"If I don't go to school, how will I learn?"
I hereby promise that I won't feel insulted if I catch flack or become the subject of side conversations for saying so, but questions like the one above leave me feeling sad.
My kids have never been to school, and they're learning quite a lot -- in spite of life's recent efforts to ensure otherwise. Since we've been dealing with my wrist, the past two months have seen a massive decrease in the frequency of formal lessons. There are days where we feel like we're living in the car. With the girls' speech therapy, my twice-weekly OT appointments, the girls' fortnightly Wednesday ruckusing-for-homeschoolers group, the dog's fortnightly Wednesday playgroup, soccer, karate, hip-hop, and ballet-tap-jazz each week, I'm glad we bought the audiobook version of our history text.
We're also reading several other books in audiobook form -- Meet Josephina (for next Wednesday) and the entire Unfortunate Events series. In science, we have unexpectedly focused on biology -- we're watching the Life series and the Becoming Human series; I think there's a show about Darwin somewhere on the queue, as well. Spelling has been hijacked by their speech lists and grammar has been shoved aside in favor of their NaNoWriMo stories. (For several days, now, the girls have heard me bemoaning the fact that none of my characters are cooperating. I started out writing a Young Adult novel, and now it's a mainstream mystery. Nothing in my novel is where I put it in October. Today, Penny met me at the door as I entered, bearing the sushi for our book club (we read Mr. Popper's Penguins); she was ecstatic because a new character for her story had appeared out of thin air. She hadn't planned for him, but there he was, and she wrote so much that she filled up 75% of an 8.5 x 11 sheet!)
We started this school year as eclectic school-at-homers, and I don't know what we are now -- except maybe seat-of-the-pantsers -- but the learning hasn't slowed down. They certainly don't need textbooks, an overworked teacher, and twenty other kids around them in order for learning to happen.
Humans are a driven species, and we can't easily be stopped. (Just think about the last time you really wanted your kid to fall asleep a little early. It didn't happen, did it?) We didn't need to go to school so we could learn how to walk or talk -- walking and talking were things that we learned naturally. Babies see a toddler walking, and they try to pull up on the edge of the table and make their feet do the right thing. Toddlers see a four-year-old running or jumping, and they mimic these motions, trying to run as fast or jump as high. Five-year-olds see their parents or older siblings writing, and they grab a crayon and paper, and try to write something that makes a word they know. Learning is a process that happens naturally, and it's something that we are intuitively drawn to; it is not something that's done to us, but something that we initiate and control as individuals.
Although I am weary at the things I hear from my non-homeschooling friends (It's okay for you, you were a teacher! I would never have the patience! My kids and I would probably strangle each other! How do you know what to teach them?), the last thing I expect from any of them is some sort of conversion. Admittedly, I would break into song if only a few of them realized that our decision to homeschool was simply a decision to do what was best for our kids -- just like seeking out various therapies were their decisions to do what was best for their kids. When a child needs something, a parent will do whatever she can to meet that need. The solutions Dan and I found just happened to include homeschooling, and that's the solution we liked best.
I have a very hard time believing that my non-homeschooling friends could even begin to think that learning is some mysterious thing that only happens in that town-owned building. They're all intelligent women and fantastic moms, and I know they love and respect their children as deeply as I do my children. I know they help their kids follow their passions and explore life with gusto. I've seen them in action, and they're lacking nothing.
So, why does the question above make me feel sad? It's a damn cute thing for a five-year-old to say. This little boy loves school, and can't wait to get there, because learning is important to him. He's a sponge, and that's something to crow about.
I feel sad because for me, that question is also a boundary. I don't know if it's okay for me to joke that my kids have never been to school, but they've learned quite a lot. As a left-leaning, attachment-parenting, homeschooling freak in a sea (no! in a school! hahahaha!) of normal individuals, I often wish I could see a few buoys or even a lighthouse in the distance. I really don't want to run aground.
When I'm part of a conversation about one friend's frustrations at dealing with thoughtless individuals, lip service, and a Shelob's Lair of red tape just to get her child the help he needs, I don't know what sort of reaction is palatable from me. If I just commiserate, and hope things get better, am I being callous? If I try to reassure her that homeschooling isn't as hard as it sounds (knowing that she has often thought, "Oh, I should just teach him myself!"), am I pressuring her to do something that she's not sure is best? If I encourage her to keep fighting and share what little information I know from my own time as a high-school teacher, am I brushing her off and sending the message that I think she'd suck at homeschooling her son? (She'd totally rock, btw.)
I want to support my friends, not push a homeschooling agenda. Other times, I want to be the goofball that I am, not insinuate that Homeschooling Is Better. But sometimes I do want to say something that could provide some food for thought -- especially if that friend seems frustrated with the solutions she has already been offered.
I suppose my wariness and frequent censorship in such situations is really no different from the tendency of my non-homeschooling friends to inadvertently cause me to wince as one of them says, for the twelfth time, that she would never have the patience to homeschool her kids. Both reactions stem from the desires to connect, to disregard unimportant differences, and to enjoy and celebrate our friendships, knowing that we're with people whose struggles are similar enough to our own that they've drawn us together.
Shit. I just learned something!