E. Bradshaw: “Some kind of oversight for me would help me out”

“I’m a people-pleaser and a rule-follower. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with everything [my son] is required to know, and some kind of oversight for me would help me out. I think some oversight for the people in our co-op would also go a long way.”

I am currently a homeschooler of two children, ages 8 and 6. I accidentally stumbled upon this website while searching for, ironically, state public education standards by grade level. You see, I’m a huge proponent of regulation and oversight of homeschools, but because we lack such oversight and guidance in Texas, I often turn to the state standards to give me some clue as to what all my children should be doing. I desperately wish I had more guidance and regulation. I consider myself a rule-follower and a perfectionist, to a damaging degree.

I am a Christian, but religion played absolutely no part in my choice to homeschool. I guess I would fall into the ‘educational opportunities’ category, but let me explain. When my son was born, we were living in a very small suburban town with a high crime rate, large gang population, and a failing school that was being closely watched by the state. My husband had a firsthand seat to the disturbing show that was this educational implosion, because he was the middle school band director at the time. We both knew that we A. needed to leave this awful community in which we had absolutely no friends, and B. come up with a different plan for educating our son if we were still living in that community by the time he was school-aged.

My husband has a bachelor’s degree in music education, and I have my masters degree in psychology. We are both very motivated people with solid educations under our belt. We both attended public school and thrived in that setting. However, I grew up in a very large city with countless resources available to me. I took art, I sang in the choir, played violin in the orchestra, served on student counsel, attended FCA, and even participated in a youth council that was staged similarly to the city council and gave us exposure to the ins and outs of how a city is run. Even in elementary school, we had computers, art, music, P.E., and library time every week. I took tumbling, was actively involved in my church choir, and loved my dance classes. We knew our child didn’t stand a chance getting any of those experiences in the small town we lived in, so I began researching other alternatives.

At this same time, I met a mom who homeschooled her child for the early years (K-4th) for the same reasons. She too was concerned about the school and the level of crime in our small community. She too was highly educated and wanted more for her son. She told me stories about hatching baby chicks together in an incubator they assembled together in the garage, reading her child Tolkein when he was five, and taking amazing field trips to nearby zoos and museums that our local school could never dream of affording. I was hooked. I had never considered homeschooling, but hearing her describe it, and knowing how successful her then-fifteen year old son was, I was completely open to the idea. So I began researching homeschooling, and I taught myself everything there was to know about the different “types” of homeschoolers, curricula choices, homeschooling types, etc.

We no longer live in that same town, and my husband no longer teaches music. After years of working in small Tier 1 schools struggling with poverty, gangs, limited resources, and tiny school districts who only care about football games and not music or the arts, he made a career change several years ago. My son is now 8, and we have since adopted two children from foster care with varying educational and behavioral needs. I homeschool our middle child, who is 6, and send our youngest (5) to public school so he can receive the benefits of behavioral adjustment therapy. (Which, because of a shift in school practices, he no longer receives, but I know his behaviors are over my head at home on a daily basis).

I mentioned that we no longer live in that troubled town, but we still live in a small Texas town. This one is more rural and remote, which is a disadvantage for sure. While this community experiences less violence, the school is still struggling, and my children would still not experience all of the wonderful enriching opportunities I had growing up. The best thing I can say about our one school here (all kids, grades PreK to 12 are on one campus), is that they do the best they can. The school, like most Texas schools, is obsessed with football and hires/fires a new athletic director every single year. There is no award-winning science program, and my husband knows firsthand just how hard he tried to turn around their mediocre band program.

They’re stuck with teachers who try their hardest but a school board who refuses to funnel money into supporting or improving the arts and sciences. My son has many friends who attend this school, because it is a small community and we are very involved in the biggest church here. Many of my mom-friends whose children attend the school volunteer on a weekly basis to help the teachers by pulling struggling students out of the class to help with math or reading. These are not teacher moms. They are moms like me who are just desperate to save the school and help the kids who are falling behind. In one second grade classroom, there are three mom volunteers who come three times weekly to assist in tutoring other kids. This just shocks me. When I see things like this, I think my son would be no better off going to the school and being pulled out by Timmy’s mom than he is at home with me. It’s a sad state indeed.

My son plays basketball and soccer every winter and spring. He takes swimming lessons and will join a local swim team with other homeschooling and public school friends next summer. He participates in summer arts and robotics camps. We visit museums, attend co-ops with our homeschool group, and I try my hardest to make sure he’s getting everything covered that needs to be covered so there are no gaps. (I am sincerely terrified of him having gaps anywhere in his education).

I have felt extremely alone in my homeschooling community. We have several homeschooling friends in our group who are Christians like us but not overly religious or conservative. We tend to stick close to them. However, a vast majority of our homeschooling group are anti-vaxers, homeopathic ultra-conservatives who don’t own televisions and don’t cut their hair. I can’t even remotely relate to these women, and I try to avoid the field trips they arrange. (Such as one young earth geological field trip last fall, which promised to teach children the “truth” about the age of the earth from a biblical perspective). I mean no disrespect to young earthers, but I sincerely worry about these kids. I attended a private Christian University, and I still recall discussing evolution, and in my undergraduate geology class we were taught the layers of the earth in the terms of eons, not centuries. I worry about children fitting in or feeling behind when they reach college w hen science and religion are so closely blended. I think one can stand strong with or against the other.

Since we’re so involved in church, I don’t teach my son any Bible curriculum. We discuss Sunday Sermons and I answer his biblical and theological questions as best as I can, but he has wonderful Sunday School teachers who do a great job every week. I feel like I handle his faith upbringing in the same way as my Christian public school friends, and I’m okay with that.

I worry about record keeping, so I tend to keep everything they do. I worry about falling ill one day or finding ourselves in a financial position where I have no choice but to return to work. All of these concerns keep me motivated, but what an awful form of motivation to have on my shoulders! I’m a perfectionist who constantly worries about where he is academically or where he needs to be, and I find myself looking up state standards at least several times a month for guidance. I would so much prefer regulation for homeschooling. I’m a people-pleaser and a rule-follower. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with everything he is required to know, and some kind of oversight for me would help me out. I think some oversight for the people in our co-op would also go a long way.

I have had him tested in reading, and he is right on target. I just worry so much about every other little thing. What am I missing? Are there gaps? What else can I do to help? This would all be so much easier for me if I had some kind of guide, as teachers do. And yes, I think it would even help for him to have testing. I’m not a huge fan of the state standardized tests and the emphasis on the test (it leaves little room for exploration or creativity in the classroom, and often overlooks science and social studies), but this year I am planning on purchasing a standardized test on my own to know exactly where he stands.

Policies protecting children from educational neglect would weed out the people who are not doing their job as homeschoolers and would only serve to support and protect people like me who are trying their hardest to give their best to their children. What a peace and freedom I might have if I had a more specific standard to aim for in our home academy. I could remove the burden of scraping around the Texas public schooling website for the second and third grade standards, and instead just find joy again in teaching my child. If we were tested or checked up on, we could have something specific to aim for each year, rather than just hoping that we’re on target. Unlike many of the homeschoolers I know, I don’t have a distrust of doctors, police, or even public schools. I know if we had more options where we live, and if I could guarantee my son might have an educational experience similar to my own, I would happily enroll him in public school. We don’t homeschool to avoid things or hide from any public entities, and I don’t teach my children any conspiracy theories or instill distrust or fear into them. But I feel like we’re floating in the ocean alone with too many options and too little oversight.

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