My tulip beds, at the end of May. Planted in the dark so many months ago, shovel plunged at the last minute by flashlight into fall-hardened ground in a desperate attempt to bury pregnant bulbs before Colorado’s first blankets of snow came, they defied planting dates and gravity to bring us joy every day this spring.
The season has come to an end, though. Several have dropped, petal edges bending downward, beginning the return piece by piece to the ground after their weeks of display.
This one, she doesn’t want to let go.
When I caught her nodding at me a few weeks ago, I had to smile. That color defies description. It’s caught somewhere between hot pink and orange, too vibrant to be coral, too sunny for fuschia. And she may have one fringed petal heading south, but she’s gonna blaze in all her glory until it’s time to go, baby.
Reminds me a tad of myself.
I think I’ve felt like “too much” pretty much all my life. I read too many books, too late at night. Talked too much, made too many messes, wanted too many things.
Now, as an adult, I’m labeled too idealistic. Too busy. Too cerebral. Too scattered.
I’m still too messy. And that’s for real.
Trying to tone it down hasn’t worked for me so far. Time and its inevitable disappointments and difficulties have worn me down a bit, I suppose. There are probably more than a few fringed petals heading south.
But I still have a blaze at the center of my heart.
As we’re working on developing the non-profit we’re directing, The F4Foundation, people keep encouraging me to narrow things down. Focus on one area. Get more concentrated.
But plugging into the heart of God has been like attaching to a fire hydrant. There’s just compassion for so many things. Jen Hatmaker put it like this in a post for she and Brandon’s new outreach, The Legacy Collective …
“We meant to only care a little, or just about one category at any rate, but the crazy thing about opening your eyes to the marginalized is that you can see them all. You meant to only see the abandoned children but you accidentally see their economically disadvantaged parents. You planned to just address the regular homeless guy on the corner but you soon crash headlong into the under-resourced mentally ill. We said yes to kids and then adopted their whole communities. We committed to local and picked up Africa.”
Yes. That, all day long.
When people tell me I need to narrow my focus, I’m afraid all I can do is blink. A little coral, a little fuschia, a little fringed and drooping a bit, I’m still ablaze. And the tricky thing is, God’s heart is BIG. It’s not narrowly focused. When Jesus walked the earth, He taught–but He didn’t just teach. He fed hungry people. He calmed storms. He raised men from the dead, blessed widows, spoke words of life to women, and took children on His knee.
Have you ever felt like you were too much, too?
I have news for you: You’re perfectly you. If you’re a writer and speaker and painter and horseback rider and singer and baby-whisperer and gardener and surfer … well, that’s just right. And if you love the poor and the marginalized and church people and prostitutes and children and the elderly and somehow you want to do something about all of it, don’t let anyone tell you you’ve got to narrow it down and put your empathy in a box.
If God’s heart beats within you? It’s bound to leak out all over the place.
Wow, it takes some tough skin to be part of social media or watch the news these days, doesn’t it?
Many questions are being raised, and I think that’s a good thing in just about any situation we might encounter. Especially questions about what’s the best way to manage and lead and guide our families. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the ways we sometimes become tempted to fence ourselves in, trying to create our own hedge of protection from “the world” and all the bad stuff out there.
You’ve just had a baby. If you’re feeling anything like I did twenty-three years ago (and even just five years ago!), your bundle of joy may have you experiencing a big dose of wonder, a morsel of fear, a ton of exhilaration, and more than a smidgen of exhaustion–usually consecutively, at about thirty-second intervals!
Becoming a mother is a wondrous thing.
It’s also all of those emotions I just listed, and then some!
Thinking back on that amazing night I became a mama for the first time, I wish I’d had someone coming alongside and holding my hand. The first of my friends to have a baby, it was a pretty lonely time–and that surprised me. I was so determined to do everything right, and so unsure I’d be able to accomplish it. So, here we are, twenty three years later, and I’m thinking perhaps you, too are feeling lonely and questioning in these first days with your new baby.
Well, we can’t have that.
Here are a few bits of advice for brand-new mamas–especially if you’re in your first week of motherhood!
(And maybe a good reminder for those of you on your second babe … or even your eighth!)
#1. Enjoy a babymoon.
When you first got married, you and your spouse probably took at least a few days away, all to yourselves. You and your baby need to get to know one another and enjoy one another in a similar set-aside season of time. Everyone else’s needs can go on the shelf for now.
#2. The rule is REST.
Here’s permission … feel free to stay in your jammies and robe for several weeks. You’ve just delivered a perfect little human to the world, and he or she made his or her entrance through your amazingly wondrous body. No matter how exactly that miraculous event took place, you now need to give yourself a chance to recuperate! Your robe is your friend. Your pillow is your friend. Your bed is your friend. Let your spouse or your mother or another friend also be your friend and bring you tea–and breakfast, lunch, and dinner, too!
#3. Say yes whenever possible.
This applies specifically to questions like this: “Can I bring over dinner?”
“Can I come clean your kitchen?”
“Do you want me to come run some laundry for you?”
You get the idea.
#4. Say no whenever you feel like it.
If someone wants to come visit and they’re coughing while they ask and you’re scared of germs?
“Sorry, but we aren’t taking visitors right now.”
If your mother or mother-in-law wants to give the baby a bath, but you’d really rather do it yourself?
“Sorry, but no thanks!”
Here’s the thing to remember: You don’t have to entertain or host people at your house right now AT ALL. That includes the rest of your family. If your mom (or whomever!) is the type who will bring you coffee and cute outfits for the baby and bake cookies and mop floors and tell you what a wonderful job you’re doing, by all means invite her over! If she makes you nervous, keeps giving unasked-for advice or insists on doing everything, just practice saying it with me … “Sorry, but no thanks!”
