We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
I’ve recently had the good fortune of receiving a moderate volume of calls, emails, and texts from parents who are curious about homeschooling and unschooling for their children. Part of the increased activity may be the small community ripple our thirteen-year old daughter made this fall when she tested into, and enrolled at, our local community college. Regardless of the factors behind this increased interest, I love the subjects of homeschooling, unschooling, parenting, and living with children. I am honored when adults and children alike trust me enough to share their concerns.
Today I’ve fielded texts from a mother to six who is trying to navigate her family’s first year of home- and unschooling. She tells me her family spent a year deschooling – living without books and curriculum – and now she’s worried, because they’re “behind”. She was feeling upset because in an online unschooling community she brought up these concerns and was told by members of the group that she “hadn’t deschooled yet”. This kind of thing can be unschooling-speak for: “you’re still part of The System! Bad unschooler, bad!” (Meanwhile those unfamiliar with unschooling are probably scratching their heads thinking – “What in the WORLD is ‘deschooling’?”)
Let’s think about my friend’s position for a moment.
Readers: you have, over the last twelve years, supported me in a hundred different ways. I thank you for this, and today I have a special request.
Our 13-year old daughter is the youngest-ever student to enroll here at Grays Harbor College. She is doing well, halfway through her first quarter of college – a 95% in her math class, and high marks in her Life Drawing course. She is also finishing up a private Pastels class – this latter, paid for by a patron.
Tuition was due last week. It is pricey – about $100 per credit, per quarter. Our hopes to find her a scholarship have astonished me: most scholarships discriminate by age, making our bright, gifted daughter too young to qualify for traditional funding. Be assured Ralph and I are pursuing various options to help with these costs – but so far, as they say, bupkis.
To wit: you can help us immensely by either a one-time donation here via Paypal (or traditional mailing to P.O. Box 205 Hoquiam, WA 98550), or by supporting my daughter’s Patreon account. Please know that even a small sum monthly, will make all the difference for my daughter’s educational goals.
I will be keeping this post updated if we receive scholarship funds, enrollment in Running Start, or a large enough donation to cover costs. And as always – thank you so much for your support.
c/o Kelly Hogaboom
PO Box 205
Aberdeen, WA 98520
It’s that time of year – my social media stream is full of parents and teachers making jokes (?) at the expense of children. Teachers groan about having to return to their jobs. Parents are glad they get a break – finally! We’re all in agreement: caring for children is really exhausting and annoying and teachers should be sainted for having to put up with it!
Yeah. It’s kinda ugly.
Lest you think I’m a humorless scold (um… do you even read here?) let me acknowledge a few truths. First, I think very loving grownups can make jokes like this. Whether they should, well, let’s talk about this.
Second: I don’t deny, everyone needs to blow off some steam. As a parent for over thirteen years, I can attest there is a dark side to the hard work of being a parent. Sometimes we just need to vent. In fact, older entries of this very blog reveal that edge. Go ahead and look, if you like. It’s not pretty, although a lot of people seem to think it’s funny.
I am not writing this piece for those who’d read and feel offended, flustered. “How dare she pick on how I talk about my kids!” Or: “Well I don’t like kids. That’s just my preference.” (Not even touching this one, today!)
Yeah, yeah. I’m not trying to pick on you. I’m not even writing for you.
I’m writing for the children, teens, and adults, who see these “jokes”, and feel uneasy. If you do, please read on:
The problem with public venting is: children hear it. And it is damaging. There is no question about either of these things.
So then it becomes time for us truly to earn that title of GROWN UP. Because we are grown. We have rights, freedoms, protection under the law, and access to support – at least, far more than children as a class do.
So – are we going to act grown, or not? Is our right to vent more important than the collective self-esteem of our new generation? Does our right to vent trump our responsibility to weigh our words, while we steward this world and show, by example, how best to care for it? Are snark, memes, and barbed anecdotes – about our children or others’ – our only avenues to vent? Is it possible there are ways to get our needs met, that aren’t destructive to others?
