Monthly Archives: June 2010

The conference is around the corner!

I haven’t been posting as much as usual since this has been an extraordinarily busy period for me!  Lots of things to write about, but no time to write!  The end of the school year is usually busy since I have all the regular paperwork to document everyone’s work for the past academic year, plus this year has been graduation and planning for next year for ds16 and dd15.  And of course, organizing the Torah Home Education Conference that’s scheduled for this coming Sunday!  After months of planning, it’s hard to believe that it’s finally here.

It looks like we’re going to have a great turn out for the conference!  We have people coming from all over the country – California, Washington, Iowa, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maine, and of course Maryland.  (I might have left out a state or two;  someone else is handling these registration details for me so I’m saying this off the top of my head. )  It looks like a really nice group of people and I’m gratified that so many people are taking the time and making the effort to participate.

We’ve also planned a teen girls get together, and I’m expecting between 12 – 19 girls for that. Then there’s a day camp for boys ages 4 – 10 (14 boys), and a day camp for girls ages 4 – 10, that also has 14 girls signed up.  Well, to be more accurate, there are three more children that I just learned about today but I don’t yet know if they’re boys or girls so they aren’t included in my tally. And then there’s the babysitting services for young children up to age 3.

In addition to helping arrange Shabbos placements for families coming for the entire weekend, I’ve also been busy with details for the communal shalosh seudos planned for Shabbos (Saturday) afternoon for local homeschooling families and those whove come in for the conference early.   I wanted to do this to give people a chance to get to know one another before the conference itself, which will make it that much more enjoyable when they come to the conference already knowing other attendees.

It’s been a lot of details to orchestrate – honestly I never would have done all of these things if I had considered doing all of it from the beginning.  I would have been too overwhelmed with all of it.  But one thing led to another, and it’s worked out!

If you want to come, it’s not too late.  You can register and pay at the door, and enjoy a stimulating day with lots of like-minded parents!  You don’t have to be homeschooling to attend or benefit; if you’re interested in an alternative approach to education, many principles and suggestions can be adapted by a parent of conventionally schooled kids, too!  If your children aren’t yet school age but homeschooling is something you’ve been wondering about, now’s a great time to further explore what is involved and make connections with others.

I invited someone coming in from NY for the weekend to stop by with her kids on Friday to see the ducklings (who are getting huge!).  It occurred to me that other blog readers who will be in the area with their children might also like to see them, also.  So I’m tentatively thinking that Friday for an hour in the mid – late afternoon (probably around 4 – 5) people can stop by with their children for a short visit, if it isn’t raining.

I’m in the middle of a yard renovation, lol, with the new fence almost finished, grass seed that we just planted yesterday, and lots of new raised garden beds we’re in the middle of building.  So my yard is definitely in process right now and I won’t invite anyone in since it’s a busy erev Shabbos and hopefully my kids will be napping or showering/getting dressed at that time. I’m not making this an official conference related offer and won’t be emailing anyone privately; if you read about it here you’re included.

If you want to come by on Friday, email me (avivahwerner AT yahoo dot com) and let me know, and I’ll give you the address and a definite time.  DON’T just show up and assume it will be okay since I’ll be very grumpy if you do. :)  If for some reason something unexpected comes up and I have to shift my plans, I’ll let you know that via private email as well.

Avivah

Homeschool graduation ceremony

The graduation ceremony on Sunday was soooo nice!  It was held in the grand ballroom of the top ranked hotel in historic Gettysburg. It was a beautiful day in every way – the drive there, the weather (at least on the drive home!), the people, the hotel, and the event itself.

Beginning at 1:30 was a special reception being held for the seniors, each of whom was allowed to bring two friends.  We didn’t get there until about 2:15, so the kids didn’t really participate in the reception. I took the older kids in so they could get settled without a rush, and asked dh to give the littles something to eat and to let them run around so they’d be prepared to sit for a while.  After signing in, they went to get their caps and gowns on to prepare for the processional, and there was the first problem.

Do you remember last week when I told you about all that I did to be sure dd15 had a new gown because it was so important to her?   Dd had been very, very careful, checking several times, to be sure she had the right gown.  Unfortunately, ds16 didn’t check at all.  And he took the masters gown that had the funky sleeves.   Though he was willing to wear it since it was his mistake, it was sized for someone 5′ 5″ and he would have looked ridiculous. So guess who had to wear it?  Yep.  Dd.   Ds ended up wearing the gown she had brought, which was sized for someone 5’7″ – 5’9″, a size smaller than he needed but still okay in terms of length.

