Last Friday, as my children’s classmates were preparing for Spring Break, I was preparing my children for their last day of school. As of this moment, we are officially (quite literally, as I had to fill out paperwork with the city) homeschoolers.
Their classroom will now consist of a sweetly decorated space in our basement as well as the world at large. I feel I’ve jumped into a pool with no bottom, many crevices, and unknown creatures both friendly and terrifying. Unlike the path of “regular” school, homeschooling is essentially a destiny of one’s own making and work, not to mention lots of luck and creatively discovered support. Though I have discovered that homeschooling has become more and more mainstream, especially given the crumbling state of our public schools, the privatization of charters, and the pathetic, untenable obsession with testing, it is still in some sense a private, almost secretive adventure: no two homeschooling families will look alike. How appealing this is, and how frightening, too.
When I was a child, I hated school. Every moment. I was utterly out of place, bored, frightened, and depressed. And those were on the good days. I attended a perfectly acceptable elementary school, a violently wretched middle school, and a huge, overwhelming high school. In other words, my experience with school exactly matches that of millions of other people. I had no idea of my own intelligence or capacity for intellectual engagement until I went to university, where I proceeded to simply educate myself with the resources available. School, from its very beginning to its completion in university, was for me a lonely and confusing mess, and had almost nothing to do with unlocking my potential or affording me a real education. The only exception to this was the social education I received, which was a miserable experiment in mean girl politics, sexual insecurity and an almost existential feeling of alone-in-the-world-ness. And I was not unpopular; I can’t imagine what it was like for the bullied, the fat, the nerds….
It’s the labels. It’s the labels, the categorizing, the resentful, stressed babysitting that is forced on educators; the testing, the bureaucracy, the bullshit, and the borrowed identities children must take on for social survival: this is but a short list of why I don’t want my children in school. This is also not even taking into account the oddities of my own children: my eldest child is in first grade but already bored and angry doing third grade work, even as his handwriting languishes around kindergarten level. My eldest daughter is a weather vane of hyper-sensitivity, almost too innocent for her age if that’s possible, and has the attention span of a morning dream, all of which were perfect ingredients to make her a target for vicious bullying in her kindergarten year.
I wish for my son to retain his bizarre precocity and intense focus. He also needs to learn to write as well as he thinks, something his teachers seemed unwilling or unable to figure in to his school day. My daughter, at the age of five, has a right to her baby-like vulnerability and dreamy manner, although her cohorts and teachers did everything possible to wring both out of her.
On a more joyful and celebratory level, I believe homeschooling can allow a child to embrace the intellectual process as a natural, inborn occurrence of the mind and body. I believe learning is like breathing: we do it all the time, often unconsciously, and without it one is dead. I don’t want them to grow up with the idea that the expansion of their world comes from prescribed books, rules, regulated hours, and time spent only around those their own age within four safe walls. I grew up being taught, if taught is even the word, that during such and such time I learned math, such and such time was for reading, and then it was time to play, and everything was bisected to the point at which any organic curiosity was quashed before it had a chance to emerge. I want my children to really see the world with a brave and cultivated honesty, and to see themselves in the same manner.
Of course I am a star-eyed romantic, and many people would tell me I have no idea what the Hell I’m doing. How right they would be: I have jumped off this bridge with no net save the instinct I’ll learn to fly or swim when I land. What I do know right now is that when my daughter just saw this picture of the eye (her baby sister’s eye), she said, “There’s a moon in that eye.” She sees things I can’t, and I feel nothing but relief that for now she, and her brother, are in a place where we can discover together the path that is right for each of them, hopefully without sacrificing too much that deep part of their nature that makes them, and every child, every human, a unique being.