The Long Run


H and E are en route to the mountains today with their grandparents, leaving us with A in what we occasionally refer to as the ‘only-child simulator.’ (The DINK simulator is when all three are gone. Once we’ve had even fifteen minutes of solitude in the DINK simulator, we want to slap the living shit out of our endlessly-complaining childless friends.) I’m in the second-cup-of-coffee zone, where life slows down from permanent-moving-sidewalk speed to something like our old version of normal. It’s spring break week here in Colorado; I’m not planning out homeschooling tasks, and so our homeschooling center1 has fallen quiet. The alarm clock has been silenced, too, and I realize something odd: with Kathy working a flexible schedule like mine, and the girls homeschooling in the morning, we’re only getting up at ungodly hours for A. That’ll change, too, in the fall, so I’m looking forward to a week-long preview of what it would be like to get up at seven o’clock every day.

At the same time our home life is slowing down for a week, the local school system is revving up. They’re talking about all kinds of new options for gifted education, and some – like the promise of cluster grouping, at long last – look interesting. Ability grouping would have worked fantastically for H, who needed roughly a grade to a grade-and-a-half worth of acceleration in reading and writing, and the reverse for math. If it had been available sooner, I might have looked at it as an option – but with only sixth grade left in Colorado elementary school, we’re thinking that we may not want to trial the first year of a new teaching methodology for her. Perhaps, down the line, it might be a good choice, but we’re both pretty adamant that middle school’s a waste of time, and by the time she reaches high school, they may have moved on to something else entirely.

Regardless, it can’t really launch until 2015, which is the earliest our school system will have the tech in place to support it. That leaves H and E out of the elementary school ability grouping discussion, and even A would be in fifth grade by the time it goes live. It’s a future solution, but I’ve got ‘now’ decisions to make, so we’re now on the outside of flux and change, looking in. At some point, it’s likely that our kids’ classmates will be going back to an entirely different world, while ours will be staying roughly the same. That juxtaposition – ‘alternative’ schooling within the perceived stability of public education, and stability within the ‘alternative’ state of homeschooling, has me thinking about the long run today. (Like I said, I’m in second-cup-of-coffee world.) In specific, how are our kids going to view school when it comes time for them to think about educational options for their own children?

I grew up with something of an inner fire for educational transformation – a strong desire to do things differently for my own kids. I suppose we all did: who didn’t stare down another SRA card2, or face off against the mind-numbing horror of fifth-period study hall, and think to themselves, “it’s going to be different for my kids”? But despite doodling the destruction of our schools at the hands of an invading robot army, many of us ended up right back where it all began, shipping our kids off to public school to endure all the same trials and travails. The process has been dressed up a bit now; gifted kids have ALPs, and 2e kids get IEPs, and there are more opportunities for enrichment  – when the Sauron eye of standardized testing is looking elsewhere, that is. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, it’s a different flavor of the same old, same old.

It’s been that awareness, that experience, that’s driven much of what Kathy and I have done in changing up our careers and lifestyles and responsibilities. These haven’t been easy or simple or even societally-accepted choices to make, but we made them anyway, in large part because we’d seen the alternative up close. We talk frequently about the need to run toward a desired end state, rather than run from an unwanted intermediate state. Even so, we have moments in which we acknowledge that there is some running from in this equation. It’s unavoidable, given that it is our own personal experiences that have framed these choices, and we’re living with that fact. What about their experience, though? Without flamethrowing-robot doodles or study-hall spitballs or other formative moments, will they have the same passion for homeschooling we do? They’ve had a taste spoon of public ed, but certainly not enough to rile them up the way I was. I wonder whether that’s going to color their perspective as the decision draws near for their own families. How do you rationally evaluate something you’ve scarcely had to put up with?

Perhaps it’ll be a more difficult decision for them. Perhaps school will become something truly different by 2028, or 2038, or whenever they start their own families. I’d like to think that real transformation is coming for the public education system in this nation, but I’m a realist, too. Things haven’t changed much since I was in elementary school in the 1970s, and that was thirty-five years ago; do I really think things will improve dramatically in the next fifteen? There’s a part of me that hopes that school will be a genuine option when they begin examining educational options for their families. But based on the glacial pace of progress in our own school system, I’m not entirely convinced that things will be any different then.

That may leave them in a strange position, at least from my perspective: unconvinced that school is a sound choice for educating their children, but lacking the traditional-schooling experience that would fuel their commitment to homeschooling. When the time comes, will they have the same determination to do what’s necessary for their own children? I like to think that they will, and that they’ll be choosing for the healthiest of reasons: namely, that they’ll be running toward what they grew up with themselves – what worked, and what they knew to be right for them, and what they’d like their own kids to experience, too.


1 I know, it looks like a dining room, but it’s a homeschooling center. Trust me on this.

2 I think I actually got hives when H told me she was doing SRA cards in school. Really? 25 years later, we’re still doing SRA cards?

2 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting that both of us had a passion for doing it differently. I sort of *forgot* that part of myself in college, when I was frustrated with education classes and bailed on getting my certificate.


    • I actually had a dalliance with traditional academe in the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was teaching anthropology at CU. If my fifteen-year-old self could have seen that, he would have kicked my ass. Sometimes you have to back up to see the forest; sometimes you have to go right into the goddamn forest to see it. One way or another, we get to our ultimate source of perspective.


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