There are a few things in life one can be certain of—gravity, the sun will always rise, Angelina Jolie was made by a beautiful alien race—and then there is everything else. But if you know yourself well enough, while not certain, you can predict at least what you will do and what you definitely will not. For me, I always knew that I would love more candy than stupid food and that I would write. The one thing that I absolutely knew I would never do? Homeschool.
I guess that's not entirely true. The truth is I never thought enough about homeschooling to rule it out. But that's like having to rule out putting your body in a snake tank or watching Two and a Half Men. Some things you just know are not for you or anyone you know. Homeschooling is for weirdos. You may like Two and a Half Men but we can all agree that homeschoolers are weird, right? Homeschooling is for religious zealots. Hippies. Kids with problems. Kids who don't fit in. Parents with problems. Parents who don't fit in. Except that none of that is me. (I fit in, right? You like me, right?)
Okay well I'm definitely sure none of that applies to my husband, so let's go with that. And yet here we are, homeschooling our 8-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. What in God's name compelled us? Spoiler alert: it wasn't God.
What happened was a combination of things. First of all I don't know if you all know this, but school isn't like it was when we were kids. Remember kindergarten? Playing in the sand? Blocks? Nap time? Or even first or second grade where you learned to read and write and also had recess, P.E. every day and did art and music? Yeah, well that doesn't happen anymore in some public schools. Somewhere along the way someone decided that we weren't performing well in schools so the best way to achieve success would be to take away what our greatest thinkers from Einstein to Mr. Rogers say is the the most important thing kids can do---play. Instead we are now putting 5-year-old children behind desks for six hours with a 20 MINUTE break for recess and another half hour so they can eat lunch. They are now making all children test to make sure that they know things the average kid is not developmentally ready to learn and learn it THE BEST. The ones that are falling behind? In many schools they take away their recess so they can study more. You know that feeling when you are struggling with a problem and you go for a run, or take a walk, and suddenly the answer appears to you? Kids don't get that freedom in public school.
In my state, budget cuts mean that unless the parents raise the money, schools often don't have music or art. Those things are frivolous and extra. Plato said, “ The direction in which education starts a man will determine his future in life.” He also said, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaeity to life and to everything.” He said it better than I could so I thought I'd throw that in there.
And don't get me started on the daily homework packets for said five-year-olds. Now I know there are some children who thrive in this environment. Some kids love homework and worksheets and sitting still and listening. Most of those children are of the female variety. And that's great for them. But that's not my kids.
I'm not blaming the teachers. I have talked to many teachers who work with little kids who are as appalled by the changes as many parents are. I have talked to many teachers who have quit because they couldn't stand watching kindergartners and first graders wring their hands as they try to get answers to the tests right. Teachers who left because they felt like they were “breaking” these kids into behaving when their little bodies just wanted to move and play which at this age IS learning. Teachers hands are tied.
Now listen, kids are resilient. They are going to be fine, I do believe that. But if you can do better than fine, wouldn't you want to do that for your kid? So if you can't afford private school, what do you do? You can search and find a charter school that does its best within these parameters. Or you can - gasp - homeschool.
If we didn't live in a city that had a thriving homeschool community, I probably wouldn't have done it. Because one fair question I always get is “Where does she make friends?” So, to give you an example of a week in the life of my 8-year-old daughter, these are some of the things she does with other kids: She is in Girl Scouts, on swim team, is taking a costume making class. She is taking Geography, a Writing and Spelling class, an art class, is in a book club and a group that meets monthly to all come together to share their research on a particular country. One day a week she goes to a farm for her Animal Science class. We also go outside on the trampoline whenever the f*ck we want to, go on nature walks, go to the library and research things that excite them, stay inside and watch a movie, paint, write plays, write and read books. In other words, make childhood last a little longer.
The absolute truth about why I chose to homeschool is that I felt a calling to do it. Yes, the state of the public school system gave me ample reasons to trust my instinct about following this calling. But my daughter was actually in a charter school that managed to address many of the issues I described above. Yet we still did it. I never could have predicted this about myself. This wasn't me. Or so I thought. I had all the ideas of what homeschoolers look like that I described before. But I had to follow my heart. And I may change my mind at some point. I'm not saying there aren't days where I crave more time to myself and dream that a schoolbus that would pick them up and take them away for the day. But for now, most days, I love having them here. I love knowing that if they have a interest (and at this age there are SO many interests) I can help them pursue it. I can help kindle the fire that burns inside them. So the thing I thought I'd never do, I am really loving.
But I will NEVER watch Two and a Half Men.
(Photo: Peter Fuchs/Shutterstock)