Sunday, June 15, 2008

Life Decisions

I turned 43 yesterday. Not a “cool” birthday but one that moves me deeper into “mid-40s” territory. Our friends Elise and Robert came out from Seattle and our island buddies dropped by. We BBQ’d and had a campfire – generally a perfect evening. But…I can’t believe I’m 43! How did that happen?

But, the bigger issues facing us these days are Mark’s work, the launch of my magazine next spring, and how we’re going to educate Dylan. Tough questions. Good questions. In a shocking reversal, I am now beginning to advocate homeschooling our son. It is a bizarre position to find myself in, but here I am nonetheless. In some ways, homeschooling is not really a departure from many of our other decisions – to nannyshare with a nearby family, to find a way to do an au pair instead of daycare when I accepted a full-time job, to move to the island, multi-age classroom over traditional. I’ve always resisted the institutional norm for Dylan – I knew it wasn’t for us, or for him.

But, homeschooling always seemed way out there. The default choice of religious fanatics and off-the-gridders. It wasn’t until I started analyzing Dylan’s learning style and his persistent stumbling blocks that I began to come to the conclusion that the rest of public school, school in general, may not work for him.

Most people I know eschew the overall “testing to the test” phenom we’re caught in. Me included. But, it is not until you’re several grades into it, I think, that the very real, complex consequences of teaching to the test really start to reveal themselves. Dylan is a brilliant kid – every adult who knows him will say that. He’s conceptual, verbal, spatial, articulate, scientific, empathetic. But, he can’t write and he can’t spell and while he can understand the concepts of sine and co-sine, he has real difficulty memorizing his times tables. So, brilliant kid, poor student. In short, a kid that the PS system is not set up to nurture. It’s that simple.

You know, we had a little gathering here for my b-day and of the 3 couples that were here late, 2 are considering something Else educationally. Shelley is looking at the island’s very high-quality private school; we’re looking at homeschool. Mark actually had Shelley’s husband follow him inside and ask why we think Dylan is “so special” he needs to be homeschooled. It’s so interesting – b/c this mirrors my experience in retaining an au pair. Why is it that as soon as you step back from an institution here in the US, everyone thinks you’re a nutcase or a snob? Somehow, the fact that public school exists has come to mean that it is the de facto pathway to an education. How ridiculous.

Our country is strong because of public education – that is not an over-statement. That education is offered to all lifts many up and out of poverty and provides the spotlight onto much otherwise-undiscovered talent, which then fuels the still-unequaled culture of entrepreneurship that exists here.

But public education’s ability to lift all boats on its tide does not equate to a system that is all things to all people, and yet somehow we have been lulled into believing that it does. We are de facto snobs or nutcases simply by choosing a different educational path than the one plunked down in front of us and for which we willingly pay.

Dylan is not going to succeed in public school. He very likely will enjoy it and make friends. He will amuse and delight his teachers in real time – only to disappoint them come test time. His teachers will again and again be faced with the uncomfortable dichotomy of an articulate insightful student who produces almost nothing.

That’s the deal.

So, it’s up to us to provide a learning environment that gets him to produce. We can develop projects that build learning into what he loves and he’ll produce easily. My couple hours at Friday’s Homeschooling Convention were mind-blowing – looking past the still-Christian-dominated landscape to the possibilities, I saw education in a totally new light. Homeschooling isn’t just teaching public school at home, it’s approaching learning in an entirely different way. The speaker I saw had this incredibly simple but key thing to say: It’s not about what you teach, but about what they learn. In other words, don’t focus on what you can and cannot teach – that’s not the point. Look at what they need to learn – and a lot of it will have very little to do with your teaching.

So, I dunno. I think we’re in. We’ll see.

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