deschooling: not an all-or-nothing experience

[Ed note on terminology: Let us not pretend I oppose the existence of institutions of learning that employ knowledgable instructors providing course material either voluntarily or for a wage. This is absurd. What I mean by “school” for all my alt education writings is the following: a state-run institutional edifice where children are required to attend; also, the resultant culture that has sprung up in and supporting such institutions.]
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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.

crowdfunding my li’l boo

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.

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom

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.

Phoenix Hogaboom
c/o Kelly Hogaboom
PO Box 205
Aberdeen, WA 98520

Phoenix’s first pen-and-ink, for class last week:

Phoenix Fire Hogaboom

enrollment

Today our thirteen year old daughter enrolled at our local community college. We had a very pleasant orientation with her advisor, and then the family – the four of us – toured some new facilities, some really incredible facilities, that will be her home this quarter. Phee stayed at the school with her dad for the rest of the day, while Nels and I came home to our own undertakings: some football and tailoring work, resp.

College matriculation for my daughter came up rather abruptly, as it happened. So my mind is still trying to put pieces together. Unhelpfully, I am breaking new ground and at a loss for mentors. I am also once again in a tiny bit of a spotlight: the moment I publicly announced our daughter’s acceptance to college, I was flooded with parents publicly and privately demanding I tell them how we accomplished this. I’ve also had a handful of well-intentioned (?) people ask me if she was ready – if we’d thought about This, or thought about That.

Well, sheesh. Yeah, we’ve thought about This, and we’ve thought about That. Ralph and I stay up nights talking about our children, our parenting, our family, our community. We talk about it when the kids are in earshot, and when they are not. Our children are the most important pieces of our lives. We’ve built our entire family structure on prioritizing them (and I’ve been writing about this, passionately, for over a decade) – parenting against the cultural standard every step of the way, I might add.

And now – it’s paying off. I mean, it’s paying off yet again, because it has been paying off since get-go. It’s just paying off today in a way that other parents tend to notice. Parents ask me “how [I] did it”? I say – we prioritize our kids’ health and authenticity over Every. Damn. Thing. Non-punitive parenting, and de-institutionalization (a fake word but a real Thing) is often too scary for many parents.

Adults – not just parents! – want kids to perform. To score academically! To read early! To be good at (culturally-recognized forms of) math! To win the tournament! To somehow be OK, because that will prove we are good parents and by inference, good people. To prove the cultural and familial hazing we endured was somehow necessary and should be continued.

So: yeah. When my kids suddenly stand out in some way, I get the queries. You know… the queries where people really want to know “how [I] did it”, but don’t seem to listen when I respond.

If I sound too irritable, well first: you are reading my personal blog which means you’re looking at my thoughts in their underpants, as it were.

Secondly: I will get past it. I’ve had a lot of changes in our lives recently and I’m a bit overwhelmed.

But here’s the thing. I am a human being. I need mentors, just like you. I need support, just like you. And I really need those things when I’m doing something new not only to me, but new in my community.

I’m coming to see that being a groundbreaking family in this way or that way means there are times I might not get the support I’d wish for. I can’t hold that against anyone. I get it.

But my priority will always be my family.

I’ll be working – especially with these recent changes in our lives – on supporting myself, my partner, and our children in this next leg of the journey. And when I figure things out – well I’ll be sure to share, –

as I always have!

And as always – readers? I’ve written thousands and thousands of words on parenting. I’m no expert on anything except perhaps my own life story (and there’s doubt about that!), but I do pass on what I’ve learned.

If you are new to parenting, or if you’re not new but willing to learn new things: come join us. I welcome your emails, your constructive comments. 

Let’s do this together!

Being Assholes

Not Back To School, reason #1

Being Assholes
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.

verily i am unstoppable!

MONDAYS! (The Strange World of Planet X - 1957)

So today was really great, in about a half-dozen ways. Mostly I was tremendously focused on learning a few new things, which feels wonderful. The kids had friends over, then got up to their own projects – artwork. About halfway through this I forced them out on a walk with the dog so I could focus on some tailoring work: making a muslin and custom shoulder pads in a fabulous Harris tweed jacket for a delightful client. Then, while Ralph made dinner, cutting into the thick, scratchy high-end fabric and block fusing, the steam from the iron not feeling great in the summer heat, even with the A/C on.