Children read this stuff. They see it. Children get the gist. Teenagers especially learn that: we think they’re silly, dramatic, stupid, and annoying. And look – here’s another article proving how “teenage brain” is totally different than – *cough cough inferior to* – the grownup brain. Ouch!
Is it possible for children to fully understand these memes and snark are “just jokes”? Studies say, not so much. Empirical evidence and anecdotes reveal: not so much.
Even as adults: we all have a person or two in our lives, who seems to pick on us, although we can’t absolutely prove it. How does that feel?
Yeah, not too great.
Children are human beings, and they deserve respect – as individuals, and as a class. Our pastors, close and trusted friends, counselors, and the supportive family members who can keep a confidence? These fine personages are who we should vent to.
And when we’ve had enough support from these professionals and loved ones, we can better clarify what, if anything, we need to change. We can speak to our children in a constructive manner. We can dance that special dance – of self-care, while discharging our responsibilities.
It’s never too early, or too late to start.
I’m looking forward to these “Not Back To School” months with my kids in my home. I can truthfully say: these ten plus years of immersion have been the experience of a lifetime. I am so glad I did it, and so glad we continue. I am so glad I took the plunge, even after so many told me it wasn’t possible. That only a certain class of (unambitious, unintelligent, lifeless, and financially-privileged) women could do it, and stay happy.
Nah, son. If you want to do it – you can. Prepare to learn a little – or a lot!
And – I’m here to help.
I’m tired, but more to the point I’m sad. I have a grey cloud over my head vis-a-vis my troubles and my temperament is such I get entangled in this ish most nights. I’ve tried talking it out, I’ve tried praying on it, I’ve tried meditating, I’ve tried not thinking. But I’m a mess over it all the same.
But now, I sit on my daughter’s bed and try to be with her for a bit. She’s playing on her brother’s 3DS but she puts it aside to cuddle me a while.
She suddenly remembers she has something for me and fetches it from her bag: her progress report, her grades. I flip through a frankly confusing printout and see all A’s and several classes recording over 100%. I am beginning to suspect she’s top of the class. Kind of incredible to me as kids have so much school- and homework these days and she is completely self-motivated about all of it.
“This looks really good. I’m impressed,” I tell her, flipping the packet back on the bed.
I’m quiet a moment and then I say, “You know by doing so well, you’re doing a favor for future homeschoolers and unschoolers out there.”
“You mean I prove that kids can go to school after unschooling and succeed?”
“Yeah,” I say. “You know a lot of people are afraid to unschool or homeschool their kids,” I tell her.
“That’s okay,” she says. And just when I’m thinking how compassionate and live-and-let-live she is she follows up with:
“They just have to get their shit together.”
She says it in the gentlest tone possible.
Ah… my little Beak.
During our new swim session a few of the homeschool parents descend on me at poolside – almost ravenously. It had been a couple years since I connected with the group. Touchingly, even though I have been absent for a while, and I don’t remember their names nor their children’s, a few ask about my daughter. I tell them about Phoenix enrolling in school, and how she’s doing. There is a bit of a flutter as a few of them seem to be deciphering that in some way. One woman says, “You can write on your blog about how you can go from unschooling, to [successful] schooling. Most people I talk to think unschooling won’t work.”
Why YES I CAN! And what a great idea that is! And – you are right! And – thank you for the reminder! I am a little delighted. My brain is all rusty and cobwebby.
I only discovered there was a six-week class an hour before the class, so I’m just glad we made it here on time. I’m not quite ready to publicly interface in a graceful way. I have a pen in my hand and I’m meeting a friend and I’m watching my son in the pool – I’m watching him learn a bit more about proper swimming technique. I’m so glad the sun is shining through the windows and I’m so glad to be here with him.
I am not used to getting invasive questions but today I am not minding much. I am mellow like Ben Murphy. Since I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation sometimes I just let the questions or assumptions roll over me like water.
