Saturday, October 4, 2008


All the homeschooling blogs I’ve read paint a rosy picture of happy children with unruffled moms blissfully pursuing knowledge in the form of fun field trips or organized home activities. The kids are happy, the mom is happy, and learning happens almost as an afterthought.

So what am I doing wrong?

I have three teens at home – grades 8, 10, and 11. I’ll ignore for now the fact that they don’t always stay on course and get their work done within the timeframe I specify. That they distract one another with chatter. That on a nice day one or more go outside and putter in the garden until I herd them inside, chiding them for taking a break before finishing their work. And I’ll overlook that I’ve completely disrupted their routines – routines that we were just in the process of establishing, frankly, because we hadn’t even completed two full weeks of school – by putting schoolwork aside when I first heard of my brother’s tragic accident, then worked with my family to organize his funeral. I’ll ignore that because we’re back on track now, really we are. Back to doing all our subjects.

That means that Jacob and Alexandra are studying Chemistry again. I decided to have Jacob and Alexandra both do Chemistry this year because it’s easier on me to have them do labs together, and for me to keep up with two science courses rather than three.

Because of our disruption, it took all of September to cover just the first chapter of Chemistry: Measurement and Units. Now how hard can that chapter be? I read half the chapter to familiarize myself with the subject. Yep, it’s a lot of math. The chapter stressed consistency in units and significant figures. They beat significant figures into you. There were practice questions and review questions and pre-test practice questions. No, I didn’t hand hold Jacob and Alexandra through it. I expect them to review their answers and read the answer key and figure out where they went wrong if they didn’t get the correct answer.

In our home, homeschooling means self-study. Maybe it’s not the best way, but that’s what it is here. You read, you do the problems, you check your work against the answer key. I check the labs. If you have a question, ask me and I’ll make sure I find the answer and explain it; if you don’t ask, I assume you understand.

“Ready for your first test?” I asked. It was, as I said, way behind schedule. “It’s all problems just like the practice questions. Remember – always convert numbers so they have the same units – you can’t compare measurements in inches and centimeters, or centimeters and meters. An answer with no units is considered wrong. And always, always pay attention to significant figures. Are you sure you’re ready?”

Alexandra took the test before Jacob. She got a 95% – one problem wrong.

Jacob dragged his feet and studied longer.

“Yes, I’m ready,” he finally said.

He’s not as diligent as Alexandra, so I reminded him about the units and significant figures. Then I repeated myself. I had a bad feeling about this test.

He got the first few right. But then as I compared his answers with the answer key – correct answer, wrong number of significant figures. Unfortunately, that’s considered wrong. One wrong, two wrong, three… My stomach sank. Four wrong… By the time I’d marked the test, he ended up with a 69%. I was so disappointed. I felt I’d failed somehow.

“Jacob, I told you to pay attention to significant figures. That’s the one thing that they stress over and over in this chapter.”

Without missing a beat, he sassed back. “Stupid test! All along we’re taught in math to be precise, to have as many significant figures as possible! This is really dumb!”

“Yes, but this chapter is specifically about measurements and calculations with these measurements. If you measure a board that’s 3.1 meters long, you suddenly can’t do a calculation using the 3.1 meters and come up with an answer accurate to the thousandths of meters!” I explained.

“I bet they’re not doing stupid stuff like this in public school!” Oh, Jacob said more than that. Stupid book, stupid test – it’s everyone’s fault but his.

He grabbed the phone angrily and called his classmate from last year, who is taking Chemistry in public school. What I heard of the conversation suggested that in public school, they, too, learn about – and are tested on – significant figures.

Meanwhile, I confronted Alexandra about her Health test that she’d taken that day.

“Alexandra, this is a really easy test. You’re an A+ student. Last test you got an 80-something. This week you got an 86%. You can do better than that! Jacob got a 103% on this test last year – all the answers plus the bonus. Did you even study? I think you aren’t taking homeschooling seriously. I expect you to score in the 90s. You’ve always been a good student; you aren’t trying.”

