Ages 10-12 (Tween)Ages 13-17 (Teen)Ages 6-9Education

Schooling Your Kid

After four years of home-schooling, we sent the kid back to public school this year.

I wouldn’t say it’s been a smooth transition, but it’s been less fraught than it might have been.  She’s almost a month in and – as she puts it – not even a little bit dead yet.  A few of the days have even been pleasant!

As working parents, we started sending the kid to school when she was two.  Over the years, we’ve done all the schools – religious private schools, non-religious private schools, public schools, home schooling, un-schooling, and now public school again.

I’m not here to tell you which is best for your kid – because frankly you have to decide that.  This is just a post about the pros and cons of each sort.

I’m also putting big Consumer Warning Label here up front, due to how everyone loves to talk trash about everyone else’s schooling decisions.

By this I mean, people who send their kids to religious private schools love to talk about how public schools are filled with ignorant hordes of savages doing drugs and sleeping through class, while the teachers lecture about on the finer points of safe sodomy and just why Amerika is Evil.  And people who send their kids to public school love to rhapsodize about the ignorant curriculum used at religious private schools.

And everyone rags on home-schoolers.  (My kid tells me: “In every class, Ma, there comes that moment when the teacher asks me, what junior high are you coming from?  And I have to say, well, I’m home-schooled.  And it’s like this dead silence.”  She sighs.  “I think my teachers think I’m from an abusive household.”)

So: No ragging on anyone’s decisions here!  Yes, it is true, some home-schooling parents leave something to be desired.  So do some religious schools.  So do some public schools.

But!  Assuming we are all doing it right, what are the various options like?

Religious schools

If you choose private schools – which many people like for their smaller class sizes and because private schools let you tailor the school to your child or your worldview – you may find that religious private schools are your best option.  Religious private schools often have lower tuition, for one thing, because they are subsidized by their churches.  Also, many religious schools have a pre-k program, which is lovely for those of us who’d rather avoid commercial daycare.

Further, if you choose carefully, you can find a stable school with a low turnover among its staff.  This means your kid can bond with the teachers and the other students.  The low turnover also means experienced teachers and staff.  Since it’s a religious school, the staff often feel this is a mission, not just a job, which can lead to them being happier in their work.

However, a religious school is subsidized by the church for the obvious reason that it spends part of its school day teaching your kid religion. For those of us who are atheists or of opposing religions, this may be an issue.  Be upfront, is my advice.  Ask how much time is spent on religion and how, exactly, religion is taught.  For instance, our pre-school had compulsory church attendance on Monday mornings; so Dr. Skull kept the kid home those mornings (because he didn’t teach until afternoons, this worked for us).

Other issues might arise – gender inculcation, rules about dress, rules about behavior that conflict with your own.  We used these as teaching moments; you may be able to as well.

Private Schooling Which is Not Religious:

Other private schools are available, and many are directed at specific ways of educating – Classical education, Math and Science, Montessori, Waldorf.  Depending on where you live, you may have non-religious options.

We found a Montessori school for our kid when the local public school wasn’t working.  (She got anxious in crowds, so the very large classrooms in her public school became a problem.  Also, with so many students, teachers were not able to stop bullying and teasing; and as the only Jewish child in a heavily Pentecostal school, my kid came in for a lot of it.)

The Montessori school’s first grade classroom had eight students and two teachers.  These teachers, along with four others, stayed with the students all through their lower school days.  The entire school only had 90 students.  Bullying and teasing were not tolerated.  Once when my kid did get teased, I contacted the school, and the teachers handled it swiftly and effectively.

The small class size and the individual attention which the kid got and we got were both very nice, and the Montessori method of education was great.

On the other hand, it was really expensive.  And because it was such a small school, even though the tuition was high, they could not pay their teachers well, so good teachers often left quickly.  Nor could they afford much in the way of lab or other equipment.  Books, for instance, and computers, were all donated, and thus old and few.

Also, the small size of the staff meant if a child did have a conflict with one of the teachers, there was no real getting away from that teacher.  A kid would have the same teacher, remember, for three and four years at a stretch.  If a teacher works well with a child, this is great.  If not, it’s deadly.  When my kid got into the upper school, this swiftly became a problem, as she ran into a heavily authoritarian teacher – not the sort she responds well to – who would have been her teacher for the last three years at that school.

Home-schooling / Un-schooling

These are options many parents are going with lately.  Be prepared, though, to have everyone you know decide you’re a lunatic survivalist / religious fundamentalist / conspiracy theorist if you choose this route.

We went with home-schooling (which briefly turned into un-schooling) after the Montessori school, because we were in a position to home-school.  Home-schooling requires that at least one parent be home most of the time, and that parents be able to teach academic subjects.  Both of those are high bars.

Home-schooling has a lot to recommend it. Your kid is home all day, which is great. Instead of only seeing a child that is exhausted after a long day at school, or a kid on the weekends when you’re beat from a week at work, you’ve got a whole life together. You can go to parks or visit museums whenever you like; trips can be scheduled for off-season, when places aren’t crowded, and the weather isn’t Child readingmiserable. Your kid can take a month to visit her grandparents in April.  And, maybe best of all, your kid can sleep as late as she wants, eat whenever she wants, learn wherever and however she wants – lying on the floor, walking around the room, bouncing in place, plugged into her music – and as quickly or as slowly as necessary.

Plus, you and the kid work together.  I taught my kid Latin, science, and literature.  Dr. Skull taught her history and music.  We ended up hiring a tutor for math and art.  I loved the discussions the kid and I had about Latin and about the books she was reading, I loved that we were able to tailor the books she read to what she was interested in, and the speed she read at, and I loved that she was able to have a choice in the science she was learning – we did biology, and then anthropology, and started physics.

