prison. It says to kids "Get used to this kind of treatment, you no longer have any rights and this is the way it will be for the rest of your life."

As you can well imagine, the exact opposite is taught at the Nall House to the Nall children. I refuse to teach my kids to get used to shit they hate and prepare to do it the rest of their lives. What a warped concept.
I have instead focused of having them determine what they like and finding a way to ensure that they get to do what they like so their lives won't be wasted in some miserable, dead-end factory job.

That has made for many conflicts with the public education system and I have come to the conclusion that the system is unworkable, at least for my daughter, who is me in smaller form. When I look at her and hear all of the things she says and does in school I see me almost as I am now. She is a champion of individual rights, speaks her mind about what she doesn't like and proceeds to find ways to get what she wants. She has a sharp mind, a very deep understanding of complicated issues, a flair for drama and a razor-sharp tounge. I fear for her adversaries when she is older....she will be a formidable foe to contend with.

Right now, I fear more for her ability to hold onto that menatality and those character traits in the public school setting. The school seems to think these traits she is showing are bad and they are determined to supress them and alter her personality to fit their needs. I, on the other hand, feel the need to cultivate those things in her personality that public educators find so offensive. I could not be prouder of her and her dogged determination at not conforming to things that she finds unpallatable. YOU GO GIRL!!! You have learned well. Your mama is very proud of you.

The bad experiences with the public school system and my children began when my son was in first grade. We are not a religious family. I am Atheist and my husband is agnostic. I never made it a habit to teach atheism or agnosticism to my children. They know what I think and feel but have always been free to attend church with friends and family. The way I figure it, if I forced them not to conform to religious dogma the way I was forced to conform to it then it might be just as bad as my experience. So, I decided to be open about what I think and feel and let them make their own decision about religious philisophy. I warned them against talking about religion in school because I know that mini-redneck, bible thumpers can be the cruelest sort of child.

I picked my six-year-old son(he's now 14) up from school one day and he was crying and distruaght. I asked him what was wrong and he said, "Mom, since we don't believe in Jesus I'm gonna get hooked on drugs and go to prison."

"WHAT?!! Where did you hear such a thing?"

"From the D.A.R.E. cop who was in our class today. He said for everybody that believed in Jesus to raise their hand. Then he said 'As long as you believe in Jesus you will never get hooked on drugs or sent to prison.' I was the only one who doesn't believe in Jesus so I didn't raise my hand and now I'm going to jail."

I was LIVID!!! I made a few phone calls. Got an apology from the school, the teacher, the police department and the officer in question got reassigned to different duties.

Other problems along the religious line include my kids being singled out by other kids for not bowing their heads to pray during the morning announcements (prayer in public schools over the PA system are ILLEGAL) and just for walking to the beat of a non-religious drum in general. They have gotten off the bus in tears many times because of peer harassment and despite repeated complaints nothing has been done to protect them.

Back in 2002 my then 5-year-old daughter Bell started kindergarten. About three weeks in I get a note from her teacher stating that Bell and another 5-year-old got into a squabble over who was going to be line leader.

The teacher requested that I come in for a parent/teacher/principal/student conference. I thought it an odd request to assemble all of us over one line leader squabble between 5-year-olds. I mean there probably isn't a kindergarten class in all of America where this hasn't happened right?

I went to the conference. The principal never showed up. The teacher and I decided to go ahead without him. Then this teacher, who had known my daughter for all of three short weeks, proceeds to tell me that in order to control my child she wants me to lift the corporal punishment ban I have imposed on the school with regard to my children.

I told her that beating my child into submission was not an option. Then the teacher suggested I take my baby to the doctor and have her put on prescription medication so that she would be easier to control.

I really don't have words that can accurately describe my reaction to that suggestion!!

I told the teacher that it is funny to me that schools preach to our kids about not resorting to drugs and violence to resolve their problems, there are even cops paid to teach the DARE program, and yet drugs and violence are the very first things the school resorts to when a problem arises with a child.

No wonder our kids are so confused.