Dd was close to tears when she realized that she was going to have to wear this gown in spite of all the efforts made to ensure she had the right thing.  She really, really was upset about it, but the first thing she told me after showing me the sleeves was not to say anything to ds about it, that he already felt bad enough.  I told her later that day that she was sent a custom-made growth opp0rtunity and she passed with flying colors; she didn’t blame anyone and she really had reason to be annoyed, but she put it behind her and didn’t let it ruin her entire day.

Right after getting her settled, it was time for the guests to enter the ballroom.  I met up with dh, and confirmed with him that the littles had been fed.  “No, they ate before we left the house; they won’t be hungry.”  But it had been two hours since we left the house, so I quickly gave each of the three littles a hard boiled egg to eat.   Though we ended up entering later than almost everyone, it was still on time.  But within two minutes of the welcoming remarks, ds2 was loudly saying, “I wewy hungy (I’m very hungry), I want ood (food).”

So out dh went to get him an egg, and I asked dh to be really careful so no crumbs would end up being made (being that were were in the ballroom where nothing than water was allowed, and it was a formal kind of occasion).  Has anyone else noticed that husbands sometimes have a different sense of what that means than wives?  So ds proceeded to make a mess all over the floor (because it’s hard to neatly eat a hardboiled egg when you’re little)  and wipe his hands on my skirt.  Dh was laughing at the two-year-oldness of it all but I wasn’t – at all.  (He is pretty cute, though!)

This was the beginning of my personalized growth opportunity of the day- when you’ve put so much of yourself into something (in this case, ten years of homeschooling plus all the effort involved in participating in the graduation, getting everyone there on time, etc) and have everything worked out, it’s hard to have the experience significantly changed from what you expect.  Within just a couple of minutes of the egg situation, I realized that there was no way I’d be able to stay in and enjoy the ceremony so I took the baby and ds2 out.

And it took me at least ten minutes to stop feeling resentful that everyone else could be there (my inlaws, my mom and a friend, all my kids and a friend of dd), while I worked so much for this and I couldn’t.  It reminded me of a situation some of you may have experienced at some point: you’ve recently had a baby, but are finally ready for guests.  After spending hours in the kitchen, cooking for Shabbos and cleaning the house from top to bottom, everything is ready.  The guests arrive and shortly after the meal begins, you have to go nurse the baby (which because the baby is still tiny takes about 30 – 40 minutes) while everyone at the table enjoys all your work while you miss it all and get there when the meal is over.

But gratitude is a wonderful tool and it was very helpful in helping me get out of that negative head space by refocusing on the positive aspects.  By the time dh came a while later to find me and insist that I go back in (“Avivah, there’s no one here who belongs in there more than you do”), I was fine with where I was and how things were.  More than halfway through the ceremony my father in law came out because he was ready to stretch his legs, so he watched the littles and I was able to go back in right before my kids were introduced and stayed until the end.

But let me get back to the graduation itself.  To begin the ceremony, the senior processional entered the ballroom from two sides, which was filled to the brim with 500 guests, while the typical graduation theme (can’t remember what it’s called – Pomp and Circumstance?) was played on the piano.  That was followed by the invocation, then the Pledge of Allegiance, then welcoming remarks by the organizer.

The graduation was themed to the historical time period of the Civil War (appropriate since we were in historic Gettysburg).  The musician played historically appropriate music, which was a very nice addition.  He started by telling us about a song played at that time called Rally Round the Flag, and taught us the refrain.

I’ve been singing it the last few days since learning it there!  Here are the lyrics:

“Yes, we’ll rally ’round the flag, boys
We’ll rally ’round again
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom
We will rally from the hillside
We’ll gather from the plain
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom

The Union forever, hurrah boys, hurrah
Down with the traitor, up with the star
While we rally ’round the flag, boys
Rally once again
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom

We will welcome to our numbers
The loyal, true and brave
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom
And although he may be poor
Not a man shall be a slave
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom

So we’re springing to the call
From the East and from the West
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom
And we’ll prove a loyal crew
To the land we love the best
Shouting the battle cry of Freedom.”

(Here‘s an online version of the song, if you’re interested in hearing the tune;  I had never heard it and it seems most of the audience hadn’t.)  He had a wonderful deep and hearty voice, and followed the first song with a request for everyone to join in “Oh, Susannah”, which everybody knew and the room was filled with sound as everyone sang together.  It was a rousing and enjoyable way to open the event, really setting the mood for an enjoyable and unique event.