On the other hand: home-schooling is a ton of work for the parent/s.  If you are working full-time – as I was – it is really hard to keep up.  Truthfully, I tended to slack a lot during the semester, and catch up during holidays and summers.  Also, in the middle year and half, really, she was un-schooling: deciding on her own what she would learn and when, with very little direction from me.  This was not entirely bad: she did a lot of writing, and a lot of drawing, which are her two real passions.  But still.

Also: if you plan to transition back into a more formal school, as we did, be aware that many schools will require evidence that your child actually learned things while she was being home-schooled.  Your child may have to pass exams, is what I’m saying.

Public Schools

Public schools get a lot of bad press, but in my experience they do excellent work.  I have taught at this point probably hundreds of English teachers, and I’d say 95% of them have been smart, tough, and dedicated.  (When I went to my kid’s first Open House at her high school two nights ago, I ran into two or three of the teachers I had taught, working at her high school. That was kind of great.)

The benefits to public school are many.  First, you don’t have to pay extra tuition, since your tax dollars are already at work.

Second, the teachers are usually very smart and well-educated, despite the bad press many of them get.  My kid did public school for kindergarten, and she is back in public school now, and I have been uniformly impressed with her teachers, not just their teaching skills, but their knowledge base and their ability to reach a wide range of students under what is — in my opinion at least — a truly horrific work environment.

Another benefit: In public schools, the teachers do the teaching so you don’t have to.  They’re specialized:  they know math, or art, or physics, as their job.  If you’re a working parent, that’s a huge plus right there.  I don’t have to know physics or learn calculus, or hire someone to teach her calculus (which was getting pricey, though her tutor was brilliant, and a brilliant teacher).  It all comes with.

Also, public schools — most public schools — will dump your child into something that is close to the real world.  Your kid will have to deal with a wide mix of people, some of whom did not grow up in a house like yours.  There will be rich kids, poor kids, rude kids and nice kids.  There will be different kinds of teachers, as well.  Also, and this has been the biggest unexpected dividend for my kid, your kid will be away from you for seven or eight hours a day, on her own.  When problems occur, as they will, your kid will have to solve those problems on her own.  It’s not real life, but it’s excellent practice for real life.

There are some problems.  The hours are appalling.  Most schools run from eight to three, which if your kid is riding a bus means she’ll have to wake up at six, probably.  That’s just a cruel thing to do to an adolescent.

Also, many public schools are large.  The high school my kid attends has over fifteen hundred students attending it.  Most classes have fewer than twenty-five students; but still, that’s a lot of people.

Schoolroom One

Also, the rules can be fairly draconian.  No backpacks.  Five minutes between classes.  More than three tardies counts as an absence. Instant, first-time obedience with no “attitude.”  No shorts.  No “suggestive” shirts.  No leggings.

But the organization is great, I must say, and even if they do have their rules, they have a sensible structure for negotiating those rules.

And the range of subjects available is impressive.  The kid, this year, is taking Latin, AP World History, Algebra II, Pre-AP Biology, Art I, and Pre-AP English.  Next year she’ll take other classes, including Physics, Art History, and Oceanography. (Only three semesters of P.E. are required to graduate.  How cool is that?)

Also: no one has taught my kid about sodomy.  Or that Amerika is Evil.

At least not yet.


(Images: Photographs from WikiCommons; Painting is Die Dorfschule von 1848, also from Wikicommons.)


Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. Neither of those are available in our area. I did have a negative experience with charter schools when we lived in North Carolina.

    What’s your experience with charter schools & magnets schools?

    1. None yet. I went to a technical HS myself but there are a lot of magnet and charter schools around me. The nearest charter school has a good reputation but enforces what I think are foolish strict rules (dress code, everyone plays violin, only 1 book checked out from the school library at a time, etc).

      1. The one charter school we tried, in NC, before going to the religious pre-school option, had a ridiculous number of entrance requirements which, looking back, I suspect were there just to keep out anyone not part of the Inner Circle who had started the school. And then — about a year later — it went bust, so.

        We liked the idea of the school because its charter claimed it was reading, science, and art intensive, and (at that point) our kid was deeply into science (or at least dinosaurs — she was two!). But the people we talked to about getting into it were just so hateful and dismissive, we weren’t really sad about getting rejected.

  2. This was an interesting read, and I love how balanced your explanations are.
    Last year, when my daughter was in 6th grade, she became so anxious about school that we were often up until midnight dealing with her panic attacks. Rather than deal with an entirely unresponsive “support” system for 7th grade, I decided to enroll her in an online school. I couldn’t afford to stay home and homeschool her. I don’t have the patience or breadth of knowledge to do it. Online school has so far been going well for her, and it allows me to work at least part of the day. One of the good things about it is that, even though there are 36 kids in her class, the teacher doesn’t have to waste class time with the disruptive ones and is able to concentrate on teaching.
    This is a grand experiment, and Hipster Tween knows the stakes (“be disciplined, do your work, or it’s back to regular school”) along with how hard I had to work to get her father on board, but I’m glad I had this alternative.

    1. Oh, and I meant to say, yes, the panic attacks. They were a big part of our problem with public school back when the kid was five.

      She seems to be doing okay now, though she still gets very edgy in big, noisy crowds. The recent Pep Rally was a source of much anxiety, for instance! But luckily as it developed the school didn’t force students to attend if they preferred not to.

  3. I’m always curious about homeschooling. I love science, math, literature, and craft projects, so I know I have the skills to be a good parent-teacher, but I don’t think it’s a possibility because of finances. Although, if I felt like I needed to pull my daughter out of school at some point in her life, we would find a way to make it work. But I do appreciate the comparison of all the different types of schools!

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