And hell sometimes, I think directness (in the form of, “Why are you doing this? Why do you do that?”) can be refreshing. Because let me tell you, I have encountered some weird behaviors in my day. People who hint so many layers deep I know they’re fucking with me but I can’t figure out exactly why. People who aggressively compliment. Can’t figure that one out either. People who, like today, corner me and start telling me very detailed stories about a specific cultural aspect of their home – even though I am sitting with a workbook on my lap and I was busy writing in it when they approached. I am not here to socialize – not today, at least.
Nels is the last out of the pool; it is so warm out I simply wrap him in his towel and hold his clothing under my arm. Home for a bath and then to enjoy the sun. It’s a good day to walk this Earth.
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.
In the process of enrolling my “unschooled” child into public school, we have ended up speaking with several individuals for input or, in some cases, necessary arrangements. These individuals include staff and faculty from school districts, some teachers (and ex-teachers), a homeschool email list (in this case, the “traditional”/curriculum type of homeschooling), and of course friends and relatives.
I am continually re-reminded that we Hogabooms swim in a different sea when it comes to some big life concepts, like How Children Learn, or just How Children Work in general (spoiler alert: they work a lot like regular people, except usually more honest!). Plenty of people who (obviously) love children very much, their own and others, will flat-out speak what I consider startling un-truths about children. Like how learning to mind authority and follow direction is equivalent to real learning as well as the moral prime directive of handling the kid problem. You know, LITTLE issues like that [she laughs]. I’m also reminded even a lengthy civil discussion (or two or three!) can’t possibly inject Ralph and my worldview and experiences into other individuals – and today I know it is rude and futile for me to try this. The child-as-second-class-citizen schema runs so deep that it takes months or even years to significantly de-program (hello! I’m still working on it!) – and I am coming to believe people would have to truly live the experience for a significant amount of time to speak with any real authority about it.
In Phoenix’s case, we have had many suggestions in the past few weeks: suggestions of how to organize her wardrobe, her curriculum, her food and lunch experience, how to test her, where to “place” her, how to “place” her. Every suggestion has been directed at me or my husband – patently ignoring the fact this entire world is hers, ignoring this even when we’ve said so directly and out loud, even while she’s in the room or available via email et cetera. In many cases, disturbingly but not surprisingly, my daughter is talked about like she’s chattel.
My daughter’s reaction to this makes me fall over dead with admiration. She leans back and tunes out. If she’s not being spoken to, a fine and friendly fuck all y’all. She’s not here to mess with anyone but she’s also not here to play “Good Girl”. She is like the best Buddhist I’ve met.
She is amazing.
Now I am used to adults’ baffling oversight – given that’s how many people treat most kids – but just to inform you how profound it really is, this happens over and over even when Ralph and I have demonstrated for years that this is not how our family operates. I am re-reminded of something I’d forgotten: that many grownups literally do not know how to talk about a child without knowing their grade and their so-called “aptitudes” or without considering grownups “owners” of children (as opposed to guardians or nurturers). And when it comes to these evaluations, I’m not talking about the logical surveying of a handful of factors in order to file a child into a classroom, which makes sense in light of the system – I mean that many adults cannot relate to a child without first “knowing” this information.
It is the oddest thing.
I know I sound feisty. I’m not angry, I’m just continually surprised at what I should no longer be surprised about. In a way, it still saddens me a bit. While today I have made peace with the mostly-schooling world (although that majority keeps shrinking), I think often of the neophyte home- or unschooler – as I once was! – so ill-supported or even vilified by so many. I think of this new family and how much anxiety is often produced by these clashing concepts of human relationships (cf. my handful of very angsty blog posts a few years back). No wonder people frantically self-affix labels – like “whole life unschooling” or “radical unschooling” or “interest-led learning” or “autodidactic unschooling” or even “un-unschooling”. Part of the label-grabbing motive is to defend one’s choice to raise one’s own child in the way seen fit: “Please trust us, we have a plan for our kids”; others may, as I did, be passionately trumpeting: “No. This is different. Different than (practically) everything you’ve been raised to believe!” (I’m still trumpeting that… or clown-horning that, if that’s how you see it.)
