Thursday, February 19, 2009

Horror Stories

I hesitate when I tell people we are going to be homeschooling next year, especially when talking to people I don’t know very well. Yet so far, rather than look at me like I am a freak, most often people have responded by telling me their horror stories about school: a daughter who cried about having to go to kindergarten every single morning from September to May; a math teacher fired for propositioning sixth-grade girls, who was then replaced by a roster of incompetent subs such that the story-teller cannot as an adult do anything in math; etc. They tell me these stories, I think, as a way of politely connecting with or even validating our choice, and I appreciate this gesture. I know such nice people! But even as they tell me these stories, they send their kids to school. I am genuinely gratified to hear these stories; I take them as confirmation of what we are doing. It seems strange to me that these horror stories about school don’t have the same effect on the tellers themselves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Decider

[photo by N.]

One of the most important factors that has confirmed us on this unschooling path is that N. has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to go to school, that he’s never going to school, that he’s only going to high school or only going to college. I know he’s not opposed to learning; he loves telling me, in a rather schooly way, in fact, about things he and Daddy have learned during the day. I don’t really know why he says he doesn’t want to go to school – his habitual timidity about the unfamiliar, his awareness that he is the only one of his friends who doesn’t go to preschool, his awareness of our homeschool predilections – but I nonetheless take these statements seriously, just as I would take an expression of desire to attend school seriously. So I am glad I have the opportunity to respect this desire of his, this expression his identity and needs, instead of having to mount a lengthy in-home PR campaign to convince him that school is good for him.

“His desires are his needs,” counsels Dr. Sears in his wonderful Baby Book, and this was our mantra during the first year of N.’s life. He was an intense baby, and this mantra helped me stay true to the kind of parenting I wanted to practice during those challenging months. The principle is still a central tenet for us, though we don’t go as far as the parenting style known as Radical Unschooling. Why shouldn’t a child’s desires be a significant element in a decision as foundational to his life as his mode of education?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Diverging Paths

January 31st was the deadline for registering for enrollment (or in some cases, entering the admissions lotteries) in any of the magnet schools in our local public school system. Because our neighborhood school is by all accounts quite bad (I don’t know a single child in my neighborhood who goes there), not registering for a magnet school is de facto a decision not to send our son to public school. In other words, next year we will officially be homeschooling.

And yet it is not exactly official, because in North Carolina there is no compulsory education before age seven. So we don’t register as homeschoolers (until he turns 7), or tell any official person what we are doing. There is no quarterly reporting or annual testing. We simply don’t send our son to school in August. This is strange because it feels like such a big move for us. It is odd that we can quietly step away from the mainstream schooling path, apparently without anyone in the school system noticing. Not that I am complaining!

While no government agency seems to care, we do have to come out to our friends and family as homeschoolers when they ask where we’re sending N. next year. Here is where the magnitude of our choice seems biggest, because for most people school is simply a given and homeschooling evokes lots of stereotypes. I don’t go into much detail explaining what we are doing or why. I usually tell them what we tell ourselves: that this is a low-stakes decision. He can enter school at any time if he or we so desire. We’re taking it on a year-by-year basis. N. is really thriving at home with Tim, and we’re just going to keep going with that for another year. And since his birthday is very close to the cut-off date, the decision to keep him home is nearly indistinguishable from a decision to “red-shirt,” or delay kindergarten for a year, a decision that apparently 26% of parents make in our district.

In January we went to a “Magnet School Fair” just to assure ourselves that we were being responsible, checking out all the options. I had a heated argument with a school principal there who claimed she would only enroll homeschoolers who came from a “certified” homeschool (despite there being no such thing before age 7). The schools all seemed very gimmicky, with multiple, sometimes conflicting focuses on the arts, technology, performance, IB, multiple intelligences, etc. We meant to follow this up with visits to a few schools, since it is hardly fair to judge them on their poster displays at the expo. But we didn’t end up visiting anywhere. We’ve talked and read and thought so much about homeschooling that it didn’t seem worth it to waste anyone’s time when we had all but made up our minds. Inertia – resistance to a change in the state of motion – keeps us on the path we embarked on when we didn’t send N. to preschool that gradually and almost imperceptibly carries us further away from the main road in an unpredictable, exciting direction.