When we lived in Utah, we attended a Unitarian Universalist church. UUs as a group tend to support governmental programs like public schools, and so we homeschoolers got a lot of push-back about “deserting ship”. The reasoning was that if we had time to homeschool, it would be better if we had our kids in public school and spent that time volunteering at public school to make our school system better. Homeschooling was seen by quite a few people as the selfish, non-community minded option. Most of these people had their kids in private school (and didn’t volunteer at public school either), but they viewed that as a superior choice to homeschooling because you can volunteer at the private school and they feel that helps build community as well.
My Kids vs. The Common Good
Sorry folks, but I’m not going to sacrifice my kids’ education for some theoretical common good. Whatever education my children would have received in our local public school district would have been substandard and not appropriate for kids of their ability. As a volunteer parent, my ability to affect my own son’s and daughter’s education would have been minimal. The UU would be school activists’ response to this was that I could always “afterschool” my kids to make up any lack. Ironically, some of these were same parents who would also moan to me that they couldn’t understand how I could bear to homeschool when just doing a couple of hours of homework per night with their kids was pure torture.
What About Afterschooling?
Afterschooling is an option that I only suggest to parents when they absolutely have no other option. For most people, afterschooling is frankly wretched. Assuming you have time after the pile of busywork from school is completed, you’re now going to try to jam serious learning into the precious few moments left before bedtime? On kids who are probably so jaded and burned out after their day at the mind-numbing substandard public school? No thank you.
Read this before you jump into the comments to attack me: If your public school is excellent and stimulating and challenging and your kids come home in a good mood, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and ready to have extra Latin and Calculus lessons, great! Please understand that for most people working in average school in the U.S., this is not even in the neighborhood of the usual school experience. If your kid is bored and mind-numb at school, trying to afterschool them when they come home (likely angry, restless, and burned-out) is a really rough task.
If your kid is bored, struggling, and getting more and more resistant to learning, don’t mess around with afterschooling. Find a way to homeschool or find a way to get them into a better school. Robbing them of their few hours of decompression time is not going to make them love learning or improve their grades.
What Do Volunteer Parents Do, Anyway?
Having been a parent volunteer in a local school, I could see that they really needed me and other parents to help do support work– for teachers and administrators. Even after you pass the background screening, in my experience, most of your tasks for public school bring you into only minimal contact with kids. Most of the kids I worked with were really suspicious of adults anyhow, having been taught by popular media to view adults as stupid and out of touch, and taught by the system to view every adult as a potential child molester.
Don’t get me wrong. Teachers really do need someone to make 500 copies of worksheets for them. I just don’t deceive myself that by helping with that, that I am “making our schools better” or “helping make a positive change in the system”.
My UU friends would say the problem is that I didn’t get involved deeply enough with the PTSA, which is where the “real” change happens. This could be so, but in my two PTSA experiences in two different PTSA organizations in two states, the only thing PTSA wanted from me was money, forms, and baked goods. Oh, and to buy school tee-shirts! Again, your mileage may vary, but I’ve spoken to many parents for whom this experience is true.
Broken System is Broken
As a parent with a kid in the public school system, your ability to affect the things that actually matter, that improve your child’s chance at academic success, and provide safe and enjoyable learning environment is very small. I think our public school system can and should be fixed, but it’s not going to be fixed by me throwing my kids in, and me volunteering alongside them in the trenches. I can best help by raising well-educated, civic-minded people who can challenge and affect the system at the levels where real change can happen. For us, that means homeschool. Alas, things are not going to get better at public school because I baked cookies for a fundraiser.
This Post Partially Inspired by:
The Center Cannot Hold (Archdruid Report)