Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh Yes You Can

Learning to Ice Skate
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is not true that all people think you are insane when you tell them you are planning to homeschool. In fact, if you live as we do in a state with just about the lowest per student expenditure on education in an urban district which consistently characterizes itself by embarrassing us with its imcompentance, you would find the folks around you quite supportive. There are considerably less responses along the lines of “Why the hell are you doing it?” and more in the vein of “Wow, I so admire you. I wish I could do that.”

Well, of course, you can. Let's be clear, here. Most of the people with whom my husband and I come into contact are upper middle class folk with at least two incomes, one of them in the medical or computer software industries. These are not people who lack for ready credit. To homeschool their children, they merely need to give up a few cherished notions.

Money is More Important Than Happiness
Theoretically, we all know this. If you asked point blank any man on the street, “Is it more important to be happy or to be wealthy?” the little lemmings will immediately reply, “Happy of course!” Of course! It's so obvious. However, our entire culture of consumerism tells us in overt, covert and down right insidious ways that money IS happiness, stuff is important, things are the path to righteousness, and prosperity is measured in the number of your toys.

So if you want to homeschool – and for many of you that means giving up half your annual income – you are going to have to trade a substantial amount of money, things and stuff for an intangible gain in family harmony and experiential wealth. Sometimes I feel as if this tradeoff is literally one to one. One toy foregone for one amazing moment with my children, an expansion slot on my Mac for an afternoon with the girls studying sun fish in the tidal zone. If you're going to homeschool, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, and give up things for unthings.

Schools are a Fact of Life
Well, not so much. Historically, the modern industrialization of education in which we put all the children in one spot, divide them by age, and crank them all out of the system like widgits is relatively new. While there were “boarding schools” for the past several hundred years, prior to that there were monks and private tutors for rich people, a master-journeyman-apprenticeship for the middle classes, and nothing for the masses. Even in the US, “schools” as we know them didn't open till the 1900's. Rural schools for many decades longer were one-room classrooms with multi-age education.

So just stop believing that school, like death, taxes, and tides, is a fact of life. Public education has done absolute wonders for the United States, democracy, and the middle class way of life. It is not, however, inevitable. Nor is it necessarily preferable. I'm not even clear that it falls into the same status as democracy, which basically sucks but is clearly better than all the alternatives. You don't have to go to school. You definitely don't have to send your kids there.

You Will Kill Your Kids
I know it seems odd to describe this as a cherished notion, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard this stated in a rueful but somewhat relieved voice. “Oh I can't homeschool my kids, I'd kill them.” It's a very easy out. Look, I'm not a poster child for harmonious relationships between parent and child; My children and I alternate in a bipolar rhythm between a Burning Man style love fest and absolute, mutual loathing. However, I can affirm that you won't kill them.

In very important ways, your relationship with your children in the Real World is distorted by the mechanization of the patterns of your life. The clock, in particular, dictates so much of your lives, and the clock is unforgiving. It causes tension, increases frustration, and makes you miserable. Another warp comes in the form of the very divergent interests between parent and child when the child spends all his day with other children and you spend all your day with adults. The moat between your lives is so wide as to be nearly uncrossable.

When you spend the day, all day, every day with your kids, these twists in your relationship are removed, leaving you to build something completely different. I can't describe it. In fact, I suspect that these changes are unique for every homeschool family. I also sense that the further you drift into the homeschool world, the less able you are to explain to the Real World just how your lives differ.

* * *

Oh Yes You Can
Oh Yes You Can
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is so hard to give up a long held belief. To this day, I refuse to believe that my mother had sex with my father. The prospect is so unlikely. Yet if you really plan to change your life in any dramatic way, you need to run roughshod over your own assumptions. It is not enough to just say, “I want to...” “I wish I could...” “I envy you...”

You are going to go around on this planet only once. After that, you're likely to reincarnate as either a rat in Bangladesh or a three-eyed, five-legged sentient octopus in Betelgeuse. The probability that you'll get to be a human being – with these people, these children, this spouse – again is astronomically unlikely. Stop telling me that you wish you could spend more time on the things that are important to you and start proving that those things are more important.


Jody said...

Great Post! This is our third year of homeschooling and I also get the comment I couldn't do that or I don't have the patients. I don't have a lot of patients but I think any parent who really wants to homeschool their children can. Besides with homeschooling you don't have to rush them to learn something like a school setting would be. Thanks for the reminder of the many reason's we homeschool.

John Loggins said...

My 3 children are Homeschooled. They are 9, 7, and 5. I wouldn't have it any other way. The advent of 2 people working and no one staying home with the kids is, IMHO, a large part of why, it seems, Some kids get so lost as to start shooting other kids with real guns. HomeSchool let you get to know your children like nothing else in this world does.

Chris said...

Wow, so true. As the "working outside the home to bring home the income that feeds / houses / clothes all of us" dad in this particular family, it's way to easy for me to look at my colleagues with their BMW's and their expensive vacations and get jealous. But they aren't the sole breadwinners in their family. We do give up a lot the "stuff" in order to regain something far more important (at least to us).

And oh by the way, it's much harder on my wife than on me. At least I still get to dress like a grown-up and have adult conversations over a nice lunch. But then, she gets to snuggle our 4-year old while he reads Bob Books to her. In jammies. Over p-b&j.

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