We’ve “unschooled” long enough to move past that particular label being useful – it merely serves as a shorthand that I employ when it makes sense.
Now I’m at the end of a day, and still recuperating from surgery, so I’m too tired to eloquently defend a premise I believe in: that nearly all labels, given time, will morph from being useful, to being impediments. Labels are fine, but a fanatic and stubborn adherence to them can keep us from practicing compassion, from practicing humility, and from helping others who are struggling.
Yes, our unschooling experience is valuable, and there is no substitute for it. Theory isn’t the same as living it. I have that life experience to offer – and I do. My blessings and support to any on the path.
Predictably, I’m about six hundred words into a three-hundred word post. I apologize. Let me get to more relevant points:
A few weeks ago I feared the biases my daughter might face from the teachers, adults, and children she’d be spending the day with. But I have worked through those fears (so far!) because I have re-reminded myself that it’s not my job to make people see things the way we do – and, more importantly, that Phoenix can handle this. Our children are whole, and that is what will help them. Our children are intelligent, kind, empathetic, strong, full of humor and compassion, and authentic.
We are here to support them, one hundred percent.
They also have something many children don’t have: a choice.
They have a choice. You know, sometimes I forget how amazing that really is? We’ve worked our asses off to give our children a choice and I’m grateful for the many factors, and all the kinds of support, that have made this possible. My goal in being out as a non-schooling family is to show people: I’m here, we’re here to help, if you ever want to try something even a little bit different.
These days I do not write to offend, or write to defend. I write here with passion. If there is any one else out there that wants to jump off the diving board, I’m here cheering from the cool deep water.
Well, let me torture the analogy a bit. Now? I’m waiting on the bleachers, watching my daughter jump, yet again. She is a beautiful sight.
My daughter has decided she’d like to go to school this year. I am totally cool with this, although several home educators and home/unschoolers I know have expressed their worry, and/or their thoughts I might be worried.
I ain’t worried, because I trust my daughter. Trust meaning two things; A. We literally allow her make her own choices (this is known as the action of trust, not the mere lip-service to it), and B. we have the lived experience of knowing she makes choices that really work for her. In fact her choices are often braver, or smarter, or more interesting than the ones I think up for her. She and I have had several talks about the whole business and I am impressed with her acumen and her matter-of-fact courage. Another thing I know: any school, or classroom, is lucky to have her!
My kids are what I’ve heard referred to as “spiritually fit”. By the time I was their age, I wasn’t. They are humbling and beautiful influences in my life.
So yeah, I’ve often wondered what my kids would think of school, should they choose to enroll. I am looking forward to her thoughts. This is an adventure for me as I find myself wondering if she’ll stick to it or think of it as a huge time-suck drag and quit within a few days or weeks. I don’t have to worry about any of it, though (see: preceding paragraph). My job is not to mold her opinions or live her life, but to support her in what she chooses to do.
We are short on finances and I am considering a little fund-drive on this blog so Phoenix can have school clothes. She tells me she’s ready to have more storebought clothes (as opposed to homemade), because, and I quote: “I’m getting that age, mom.” She kills me! I love her. But, we’ll see. I am still navigating under what circumstances I should make an “official” call-out on this blog for funds… So many readers have helped us in the past. Yet, I do not want to strain what is often called “social capital”, either.
Because Yes, I have a strong desire for my daughter to have a start on the wardrobe she’d like to explore (not to mention the backpack and lunch box she wants, et cetera) and her pencils and notebooks and such – to have this lovely little experience going to school. But my mind often falls upon a fair number of things that cost money and could benefit our family, such as not eating squash three times a week, and getting my car out of the shop, stuff like that. Prioritizing these desires isn’t an exact science – I need prayer and meditation, and to take what comes on a daily basis (the good and the bad), and to give things a little thought, and see what the Universe opens up.
It is truly a blessing to minister to and care for children who are so open, loving, and grateful for their lives and for the conditions in their lives. Their graciousness about their requests makes it easier for Ralph and I to make good choices. It’s a good life and the investments we’ve put into our family have paid off.
Still. School! Who would have thought?