How to Teach at Home
by Mary Catherine
After a convoluted and hard-won voyage, our homeschool focus is pretty solidly hackschool and interest-based, both his interests and mine as I obviously direct subject topics. He wasn’t exactly jumping up and down saying, “oh please, can we learn Old English next fall?!” for example - I thought of it. But I know he’ll find Beowulf to be a pretty epic tale (get it? ;)
But beyond a wild variety of non-typical topics, we have lots of extracurriculars. Tons. And I know our homeschool schedule irks people. So let me tell why I don't care about that - and what I DO worry about.
His extracurriculars are legion. Well, kind of: Guitar lessons (regular, classical and bass), piano, songwriting, voice, he’s in a band, rowing, parkour, swimming, marksmanship, horsemanship and riding, ballroom dancing, French, French book club, regular book club, Latin, ASL, acting. And then more academic concerns including Old and Middle English, Biology, American Government, and Speech and Debate team - each happening once per week though, not daily.
I’m out driving from place to place most days, and when I’m not driving or teaching some group classes, I’m having conversations with him about his readings, spending time on math concepts with him, bringing him on field trips or scheduling homeschool events and classes, and writing – both of us are writing. I’m a writer as my full-time job, working from home. And yes, I fit it all in. And people ask me all the time about that. The real question they’re asking though, when wondering how I "fit it all in" - what they mean (and often say) is: “When do you ‘do school’ - how do you fit everything he needs in?”
Some are coming at it from a place of annoyance, viewing our schedule as a showy display; others wonder why I’m so nonchalant about traditional learning and possibly wonder if I’m doing him a disservice; and most can’t understand why I run myself ragged (or so they assume) to do “all the things,” leaving us too busy to “fit all that traditional school in.”
But I DO worry about fitting in everything he needs, actually. I worry a lot.
I worry about preparing him for the life he’ll lead one day. He’s developed an interest in and affinity for the human condition and all things existential and he reads about each and we have discussions about philosophy, psychology, religion, science and politics most days - sometimes all at once, mixed in between math and music and the rest of that crazy list. I worry about fitting those many conversations in, and have found magic in the attempt.
Our time spent on traditional academics is admittedly (and purposely) minimal though and that bothers people. I say ‘I’m not really sure why that is’ when I’m feeling snarky about it, but I get it. It’s different. We’re different. Even to our “traditional” homeschool friends, we’re an oddity in our approach to learning. But we shouldn’t be.
He’ll know how to take the typical tests and do well enough on them to get into college, should he choose to go, I’ll see to that. But he’ll never be asked (by me) to memorize the presidents or even state capitals. He’ll know where different places are in the world and their cultures/histories, along with overarching political ideologies though, because that’s what fits for him.
So he won’t do well when quizzed by those well-meaning, non-homeschool types around things their kids are taught en masse - those short-term memory things that most adults have to look up online as a refresher (or to learn brand new, if they’re being honest!). But that’s okay by me, because I think the ability to have a nuanced discussion with adults around Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is more meaningful, for him than offering a quick, memorized answer that doesn’t make sense to anyone out of context and can be looked up in two seconds via smartphone regardless.
Edit: My husband says I MAYBE, possibly make our son sound perfect here - so I guess I should clarify: I'm big on celebrating success and learning privately (mostly) from struggles. We've certainly had our share of struggle with schools, and with finding where we fit in with homeschool too, which is how this group got started. So, no - our son is not perfect, no one is perfect. We don't tell him he is and he's not a cocky kid. He's a clumsy, daydreaming, unassuming goofball who appreciates his life some days and is frustratingly unaware on others, and who makes the same mistakes other kids his age make. The "Allegory of the Cave" conversation happened this past weekend though, and it was top-of-mind and typical of who his is, and I won't apologize for/explain that!
The real question, to me is: Why haven’t we advanced what/how we teach to keep pace with the technology we create? But that’s off topic here. My point is, the education we’re providing for him is tailored to him. And I worry about fitting all of his many interests in over the span of the next five years in a way that’s meaningful and memorable and helps him create a life he wants to lead.
Because that’s what education is supposed to support, right? The care and feeding of responsible minds/adults?
Then why do so many traditionally educated people lead a life less than satisfying, if not downright miserable, where they do things they hate every day to survive? Sure, it’s part of being an adult to work and sometimes we have to do things we don’t love, but most of those things are able to be automated these days, if we’d allow it – and allow those chained to those tasks to explore other pursuits. To be truly free.
I’d wager it’s an indoctrinating, cookie-cutter educational system fostering a fear of taking risks that’s held them back from work they’d enjoy, and that prevented them from ever discovering who they really are and where their talents lie in the first place. It’s why we face a shortage in the skilled trades. It’s why so many adults go back to school to rediscover whatever passion or direction they feel they missed out on. It’s a place of resignation and misery (though not the only place) where alcohol and drug dependencies take hold and a big part of why midlife crises hit. It’s where anger and discontent are born, fester and eventually consume people who give up. I worry about that. We steer clear of that.
What I mostly worry about though, as he approaches 13, is the time we have together as a family each day, week and year to accomplish so much - time that seems to pass faster as he gets older. Knowing we only have around five years left before my independent boy sets out for parts unknown to further explore who he’s meant to be, either at college or some other way. And I want him to be ready for that, even though I know neither of us will ever be fully “ready” for that regardless (who can be?). But he’ll know himself, as he’ll have spent a good part of that time discovering and developing his natural talents, of which he (and every child) has many. He’ll be comfortable with taking risks and bending this life to his making. Accustomed to appreciating, rather than fearing, failure and the lessons that come with it. He already does.
But when I start thinking about the future, I worry (like any parent) and wish I could stop time, for just this year as it’s my favorite yet (but every year has been), or pause it - that’s a more accurate approximation of my wish, to have an extra bit of time to spend with this wonderfully insightful, hilarious young mind before the world - and interactions with it - jade him. To spend more time laughing and discovering new things, making memories that will stay with him long after we’re gone. And will make him smile to think of when he’s old. I worry about that as well.
And I worry about sending him off into a world that doesn’t share these values. Where humanity, as a whole, has lost its way (assuming it ever had it), with a preoccupation on checking things off of some ill-conceived list, constrained inside other people’s boxes instead of imagining and creating their own polyhedrons. Where each day is drudgery and “some day” never comes, or comes too close to death.
I know it’s disconcerting to consider life/learning in this way, off-putting even, and people will get mad at me for it and call this unrealistically judgmental, but so be it. That’s a risk I’ll take – to share my thoughts and hope they find those who stop to consider them or feel similarly and maybe haven’t said it out loud and struggle to explain, even to other homeschoolers, why the things they find important to “fit in” look so different.
But anyone is welcome to apply whatever meaning they want to this, of course, as everyone does with most things anyway. Perception is reality, after all, and each person’s perception is unique – and I think that’s both wonderful and terrifying. And that’s a conversation we’ll have another day, this young man and I, as we drive to and from his many activities - another wonderful conversation about the human condition to “fit in.”
What are you worried about fitting in?