After the historical musical selections, there was a presidential entrance made by Abraham Lincoln, who entered with two reenactors portraying Civil War soldiers.

The portrayal of Abe Lincoln was done by a professional Lincoln reenactor and he spoke about how he was also homeschooled, and then shared the Gettysburg Address.  I unfortunately wasn’t there by this point so I couldn’t hear what he said, but my family said it was interesting.

Then the senior class was introduced one by one.   Prior to the ceremony a short bio of each student was submitted by the parents, and the organizer shared the details about each student based on the bio as well as her personal knowledge of them.  This is what took the longest amount of time, since there were 44 graduates!   But even though it took time, it was interesting to see the diversity represented and  I appreciated seeing the breadth of accomplishment represented – it was quite impressive, but what I liked most was seeing the individuality of each person shining through.

Right after each student was introduced, they were called up and presented with a rose by one of the reenactors in front of everyone (you can see the reenactors in the background).

When all of the students were introduced, they were instructed to take their roses to their mothers and give her a big hug and thank you.  It was a very nice gesture, though my kids gave it to dh first since they didn’t see me in the crowd.  Then we had a short break.

After the break the commencement address was given by Senator Bryan Simonaire, of the Maryland General Assembly, district 31.  He happens to be a homeschool parent as well!  And his talk was short but really, really great!  He started by telling us that as a senator, he specifically looks for homeschoolers to work with since they are dedicated, motivated, hard working, and know how to have fun while they work.  He then shared his experience of being told he could never succeed politically, and how he persisted in spite of it.  His message was to never give up, to believe in yourself, and not to be afraid to make mistakes.  It was excellent.

Then the seniors one by one were awarded their diploma.  Prior to the ceremony, parents had been given three choices for how the diploma was granted: by Abe Lincoln, by Abe Lincoln with the parents standing to the side, or by the parents with Abe Lincoln by the side.  I chose the last option – I didn’t do all this work for years to let a stranger give my child his/her diploma!   Each senior walked onto the stage, received his diploma according to whatever choice he had made, and had a chance for a photo before walking off.  It was nice that time was left for this so families had a chance to get a picture of their child before they were suddenly off the stage.

Our kids were the very last ones since it was done in alphabetical order and when ds was called up I gave him a big hug before dh gave him the diploma.  Who cares if 500 people are watching?  It’s not just a piece of paper, but it represents ten years of our life as homeschoolers, with all of the fun, trips, togetherness that has been part of that time.  Though most parents did, I couldn’t hand over a diploma without at least a big hug!

Then we stayed on the stage after ds16 exited to wait for ds15 to come onstage, and dh and I hugged her and then I gave her the diploma. After having the picture with Abraham Lincoln smiling beside us, the organizer called ds16 back on stage so we could have a picture with both of them together.  It was very thoughtful of her.

Then the graduates were all called back on to the stage, briefly addressed, and threw their caps!

Something I really appreciated about this ceremony is that the emphasis was placed on recognizing each student for who they were and what they accomplished.  I remember my graduation being boring, with lots of speeches and a few awards for the select few, which left everyone else feeling ‘less than’.  But in this case, no one was compared to anyone else. And there were just two speeches, each only ten minutes long, and each very interesting.

We thought we’d be able to get an informal family photo since we were all there and we had a grandparent available to take a picture. But the battery died after taking just one, which wasn’t a good one.  But I’ll post it here for a day or two – I think my kids will object to it staying up longer than that!  (As one said to me, “The people who read your blog will think your children are the ugliest in the world!”  :roll: No, they’ll just think we’re a normal family in which all eleven people aren’t perfectly lined up and smiling at the exact same moment!)

We followed the ceremony with a barbeque for family and a couple of dd’s friends once we got back home.  Our parents told us then how impressed they were with the ceremony, and said it was beautiful and special.  Dh also appreciated that I had made the effort to have the kids participate – it really was a very nice way to note their accomplishment, and the kids themselves thanked me very much and said they enjoyed it very much.

So it’s now official – I have two homeschooled children who have graduated from high school!  We did it!!!

Avivah

Why am I insisting he attend?

As an update to my last post on the All Star game, which I wrote right before leaving, ds11 did great.  It was a really good game since it was the best 22 kids in the league playing one another, and there were some fantastic plays.  Ds hit the only home run of the entire game, which was exciting since none of the other players hit more than a double.  I wanted to be sure that he heard me cheering so I was quite…um….loud.