Tomorrow is payday. I’m short about $500 this pay cycle. We’ll see!

awake at 6 am but then back to sleep

 
Today as soon as my son woke up, he cried out asking for us to swim together. Very recently it occurred to him we could both swim in the large, “adult” lap pool and he wanted this more than anything, today. Enough that he sprang out of bed, dressed immediately, packed his swim gear, walked the dog, and hopped in the car.

We swam; we dove. Backstroke, breast-stroke, dolphin kick, crawl. He pretended to be a merman. He showed me his many new swimming lesson skills. If he wasn’t under water smiling, he was popping his head up and bubbling words at me faster than I could track. He wanted me to swim with him, “free”. I flipped somersaults and dove to touch the deep end’s floor. I taught him the art of slowly releasing an exhale while submerged. He brought us kickboards and fins. My first time using flippers.

There was only one other person in the entire pool and they left us be. It was just Nels and I for yards of water. A small paradise.

My son is thinking of joining his sister in school (“I will try one day and see if I like it); if he does, I will miss our idyllic days together – years of memories, years slipping by. I know that either or both my children might join school, then quit, then re-join and by no means do I have a plan or agenda. I just also know the kids don’t mourn the passage of time so their changes are experienced in pure joy. Yet this bit of sadness is something I seem to have learned along the way.

Tonight: home cooking – for ourselves, and for friends. Patiently frying chicken in a clean kitchen; baking biscuits. Corn on the cob; country music all lonesome.

My husband has been kind to me. He can tell I am upset, and preoccupied at times, and worn a little thin. A setback here; a friend or two in trouble there. Kidney pains. Mis-steps. And when he puts his arms around me he really means it. He had kind words for me on my sobriety birthday. He has been my companion now for sixteen years. He has seem me through good and ill and I have done the same. This is a very precious thing and grows no less so as days rise and fall.

Tonight he finishes the dishes; I type a few words; my dog Hutch slumbers at my feet which he never fails to do when I am doing any seated work. Our children finish up their own housework efforts and run hot water for their baths.

I light a candle. I am thinking of a friend. I am thinking of our checking account. I am thinking of the summer nights upon us; evenings that stay light, later. I am feeling gladness. I am feeling somber.

I want a heart of Kindness.

i tell it like it is, and the ladies love it

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.

our dance card

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.

the rustle of leaves / going on a journey

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.

sending the little ones to Dreamland, and the radio dial to “Spooky”

It’s 11 PM on a Thursday, and we Hogabooms are still on vacation, technically. Ralph doesn’t have to go back to work until Monday – even though he has two performances of Rocky Horror this weekend, and those are no-joke – both in time spent and in effort required.

Ralph’s schedule regardless, tonight I’m grateful we still have an unschooling schedule. I’m speaking specifically of my son, at the foot of my bed, fresh out of the bath, with squeaky-clean wet hair and wearing only a pair of wee underwear with scuba-diving skull motif. He’s eating ice cream out of a bowl, lying on his belly at my feet. Now he laughs and says, “Daddy’s biting my toes!”

So I’m speaking of my husband, too. He’s up a little late, and waiting for me to close up shop on the computer so we can watch a B-movie. Typically if Ralph wants to go to bed earlier than the rest of us, he heads into the guest bedroom to sleep. Tonight though, I get both the boys a bit longer; our daughter, a school-kid now, slumbers upstairs. And now, the home is settling into that comforting atmosphere I love, the quiet of night. The dishes are done, the carpets are shampoo’d, the pets are snoring, the little light above my bedroom’s shrine glows.

It’s time to wind down, after a busy day.

Schedule-wise, I’ve been busy enough to be distracted. I’m trucking away with sewing and I have a great deal of work ahead of me. Today another custom costume sold, and I ordered the supplies necessary to create this five-piece bit of awesomeness for a very, very cute child (I saw pictures! He is to-die-for adorable!). I also sewed up most of a baby bunting for the upcoming Fiber Festival in Elma. And this evening a client mailed me measurements of her child, so I can start on another costume – likely the most challenging of this season. My schedule is getting a little crowded and I will soon have to close Halloween orders. I’d love to do some Christmas gift sewing, so I am giving a little thought on what to offer. You bastards reading here know mostly I just want to sew a bunch of little woolen blazer-style coats for kiddos. YES THAT’S RIGHT, you jerks know me and I’m boring AF.

I’m grateful for a busy life; I’m grateful for a healthy and happy family. I am very grateful for being able to earn a little scratch, doing something creative. I’m profoundly grateful for my sobriety, without which I would not be able to be profoundly grateful.

Goodnight, my dear readers. May you rest well, and may you be safe.