The teacher was less than happy with my refusal to cooperate with beating or drugging my child in order to force her to conform to their anti-individual indoctrination.

About a month later this same teacher conspired in the witch-hunt to have me arrested for speaking my mind on the pages of the Birmingham News with regard to drug policy reform.

She fabricated statements allegedly made by my daughter, passed these statements along to the School Resource Officer and allowed multiple police and DHR interrogations of my 5-year-old without counsel or an unbiased third party present.

Months later she went outside the school and told one of her personal friends that I was starving my kids to death and filed a malicious complaint with DHR to that effect. She even had a box of what she called "Bell's Special Snacks" sitting under her desk that only Bell could eat from. DHR told me it was a malicious complaint.

As it turns out, my daughter is a very gifted child, and after an IQ test revealed this, she was placed in a gifted program. She was the youngest child at her school to ever be accepted into the gifted program.

Listing all of the other bad episodes with the public school system would make this article longer than anyone would want to read. They are numerous. So, I'll just move on to the straw that broke the camel's back.

I got a call on Thursday from one of the assistant principals at Horseshoe Bend School telling me that Bell had gotten in some trouble in class and requesting a parent/teacher conference. I set it up for Friday morning. Here is what happened.

Bell likes to work alone. She isn't a group oriented person. She makes straight A's. She is really bad about not doing her homework. She will do some of it and tell me that is all of it or say she forgot her books at school. In fact, when I was running for Governor she asked me to outlaw homework if elected. I hated homework when I was a kid too and rarely did it if I could get out of it. I also made straight A's and scored very high on tests. Seems to me that if kids spends 8 hours a day in school plus a two hour bus commute that some slack could be applied to homework as long as the the grades are good.

Anyway, the teacher told me that on Thursday she decided to put the kids in group's for math. Bell hates math. The teacher said she decided not to let the kids sit with their friends for this exercise and instead chose popsicle sticks with each child's name on it. It just so happened that Bell got placed with one little girl that she has always had a lot of friction with. Bell asked the teacher if she could just work alone and the teacher said no. The little girl in the group who Bell has so many problems started antagonizing her to hurry up and come on and sit know just being real bossy. When Bell finally joined the group the peace lasted about 1 minute and there was a big blow-up which resulted in Bell having to sit in a desk in the hall and do her work. When the teacher told her she was placing her in the hall Bell said, "Good, that's what I least I don't have to sit with people I hate."

The whole room went ape. Bell got sent to the office.

During the conference with the teacher and assistant principal the teacher presented me with a picture of the little girl in question. The teacher said even after all that happened on Thursday the little girl came back to school on Friday and handed out pictures of herself....even to Bell. As soon as the girls back was turned Bell began to blacken in the eyes with her pencil. The teacher was mortified. I died laughing much to their horror. I simply could not contain it. I mean, that is no different that drawing devil horns or writing whore over someones head in the yearbook in my opinion. No need for alarm. Bell doesn't like the little girl in question and so when presented with an opportunity to express this she did. No one was hurt. The teacher wanted to give the picture back to Bell. I told the teacher to stop provoking her.

The teacher told me that a lot of Bell's problems stem from the fact that she is so far ahead of everyone else. She is bored out of her gourd. She has trouble making friends because she is like an adult trapped in a kids body and no one her age understands her. Older kids dismiss her because of her age. She said that Bell is able to do the work of a 7th grader but No Child Left Behind will not let them bump her up and even if they could she would not be socially ready for that kind of change. I am in agreement with that. But my daughter is stagnating in fourth grade.

The teacher said that she had decided to deny Bell her favorite class, which is gifted class, in order to make her comply. I told her that was unacceptable. Then she told me that before NCLB was crammed down their throats she would have been able to find a workable solution for my daughter, but now all leeway she might have once had is gone and Bell is suffering because of it. "What do you think we should do Mrs. Nall?"