Dd15 and dd13 were laughing at me but when they asked him if he heard me screaming (to which I responded with mock dignity that I wasn’t screaming, I was whooping and hollering – much better), but he didn’t hear anything.  But it’s okay, because he appreciated hearing about it anyway; he knows it was only in support of him that I did it.   I haven’t been able to go to most of his games this season and he wanted me to see him doing well, so I’m glad I was there.  It was quite exciting, and even his coach, who is very exacting, was very pleased with ds.

Right before I left I notified the coach that ds11 wouldn’t be there on Sunday because of the graduation.  The coach looked distinctly unhappy but realized it was unavoidable after quizzing me about the time and location.  On the drive home, ds then told me that he HAS to go to this game on Sunday, that it’s the game for the playoffs and his team doesn’t have a chance of winning without him.  And that his coach is counting on him to pitch for three innings.  And that if his team doesn’t make it to the playoffs then it will be his fault, and if they do lose, it’s the last game they’ll play in the season and he won’t have a chance to say goodbye to any of his teammates.

He’s a very persuasive boy.   All my kids were agreeing that he needed to play on Sunday and ditch the graduation.  Why should he be bored sitting through a ceremony that he didn’t value at all when he could be playing this important game that everyone was counting on him for?  (I don’t know if everyone is counting on him to this degree, but it is true that he’s a very good player and likely to make a positive difference to the game outcome.)  And, he continued, it would be much more fun for him.  Ds16 and dd15 told me they think he should go to his baseball game also, that not only don’t they mind if he misses the graduation, but they want him to go to his game.  There was not one bit of support from my kids for him to miss the baseball game.

So what to do?  I had a momentary dilemma – why not let him go?  No one in our family would be upset if he wasn’t there, and everyone on his team would be happy about him being at his baseball game.  A graduation ceremony isn’t the most exciting and participatory event for attendees, and it’s true that he probably will be bored to a degree.  So why force him to go and be miserable when there really isn’t much of a gain for anyone if he goes?

After thinking for a minute, here’s what I told him.  This isn’t a question of what you’d rather be doing.  It’s about what you should be doing.  And what you should be doing is supporting your siblings at an important commemorative event that everyone in our family is participating in.  While right now it doesn’t look like a big deal to you, looking back on it, your absence will be missed and will be remembered (and probably regretted), while your chance to play baseball will continue every season for the next few years.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fun for you or not, because the decision isn’t made based on what’s fun but on what is right.

Today at lunch the issue came up again (you can’t blame him for trying :)).  Dh didn’t participate in the original conversation but today reminded the kids about a family we’re friendly with in which all the extended relatives are very supportive of one another, and how much our kids have commented on how nice that is.  And he said that there closeness happened because their mother insisted on them being there for each other when they were younger (that’s what the mother and married kids have said) and that support has continued even as they’ve gotten married and had children.  “Just like Mommy is doing,”  he concluded.

So while he’d still rather be playing baseball, ds has gracefully accepted it.  Now he’s hoping that he game will be rained out so that it will be postponed until Tuesday, when he can be there!

Avivah

Watching the All Star game today

Things are hopping around here!  Ds16 got back from CT last night where he was checking out the Waterbury yeshiva; I thought he was going to go last week but there was a delay in the response we got from the administration so it was pushed off until this week.  Though it would have been nice if he went for Shabbos, it worked out well like this since he could see what things usually looked like.

I have a lot to say about his experience and consequent conversations I’ve had regarding what happened (or didn’t happen) when he was there, but time is short – if I have a chance (no promises!), I’ll share some further thoughts about this next week.   Though he had pretty much decided that he would go there prior to leaving, that no longer looks certain at all, but ds isn’t ruling it out.   He’ll be checking out Ner Israel locally soon, which is much larger (the only downside) but perhaps a better match regarding learning level and likeminded peers.

Now the family is off to cheer on ds11, who was chosen to play on the All Star game for his league.  Some of you may remember ds16 was also chosen for this last year in his league so you won’t need explanation as to what it’s about!  But for everyone else, the All Star game is when the three best players are chosen from each of the seven teams in the league (one team gets to choose four players so there are an even number of players), and all of these players join to form two teams to play a game.  To accomodate those of us who are Sabbath observant, the game is played on Friday afternoon, beginning at 4:30.  That makes it a fuller than usual Friday, and that’s where we’re all off to now – we’ll be back right before Shabbos starts so an update will follow tomorrow night!

