A Series of Unfortunate Events (Part One in the Hatch Educational Journey…)

Why did you choose to homeschool?

I get this question regularly. Some people ask this question with a skeptical look, as though I’ve lost a bit of my mind in pursuing such a crazy notion. But honestly, nowadays many people ask with genuine interest because their child/ grandchild has had some difficulty in a school setting. Homeschooling, while a seemingly extreme answer, isn’t so crazy lately.

Did I just give up on the schools? What drove me to homeschool?

Below is Part One.

Consider this sort of our personal “Series of Unfortunate Events” in the world of educating our children….

It started when my oldest child entered first grade. Key started disliking school, complaining about extra work, and asking why he was getting punished for being smart. Oftentimes, he was assigned harder homework than others in his class. Yet, if he didn’t do it, he got in trouble. One day, on the way home, Key again complained about the whole unfairness, declaring that the brown kids didn’t get in trouble if they skipped homework. Out of the mouths of babes…

Anyhow, we told Key to hang in there, that starting in second grade he’d likely be in the gifted program, and things would change. That fall, he did in fact test into the program -certified gifted – as in some of the highest tests scores the school had seen from a second grader in fifteen years kind of gifted. Unfortunately his good buddy – who was just as smart and later tested equally to Key – had test anxiety. His friend became so constipated he couldn’t concentrate, so after that the two were separated one day a week.

Funny. Not funny. And not kidding.

In this particular school, the gifted kids went to regular school four days a week and to the gifted program one day a week. This meant that while he was given special assignments that catered to his learning needs, Key still felt punished because he was separated from friends, unable to eat or play with them one day every week, and sent home with extra make up work he had not completed in regular school – because he had been in gifted school. Also, the gifted program was set by the district, not by the teachers actually teaching the gifted students, and Key’s second grade year the kids were assigned forensics as the year long topic of study. Key’s first week in the program, the teacher set up a mystery scene called “The Case of the Missing Millionaire”, and the kids were ushered in to the classroom to make observations and come up with clues. Unfortunately for us, the scene spread before these seven year olds was a sheet sprinkled with bug juice in a splatter pattern to represent blood drops. After surviving this shocking introductory activity, the very next item on their to do list was to talk about the coming year. They would all take – without parents – a fun filled trip to Clemson University’s CSI Laboratory, where they could use forensic technology to solve challenges. Again. They were seven. It would be a twelve hour day away from home without parents to a crime lab. Fabulous. This is where Key had his very first full blown panic attack. A simulated murder scene and a prospective day away from Mom and Dad to solve more forensic challenges proved too much for my sweet boy. Yet, because he was the only child to have a panic attack, I was called in to discuss his need for a doctor’s check up. Something was wrong – with him, no doubt. Our family ended up in eighteen months of pediatric counseling to desensitize him so that Key could function in the real world. I went along with it because I was told he was special, that gifted kids tended to be more sensitive, and he had been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. It felt all wrong, but all I knew to do was to work with the school and get the teachers to allow for certain accommodations while we worked with a counselor. I did at least require a Christian counselor that aligned with our religious beliefs. And every Sunday night Key cried himself to sleep out of fear of having to go to the “gifted program” on Mondays. His teachers told me that after I left he was fine. He should therefore continue; it was good for him.

I accepted their expert opinions. They were educators.

And the thing is, those teachers were good women, some were moms themselves, and they were excellent teachers to Key in many regards. They were giving advice they felt was sound.  I just wish I had realized that as Key’s mother, I was also an expert on seven year old Key. I had parental rights, and if I disagreed, I could have done so on his behalf.  

We are taught to trust experts without question, and this needs to stop – in many fields. Experts are good people, but they aren’t perfect. It is OK to respectfully voice a different perspective, opinion, or viewpoint.

For two years we continued the gifted program, and for two years I was a designated chaperone on just about every field trip, as a special accommodation for Key. I had mothers of other children in the program call me to ask that I sit with their children as well. That their son or daughter was having terrible anxiety at home, but that the schools only allowed for a few chaperones and they had not been picked. Could I please save an extra seat on the bus for _______? Let him or her know I was available? Would I be a Mom to those that were also nervous about a CSI crime lab two hours from home without a parent? I assured them all I would watch out for the kids, and I did. Another mother that came on those trips was the mother of Key’s close friend, Vamsi. She also saved special space for the nervous children and mothered the group. Together, with a father that also chaperoned, we did fine.

But what if things could have been just a little different?

**I’d also like to note that I am writing about our struggles right now, but the school was in general a phenomenal school. I would go back in a skinny minute if needed, but I’d handle my children’s education differently. In another post, I will explain why this school got so many other things right, and what made it worth the difficulties.**