If all else fails, let your husband fill his protector role by being the guard dog of the house.
#5. Remember, you’re doing a holy thing. And holy things are hard work, but they’re worth it.
You’re tired, but you don’t have to be weary. Rest. Read the Bible, drink water, and make sure you’re getting some protein in. Taking care of yourself in this season is like following the instructions of the flight attendant: Affix your own oxygen mask first, before helping your child.
Nurturing your baby is your full-time job. From you this child will get its very first lessons on love, family, trust, and the nature of God, himself.
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” Galatians 6:9
Raising a child entails a long growing season. It will be a long time before you see the fruit of all the seeds of security you’re planting moment by moment. But there will be hints … first smiles, first giggles, first steps, first words. Look forward to it all–and treasure this time of surrender to this tiny person who holds your heart in her little fist.
#6. Take advice from others lightly, and remember God is our model–even for motherhood!
Everyone wants to give you advice. Few have earned the right for you to want theirs. Choose your advisors carefully!
And remember, God gave YOU this baby. He didn’t give him to your mom, or your aunt, or your neighbor, or that author who seems so sure of himself. Advice can only go so far; ultimately you have to rely on the connection God’s given you with your child, your husband’s input, and the Spirit’s leading.
You’ll learn so many new things about Him as your heart is expanded in caring for your new little one! In Isaiah 40:11, we read this:
“Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom …”
There’s good news for mamas, too …
“He will gently lead the nursing ewes.“
Okay, you’re not a ewe. (Or is it, an ewe? I have no idea what’s correct here. Anyhoo …)
Regardless, He is gently leading you. Because that’s what He does.
Don’t fear. You’re not in this alone.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6
Blessings to you, dear mama! You are a wonder. And you’re going to do a wonderful job.
Third boy; the one who couldn’t wait to be born, who came so early and quickly the midwife missed it. You slipped into our world so easily, and just as quickly today you are gone, nearly eighteen years of sunrise and sunset in between.
Boyhood sits quiet, boxed in the closet; Tom Sawyer and old pillows, jars stuffed with markers and crayons and pens–tools of your preferred trade, the guitar you couldn’t take along. There are notebooks full of problems worked out and attempted, Algebra and Biology on one page, relational angst, songs and poems spilling the tale of your wrestling with the mysteries of life on the next.
When you were little, you would twist my hair.
You clung so tightly, chubby arms surprisingly strong. Your sweet little baby hands always found the back of my neck as I carried you around, and somehow those fingers would wind themselves into the tiny hairs at the nape and twirl hair ’til it pulled painful. I laughed, though sometimes through my own tears, marveling at the strength of tiny fingers in tender hair.
The twisting, it can last longer than babyhood.
The two big brothers moved on, so we should be good at this by now; know you’re leaving but will circle around, finding home of your own and yet knowing this one will always have a claim on your heart.
Today, your eyes are on the horizon.
Mine keep being drawn back to the boxes left behind as you fly, leaving the nest.
I’m wondering what you will remember, as you begin writing your own story, designing your own days. I wonder if I read enough bedtime stories, baked enough cookies. I wonder if somehow in the piles of folded clothes (way back when I used to wash them all for you!) you smelled love alongside fabric softener. I wonder if the scriptures we studied will rise up on dark days and lay their claim on your heart the way I’ve prayed they would. I wonder if you will remember all the days we hunted down magic.
Just over a year ago I got the call with words no mother ever wants to hear. “Mrs. Krasawski? We need you to come to the hospital. Your son has been in a car accident.” A rush to the white room, you lying there broken in ways we couldn’t see. Standing next to you for hours as time determined the outcome, I took the opportunity to stroke the head that had stood so far above my own for several years. Maybe I could do a bit of twirling of my own, your 6’6″ frame horizontal and unaware.
A desperate mama prays desperate prayers.
You returned … to home, to school, to life. A miracle, even the doctors had to say. Yes, I know. I know what you are.
You are a wonder. An absolutely unique combination of sensitivity and strength, of questioning and deep thought, of potential and power. You were made to change the world. You’re God’s favorite.
And if you ever wonder about that as you move on, as you keep writing and illustrating all the chapters of your own, unique, amazing, wonderful story, if you need a reminder or a push or a hug or a soft place to land, if you need someone to stroke your forehead and tell you what a gift you are, you know right where to come.
Home is where your story begins. And there will always be room for you in mine.
We all blow it occasionally. We sling words that bite, accidentally kick someone as we rush by too quickly, forget a birthday, raise our voice at a child. And something in that person is dented, bruised; we’ve dug something out from under our relationship, whether by teaspoon or backhoe, on purpose or by mistake.
No matter who we are, we all need to ask forgiveness of others sometimes.
We also need to offer it. Too often we’re the ones hurt, the ones kicked or stung, the ones left leaning just a little bit as the ground under us is scooped out. Sometimes our forgiveness is sought out, and sometimes we find ourselves wounded and realize we’re going to have to extend forgiveness to someone who hasn’t asked for it, lest we remain in pain.
Jesus died on the cross to offer us forgiveness, as well as the ability to ask for and extend it.
Yet I think sometimes, we overestimate what forgiveness actually does.
I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships lately, and why some work and some don’t. I’ve experienced situations where there’s been hurt and repentance, where the miracle of forgiveness has been offered, and yet those relationships are still difficult or anemic. Some relationships seem to exist merely as a series of hurts, repentance, and offerings of forgiveness. So what’s gone wrong? Has forgiveness failed? I don’t think so.