Avivah

Why is graduation a big deal?

>>I’m curious why the graduation ceremony is such a big deal in your family? I was homeschooled one year and because of that, got my diploma through North Atlantic Regional Schools, which gave me credit for my homeschooled years plus my schooled years. There was a graduation, but I never bothered to go, and don’t feel I missed out in the slightest. School graduations I sort of get the point of, because you’re saying goodbye to classmates and friends who you learned with for 4 years or longer and going your separate ways, but for a homeschooled kid?  This isn’t meant as a criticism in any way, I just am not able to wrap my head around the whole idea of a graduation being a big deal.<<

Well, we’re not participating in the graduation as a cost-cutting measure, that’s for sure! 😆

My view of graduations is that they are to mark the academic accomplishment of reaching a particular goal (eg, 8th grade, high school, Bachelors, Masters, etc), not to say goodbye to friends.  That’s what graduation parties are for!  None of us (me or my friends way back in high school) ever thought of the official graduation ceremony as anything social.

So I see several reasons to participate in this particular graduation ceremony for my oldest two children.  One is that my kids have accomplished what every other graduating senior has and they deserve to be acknowledged for that.  Their education isn’t less valuable or noteworthy because it took place at home, and though they won’t value what they’ve done more or less because of the official ceremony, others will.  Actually, maybe seeing the values others place on it will positively affect their view of themselves; I don’t know.

Children don’t complete their education in a void.  My inlaws are wonderful people but have not been encouraging or supportive of home education, and because my fil was a teacher, it’s been particularly challenging for him to understand my more relaxed and integrated approach.  They’ve been concerned our children wouldn’t get a good education or be prepared for life, because homeschooling was so foreign a concept to them.  When we told them about the graduation, they were thrilled – there was finally something they recognized and valued.  It’s the first educational thing we’ve shared with them in all these years that they feel good about.

I could talk until I’m blue in the face about all the kids have done and accomplished over the years and it would be meaningless to them – I just wouldn’t be speaking their language.  The quality of my children’s education hasn’t been changed by having an official graduation ceremony, but it’s being marked in a way that my inlaws understand.  So in large part we’re doing this because it’s important to the grandparents, and by extension, positively affects their perception of their grandchildren and their abilities.  And even for parents who are strongly supportive (like my mother), it gives them a chance to have additional joy and pride in their grandchild/ren.

But I’m not doing it just to make grandparents happy – while it’s a factor, it’s not the only factor.  The ceremony will be in historic Gettysburg and it will be a bit different than the typical graduation.  I think it will be enjoyable and a nice memory to look back on!

My dd13 has said she doesn’t think she wants a ceremony like this, and I told her that’s fine.  There are many ways to commemorate a special event, and when we get to that stage, we’ll discuss with her what she would like.

Avivah

Graduation gown mishaps

Months ago I received an email from my umbrella group notifying me that there was a 10% group discount available for purchases made before a certain date through a graduation supply company that they made arrangements with.  I right away sat down to prepare my order, but decided to order everything at once (including having the diploma professionally printed, which I thought I needed the completed transcripts for) rather than make two separate orders.  After getting the transcripts finished just a few weeks ago, I learned that I could have placed the entire order months ago without the transcript.  So I missed that chance for saving.

No problem, so I’ll pay a little more, I figured – the main thing is to have what you need when you need it. Several weeks ago I placed my order at full price and ensured that the gowns/caps/diplomas would all arrive at least two weeks before the official graduation date.  But time was passing and it didn’t come.  I had wanted to make a change to my order but figured it was too late (I was sure it had been shipped already), and finally called to find out what was happening. And it’s a good thing I did.

I was informed that my order hadn’t been shipped and wouldn’t be shipped because my credit card didn’t go through, and they left a message for me three weeks earlier and were waiting for me to get back to them.  Oh, dear. Picking up my phone messages is seriously a weak point of mine.  If I do it once a week it’s a lot.  Anyway, I checked the messages and a family member apparently had listened to it, but not told me about it.  :roll:

By the way, I asked dh (who took over dealing with the finances several months ago) what was going on with the credit care because this was the second time this happened in three weeks, and it’s never in all these years happened before.  He said he thinks the the security setting was changed.  This was kind of frustrating since there was an ample balance and once I placed the order, thought all of this was taken care of well in advance, but instead ended up seriously scrambling to get this all taken care of.  But since that’s what happened, it’s clearly what was meant to happen.

