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Archive for February, 2008

Decisions

L and her dad and I are at a bit of a crossroads.

It’s the time of year when grade 6 students have to apply for the schools that they want to attend for junior high. L is in school for grade 6 this year, and she’s been hearing which schools each of her friends will be going to, as well as listening to presentations given by various schools to her grade 6 class. Up until now, she’d been leaning towards homeschooling for grades 7 and 8, with an eye towards going back to school for highschool, but in the last two weeks, she’s become enamoured of the idea of a “late french-immersion” class in a particular school. We went to an open house last night, to check it out.

I thought that I was open to the idea of her choosing her own path, and, listening to the presentation, I thought I was keeping an open mind, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I have some major reservations about her attending school for grades 7 and 8.

I worry about the unnecessarily hectic schedule, with her commuting to the school in the morning, being there all day, including lunch, and then diving 3 hours every night. Not to mention the homework, which would, I guess, have to be done on the weekend. I don’t like the idea of not seeing her from 7am till 8pm every school day, and her not being connected to the rest of the kids in the family. I worry about this being a particularly vulnerable age, about her being exposed to all sorts of dangerous activities, about her losing her strong sense of self. I worry about her becoming a passive absorber of information, as opposed to an active seeker of information.

Truth be told, I don’t see any huge advantage to her going to school next year, just disadvantages.

This year she went to a small school two blocks from the house with kids from the immediate neighborhood, came home for lunch every day, and had the entire weekend to do with what she pleased. She still sometimes felt pressed for time, and had a few “burnout” periods, when the pressures of diving and school seemed too much. She mourned the loss of free time, and felt sad about how little she saw her best friend, who homeschools.

I don’t want to force her to homeschool against her wishes, because that would be a recipe for disaster, but now that the time is upon us, I’m finding that I DO have fairly strong feelings about this decision. I’ve voiced them to L, which was hard for her, because she feels torn, and is having difficulty articulating her own reasons for wanting to go to school.

Not sure what to do.

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Equivalent fractions, beavers, fur traders, countries in Central America, measuring, multiplying decimals, multiplying fractions,how to make leather vests for stuffed animals, how to  build cardboard furniture for stuffed animals, writing song lyrics, snakes, aloe vera plants, maps, lizards, and 7 of the 1001 science experiments listed in a particular book.

Also, cooperating with siblings, cleaning the house, managing emotions, baking cakes, the many uses duct tape and how to make paper fortune tellers.

Still working on: a way to reliably resolve the Who gets the middle row left-hand seat in the van? question without tears and gnashing of teeth.

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What I Provide

Time.

Carved out of our hurried and distracted and stimulus-overloaded world. A space in which my younger children can spend as much time as they want in doing what it is that comes naturally to them, so that when they’re ready to take on the world, they’ll have a solid sense of self.

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Bunk

One argument against homeschooling that I have heard a few times is that kids should go to school to learn how to deal with “the real world”. Implicit in that statement is the assumption that the school experience is a necessary training ground for adult life, and that “protecting” children from possible hardships they may encounter at school is doing them a disservice.

My reaction to that has always been that there is nothing inherently natural about grouping 30 children of the same age in a classroom with one or two adults, and that there is nothing about that artificial situation that a person would need to experience in order to function well in the social world of adulthood.

Bullies are often used as an example. People will say that there are bullies in the workplace, and that kids should have experience with bullies so that they’ll know how to deal with them. I argue that an adult has the option of leaving that particular workplace, while a child doesn’t usually have the option of choosing a different school. Children don’t have the emotional maturity or the perspective that an adult has, an victimizing experiences at their age do not set them up with a better understanding of anything, other than what it feels like to be scared and helpless.

If a child is stuck in a classroom with a group of individuals that he/she doesn’t have anything in common with other than age, how is that a beneficial “socializing” experience? Adults choose their friends based on common interests. Kids choose based on who happens to be in their class. Sometimes they get lucky, and find that they share interests with their peers, and other times they aren’t as lucky, and they have the miserable experience of being lonely in a crowd. Many, many adults work for years to overcome the feelings of insecurity that they developed because of their being “different” in some way from their peers. Children in groups do not celebrate individuality. Is it a positive thing to put children in situations in which their social success stems from their ability to stifle their uniqueness?

