Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whose Bright Idea Was This? A Little Bit of History From Home School in Nowhere

My sister, who has tons of professional experience as an educator, and as a lovely, clever person, will often say, "Oh, carry on, you're just at the whose bright idea was this, stage." This comes up when preparations are underway for a trip or party or any event people have been anticipating. It comes at the moment when people are getting discouraged, or frustrated, and are beginning to regret ever having gotten involved. It's the moment when worrying that things might not get done the way people imagined, or on time, accelerates to warp speed.  I'm often thankful that she has taught me to recognize moments of panic as passing breezes in the small storms of daily life.
Recently I watched Margaret Wheatley, in her very soothing voice, explain this change principle in the context of creating healthy communities, as everything is a failure in the middle. To see that this is not just a funny little repeating catastrophe particular to our own family has been very reassuring, since, with our decision to home school, the wbiwt fairy has been a frequent visitor to our home.
When Thing Two replies brightly to the question, "What school do you go to?" with "Oh I'm home schooled," the conversations start. Questions range from "Are you allowed to do that?" to "How will she (fill in one) ... go to college, get a job, be socialized, see her friends, learn anything...." While those questions are being posed, Thing Two has generally floated away on her butterfly wings to socialize with whoever else is where ever we are. In fact, usually people are too polite to ask outright "How will she learn anything?" with the clear subtext being, "with you teaching her." They don't have to put that into words as the Anxious Doubts already have a hit tune with that line in it, ready in the back of my mind. 
All those questions are valid and I spend time thinking and talking about them, and for some of them I have answers. Often for the whose bright idea was this moment, it's important to simply take a deep breath and move on. For the record though, here is how I remember the day Home School in Nowhere went magic. Thing Two and I were standing at our front door, admiring two huge trees which fill, every spring morning, with birds warming themselves in the high branches, where the early sun makes its first stop in our yard. It was April, nearing the end of the Easter break.
We might have been watching a squirrel checking our doorstep for snacks, or small birds dancing on the path. We might have been chatting or simply gazing in bliss, with no big yellow time dragon of a school bus roaring in our direction to eat up hours out of a bright day. Yet the time dragon's shadow visited us just long enough to set us wishing that the break was longer, or that school was over for the year.  Spring is so full outdoors, so much is going on with such excitement and immediacy, that, finally, it just felt wrong to miss it.
Once the idea popped out, there was no stuffing it back in. By May 1st the paperwork was being sent off, the older sibs had volunteered their support and the time dragon went whizzing by without stopping for Thing Two. We were on the loose, without so much as a purchased curriculum in sight and an amazing collection of conflicting expectations piling up on our already chaotic kitchen table. 
Garden season was gearing up and I had a thoroughly unrealistic amount of ground to prepare and seeds to plant. I knew that some of the reasons Thing Two wanted out of school were complicated by having moved to the city in December of 2008 and back to our home the following January. Two school years out of sync with your class is hard. Kid culture in the city was challenging and the school work was on a different track.
Our move home, with fun moments like no hot water, which dragged on for months, the mouse infestation blues, the fact that in winter much of our house is too cold,  a pile of debt from our move and starting a new job, was much tougher on my psyche than I had anticipated; adding a wonderful child to "teach" seemed beyond reason. 
When things seem beyond reason it is best to keep busy. Except for brief interludes trying to work out the technical details of learning online at 7 am with one of the adult sisters leading the class from her busy life far away, I gardened, nagged a bit, and watched Thing Two spend hours and hours and Hours! on the swing. She was happy, I was busy, always a boon for a kid who can make her own fun. My conclusion was, she is exhausted. She needs to swing. Her friend's mother gave the moment voice when she told me Bella's answer to "How do you like home schooling?" was, "I'm studying gravity on the swing."
In contrast to the ambitious curriculum plan I had produced to send in to the Department of Education, my goals were simple. The idea that a ten year old girl would want to spend time with her sixty year old mother seemed reason enough to cherish the moment. Looking at the issues which flowed from school, particularly the comment "does not use time wisely" seemed to point to some basic groundwork we could focus on. How long does it take to get dressed? How much time do you have to allow to get ready to go to your riding lesson? How long does it take for us to drive there, or to the library with the good French language collection? How hard can it be to learn multiplication and division? What goes on here with following directions? May and June, thought I, will be time well spent, if we just unwind a bit and find some routines that work for us. We'll have so much fun, watching the partridge and deer, and hares and all the birds, going for walks, and working in the garden together.  Yes. Believe it. I am that naive! If not, I'd miss so much.

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