Back to the order.  Since someone had a graduation gown that I could borrow for dd, I cancelled her cap and gown, figuring I would save on that, then paid an extra fee to have rush service so it would get here in time.  (It’s supposed to arrive Thursday, which is cutting it way too close to comfort for me since the graduation is on Sunday.)

Then I went to pick up the gown that I was offered on loan, and learned that a master’s graduation gown has different sleeves than the regular gowns.  Dd15 wasn’t happy at all with it, even though I told her I could pin it and the difference wouldn’t be noticeable.  So today (3 days before the graduation), I went searching for a used graduation gown, since there’s no time to buy a new one and have it arrive on time.  The thrift store ironically had exactly the color and size she wanted (royal blue), but we don’t have a cap to match it and there’s no time to order it.  There was also a master’s black gown in her size (which we do have a cap to match), and I told her if I bought it, I’d be able to cut the sleeves and make them look just like the regular gowns, but she didn’t like the material.

Then I found someone on Craig’s List who was selling a black gown.  It was a size bigger than what we needed but at this point I couldn’t be choosy!  I spent an hour today driving to pick it up, and since I’m feeling tight for time, was quite relieved when dd said it didn’t need to be hemmed even though it’s a little long – she noticed on the website it said that if you prefer a longer gown, to just buy one size up, so she felt comfortable with the way it fitted her. I really didn’t want to have to deal with hemming it at this point!

So in the end, I’ve had some excitement with getting this gown, and despite that haven’t saved much even after canceling the original gown order.  Once I factor in the rush shipping fee, the money spent to buy it used, and the gas getting there and back, I pretty much come out even.  But the main thing is that I got a suitable gown for her – and I’m looking forward to having the rest of the order arrive tomorrow!

Avivah

Moving Beyond Fear – An accurate look at home education

I said that I’d share here with you the recent article I wrote for our local community publication, the Where What When, geared towards the Orthodox Jewish community, so here it is!

Moving Beyond Fear – An Accurate Look at Home Education

As a home educator for the last ten years, I’ve been approached a number of times by parents in the community with questions and concerns about home education.  Many thoughtful and deeply concerned parents have become increasingly concerned with how the needs of their child/ren are being met by the schools they attend and want to explore the possibility of educating their children at home.

In the secular world, the general perception of homeschoolers tends to be highly positive, with many expressing the belief that homeschoolers are interesting, well-educated, and well-rounded – more so than their schooled peers.  (Some homeschoolers have felt this perception to be a pressure to live up to, but be that as it may, the perception is there.)  Colleges have increasingly directed their recruitment efforts towards homeschoolers, recognizing the unique strengths that home educated students, who tend to be highly motivated and truly interested in learning, bring to the college atmosphere.  The high regard with which home educated students are viewed isn’t surprising, as homeschooling as a movement has been around in earnest for several decades and the success of home educated students in every venue (academic, career, interpersonal) is quite high.

What is surprising are the inaccurate and specious perceptions found in the Jewish community towards home education.   What makes this even more intriguing is that the Jewish people for generations have transmitted the Torah from parent to child – according to the directives of Chazal, a responsible parent must teach his child three things: Torah, a trade, and to swim.  You wouldn’t think there would be much to object to from a religious perspective.

Why all the negativity?

To understand the opposition to homeschooling in the Orthodox world, we need to look at several points.

The first is historic – the yeshivos have widely been credited with saving American Jewry (an evaluation I personally share).  Therefore, we have assimilated the idea that nowhere but in yeshiva can a child receive a solid Jewish education – even though the demographics of today are quite different from seventy years ago, when many parents were poorly educated Jewishly and disinterested in providing their children with a solid Jewish education.  (Interestingly, this is remarkably similar to the African American view of home education.  Blacks in this country worked hard politically to integrate the public school systems and continue to this day to insist on public schooling as an ideal, despite the statistical reality that African Americans as a group are one of the most poorly served by the public schools.)

Secondly, parents simply don’t know what is involved and the normal response to the unknown is fear.  That response is found equally in the non-Jewish and Jewish world and is easily countered with accurate information.  Attending a local support group meeting, speaking to experienced home educators, and attending the upcoming annual Torah Home Education Conference (June 13 at Park Heights JCC, Baltimore) will go far to assuage these concerns.

The largest part of the fear is social.  There is a growing insistence on conformity in our communities.  This is evident in every area of religious life, not just in schools, and while it would be nice to say that this movement towards conformity has been exclusively to the betterment of our communities, that would be inaccurate.

