I started homeschooling when the oldest boy was eight, after three years of trying to fit him into a school system that wasn’t designed for the way he learns. He’s ferociously bright, in a way that was obvious from the time he was born. I’ve been dragged along by this child, forced to research everything ever written about giftedness and gifted education, driven from morning till night by his relentless quest for challenge.
He taught himself to read when he was 18 months old, he was asking about fractions by the time he was two. I saw him devouring the non-fiction section of the library while he was still in diapers, and I worried about how he would adapt to kindergarten. He was thrilled at the idea of school, where he imagined himself sitting at a desk being taught algebra. When he was four, he found a book called “101 ways to do better on tests” and read it from cover to cover in anticipation. He was four-and-a-half when he started kindergarten, and I did everything I could to prepare the school in advance, but what could they really do with a child who was immersed in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the classroom was set up for learning the alphabet? He was okay in kindergarten because it was mostly play and it was only half a day, leaving him plenty of time for working on his own stuff at home, but by grade one there were problems. He balked at the idea of “circle time” and outright refused to participate in most of the activities, preferring to read at his table. He went to the grade 6 classroom for math and novel studies. The class worked on building models of structures, and he brought in his styrofoam model of a water molecule, nearly in tears when none of the other kids were interested in learning atomic theory. By grade two, he had been in the grade 6 classroom for math for two years, and a grade 11 tutor was brought in to teach him algebra, but it wasn’t enough of a spark in a long day of tedious drudgery, and the little boy who used to vibrate with excitement when he discovered a new concept slowly dwindled away. I saw him shrink, curl in on himself, and plod his way through the day. Even at home, he seemed sad, withdrawn, forlorn.
I saw it, but the teachers didn’t. They saw a polite, kind, thoughtful, considerate, well-behaved boy who was able to work at grade level. The adminstrators told me that they were doing all they could, and we would have to be satisfied with the “enrichment” he was receiving.
It seemed like such an enormous decision at the time, taking him out of school. It seemed like such a dramatic step. I worried that I was overreacting, doing the wrong thing, depriving him of an ordinary childhood. I worried that he would be isolated, that he would feel different, maybe even in some deep and dark way, wishing he wasn’t so different. In the end, I made the decision not so much for academic reasons, but for emotional ones. I imagined what it must be like to feel so unseen, so unheard, so misunderstood and so powerless. Sent every day to a place that provided nothing by a parent who insisted it was okay. Forced to endure endless hours of tedium with no escape. When I allowed myself to feel the pain and the sense of betrayal he must have been suffering, I realized how abandoned he must have felt. It pains me to this day to think of it.
That was a long time ago, and in retrospect, homeschooling seems like it was the obvious choice, but it sure was a difficult decision at the time. It’s really hard to go against what “everyone else” is doing, what society has deemed correct, what the “experts” say is right. I listened to the principals and the teachers and I tried hard to convince myself that I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of me. I went to meetings, helped design “individualized educational programs”, volunteered in the classroom, nodded, smiled, ingratiated myself. I was careful not to offend anyone, I was modest about my son’s achievements, I went out of my way to avoid seeming like a pushy mother of a hot-housed child. I thought that I could tiptoe my way through the system, and still get my son’s needs met. It took me a long time to stop and pay attention to what my child was trying to tell me, and to put his actual needs ahead of my own need for him to be “normal”.
This post is not a rant about schools, or educators. It’s a little story about my experience with raising a child with differences, and of the mistakes I made along the way.