Clara's Clearing

Clara's Clearing

Decompression, the first stage

Thursday, May 06, 2010

This blog is part of Educating My Boy: Chronicles of a Free-Schooler

Decompression, the first stage

The important fact about our situation is that we’re not starting from scratch. The positive aspect of it is that I have a ten-year old who can read and write and has basic math. This small little detail makes a world of difference. It makes life a lot easier on me. The negative aspect of not starting from scratch is that we have a lot of things to overcome. We have a lot of bad memories to leave behind and a lot of bad habits to unlearn. Some homeschoolers call this “de-schooling."

The Home School Association of California, a non-profit organization that gives information and support to homeschoolers in California, has an excellent little publication, “Starting the Homeschool Journey.” One little piece I particularly like is tilted “Making the Most of Decompression Time,” by Lillian Jones.  This is how it begins:

One fairly universal dynamic is the need for a decompression period after leaving school. The intensity of the need for decompression time is usually in direct proportion to the time that was spent in school and to whether or not (or to what degree) it was a difficult experience.

It was very important for me to read this. Indeed a “decompression” time is absolutely necessary and inevitable. Let’s face it, most people who leave school have not had a good experience of it. Leaving school, as my husband put it, is not like stepping off the downtown bus. You don’t just hop on down and it’s all over. It takes time to process what you have left behind. This is the first stage of undoing some of the damage.

I have to be very honest about something. I wish I could describe exactly how my son has been affected by his school experience and pinpoint exactly what bad habits he needs to unlearn. I can’t, because I don’t know. All I know is that I have to help create a happier and more interesting life for him and develop new and better habits. Hopefully in time he will be the one to tell me about his school experience. He can be surprisingly incisive and articulate, so I have a feeling he will someday tell some interesting stories and offer a valuable evaluation of his school experience.

Meanwhile, I can only speak for myself. I know “educating my boy” should be more about my son than me, but I am also smack dab in the middle. So forgive me if I talk about myself.

The decompression time has kicked up a lot of feelings in me. First and foremost, now that there is no need for my defenses to be up, I am realizing what a beating we all took in the past nearly seven years. I am realizing how hard we worked trying to see the best in things and making things work. We are exhausted. Swimming against the current, dodging random punches, winding up a broken toy… these are the images that come to my mind. It is a relief to stop and walk away, but you also feel the lingering effects of sore and tense muscles and frustrated hopes.


The decompression has also kicked up confusion. I can’t help wondering why in the world we had such a hard time of it. OK, my son is not a quiet, easy child. He likes to challenge and be challenged. He can be loud and rambunctious. He needs to be free and outdoors – etc. etc. But there is hardly anything unusual about any of this. So why did he have such an unpleasant time in school? I don’t say a “hard” time because the academic part – the “school” part of school – was not hard for him at all. He did quite well in that. I can only conclude that the “social” aspect of school – namely the kids and the teachers – are what made school life so unpleasant for him.

When you narrow down the problem to “social” causes a lot of insecurities kick in. I am basically a confident person with a solid sense of myself and my abilities. But I have to confess that my son’s school experience has really confused me. Over the years I often wondered whether there was something wrong with us. Are we weird people? Are we perceived as weird people? Is there something wrong with us or the way we live? Why in the world would my son be so rejected by other kids and disliked by teachers? I cannot forget that last episode in my son’s classroom: the kids voted my son out and the teacher let it happen. What does this mean?

There is no use asking these kinds of questions. There are no answers. Who knows, and indeed who cares, what people think of my son or our family. I know that the only way to deal with these insecurities is to let them come out of their hiding places and wait until they dissipate in thin air. Decompression indeed. Let loose the pent up steam and watch it evaporate. So my advice to my son, after letting him express pent up bad feelings when he chooses to share them, is that we have to put all that behind us. “That’s all over,” I tell him, “and from now on it’s going to be great.”

It really is going to be great from now on. I’m not just saying this, I really feel it. We may be going through a difficult time right now, or rather, we may sometimes be having a hard time now, but the future is bright. I feel a kind of freedom and independence now that I have not felt since my son started school. In fact, I feel like I have my son back again. I feel that over the years he was slipping though my fingers but I finally caught him before he was washed away by some current. He is too young for me to “let go” of him. I will, when the time comes, let go of him to his own more mature self but I will not let go of him to unknown forces at the age of ten.

It is now nearly three months since my son left school. I don’t think the decompression period is over yet but I am beginning to see that the fog from the still gushing steam is starting to break up, with patches of clear sky showing through. Could it be that the “de-schooling” that homeschoolers talk about is the returning of this clarity? Would it follow then that “schooling” does indeed propel kids into a kind of fog or some kind of murky waters?

I don’t know. And I can tell you this, that I have no time now to think about that sort of thing. All I know – and have time for now – is to start some new things and new ways of doing things. This requires some serious reorganization. And we have already started to reorganize our life. I’ll write about that next.


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