So apparently some grading milestone has just passed, because we got a different grading report this week. And it turns out our unschooled daughter made the honor roll.
This is all the more impressive (to me) given she has had two near one-week absences already for family time, and I know she didn’t turn in all the necessary makeup work for those intermissions. (Getting an organized list of make-up work is weirdly logistically difficult… children have incredible amounts of homework assigned to them these days and I think overworked teachers can’t always keep it straight).
I’ve thought a lot about writing about our family’s experience of the eldest’s foray into schooling – especially since I’ve been asked to write about it. Long story short: my daughter is killing it. Meaning: she genuinely enjoys school and is a faithful and willing participant. She seems to be managing the social stuff well, although let’s be honest – if she was being a shady Ass she might not be willing to report to me. Time will tell; further observation will tell.
Academically, she is one of those bright kids praised for critical thinking, leadership in discussions, and friendly deportment. No one reading here is surprised. She is ranked the top reader of the class and … bottom… math-er (how would you put that?).
The math bit is interesting. Phoenix is catching up very quickly, positing that a child who’s never touched math workbooks in a classroom can catch up to five years’ of public school in a few months. [ inserts tongue into cheek ] I am not even kidding about how much she couldn’t do worksheet-math when she started. Her first week at school she’d look up at me and say, “What is ‘5’ plus ‘2’?” Part of her difficulty with even simple exercises in a math worksheet seemed to be her own conviction that she “didn’t do” math (her words, although of course she’s managed many fiscal matters quite sensibly and plays video games which involve math, estimation, and strategy). Part of it was she was a bit overwhelmed with those first couple weeks. She is now quite calm about math and cheerfully enough completes the volumes of homework required. As I type this she is downstairs filling out a bunch of balls’-numbing long division problems. You know, one of those things we grownups use our calculators for.
School administrators and staff are very interesting to work with. I live in a small enough community I will keep some of my opinions to myself, although I am fine with a one-on-one or email conversation for the genuinely curious (I am not down with gossip, so you will get nowhere with me if you try it). I will say that school staff seem to know school isn’t so great for kids and this knowledge is reflected in an odd combination of muffled obfuscation and obsequious, careful sizing-up while talking to a parent. That said, from what I can tell the staff are adults who genuinely enjoy children. I ain’t gonna lie, some adults like kids inasmuch as they can boss, rank, file, and even tease them. But that doesn’t mean they don’t love them, too.
The logistics of school life is a tiny bit tricky, but we are making it. Phoenix and Ralph get up quite a bit earlier than Nels & I (except for days like today, when Ralph was out of town and I got the opportunity to take Phee to school). We drive nine-point-four miles to get her to a bus stop (then back to town or work). With our car and gas situation this is often sketchy, but it has worked out and it is a nice break, a nice bit of family-only time. I’m still glad we chose the school we did for a variety of reasons, and my daughter feels a part of the school community.
So far, so good.
I don’t pine for my daughter like I did at first. It is still amazing to think of her just doing some shit all day long and I have no idea what it is. I am really glad for our family’s intimacy, though, and it keeps us strong. I enjoy having more time with just-my-son, and I enjoy having some work time. I enjoy watching my daughter build a life of her own.
My daughter is still one of the most directly affectionate people I know. When I pick her up from school at the end of a little rural road she walks right into my arms and kisses me and I hold her for a bit. We walk back in silence or talk about our day. I can see that friendship between us and I know that although it’s not a sure thing it will remain strong, so far it has been so wonderful, so rewarding. My daughter is probably the easiest person on the planet for me to be around. She is pretty special. Whomever she shares herself with is very lucky indeed.
I know over the years of writing here I have influenced many adults who are trying to figure out what is best for their children. I earnestly hope I have done more help than harm. As an unschooling parent for about a decade now, I have a few words as we journey through this latest bit. Parents and carers, if you are involved with your kids, love your kids, pay attention to your kids, and are brave enough to consider going against the grain – please don’t listen to what anyone ever says about school performance. Kids aren’t meant to be ranked and filed, “kept busy”, discussed like show dogs in a lineup, labeled, and with regularity told when they can eat and when they can take a crap.
Now if that’s your kid’s daily reality, Cool Beans, it’s one of my kids’ daily realities too. But I still say; if you’re thinking about it, YES, it is VERY WORTH IT to put off that reality for as many years as you can. Today, so far, I am pretty comfortable as a parent-whose-child-chooses-school, but to be fair it’s nothing I’ve done personally – it’s trusting Phoenix. We trusted her enough not to send her to school and let her be her. It was a smart investment.
It is an honor to be her mother and friend, to accompany her on her journies. I look forward to the next chapter.
“…I am pretty comfortable as a parent-whose-child-chooses-school…”
I understand that there is no one-size-fits-all answer, but now I can’t help but feel I somehow slighted my daughter by talking her out of going to school when she practically begged me at the age of five. I did my best to see it through her eyes and think I was correct in my assessmet that she was only interested in the things she could see from outside the system: recess, tons of kids and bus rides. After I explained to her she would be required to sit silently at a desk even if she was bored and would need to complete work even if she didn’t like it, she seemed to agree school wasn’t for her. Now I’m concerned she won’t ask again if the desire returns.
Anyway, just one more level of twisted doubt for me to navigate. Mostly venting. It’s such a roller coaster going from knowing this is best to knowing I’m a fool that has been glamoured by some crazy fad and then back again, sometimes daily.
I try to remember times when she discusses Minecraft with me, solving several multiplication problems in her head without knowing it, adding how lag reduces her frames per second. When she corrects my misuse of the nomenclature and skillfully explains to me how to complete simple taks without condescension. I tell myself it really is ok, and that helps for a little while.
I keep thinking the doubt will go away but it never does.
I feel this exact same way about my Pete. He’s almost 16 and I cherish our closeness. It’s so interesting to hear people talk about their teenagers as if they aren’t people. I love getting to know the person he’s becoming on his own and love even more that he tells me who that is!
I’m so happy to read that you and Phee have maintained your closeness even as she grows and changes. It’s because of your willingness to let her make choices and respect her – not in spite of it. Keep up the good loving, mama.
I’m grateful for this blog.
@Annie & @Karen
No. The self-doubt doesn’t really go away. It is a normal part of being a parent. If the self-doubt is causing us trouble sleeping or some such then it’s time to seek some help. But what you describe seems typical. I’ve been through it. I’ll probably go through it again.
“she won’t ask again if the desire returns”:
Of course I can’t say what’s right for your family and K., but I know you admire some aspects of our family and I will tell you we have been through this. A. my daughter did NOT want to leave kgarten when we removed her, and I had to just make that executive call (remember, putting a child IN school is non-negotiable in most families!) and I experienced ambivalence. And – B. less than one year before my daughter decided she wanted to attend school, she was adamantly in the “school-is-dumb and I’ll never go” camp. I was surprised she wanted to go but precisely because she’s in charge of her life, I knew I could trust her and that I was going to learn a lot more, by letting her do her thing.
& I know you know this, but compulsory schooling is the “crazy fad” – not living, growing, supporting, & nurturing a child in as much freedom as we can safely afford.