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In the Doldrums

January 16, 2009

One of my favorite bloggy people Lara, was talking about the mid-winter doldrums — she’s getting through this difficult period without succumbing to the temptation to throw her kids’ scrawny little behinds on the next passing school bus. 🙂

I get how she’s feeling. It’s not just the long stretch between Christmas and spring, when the short, frigid days drag down our spirits. I think all us eclectic/unschoolish types have crises of faith. At times, I’m thanking God I’ve kept my high-energy, quirky, creative very “right-brained” son out of the classroom. At other times, I’m thinking of the gaps between him and his more conventionally educated peers. Is it really O.K. with me that he “should” be in 4th or 5th grade and he’s muddling through 1st grade spelling? That he thought to get 1/8 of a cup of water you needed two 1/4 cups? That his knowledge of history is almost non-existent? Of course, all this should be offset by the way he’s blossoming in his areas of interest, right? What exactly is his special area of interest? Besides hanging out with his friends, wielding fake swords, and talking about bodily functions?

While she’s enjoying our more focused and structured time together, Trishy is still often bored and irritable. She is five now, and shows no signs of giving up her title as self-appointed Queen of the Universe. Her siblings complain that she’s a spoiled monster — they make no bones about it. After lobbying forever to go to public school (y’know, cuz homeschooling is boring), Sarah doesn’t seem incredibly motivated to do her assigned reading for her English class. (This is a class that SHE chose and I worked hard to get her admitted to.) Does she care at all about doing well? We don’t seem to be accomplishing much except continuing to limp through Pre-Algebra.

And what about the oft touted maturity of home schooled students? Did my 14-year-old REALLY just tell her brother that “Yu-Gi is gay?” Did Trishy just yell at her big sister for LOOKING at her? “I don’t LIKE people looking at me.” WTF? I’m tired of the kids fighting with each other till my head is ready to explode, and I sometimes suspect that another teacher — ANY teacher, would do a better job with these monkeys.

And, yes, I think I am PMSing, just a little. Why do you ask?

The thing is, I think our strengths and our weaknesses are usually opposite sides of the same coins. This applies to more than just our strengths and weaknesses as individuals — I think it describes the pluses and minuses of kids’ education, too. I deliberately encouraged James NOT to tie his writing development to left-brainy things like spelling and mechanics. He’s been writing this wild fantasy/adventure story — bit by bit — which he started in the fall. With a little prodding from me. His grasp of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation is pretty much non-existent. But he’s writing fluently (now that I convinced him not to worry about that stuff). He writes in interesting style, and I feel like he intuitively grasps aspects of word choice and descriptive language that many of my middle-school aged students struggle with.

O.K., I’m not going to say things like spelling aren’t important. I’m the anal-retentive editor, the writing coach, and (according to Sarah) the grammar Nazi. But honestly, I think things like spelling and penmanship are disproportionately emphasized in school. What good are the mechanics if the writer has nothing to say?

James is curious, and he always seems to be thinking and asking questions. As long as natural curiosity hasn’t been squelched, the ground is still fertile. There is time and space to delve into new things, which creates the opportunity to find the thing that really makes one’s spirit sing. It’s hard to see this when James’s biggest passion is video games (I have to enforce limits on his gaming time to make room in his life for other things), or when Sarah spends precious hours watching movie previews, making lists of books and movies and quoting lines from films.

But I guess the fact that they spend time doing these things is evidence that there is room in their lives to explore their interests freely. Surely this is the route to finding one’s passion and purpose. And I think it’s fair to say most of us hadn’t found that yet at age 10 or 14. This road is open to my kids, and they are — I think — compassionate and kind. I’ve got to keep my eye on the ball, and focus on what’s REALLY important. Things that will still matter long after James has learned to spell and punctuate and no one gives a flying crap whether Sarah can write a decimal number in exponential notation.

Hell, at least the kids haven’t fought with each other in a full 15 minutes. And I’m off to get another cup of caffeine.

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