Was Alexandra remorseful? Embarrassed? Did she vow she’d do better? No, she laughed! In a sing-song voice, she mocked, “Oh, let’s all be sad now.”

I lost it. Where are the happy, respectful kids? Don’t they have an ounce of appreciation for the sacrifice I make daily to homeschool them? (Yes, we know the answer to that.) For all my time and efforts, my late nights and failing health, they argue and sass and mock.

I left the house. I did not stay for dinner. I did not make dinner. (Fortunately, it was Larissa’s assignment to do that.) I went to my deceased brother Greg’s house and just chilled out there, alone with my thoughts, alone in his garden, alone with photos of him with his son.

And there I finally found a strange peace.


Valerie said...

I feel for you. It can be so hard and they can be so intractable over the hardest and the easiest thing. Heck, this past week, I've been calculating the chances that I can send my oldest to school next year. I hope things settle down into a better routine soon and attitudes get a little more in line!

Pam said...

I know in my blog, I tend to paint a rosy picture, but my main purpose is to keep long-distance relatives updated with our lives. I can sure relate to what you've gone through here! Sometimes I feel that BECAUSE we homeschool they don't anyways take their work seriously. That's when I have to get real serious with them, crack down, and let them know my expectations (demands). Anyway, I hope this week is easier!!

Faith said...

Thanks for validating my feelings. Homeschooling is the toughest thing I've ever done, and with three this year, the load on me is incredible (especially since I also work 6 hrs/day), but the kids don't see my burden, only their own - and they aren't silent about it. Sometimes I have as many as a dozen assignments to read over, grade, or comment on in one evening. Yet some days, like you said Pam, the kids don't really take their work seriously and I have to hound and scold them. It's a daily struggle.

Crimson Wife said...

I've got a long way to go until my kids are teens (they're almost 6 and almost 3) but we've certainly had our share of meltdown days in the short time we've been homeschooling.

Yesterday, in fact, I yelled at my older one because I got so frustrated at her for playing dumb during her math lesson. Bad mommy :-(

Carletta said...

If it makes you feel any better, we're all the way into October and we're still not doing our full curriculum. Grandpa died, then I had my wisdom teeth pulled, and who knows what will happen next week when I decide to get back on track. No perfect people in our homeschool, lol!

Sorry about your brother. It hurts so badly to lose someone you love.

Alison said...

As Pam says, I think it depends on the purpose of your blog whether you talk about the negative stuff. I certainly find that any disruption, even an event at the weekend that tires us out, affects what we can accomplish in the following days. Hopefully the disruptions and sad things that happen end up being as much of a learning experience as the formal lessons.

Faith said...

I started the blog to document my startup process and the ups and downs of homeschooling, plus working (in my case). It's been a bumpy road, with successes and frustrations. But that was the original intent - to document the process in a journal-like way, but by making it public, get some feedback and suggestions. Thus I've included disappointments ( and successes ( By using pseudonyms, I hopefully keep the kids from being embarrassed by my sharing.

Dana said...

I think it is all part of parenting. I did the same kinds of things to my parents and I was in school. Actually, this is just me, but I think a lot of this kind of frustration comes from the expectation that because we homeschool, we shouldn't have these kinds of problems.

But children rarely appreciate what is being done for them. They've grown up with it and expect it. I'm not sure they fully get it until they are holding their first child and realize just how much you loved them as their hearts burst with love for the little one in their arms.

Sebastian said...

I think that it can be doubly hard at this stage to be parent and teacher. It doesn't allow us to shift any of the bad guy vibes to an outsider. Parents of schooled students still have to deal with kids who don't do as well as they could or who try to play the "that's stupid" card when they don't like a situation. But it isn't a rejection of what the parent has assigned, taught or assessed.
One trick that might help you. I had several classes in college that allowed one 3x5 card of notes, equations, equivalents etc. You might try that. The next test could have a list of the things that he needs to check when he checks over his problems, like sig digits. But each test would need a new, different card, because there would be a different emphasis.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)