I believe sometimes we expect too much from forgiveness.
If our relationships are weak, it’s not necessarily from a failure to ask or grant forgiveness. It’s more likely to be due to a failure to build.
Picture it this way: people come together, determining to build a relationship of some sort. It could be a friendship, a marriage, a ministry relationship, whatever. So they (hopefully) begin to build. Inevitably, offenses will come. By teaspoon or backhoe, holes will be dug, and if something had been built on the foundation of that relationship, that thing will lean, teeter, or crash as the holes are dug. If one of the parties asks for forgiveness and the forgiveness isn’t given, the relationship is over and the structure left damaged. If the forgiveness is offered, all is well, right? Everything will be back to normal, won’t it?
But it doesn’t actually seem to work that way. I can say “I forgive you for digging this hole in my yard,” but that doesn’t fill in the hole, and it certainly wouldn’t replace the tree I’d planted. That takes work. Forgiveness does not build relationships, it only offers an opportunity for us to repair broken ones. It is not a magic bullet.
If a hole has been dug, and forgiveness offered, but no repair and building has taken place, we may find we’re still at the spot we’d dug ourselves down to, and subsequent hole-digging will just take us lower and lower and lower. Or perhaps God will miraculously heal and fill in that hole, returning us to ground zero, where we can begin to build something.
If I’ve spoken unkindly to my child, and tell them I’m sorry, I’d best follow it up with a snuggle and a bedtime story–and I’d best ask God’s help to change me, so I’m not following that pattern over and over again. If I’ve failed a friend somehow, I probably need to find a way to show that I value that relationship, and determine how to build that friend and the relationship up once again.
Forgiveness is a very powerful tool. It grants the ability to return our relationships to ground zero–the place where we can then choose to begin building. But there’s the key–we can choose to begin building … or not. We can humble ourselves and learn what we need to know in order to relate to that person and situation properly so building can commence. We can pursue the person relationally. Trust can be regained as time goes by and we refrain from hurting them in the same way we had to ask forgiveness for the first (or second or third or ninety-seventh) time.
Or we can neglect all those things, assuming it’s all good since we’ve been forgiven, and continue as we always have in the past with no effort made to do things differently. In that case, we’ll probably just wind up digging another hole.
We’ve all heard them: the overwrought mom at Target, the impatient dad at the pool. They’re frustrated and their kids aren’t doing whatever it is that someone wants them to do quite quickly enough, or they’re having a meltdown on aisle five.
To me, the words land like knives in my own heart, something about the familiarity and anger behind them sinking deeply, sharply.
Maybe the dad apologizes later, or the angry mom buys the child an ice cream on the way home to make up for her harshness. I watch from afar, watching the invisible crumbling of a child’s self-worth and stability, wondering if their lives will wind up being just a repeat of this scene; wondering if my hearing these words thrown out so casually in public means this child’s private life is something much darker than I’d like to imagine.
Damage to a child’s soul can’t always be seen on the outside.
Sometimes I’ve seen the same damage inflicted between adults. High school kids whose social structure can seem built entirely of sarcastic put-downs which everyone including the victim is supposed to laugh at. The husband who tells his wife to “shut up,” the wife who bashes her husband every time he’s not around. Our culture tells us this is funny. Comedy routines discuss it as normal.
The other day I picked up my Bible to read the book of Romans, and this verse jumped out at me …
Romans 1:7 “to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I think it’s possible we need to learn a new truth, or perhaps just remind ourselves just who it is we’re talking to.
I sat cross-legged atop piles of comforter and pillows, laptop comfortably ensconced in my lap, text open on the bed next to me, concentrating on one last paragraph to be written before I could send the assignment winging into cyberspace.
He walked into the room expectantly, purposefully. When he saw I was still at work, he buried his head in the side of the high mattress next to me and sighed.
Blowing through the door open to our second story deck, the wind was heavy with the scent of spring blooms. A beautiful day was beckoning, and my little boy was ready to be out in it.
Homework would have to wait. I closed the laptop and smiled down at him. “Hey, buddy–how about a walk?”
His chocolatey-brown eyes lit up, a quick smile lightening his still- cherubic five year old face. “Yeah! Can we go now?”
“Sure!” I replied, moving piles aside and joining him on the floor. “Where should we go?”
“How about our secret trail?” he queried.
I knew the older boys had taken he and his brother on a walk the week before, and they’d come home talking about having found a great new place to walk–and it was a secret. “Your secret trail? Are you sure? Will the big boys mind if you show me?”
“They won’t really care,” he assured me. “And I don’t want to have any secrets from our whole family.”
I laughed and finished tying my shoes, taking his hand as we headed out the door.
The day had indeed teased us outside. Spring in Colorado is a glorious thing, bursting forth as if buds and blooms and blades couldn’t bear to remain underground one more moment. We passed hand in hand under giants reaching skyward full of pink blossoms, literally humming with honey-makers hard at work. Bunnies scurried out of our way when we interrupted their afternoon snacks, barely chinning nearby sidewalks with their intrepid yellow cheer. Our own tulips along the driveway bow proudly, finally blushing pink after being tightly wrapped in their spring green for so long.
When we reached the park, he told me we’d have to cross the street and “go way down past the flag” to reach the secret trail. Suddenly he shouted, triumphant–“Hey! Look what I found!”
A blowsy head of white dandelion seed ready to scatter was clutched triumphantly in his hand. “I’ll get you one, too, mom!” he announced, handing a second to me. “Make a wish!”