As a result, people are afraid to to make choices that outwardly look out of step with those around them.   Fear of recognizing and asserting one’s needs is an unhealthy place to be making critical decisions from, and is especially unfortunate when it’s carried over as a decision making strategy for our children.  It’s in large part the fear of ‘what will people say’ that results in a significant number of families in our community being unwilling to make a change in the educational framework their child is in, even when there are clear indications that the child is being poorly served and even at risk.

While a discussion of Jewish history and the role of R’ Yehoshua ben Gamla and the directive he instituted at a time when many children didn’t have parents to educate them and were falling by the wayside would be most interesting, it’s not within the scope of this article.  (Please note that I while I share the reasonable concerns regarding those in our community who remove their children from school and do not actively step forward to support their education, this is also not the purpose of this article.)

Fear is essentially at the root of concerns about home education – namely, fear of the unknown, fear of being different, and fear of not having the skills to succeed.  What I would like to address are some commonly expressed concerns and the underlying fears.

Some common fears

I didn’t grow up frum/I don’t know enough – Baruch H-shem (thank G-d), we aren’t limited by what we did or didn’t learn in high school!  There are wonderful resources to help a parent build his knowledge and skill in every area, both Judaically and secularly.  We live in a community rich in resources, there are plenty of resource people in the community you can turn to with questions, and even the internet is a wonderful source of shiurim and Torah learning.  Learning can and should continue your entire life – one delightful aspect of homeschooling is that you’re constantly learning new things, learning that in all likelihood you wouldn’t take the time to explore if you didn’t need to.

I’ve found it particularly interesting when teachers tell me this.  I respond, “But you’re teaching the children of this community – and you don’t have the confidence to teach your own child?”  While parents benefit from continually expanding their knowledge, you don’t always have to know something before your children do – you can learn alongside them.  And often your children will teach you about new things!

Years ago I asked Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller how she developed the strong textual skills that she is well-known for.  She replied that when her children were young, she would try to find time to read a sefer (book in original Hebrew of Torah ideas) when she had the chance.  But, I persisted, what about when you didn’t know the meaning of the word?  “I’d turn the page.”  The message I went away from that phone call with was not to be dogmatic about learning, but to keep learning, that consistency and regular application to the material over time will improve one’s skills remarkably.

It’s important to understand that while parents don’t have to know everything, they do have to do is be willing to expand their comfort zone and be willing to look for opportunities to support the child’s interests and needs.

My child won’t listen to me – I always say this isn’t a home education issue, this is a parenting issue!  One pleasant surprise that parents experience when they take their children out of school is that within a fairly short time, there is a noticeable improvement in their child’s behavior and attitude as your child sheds many of the pressures and tensions that were inherent in school life.  This makes parenting much easier!

What will he do all day? – As the lives of our children have become increasingly involved with school, there are fewer and fewer free hours left for them to explore their interests or to develop hobbies.  While in the past parents (and their children) would have had no concerns about how to use free time, too many parents today have lost touch with the need of a child to have unscheduled and unstructured free time.  Children can only learn to manage time themselves when given the opportunity – but the majority of children (and their parents) today are totally lost on a vacation day as to how to occupy themselves.  Perhaps we should be more concerned about how our children will learn to structure their time independently when adults tell them how to spend most of their waking hours?

But what do kids actually do if their academics and homework aren’t consuming most of their waking hours?  Read, relax, play, get together with friends, spend time with siblings, go on trips, listen to music, help around the house, start a home business, do projects and crafts, develop hobbies – the day gets filled fairly quickly.

Kids need the pressure of their peers to make the right religious choices -For those who truly believe that his child won’t want to be religious or live the lifestyle the parent is living without the pressure of his peers, then the real problem is you and how you present your lifestyle.  If your life is joyful and meaningful, and he sees he can experience the same thing by following that path, then he will.  If he doesn’t see that, then he’ll understandably choose something else.  When I hear things like this I have to wonder about the underlying message of ‘conformity above all’ that the child must be absorbing.

Children need to be in school to learn good social skills – In contrast to this often touted objection to homeschooling, many parents have personally experienced that most of what kids learn from their peers are the things we want to “unteach” them!  This is true from the very youngest age, beginning with children in play groups.  Children don’t learn healthy social skills from their peers; they learn coping mechanisms and how to conform to the current fashions/trend in behavior, speech, and dress.  Healthy social strategies are learned by watching and modeling mature healthy adults.  One reason television and the media are so harmful is that the adult actors and actresses  are modeling immoral, selfish, and immature behavior  Watching that day in and day out has an effect.  So does being in a classroom with same age peers.