"I think the only option open to Bell and me is home school. What I am hearing is that you forced her into an uncomfortable situation with a little girl she has had problems with all year even when she requested that she be able to work alone. She then she got in trouble when her stress points were overtaxed. You tell me that she is ready for 7th grade, but the NCLB prevents her from jumping grades and that you cannot, under these guidelines from the feds, work with her to ensure that she is getting what she needs. You think taking away the only class she enjoys is the answer. I disagree. She lives for gifted class. It actually stimulates her and that is what she needs. More stimulation. As long as she is bored, and she is bored with the 4th grade, then there will be problems. It seems to me that if the school can't provide her with the cirriculum that stimulates her then the only option for us is do-it-yourself. I won't let her stagnate and come to despise learning, which is what I see happening. I am not currently running for office so I have time to teach her at home and as soon as I can make the transfer that is what I will do."

Surprisingly, there was no objection from the teacher or principal regarding this decision. I like them both and do not really fault them for this. Well except for the teacher forcing Bell into a hostile environment to do a subject she hates and then sending her to the office when she snapped. That could have been avoided. NCLB is messing up a great many teachers ability to teach and my daughter has been caught up in the web. I also have a son in the 9th grade. He brought home a 103.75 in Algebra on Thursday....I can't touch that so I will be leaving him in school. Hell, he could eaisly teach me. He likes school and has many friends and as long as that is the case he stays. Next year he plans to apply for the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile. I think he has what it takes to get in.

So, if you are a homeschool parent please email me so I can pick your brains about what the best programs are and how you overcome the socialization problems that home school kids face. If you are not a home school parent but know someone who is please ask them to get in touch with me.


HairFarmer said...

Try checking on the CC board for anybody who is in Alaska. I seem to recal they have the highest ratio of home-schooling of any state in the country.


Amanda Harrell said...

loretta!!! you're my hero!! i can totally relate to all of what you just said, not just in relation to my daughter, but also in relation to me when i was in school. oh my goodness, i thought i was the only one! good luck hon. and let us know how it works out for ya.

Amanda Harrell

The Alabama Moderate said...

Loretta, I know exactly what you're talking about. Although my own little girl is only 6 months old, I'm already all but set on homeschooling based on my own experiences as a student and a teacher-in-training. I'm fed up with the public school system in this country and in Alabama, in particular. As a student, I was bored and had problems concentrating as a result. Later, when I went to the U of Montevallo to get a teaching degree, one of my professors told the class not to worry if we didn't get our teaching certification because this state doesn't require it.

The system was already designed to screw over those children who were merely above average. Now, the system doesn't even benefit those who are below average. Education is not a situation where one size fits all, yet children are continuously forced into that very learning environment. An ideal situation would be where children were tested at least every 3-5 years to evaluate their learning style, advancement, and interests and then grouped accordingly, but that actually takes time and effort. Instead, schools are graded based on their ability to teach them the answers to a multiple choice test given at the end of the year. In the end, the child learns little, if anything at all. Then consider that the curriculum offered is about 20 years behind what the rest of the world is offering its kids, and you have a whole new generation of Americans who can't compete globally. Heck! Even American companies would rather hire a Japanese student-- just ask Bill Gates.

Private schools offer some hope, but their often more expensive.

Regarding the social situation, it's really not as big a deal as you might think. Parents often homeschool in groups, giving their children the opportunity to interact. More and more parents are opting to homeschool, so you have a greater chance of finding a group. The state will set a curriculum that you MUST cover, and after that, anything extra is completely up to you. It's never been a better time to homeschool. If your daughter likes sports or has a particular hobby, that's another opportunity for her to join a group where she can make friends her age and interact.

Tanya said...

I am so glad I am Canadian! No prayers are ever said in public school anymore. That hasn't happened since I was a child. Atheists and Christians get along just fine. My daughter is friends with a Christian that tries to "save" her (this is completely futile). But they are good friends. The quality of public education is much better than anything that I could offer my kids. I am very fortunate. I don't know what I would do if I had to home school my children. There has also been a lot done to stop bullying, which is very nice to see.

Best of luck in your quest to educate your daughter Loretta. She is a very lucky girl to have you for a mom.