We both blew hard, giggling as the fluffy umbrellas waved goodbye and wafted away on the wind to scatter happiness elsewhere.
“You know what I wished?” he asked.
“No, buddy, I don’t. What did you wish?”
“I wished that you would live forever.”
Gulp. I stopped, pulled up short by the thoughts that could wing their way through a little boy’s head. The words caught in my throat. “You did?”
“Yup. And I bet I know what you wished, too.”
“What, pal? What do you think I wished?”
“I bet you wished I would stay just like this, little, with you, forever.”
Yes. Yes, my sweet boy, that’s exactly what this mama would wish.
April has arrived. Not only does this mean we’ve celebrated Easter and our trees are blooming beautiful in the midst of Colorado’s crazy weather …
… but this year, for the first time ever, it also means we’re counting down the days to the end of our district’s public school calendar.
Now, if you don’t know me well, I have to give you a bit of background: I consider myself a homeschool mom. As in, I homeschooled my children from birth-graduation, meaning I’ve taught my kiddos at home for the past seventeen years. My two eldest graduated from our homeschool several years ago, both early–with honors and scholarships. I’ve been a homeschool tutor, attended more educational conferences than I can count, I even wrote a book on it–literally! (It’s all about planning your year and you can grab it at Amazon here or at the link on the sidebar!) Back to Homeschool
Obviously, I believe in homeschooling.
We made the decision to send our kids to public school this year for a number of reasons. Launching a new nonprofit organization, moving to a small, close-knit town (literally the weekend before school started!) which boasted some of the best schools in the country, feeling a need to dig in and plant ourselves here, a desperate need for a community since we were attending a church lacking it, plus the fact that opening my overflowing curriculum cabinets incited a flood of tears–from me!–for the first time in nearly two decades, combined with our kids’ excitement, my husband’s relieved nod, and an assurance in my spirit that this was a choice we were allowed to make this year meant we made the step in full assurance.
I’ve had several friends and acquaintances (even teachers!) ask, “Do you like it? How’s it going?” and the answer is just too complicated to give in a few sentences, so I promised I’d write a bit about it. I do so with trepidation, because the internet is a notoriously poor place for conversation; it’s better suited to all-knowing proclamations. We tend to read articles with a defensive attitude rather than one of listening and desiring to understand. I hope that as you read this article, you can do so in the spirit in which I’m writing it–one of trying to understand one another. This is my experience. These are the things I have learned, as I’ve learned them. It’s the best I can offer because it’s really all I can offer. So here goes …
Here are a few things I’ve learned this year from our public school experience.
These will be in somewhat of a chronological order, rather than in order of importance. 😉
Lesson #1: Public school is not free.
I’m used to spending about $3,000 a year in curriculum and sometimes another thousand or so in “tuition” for various coops, Classical Conversations, etc. Our financial situation was pretty up in the air (is there any other way for it to be?) and so, honestly, lack of resources was yet another contributing factor as we were trying to decide what to do this past August. Public education is free, right?
Well … turns out, not so much. Every child’s class sent out a list of items that were to be brought in before the first day of school. My fifth grader’s list looked like this:
1 set computer headphones, 1 12 -inch ruler with metric markings, 1 Trapper Keeper, 2 spiral notebooks, 2 ultra fine point black permanent markers, 1 set of colored markers, 2 pkgs. notebook paper, 2 pencil sharpeners, 1 set of notebook dividers with tabs, 3 folders w/2 bottom pockets to serve as Friday Folder & Homework Folder, 1 clean old sock, cloth or cut up T-shirt (for use as whiteboard eraser), 2 reams of white paper, 2 erasers, 2 scotch tape refills, 2 boxes colored pencils, 2 composition books, 1 pr scissors, 3 highlighters, 2 packs red pens, 50 sharpened pencils, a pencil pouch, and 2 boxes of tissues.
Girls bring: 1 pkg. gallon size zip-lock bags
Boys bring: 1 pkg. thin, black dry erase pens
Optional: 1 box of latex-free band aids, 1 box of quart size plastic bags, 1 inexpensive calculator
Then there were registration fees, an athletic fee for my son who wanted to try football (nearly $200, and of course that didn’t cover the new shoes, mouth guards, etc. etc.!), phys ed outfits to be ordered, and additional fees for technology and foreign language classes. Of course there were backpacks and lunch boxes for everyone, too. All in all, I think a good $1500 was spent in the first month of school. I pack lunches most days, as it would cost over $100 a week for everyone to buy it at school, and this month we’ll spend another $320 for field trips and a three-day overnight trip my fifth grader takes as part of the end of the year celebration (yes, I’m going along as a chaperone!) I’ve bought tickets to school plays, sports events, and fundraisers, of course, as well. My guess is that when all is said and done, we’ve spent about as much during our public school year as I spent on curriculum during previous years.
Now, the reason this is incredibly surprising to me is this: Colorado spends over $9,000 per student each year.
I don’t get it.
Please note: I am not saying teachers are being given everything they need and schools shouldn’t ask for money. We’ve all heard of dedicated teachers who spend hundreds of dollars of personal funds each year on important supplies they don’t have, not to mention the true hero types working in disadvantaged areas who are literally feeding and clothing their charges. What I’m saying is that considering the amount of money being taken in and spent, they shouldn’t have to do that. Where on earth does all of it go?
Lesson learned: putting your children in public school will probably not save you much money.
Next up … identity.
We all know our identity has to be found in Christ, right? We know we have value because we are created beings full of gifts and talents and the capacity to share love and create beauty.