I would argue that while school isn’t necessarily a negative environment for all kids at all times, it certainly shouldn’t be considered essential for healthy development. Toughing out difficult social situations during childhood doesn’t make for healthier adults.

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What a day.

Each one of the kids had a major emotional meltdown, complete with tears, wailing, and prophesies of doom. Several outbursts overlapped, and one of them lasted all morning. I went for a run in the relative quiet of midday, which likely explained my ability to keep my own cool and provide the steadiness necessary to manage the day.

It was a really tough day for me, but here it is, close to the Little Kids’ bedtime, and I feel a sense of pride in the way I managed things. All of the storms were weathered, and most importantly, I was able to keep my own perspective well enough to stay attuned to each of the kids without getting drawn into their emotional turmoil. I listened, I empathized, and I allowed them the space they needed to work through their negative feelings in the ways they needed to. I felt like an enormous sponge, absorbing all that sadness, confusion and anger. Not sure why today was the way it was, but we seem to have weathered the storm, and I’m glad I was able to parent in a way I was proud of.

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Ever wanted to integrate math and social justice?

Me too.

Check out the Radical Math site. You can search by issue or math topic. If you wanted to teach about percent, say, you could look at How Rising Oil Prices Affect the Poor Disproportionately, or at Rising Rent, a series of lessons on the gentrification of Brooklyn. I’m sort of poking gentle fun, but I think it’s a great idea.

Posted in The Edgy Chronicles.

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“Can women trade their careers for their families without sacrificing a few of their feminist values – the very values that inspired many of them to homeschool in the first place?

This was the one of the questions that author Maya Schenwar addressed in the winter issue of the feminist magazine Bitch. A good question, and one that I struggled with when I decided to prolong my “stay at home mothering job” in order to homeschool instead of going back to doctoring.

How to wield power in a society that values wage earners and money when I am working but earning nothing? How to maintain a sense of pride and dignity when the work I do is undervalued and demeaned? And a burning central question for a mother who cares deeply about raising her kids to respect every person for the individual that they are, how to teach my children about the equality of women when their mother appears to have “given up” power and independent earnings in order to do something that women have been relegated to doing for eons.

The truth of the matter is that I feel somewhat conflicted, still, after all these years, and I’m not sure what to tell the kids, especially the girls.

Yes, I do believe that what I am doing is valuable, and yes, I’m glad that I made the decision I did, but that’s not to say that it hasn’t been without tradeoffs. I definitely sacrificed my financial independence, and that’s been a harder pill to swallow than I expected it would be.

In the comments section of the article, one of the women mentioned in the article had this to say:

“I find unschooling to be very much in sync with my feminist ideals. My children are not sheltered from such things as racism, sexism and homophobia as the author elluded to(sic). They are indeed out in the real world seeing and experiencing these things first hand and learning how to deal with them and work for change. Unschooling is not just a way to educate children, unschooling is a way of life and one that meshes very well with feminism.”

I agree with that statement, but would contend that while unschooling and homeschooling can be an excellent way to steep children in whatever values parents hold dear, having the female parent opt for economic dependence (usually, although some very hardworking women manage to bring in money and homeschool) on a male partner in a society that continues to equate money with power may not be the most obvious way to promote feminism.

In a backward kind of way, though, it is. Isn’t free choice what equality is all about? Isn’t my choice to do what felt right with and for my children a function of my power as an individual? Again, yes, but some would argue that my choice was made within a patriarchal framework, and therefore not exactly free.

Tricky.

As I said earlier, I still struggle with this one, and I would be very interested in other opinions. Let me know what you think.

Here’s a plug for a blog that says it’s for alternative, feminist, homeschooling mamas. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to. Thanks to Challenging Assumptions for the original link.

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