Homeschoolers are weird and I want my kids to be socially normal – Comments like this are funny because they show that the questioner doesn’t know any/many homeschoolers!  This goes back to the need for conformity; there is an unspoken assumption that anyone in the Jewish community who makes a choice that differs from the mainstream must be strange.  While this is judgmental and narrow-minded – not to mention patently false – this is a commonly expressed fear.

Understandably, we want children who can appropriately interact with others of all ages.  To be honest, homeschoolers are somewhat different from their schooled peers.  They tend to model adult behaviors from a younger age, meaning that they are more mature, self-aware, and significantly less peer oriented.  That means they care more about what is right than what their peers will think.  They care more about listening to their own voice than following the crowd.  To assume that having a healthy sense of one’s self is a social liability is false – it is actually when you feel good about yourself and who you are that you have the most social strength.  Do you think that self-esteem is better supported by a loving home or in a large group of same aged children?

A mother watching a group of homeschooled children interact at a recent homeschool gathering commented that it was amazing to her to watch children play together for so long with no fighting, no name calling, no bullying – just enjoying each other.  This is common at homeschool events that are secular or non-Jewish as well as our local frum gatherings.  There’s clearly something about being removed from the daily ‘pecking order’ that benefits children socially.  I guess that does make homeschoolers ‘weird’.  Maybe it’s time for us to ask what ‘normal’ means and if we really want our kids to be normal!  This brings to mind a t-shirt I notice bearing the slogan of anti-debt finance advisor Dave Ramsey, that stated: “Debt is normal. Be weird.”

People will look down on me – Being a responsible parent means making decisions based on what is right for your child, not from your insecurity of social abandonment.  However, I’ve found that people are rarely negative when they learn that I’m home educating.  The majority of parents of several children who have passed first grade are well aware of the challenges and issues inherent in school.  They’ve already learned that not every child can do well in school, not every child fits the mold, and many are watching the spark go out of their child’s eyes.  Therefore, the response tends to be positive and sometimes even envious – “Good for you!”  “How did you have the strength to go against the crowd?”  “You’re so lucky!”  “I know my child would benefit from homeschooling and wish I could be confident enough to do that.”

I couldn’t stand to be around my child all day/I’d go crazy – I mentioned earlier that kids often become more enjoyable to be around when removed from the pressures of school.  Kids would probably report that their parents became more enjoyable, too!  However, if you truly don’t enjoy your child and dislike spending time with them, please don’t even consider home education.  I’ve been able to offer support and practical suggestions to parents in different situations that have helped smooth the path of home education for their families, but this is one worldview that is inherently in opposition to the goals and attitudes necessary for successful home education.  While parents may blithely toss this comment out without intending it to be a serious statement of values, perhaps it’s time we looked more closely at what we’re saying and the messages our children hear.

If you are a parent who knows in your heart that your child needs a more individualized approach to education, please don’t let false fears keep you from learning more about this option.  It may be viable for you, it may not.  Home education is not for everyone.  But neither are the schools.

Avivah Werner is the mother of nine children and has been home educating for the last decade; her oldest two children will be graduating – from homeschooling for high school – at the beginning of June.  She is the founder of the J-LIFT, the Baltimore area support group, founder of the Torah Home Education Conference, and has spent numerous hours answering questions about home education.

For those who are interested in exploring more about home education, the Second Annual Torah Home Education Conference will be held in Baltimore on June 13, from 9 am – 5 pm at the Center for Jewish Education, in the Park Heights JCC.   This is a national event featuring speakers including Rabbi Daniel and Mrs. Susan Lapin, Rabbi Yosef Bentzion Bamberger, and Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, in addition to a number of others.  More details about the conference are available at www.jewishhomeschooling.wordpress.com, or call Alisa at 410-963-2977.  Registration must be done in advance.

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My approach when discussing home education is to be proactive rather than defensive in how it is presented in the religious Jewish community.   The feedback I’ve gotten so far has BH been highly positive,  and it will be interesting to see what the responses in the ‘letters to the editor’ section are in the coming month.  If you’d like to express your thoughts on this article in that venue, you can do so at http://wherewhatwhen.com/advice.asp.  The more discussion there is of these ideas in a public forum like this, the better!

Avivah