And yet … after making this decision (really in the midst of it) I ran into lesson two. Here it is:
Lesson #2. If you’re a homeschool mom, your identity is probably deeply wrapped up in that description.
Mine was. Darn it. Even though I knew better. I could have given you a zillion theological reasons why that was ridiculous, and yet, there it was; the sense that my main source of value had been lost. Giving up my “job” of nearly two decades was very difficult and made me feel as if there was a gigantic space at my center … how would I even introduce myself? Who would I be, if I were not homeschooling?
I’m happy to report, I was still myself. And all that space at my center? It wasn’t empty for long–in fact, it wasn’t empty at all. The true center was the space where my longing for God Himself was located, and He’s big enough to fill all. As far as my calendar went, that quite quickly filled up with volunteering at the schools (we had six children in four different places!), actually finishing my laundry on a more regular basis, painting, reading, taking college classes, helping with homework and of course the myriad of other things I needed to do even before I was homeschooling. Which brings up a subpoint: moms who stay home and don’t homeschool their kids shouldn’t feel guilty about that. You already have a full-time job; homeschooling means you have two. And if you haven’t seen this article yet, you should check it out: Husband Says He Can’t Afford His Stay At Home Wife.
Lesson #3. Much of the System is Truly Broken
When people seriously look into the issue of how to educate their children, rather than going with the status quo and following the 95% of parents who simply head for the local brick building when the calendar flips to August– like NORMAL PEOPLE do! — they find a lot of information out there. Here’s what we know about schools right now …
In 2011, about 28 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. (Retrieved from Institute of Education Sciences http://nces.ed.gov/)
***please read that paragraph again. It should shock you.***
Common Core. ‘Nuff said. Or maybe not, so check out the following thoughts from teachers:
“… the new guidelines are increasingly worrying English-lovers and English teachers, who feel they must replace literary greats like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with Common Core-suggested “exemplars,” like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Recommended Levels of Insulation and the California Invasive Plant Council’s Invasive Plant Inventory. “I’m struggling with this, and my students are struggling,” Highfill told the Post. “With informational text, there isn’t that human connection that you get with literature. And the kids are shutting down. They’re getting bored. I’m seeing more behavior problems in my classroom than I’ve ever seen.” … a March report by Renaissance Learning, Inc. reveal(ed) that American high school students are reading books intended for children at levels far below those appropriate for teens. A compilation of the top 40 books read by students in grades 9 through 12 showed that the average text’s reading level was 5.3 — barely above the fifth grade.” (Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/common-core-nonfiction-reading-standards_n_2271229.html)
“I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve,” Susan Sluyter wrote in a resignation letter published by The Washington Post.In the letter, Sluyter lamented that students are now subjected to more tests than ever before in her 25 years of teaching, in addition to excessively difficult new academic demands. She writes:
‘I have watched as my job requirements swung away from a focus on the children, their individual learning styles, emotional needs, and their individual families, interests and strengths to a focus on testing, assessing, and scoring young children, thereby ramping up the academic demands and pressures on them.’
(Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/susan-sluyters-resignation-letter-sums-up-common-core-concerns-2014-4)
If you haven’t yet heard this prize-winning teacher who gave a speech with a shocking conclusion regarding Common Core and its effect on special ed students, it’s definitely worth your time …
And then there’s this one, which discusses what losing literature will do to our children’s souls …
These changes aren’t just theory, either. My oldest son (11th grade) recently brought home a copy of Night, by Elie Wiesel. Since I’d always wanted to read it myself, I was happy to “borrow” it so we could discuss it. When I mentioned to him how impressed I was that they were delving into this book, he said, “Well, we only read about three chapters of it. So I grabbed a copy and brought it home so I could read it all, by myself.” Now, folks, this book is deep and life-altering and amazing … but it’s not so long that a person couldn’t read the whole thing. “Hmmmm. Maybe there just wasn’t enough time for you to read it all. What else have you read this year?” “Mmmmm, nothing, really. We haven’t read any whole books. Just excerpts.”
Insert wide eyes and wonder. (See last video)
The system is broken, and we’re doing a bad job of fixing it.
And yet …
Lesson #4: Public School Teachers Are Not The Enemy
I’m afraid sometimes homeschooling moms, perhaps because of all those negatives listed above, tend to see the entire system as the enemy. And that’s unfortunate, because we miss people like this:
This is Ms. Laverdure, Micah’s second grade teacher.
I love this lady. Seriously. She has been patient and encouraging and wonderful all around. Another reason we’d turned to the public school system this year is that I was perplexed about how best to help him with reading, as we were struggling with dyslexia. Amazingly, our school is one of the few in the nation which have been trained specifically regarding this issue, and my son was able to access therapy there–and is now both reading and writing, having made more than a year’s improvement in the past seven months! What a blessing.
In addition, two of my kiddos showed evidence of needing glasses (including this one!) — their pediatricians hadn’t noted this in the past! So we have two new wearers of glasses in the family, and it may have taken us much longer to figure that out were the kids not tested in their classrooms.
On the second day of kindergarten, as we walked home, Nicholas told me, “You’re the best mom ever.” “Why?” I asked. “Because you let me go to school!” he happily replied. Well, there ya go. His teacher is a peach and he loves being with the other kids. All my younger kids actually have great teachers whom they like a lot! We are extremely blessed to be in a location where most of them have been teaching for an average of 15 years–just amazing.
