Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Cultural Dissodence: Transitioning from Homeschool to School and Hopping into Another Boat

I think about languages and culture all the time, so this thought may sound as though it came out of the blue, but it has been brewing for years. Despite our best intentions, our vision of reality is not always aligned with what is happening in our children's world. Sometimes it is a question of different cultures, from one country to another or (universally), from one generation to the next. Here is how my story might have a shot at helping the homeschool parent sending their kiddo off to school for the first, second or final time.

We are on the same journey with the same cap in view, but not in the same boat. Maybe we went to school our whole childhood and felt it was a "normal" thing to do. Maybe we ourselves were homeschooled. Maybe we are the instigators of a reluctant kid heading to school for the first time, or the one resisting our child starting school, or at least this particular school at this particular time.

When the first of my children to go to school decided he was ready to experience high school, I was not along for the ride with him. I mean, I was; I had the utmost respect for his decision-making, but I was also a homeschooling mama of four and there was no headspace to give over to the school system and figuring out those particular intricacies. He wanted to go: fine, he could go, we would sign him up, attend all obligatory meetings and be there for events.

But when it came down to it, later, I wanted nothing to do with the guidance counselor or teachers' efforts to coerce him into remaining in a harder class when he did not want to do the work. I was firmly in "free-range parenting" mode and school as a concept was fine, the teachers were devoted and excellent and trying to help him give his best, but he had to do what he himself was motivated to do. His education was his own affair. There was also a certain need to justify the choices amidst both homeschooling and school-going communities, a line had been crossed and the zig-zagging of it that would later become second nature felt ominous and forboding. Were we a public-school family or a homeschooling family? 

Three and a half offspring later, I see things slightly differently. School is a system, I was vaguely aware of that; going in, I told my son that he would have to play by the rules of the system if he wished to succeed. The system, however, is not well-thought-out for young men of fourteen with no prior experience and very little brain time to be spent on something like academics. There is a role to be played by parents in the system, that of they-who-encourage, chief nagger, head task-reminder, and spender of money, provider-of-copious-amounts-of-food and chauffeuring. 

School was, as I suspected, a gigantic drain on one's time and finances (sports, not so much, but just try show choir!), and I had so little of either at that time. Too, it can put students into a box they may have to fight their way out of in order to truly pursue an education.

The flip side, however, was beyond my expectations. There was and is superb quality in teaching, care given, dedication and enormous efforts, every day, from the administration to the teachers, attendance secretaries, guidance counselors and lunch servers who all show up to do a job they believe in. It is not just a system, it is a world unto itself, and it has been a good one for us.

One more surprise has been community. Although it is a large school, our high school has been a place to get to know other families and other children. Some have wandered in and out of our lives, others have remained or taken up a little spot in my heart where they will be forever. Who knew teenagers could be such a joy to know? And I had not imagined how many people lived within a 2-mile radius I might never have met who would become friends.

It would be easy to fall into paroxsyms of regret for not having figured it our earlier and been more cooperative, but that would serve no purpose. I think that each child who went to high school has found something different that has been useful or interesting; music, writing, art, math, business, languages, athletics. What that first child found was of value to him too; school was not his thing. 

The wide world and an active life was and is his thing. He played more frisbee golf, recorded rap tracks and skateboarded more hours than he spent studying any subject. Today he builds things, with energy, strength and intelligence. The friends he made in high school were there to greet him this week as he returned from the road to move into his own home that he bought. They were there to celebrate this milestone  right by his side...and help him cut the heavy limbs from the tree in the backyard before it crashed onto the power line. Mad skills and good times. 

Should school NOT be the choice your family makes, that's OK, and an article for another day. Suffice it to say that the one who never went to school adapted like a chameleon to college and "real life" too. As homeschool author David Albert told me one day, "Nobody has all the answers all the time. No matter how you parent or what school choices you make, just remember to save equal amounts for college and for  therapy."

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