Exactly one year ago this day I pulled my kid out of school.
It’s been quite a year. Our lives have changed in a lot of ways. The most visible change has been that we moved out of San Francisco. We exchanged the gritty charm of the city for the beauty and ease of life in a small town. As for my son, it is much easier for him to go free range here than in the city. It’s much safer here and much more user friendly for the average kid. The skateboard park, the local youth center, the friendly board-game shop – this sort of thing makes for a much more pleasant life than the restricted and guarded life a kid lives in a city. And the fact is that my son quitting school was what made me realize that we actually were free to make other changes in our lives. Funny. I would never have thought my son’s lousy school was what was keeping us in the city.
But as I think about how Jack has turned out the word “change” doesn’t seem quite right. When someone becomes more oneself it’s hard to call it “change.” Jack is more himself now. He is not so reactive. He makes his own choices more regularly and is consequently more relaxed. It just seems like he breathes with more ease now. (Has he changed or have the circumstances?)
A friend of mine claims that Jack is more affectionate since he quit school. She says he is more polite and engaging. I’ll be happy to take her word for it but what I can say for my part is that he certainly has not become any worse of a kid! He has also made new friends with whom he is happy, unlike most of the kids he knew at school. We don’t have to deal with any real conflicts now, with kids or teachers.
I would also say that he has learned a lot more since he left school. Even though we don’t spend an awful lot of time in official “lessons” together we have covered a lot of material. Interesting stuff. Good writing. History. Intro to social sciences. He has also had time to play and learn a lot more music. He has learned recording software and is now learning photoshop. He even embarked on writing a book less than a month after he left school. (In fact one of these days I’ll post writing samples from Jack before and after quitting school.) I have to admit that we haven’t kept up with math as much as I would like and Jack himself feels bad about math not being his best subject any more. We will have to remedy this soon.
Our routines have changed. We don’t get up in the morning and rush out the door. (He still is an early riser but I sleep in!) But we do an awful lot of driving. The first question most people ask homeschoolers is what we call the “S” question: “But do the kids socialize enough?” Yes, the kids socialize plenty – and guess who gets them from here to there and there to thither to do the socializing. We’re on the road an awful lot.
There’s also the driving from interesting class here to enriching activity there. And as the kid indulges in interest and enrichment yours truly kills an awful lot of time waiting in the car, chit chatting on the pavement, or sipping tea at kitchen tables. Killing time is no fun. I hear the clock ticking awfully loud in my ears. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old that I really don’t like killing my time. I don’t think I have that much of it left any more!
Altogether, there is no question that Jack’s life and education have improved since leaving school. He is happier with himself and with others and is learning more. My life has also improved in that I don’t have to suffer from witnessing my child’s unhappiness and I don’t have to struggle so hard trying to improve things – and failing at it. But my life has not improved as far as doing things for myself is concerned. I can barely manage to keep up with my greatly diminished work let alone anything else I might wish to enjoy.
So one should do one’s best and sacrifice what one can to homeschool one’s child. Right?
I am not sure. Even if a parent’s overriding passion in life is to raise and educate her child I am not so sure being so very much at the center of your child’s life is such a great thing. I make no qualms about my own frustration at perpetually putting my own life and work on the back burner on account of having had a child. I don’t pretend to be such a selfless mother and I frequently write about it here. But it’s not just for my own sake that I am not entirely happy with being my kid’s ever-present companion. A kid needs many people in his life on a regular basis. He needs a wider horizon to take off toward every day. Just as how sweet it is to come back to home and family in the evening it is fresh and exciting to run out the door first thing in the morning. School can be that great “outdoors,” full of activity and the pleasure of new and challenging things. Alas, this was my own school experience…
In the past year I have met many people who are homeschoolers at heart. Many of them are really wonderful people: open-minded, bold, sharp and accepting at the same time, and truly fulfilled – both the kids and the adults. Truth be told, I don’t feel I am one of them. And I think it will be some time before my son can really assess how fulfilling homeschooling has been for him.
So the verdict at my first anniversary of being a homeschooling mom? This: Homeshcooling is infinitely better than a bad school but not as good as a good school.
Sometimes I get intimations of a terrific school I can now design. I think that my homeschooling experience is giving me some very solid ideas for creating such a school, complete with curriculum and teaching methodology. Here I have to confess that I am a third-generation educator. I thought I left teaching when I quit my job in academia but I guess my situation has turned into one of those “you can take the ---- out of the ---- but you can’t etc. etc.”
And I have to record this that on exactly the first anniversary of taking my son out of school I spent the day helping the mother of his old school friend, Noah, with completing their homeschooling paperwork. Their new "school," Hazelwood Olympus School, was established exactly a year after Jack quit school. You should have seen the smile on Noah’s face!