We are also blessed to be in a place where the district superintendent has been an outspoken critic of Common Core. I opted my children out of the testing, which I believe is unnecessary at best and stress-inducing, inappropriate, and a waste of time and money at worst, and found the administration in both the elementary and middle schools to be supportive of my right to make that decision–the teachers themselves have been protesting the new systems.
(Unfortunately, one of my high school-ers had a much different experience. Overhearing him saying to another student that he would not be participating in the test, one of his teachers proceeded to cite the impending drop in his house value that would result from kids opting out, along with the statement that my child could “kiss my ____ if you ever want a college recommendation from me.”
***insert deep breath and several calls to the teacher.***
Students there are not penalized this year, but are being threatened with the possibility with being kicked out of National Honor Society next year if they don’t participate in testing.)
So … there’s all that. Bottom line? It’s a mixed bag, folks. But there are some gems out there, as we’ve seen, and I haven’t yet mentioned this one …
Psalm 8, by my 12-year old’s choir. Be still my heart. I had chills through the whole concert. Of course, choir is always a bright spot; without the music room in my own high school, I doubt I would have made it through. My daughter’s amazing setup is no exception. The Harbor, as they call it, is a place where middle schoolers come to kick off their shoes, get comfortable, and learn to express themselves through instrumentation, dance, and song. Her teacher is an innovator who inspires me as I see him making a difference in these kids’ lives through the arts. One morning I was volunteering at the front desk, checking in people who were visiting classrooms or offices, taking errant lunch boxes to the cafeteria, etc. Suddenly, some of the most beautiful vocal music I’ve ever heard began wafting through the hallway; it was middle school students singing. We are thrilled Victoria has had the opportunity to have this amazing experience of singing with a great choir. She’s been stretched and encouraged and challenged. And it flat wouldn’t have happened in my living room. Profe Gonzales is one of my heroes this year, and has also become a friend.
There are amazing, fantastic people out there who chose this profession because they wanted to help kids and make a difference. Many of them are trying to be part of the solution to the breaks in the system. They are for our kids–every kid in our neighborhoods. And we should be on their side, rather than seeing them as the enemy.
Looks like that’s all I’ll get to on this subject, today! There’s so much more to discuss. I’ll share part two (which will be the second half) as soon as I can get to it. Right now, it’s time to go pickup my best little buddy from kindergarten. He’s having a playdate after school. 🙂
In the past couple of months, as we’ve begun really hashing out how we feel about the public vs. homeschooling issue, it’s become apparent that one of our main problems with living a “public school life” is just that … I’m not particularly interested in living a “public school life.” In other words …
Whether or not you want to put your child into a school will depend on how you want her to spend her days, and how you want to spend yours. If you put her in school, your main job will be to follow up and support what the teachers are doing with her, and get involved in the activities offered by the school. Your life follows the schedule of the school. Her education depends on what the school decides is important for her to learn, and they determine the pace of her learning. (Of course, this may or may not be the best pace for her.)
If you homeschool, you determine directly how she spends her days. You choose what she learns and how she learns it, how much freedom you’ll give her to choose what she wants to investigate, and how much “work” you will expect from her. You will spend nearly every day with her, directing her hours. You will want to think about what activities you think are healthy and valuable for a young child to spend time doing. If you think workbooks enhance learning, you can use them. If you think nature study is worthwhile, you can incorporate it. If you want her to love books and reading, and see the world as open and available to her through them, you may spend lots of time reading with her and searching the library for treasures together.
These things especially stand out to me … “If you put her in school … her education depends on what the school decides is important for her to learn, and they determine the pace of her learning … if you homeschool … you will want to think about what activities you think are healthy and valuable for a young child to spend time doing.” When you make the choice to put your children in school, you’re deciding that someone else is more capable of making those decisions.
Simply put, when you homeschool, you’re in charge. Of everything.
When your kids are in school, someone else is the boss. Of all of you.
They’ll read what’s assigned, be under the teacher who’s assigned, sit in the seats at the time assigned, complete the work in the time assigned–or be penalized for being outside the box. It’s the only logistical way to make “educating” a large amount of students possible.
The question, then, becomes this: “Who do you believe should direct the education and lifestyle of your children?”
#6. Much That Happens At School Goes Unnoticed
As I mentioned, my kids were very blessed this year to attend schools within a very highly ranked district. They had math and reading instruction in very small groups–a great benefit. I truly loved their teachers.
One day, I decided to take my lunch to school and join my second grader in the cafeteria. I felt like the Grinch–remember the scene where he’s talking about how he hates Christmas because of “All the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!!!” while the hammers banged his ears on either side?
That was me.
He was surprised and happy to see me, and we had fun having lunch together. But I could barely hear him over the din of voices! As I looked around, some of the kids seemed to be enjoying themselves, laughing and shouting over the relative chaos. But there were several (a third, maybe?) who mostly just sat quietly, eating, looking a tad overwhelmed. Micah said to me, “It’s crazy in here, huh?”
A few days later, my kindergartener and I were early to the school and spent a few minutes on the playground. The kids were giddy in the early morning cool, running and chasing and screaming as they raced up and down the ladders and slides. Nicholas turned to me and said, “See? I told you my class is loud and crazy.”
There was more than one story of being punched on the playground, and responses of, “The teacher didn’t see it” when I asked what had happened. And of course this makes sense! No one was brutally injured or anything; it’s just this:
Teachers cannot practically overhear and correct every unmerited unkindness, scream, punch, push, boast, etc. Which means that an awful lot of things like that happen every hour, every day, without discipline or correction. Whatever kids get away with is the rule of the land, to some extent. The result is a teensy bit reminiscent of, well … picture Lord of the Flies on a very miniature scale.