Colin Broughton said...

We have the school for Bell here in Edmonton: the Child Study Centre is a model of what public schools *could* be. I know it may not be practical to jump on a plane and just move here, although the non-existant God knows we'd love to have you all, but maybe just maybe the CSC story will inspire you. You might also want to poison the minds of some of your teacher friends by showing it to them! The teachers at CSC all love their jobs and their bright eyes are a sharp contrast to the grey looks you see in typical public school teachers. The teachers are not having a good time either, are they?

Janet said...

Welcome to the world of homeschool! From the sound of your post you'll fit right in. Check out for a non-religious, non-political discussion of homeschool and lots of great advice and friendship.

Anonymous said...

I started my daughter in Alabama's Lee County School system this fall. She was beginning kindergarten. Horrified at what was going on, we snatched her out of there within 2 weeks. Within the first week and a half a boy was paddled on the hand (my daughter's words, it was probably a ruler), another was paddled out in the hall for some infraction, and a boy was threatened with a paddling if he had an accident (the potty-training kind). My daughter has an issue with loud toilets and the ones there were really loud, so she didn't want to use them. Thus, she had an accident and didn't tell anyone for fear of corporal punishment. I was not happy to pick up my daughter in urine-soaked clothes. Is that any way to treat a five year olds? I guess it probably goes with the school-to-jail mentality that some folks have about education. This ruling-by-force technique was starting to rob my child of her love of learning and would eventually (I believe) have had very negative consequences on her entire school experience and behavior in general. The trepidation on her face on the way to school was awful to see. I felt like a horrible parent for taking her to that school. She is very capable and is already in the second grade math in the new school. I think she would be floundering in Beauregard Elementary if we hadn't gotten her out of there. We saw quite a negative change in her behavior in the short time she was there. I can't imagine how bad it would be if she had stayed.

After doing some research, it turns out that Alabama provides absolutely no protection to a child against excessive or overenthusiastic use of force by an educator. In fact, the law provides educators with immunity for criminal charges and requires that the school district fund any civil defense if a claim is made against them. The only requirement is that the teacher follows the corporal punishment policy outlined by the school district. Of course, these policies (or at least Lee County's) are so loosely defined as to be worthless, especially in court. They do not even have to honor a parent's request to not carry out corporal punishment. That's right, they can do it (beat your kid into submission) without your permission. This is not an effective way to control someone's behavior. Would the teachers be willing to accept such punishments themselves if they did something bad? I think not - assault charges would be filed. In civilized society we do not behave that way. Why are we teaching the children that violence is an effective method of conflict resolution when such behavior is not allowed by adult society?

I got really lucky and found a local non-denominational private school for my child. I was very glad to find a private school that's not Christian. [Nothing against Christians, but I just don't want my child raised that way. Religion causes too much sorrow.] It's very tough to find a non-religious private school in Alabama. I think I got lucky with that. Loretta, you probably don't have that choice, but there is a ton of stuff online these days. I looked into home schooling a while ago and was astonished at the difference in Alabama's requirements for private religious schools vs private home schools. Here in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, there are almost no requirements for religious school, while a homeschool must have lesson plans and other things. It seems that what a lot of people do is pay lip service to the religious school thing and then actually do what they please in the homeschool. In other words, they sign up as part of a religious school and then do all the instruction themselves.

Whatever you do, Loretta, make sure you have all the paperwork in order. After the way officials have come after you in the past, I can see them trying to use home school issues against you. "Ms. Nall has aided and abetted truancy because her attendance records are not in order." Followed by an atttempt by DCR to take your kids, and your arrest. I hope nothing like that happens, but you know how these guys (or insert appropriate explative) operate.

INOV8TN said...

Public schools - the source for docile wage slaves, military labor, and prisoners.

Thanks Loretta for taking the time to present your experience in such a detailed and readable way.

momtoanangel said...

Your nightmares with the PS's seem so similar to ours. Thanks for sharing, but be careful, we had DHR called on us after we pulled them from school. It isn't fun having your lifes turned inside our and upside down.