In this three part series, I will be examining our own microcosm of the traditional vs. home school debate. Part of me can't believe I am poking this hornet's nest again in a public forum, but based on emails I still receive eight months later from my article in NYTimes Motherlode column, I believe that it's one that is humming. When I meet new people, particularly mothers of boys, and they hear what we do, they want to know more, in a let-me-take-notes-and-get-your-email-address way.
There is another reason I am doing this. Readers should know this is happening in real time--which gives me a deadline of two weeks to make a decision here, since hopefully Part Three will be the conclusion. I am weary of the indecision, and much like the trick of flipping a coin and checking your gut reaction to the outcome, I am hoping putting this out there will bring me to the answer.
Spring is trying to poke its way out of the rain-soaked ground here in the Northeast, and the kids and I are enjoying the days that let us get out in it. We are polar-bear plunging in the pond, weeding the tufts of grass and dandelions out of the cherry tree garden, watching the ants relocate their accidentally unearthed larva, or discovering the half of a robin’s eggshell.
As always, it brings the smells, sounds and discoveries of new beginning, but there is also the sense of completion as we put together the boys’ portfolios to turn in to the state of Pennsylvania and our year of home schooling and expeditionary learning comes to an end.
At every gathering with our group of friends who have been on a similar journey this year, whether we are hanging around outside their Spanish, cooking, yoga or gymnastics class, or having an impromptu picnic, or fetching them from their writing seminar at the college, the conversation among the moms inevitably gravitates to the looming topic of September:
What are we going to do with our boys?
Unless I am standing befuddled in either of the two places that completely flummox me (in front of the meat counter at a grocery store or sent on a mission to purchase wine) I am not a normally indecisive person. And yet when this topic towers with importance and permanence and urgency in front of me, I am paralyzed.
First, I should say that our experience has been overwhelmingly positive, sometimes with the emphasis more on overwhelming, but mostly more on the positive.
Every time I think of all the adventures we had with our book tour travels in the fall and the rich experiences the boys reminisce about often, or of all the moments of quiet learning by the fireplace in the winter, or of the gift of being a part of so many of their ‘a-ha’ lightbulbs, I think what a wonderful year it has been. I wrote about some of this in an update for Lisa Belkin at the NY TIMES Motherlode column in December.
And I think of all the unique learning opportunities they have had in part because of the great co-operative group that formed, where we have used resources of the parents and our community to put together a peppering of mini-courses. Some have been free, some have been paid, all have had measurable successes and provided the group (roughly 8-18 kids, mostly boys) with their favorite: time with friends.
But what about next year? Everyone agrees that this took a huge effort for us parents this year, and we have learned so much. Sometimes I feel like I am just really finding my home schooling style and groove. And sometimes I think as I have crushed to writing deadlines in the midst of continuing their education, how easy life could be if I just dropped them all off at 7:59 or let’s be honest, 8:03 or 8:04, every morning and settled down to write in solitude for six and a half hours?
I need to be clear here: I like the school where my kids could go. It’s the private school in my hometown that I attended and has a great group of families, caring teachers, good values and a medium-progressive attitude. I don’t love everything, of course. I hate the über-conservative dress-code—half the kids look like they’re off to play golf at the country club and the other half look like they’re ready to churn butter for homemade caramel corn with Mother. Per the handbook, anything of 'extreme color', including black, anything that attempts to be ‘fashionable’ or ‘stylish’ is not allowed. And yes, I’m still miffed about the way it was railroaded through two years ago. As a mom of GF kids, I’m not wild about the school’s lunch policies, and would like to see them move in an even more progressive direction in the areas of curriculum and homework. All that said, it’s an option we are lucky to have.
And then my mind drifts back to this 2006 article, clipped from an advice columnist in the Buffalo News and mailed to me inside a beautiful card by my late mother-in-law, in support of the fact that I was in the throes of raising two very active toddler boys. Please take a moment to read it. I'm going to give you the link again here:
I immediately photocopied and sent it to all my comrades in the trenches of raising boys so they could nod along. When my friend India wrote back, “I can’t believe we’re going to chain this to a desk for the next twelve years!”, my stomach sank.
Hayden, our oldest, had a rocky transition from a nature-friendly, Waldorf-inspired preschool with the policy ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothing’ to the elementary school’s Kindergarten. He quickly became ‘the wiggly kid’, was once referred to as ‘that Hayden’ and sometimes the teachers had him sit on a nubby rubber mat to help him control his need for constant movement. I watched as over the next two years, he continued to squirm and set himself on a fast track for the role of class clown, the boy who grinned and pantomimed nonchalance all the way to the principal’s office.
In conferences with teachers, I thought of my middle child Max, a whirling dervish at home, and kept hearing the line to the troll in the Three Billy Goat’s Gruff, “Oh, no, wait for my brother; he’s much wilder and wigglier than I am!”
So for this, and reasons voiced here in a controversial journal entry that was picked up by Lisa Belkin’s Motherlode, I decided to homeschool my boys last year. (Their little sister Piper bakes pies, makes organic vegetable soup and goes on nature walks at the aforementioned preschool where she has one more year.)
But as the spring sunshine filters in, and my kids work at the dining room table, I weigh the odds and list pros and cons to my patiently-listening husband over morning coffee. The question of next September remains:
What are we going to do with the boys?
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Stay tuned for Part Two next Monday...