We don’t catch everything that happens within our homes or small co-op groups either, of course. But it’s certainly more likely that a child will be corrected in a group of two or five or ten than in a group of 25, especially when those 25 are part of a group of 50 or 100 or so on the playground or in the cafeteria at any given moment. Multiply a conservative, say, ten opportunities for correction a day gone unmet by the 180 days in a school year and … well, I give you current society as the result.#7. School is a place of nearly constant sensory overload. It was fun to see the classrooms at the beginning of the year–bright posters, primary colored chairs and drawers and carpets, piles of supplies everywhere. But when I spent some time in the classroom one day later in the year, I started to wonder how spending hours a day in the middle of that constant stimulation affected the kids–and teachers, too! I wondered if some of the weariness I could see on people’s faces was at least partially the result of the physical environment. It made me want to come in over the summer while no one is looking and take everything down, put all the “stuff” away, paint the walls in soothing shades, add some couches and soft lighting and pillows and maybe one bulletin board or two for displaying the latest lessons or artwork, and call it done. Well, maybe it would also be helped in the right direction by a candle and some classical music. Seriously, though–why not?
#7. Homeschoolers Sometimes Say Stupid Things
As a pretty small and opinionated minority, homeschoolers have come up with coping strategies. Passionate about our reasons for choosing a difficult path, we sometimes voice our thoughts sarcastically. Here are a few things I’ve read this year that caused me to cringe (mostly because I’ve said them before, myself …)
“Oh, I’ll make sure he’s socialized. I’ll just take him into the bathroom, steal his lunch money, and beat him up a little.”
To a mom whose kids are in school because she has no choice? This is like salt in a wound. Please, just don’t.
“THIS is why we homeschool,” usually attached to a link about some school shooting, horribly inappropriate book from the required reading list, or dismal graduation rate news article.
Honestly? I certainly hope no one’s homeschooling for any *one* particular reason, or out of fear, or thinking they’ll escape all the problems in the world by doing so. If you are homeschooling for any of those reasons, you won’t last. And again, offensive to people with kids in school.
Note: I’ve never personally seen a public school parent put up a note with a link to a terrible article about something happening in a homeschool family, saying “THIS is why my kids are in school.”
#8. Kids Need Friends Other Than You
I know, I know; this one should be obvious, right? Unfortunately, it seems to me after nearly two decades of interaction with loads of precious homeschool families, that many have swallowed this particular lie: all your children need is you. They should be satisfied with your family’s company to the exclusion of needing anyone else.
I call foul.
The need for connection is real, and can’t be circumvented. Your kids are in your home for the first quarter-ish of their lives, but the bulk of it will be spent primarily with other people. That’s an okay thing, not something to be feared. Family ties are important and they are (hopefully!) lifelong. But a child who has not learned to connect with people outside their family–to have adventures, keep the right kinds of secrets, and develop loyalties to someone other than you–will be flat incapable of moving forward in life–which, by definition, involves developing their own, independent, secure relationships with other people.
My kids have been thrilled to have the opportunity to meet all kinds of kids–and in those large groups, to find the few special relationships with kids who are like them in some ways, differing in others. To be known and chosen by someone who actually *owned* that choice is a great thing. And learning there are so many different people in the world with different ways of doing things hasn’t hurt, either.
#9. Technology is King.
My ninth grader was thrilled to learn that in his new high school, ALL STUDENTS were required to be online all day long. That’s not a joke. The school had wired every inch of the place for massive amounts of high-speed internet. If not currently in possession of a laptop, students were offered loaners. In every class, teachers have been instructed to incorporate technology–from history to music. Even in elementary school, ChromeBooks and computers were regularly in use–including use for testing, whether the students had been acclimated to them or not. In fact, my kindergartener was given a reading aptitude test by computer BEFORE THE SCHOOL YEAR STARTED.
This initiative, of course, had mixed results. Last year my son, who was the first to attend public school, was dismayed to learn that he would be required to make PowerPoint presentations and “everyone else already knows how.” This year, he makes beautiful slides with PowerPoint (I probably need to get him to teach me a few tricks) and I had to point out that he’d learned very quickly, and it is not apparently a skill that *needs* to be taught from K-12, after all. My middle-school daughter had more than one episode of crying over mandatory assignment links not being accessible, completed papers never “received”, and other glitches. And the high school student with unlimited access to the internet gave us a glimpse into what kids were doing throughout the school day–I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count, okay? ~ Yes, Facebook.
Children’s rooms are now almost pathogenic because they have so many distractions,” said Dana Alliance member Martha Bridge Denckla, a neuroscientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins who studies attention deficit disorders in kids. “I think the most devastating thing that has happened is giving a child a room with a computer in it–you think you’re being a good parent by doing so. Well, a funny thing can happen on the way to the homework.
There is also little doubt that all of the new technologies, led by the Internet, are shaping the way we think in ways obvious and subtle, deliberate and unintentional, and advantageous and detrimental The uncertain reality is that, with this new technological frontier in its infancy and developments emerging at a rapid pace, we have neither the benefit of historical hindsight nor the time to ponder or examine the value and cost of these advancements in terms of how it influences our children’s ability to think.
#10. Public School Is Where America’s Kids Are, and We Ignore It At Our Peril (and Theirs)
Homeschooling is a growing movement. There are estimated to be somewhere between 1.7 and 2 million students being homeschooled this year, with growth expected to continue at the current rate of about 15-18% (http://www.time4learning.com/homeschool/homeschoolstatistics.shtml)
Those are some big numbers. And yet, here’s the flip side: more than 90% of American students are in public schools.
