Summer’s finally here in Colorado, with our occasional winter lookback days at long last behind us, and the traditional school experiment is drawing to a close for us. E attended the WATS rec0gnition ceremony last weekend, where three trips to the stage reminded of what we already know: there’s no point whatsoever in her attending middle school. H has thrived this year with more individualized time for math, and more time to stretch out her writing and critical thinking skills, so she’s coming home full-time in the fall, too. As for A, we’ve barely been able to coax him through the last few months of school. He’s done with it – the structure, the order of coursework, the tiny recesses and the shovel-it-in lunch period and the every-minute, every-day challenge of being an emotionally intense kid in a setting that was never designed for him. I couldn’t watch him go back in the fall if he was in love with traditional schooling, and he’s not.

Their classmates are having their own last hurrahs. Our elementary school feeds two traditional public middle schools in the area, plus a charter or two and a collegiate academy, so in the class H and E visit for part of the day, there are goodbyes going on, too. We’re having ours, too – seeing off parents we’ve fought the good fight with for the past several years. They’ve made their decisions, and some are comfortable with them, and some want to hear some validation comments. Then it comes to be our turn, and the conversation turns to homeschooling, and I just know they’re not quite sure what to say.

And sometimes, the question surfaces, in the midst of all of this discussion of choices and strategies and forks taken. It’s not spoken – not overtly, at least. But it’s there, in a hundred raised eyebrows and sidelong comments: “how do you know you’re doing the right thing?”

We don’t.

Not really, anyway; no more than anyone ever knows that what they’re doing is the right choice. Can I look twenty years into their futures and tell whether this is the right move? Absolutely not. I couldn’t have predicted ten percent of what’s happened in my own life, from college graduation to today, and I was fully in charge of that; I certainly can’t predict how life’s fortunes and chance crossings and transformational events and global trends are going to impact the lives of my kids.

Here’s what I do know. I do know that there’s a chance that the economy gets significantly better, at some point, but even if it does, the globalization of the middle class is here to stay. My college-educated kids won’t be competing just with kids from Modesto and Miami and Moline; they’ll be competing with kids from Munich and Madurai and Malang, too. Will a traditional schooling path prepare them for that kind of competition? It might. But based on what I’ve seen, it’s questionable. The reality is this: there are more college graduates, worldwide, than can possibly be employed in comfortable air-conditioned knowledge-worker positions. We just don’t need that many of those jobs. Mine will need to find their own route, and I’m not sure that route is the same one everyone else is taking.

I do know that creativity and critical thinking and technological savvy and ad hoc collaboration are a part of the future for them. They’re a part of my existence, now, and I have what could be convincingly argued to be a Millennial-style job. Those factors are only going to become more important as my kids enter the workforce. It’s not that these concepts aren’t being taught in school, but they’re not being taught and nourished and encouraged nearly enough. Right now, they’re adjunct goals. I’d argue they’re the main goals.

I do know that their lives are going to be led by passion. That cartoon with the on-off switch? The one labeled COMPLETELY OBSESSED in the ON position, and UTTERLY DISINTERESTED in the OFF position? That’s my kids. And I’m not planning to parent them entirely by that on-off switch. What I need to do is to keep their intellects active while introducing the idea, over time, that everyone’s got less-than-thrilling things to do, floors to mop, dishwashers to unload, DMV lines to sit in. But the more time they spend in one long DMV line during traditional schooling, the less time they have to keep their passions burning. I’ve watched the fires dwindle to diminished flames, then mere flickers, then cooling embers, before Kathy and I jumped into the process and started frantically fanning those embers. I’d rather not go through that again.

I do know that there is more to a child’s life than standardized tests, and there is more to a child’s life than cinderblock walls and cut-rate food and hurry-up-and-wait. I’ve run across cool spring grass with my daughter as a hot air balloon descended in the field near our house, tiny faces pressed enviously to the windows of the neighborhood elementary school close by. I’ve decided that the aquarium is simply a more fun place to learn about marine ecosystems than a classroom – or even our home – might be, and off we’ve gone. I’ve talked with them at length over lunches that they could relax and eat, rather than try and scarf down their food within a twenty-minute window (minus lining-up time, of course).

These things might be enough for me.

In the end, it’s a world of uncertainty. Our generation was famously reminded that it’s an imperfect world, and that screws fall out. So I have no perfect response for the raised eyebrows and the veiled questions, other than to say that I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.

But I’m not sure what they’re doing is the right thing, either.

4 responses to this post.

  1. I always find your posts full of positive observations of your schooling experience with your children. Let those raised eyebrows of judgement stay in the minds of the judgers and continue your positive education of your family.

    As an aside, what does your blog title mean. my curiosity has got the better of me!


  2. Thank you! And, by way of explanation, you should definitely see the GT-centric 80s film _Real Genius_.


  3. Posted by gwynridenhour on May 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Not much to add, except good vibes of support. I’ve been writing up our own experiences of the last four years of homeschooling today, and it’s been fun looking back. We jumped in out of the public school environment too, at the request of our kids. What a difference that choice has made in all our lives!

    Good luck!


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