Children are our future. The ten year old of today is your doctor, contractor, senator, food server, and neighbor of two decades from now. In light of that fact, how much attention should be paid to the public school system?
Having been part of that system this past year has convicted me of my ignorance and relative lack of concern for the kids of our country in the past. What happens when the parents perhaps most interested in education, in passing along their beliefs and values, the ones who care strongly about family ties, abandon the system without a backward glance?
I’d never have said I didn’t care about America’s kids. Yet, by ignoring what was happening or perhaps being satisfied with posting a negative news article or scholarly review to Facebook once in awhile without DOING ANYTHING about it, I was doing exactly that.
A year later, I don’t have solid answers. Choosing to homeschool means families find themselves busy educating their own children, with little time to spend lobbying, writing senators, meeting with teachers, etc. etc. But there has to be be a solution somewhere.
The reality is that most of our future fellow countrywomen-and-men are being educated behind the brick walls and glass doors of those institutions standing on the streets of our hometowns. To ignore what’s happening there is folly.
So, that’s it; what this homeschool mom learned from our year in public school. It’s not exhaustive, and I’m sure I’ll think of more as time goes on and perhaps add them in here.
Overall, we had a wonderful year with a great group of people. I’m so grateful we had this option available to our family when it was needed. And yet, as of now the plan is for my children to be at home to continue their education this fall. To me, the evidence that it’s best for us to learn together at home remains exponentially greater than any evidence to the contrary–especially when the negatives I’ve mentioned are weighed in.
I’m convicted to seek out how I can best support and perhaps even encourage improvement in the system we were part of this year. That should be a responsibility we all consider deeply. But I’m most looking forward to supporting and encouraging the precious ones God has given ME the privilege and responsibility of educating. It comes down to the same thing as always–not what is everyone else doing, what is most convenient, or what is cheapest, but this–what is BEST?
Which of these thoughts stand out most to you? What are you planning to do in the arena of education this fall?
Do you ever wake up gripped with a sense that the day already has you beat–and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet? Maybe you’ve just endured a major accident of some kind, or you received awful news just the day before. Or maybe your life took a turn not of your making a long time ago, and you’ve been holding on by your fingernails, it seems, ever since.
As I’m reading God’s word this morning, I find myself overwhelmed instead with the thought that God has already seen this day!
Not a dawn has broken but He has seen its sunset.
As you walk into your own day, today, remember: God has already been here. And He is with you now, walking alongside you. There is no need for fear! Nothing will surprise Him. And you may be lonely, but in truth you are not ever alone. There is no way of escaping Him, for even in hell one would find Him– Until the new dawn comes that is unlike all others because time is no more, and a new order has come to pass.
In Psalm 139, the writer puts it this way …
“O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
See? You are never alone!
“For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.”
Be strong, and courageous, and kind, and be not afraid. You are not alone, have never been alone, and need never be alone.
Last week I heard a fantastic message about faith and the movement of God in our lives. The speaker brought up a great point: too often, we live in a vague hope instead of a strong faith. He described his own tendency to hope things would turn out well, because he knows God is good and He loves us, and how that will often work out just fine … but it’s not actually the way of living by faith.
Someone said to me recently, “Hope is the basis of faith.” That sounded wrong somehow, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until I’d thought it through. We often use the terms faith and hope interchangeably, as if they’re just different words for the same thing. But the lesson taught by this man pointed up an important difference between them.
Hope is important. We need hope where our direction is not clear, which happens so often. Yet, while I may hope God will provide my needs and even a few wants just because I know Him and know He is good and wants to provide for me, living in some vague state of hope in every area of my life is less than what He wants. What He wants me to be able to do is to walk by faith in many areas. And I cannot do that without taking an important step: asking Him whether He plans to give me the things I’m hoping for! And of course this doesn’t just apply to stuff; it could be a relationship or a ministry, a job or a move.
But will I settle for hope or seek to move toward faith? In other words, will I take initiative to engage in conversation with Him about everything that concerns me? Hearing His voice is key to my faith, because it gives me something to work from.
When I’ve received God’s “yes,” my faith can kick into gear because I can say, That’s mine! He said so!
I can bring each desire or need before Him and say, “Lord, are you going to do this for me?” And then I can listen. Sometimes, He will say yes. Sometimes, He will say no. Those answers then lead me from a place of merely wishful thinking, and into one where I can rejoice over the “yes”-es, and wrestle if I need to over the “no”s.
Hebrews 11:1 says this: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Faith is the substance. The substance of something is what that something is made of. In other words, my faith is what will actually make up the things I’m hoping for; faith is the building block of those things. Not only that, faith is also the evidence–the proof, if you will–that the things that are right now unseen are actually in existence or about to become evident or visible.
We have such clear direction from God in His word, the Bible. For most of our questions the answers lie clear there; in principles, directives, commands, parables and stories. These words are solid and unchanging, and are a firm foundation for faith–taking it beyond mere hope. Interacting with God about the little and big things in our lives which are not quite as clearly spelled out can help us walk in confidence with God, as He whispers secrets to us and draws us closer to Him.
In your own daily life, are you walking mainly in hope or faith? What might you need to bring specifically to God, in order to say … This, Lord? Do You want this for me?
I’m Misty Krasawski; mama of eight (plus a beautiful daughter-in-law!), wife to one, and daughter of the King. I'm also an avid tea drinker, book reader, cookie baker, and Executive Director of the F4 Foundation! So glad you popped in! *Follow me on Periscope @MistyKrasawski*