Within minutes of telling my son JP to go ahead and get some fresh air before starting his math speed drill, I switch the plan and let him record some spontaneous rhythmic poetry he’s making up. Then at his reaction to being interrupted during his recording, I’m disciplining him for insubordination. It won’t work if he isn’t respectful to parents, I tell him, as he frowns and sets his jaw, and I know it’s not just for me I’m trying to help him master this one–he will need this skill to succeed. I give him some time to consider; likewise myself. Yes, I believe it, but I think the timing was poor, and the job of enforcer fits me ill.
I started homeschooling partly because I don’t believe in a coercive education system. Yes, my first year teaching was largely a struggle to take up my authority as a teacher, and probably nothing else would have worked under the circumstances. An inexperienced teacher with thirty students at a time, students conditioned for ten years to expect a boss–what chance did we have? I dream of something different, to be an empowering teacher, a facilitator, a midwife of student self-education and self-government. Like a homeschool parent ought to be.
My parents weren’t authoritarian–why would they be? I went to school, and they knew I was made to do things I didn’t want to all day by the authorities there, and peer pressure, and needed some freedom at home to pursue my own interests, projects and friendships, in my own timing. There was discipline, though. I remember a few times my dad spanked me, for example–it was for willful dishonesty, I think, or extreme sass, and I do believe I deserved it. But, knowing him, he must have been thinking, “Shit, why do I have to resort to this? This is stupid–can’t we just all be reasonable?” It was so uncomfortable for us both–nothing to do with physical pain, either, because when I have my back up, I can take it. Just humiliating enough, awkward enough, to try to avoid in the future.
Coercion had no part in my parents’ approach to learning. That was a school thing, though I hope that all the same, my best teachers were also thinking, “Shit–why do I have to make them do this for grades, and not let them learn what they want to? Can’t we just all be reasonable?” Fortunately, at home, in those days, there was time at home to run and play, make stuff, catch frogs, read lots of books and do crafts. At least for me there was, but that might have been because I tended to leave my “homework” to the last minute so I could do something more interesting. And as I said, my parents never asked if my homework was done. Should they have? Or might that have given me the impression that it was more important than it really was?
My two homeschooling kids, the younger of four, have little in the way of externally imposed deadlines, grades, and peer competition. Up to about age nine, all four children had lots of freedom, with frequent library visits, no television, little access to computers, and opportunities to serve and work in and out of the house. I was bolstered in that approach by research that showed that for children from non-deprived families, there was no discernible advantage to formal schooling before age nine, and some disadvantages. But now the younger two are expected to be ready for school at any moment (can’t make long term plans these days), and so I try to keep up with the state curriculum, which has a set scope and sequence and is more testable. I try to be structured, try to make things more like school, while my mind is muttering, “Shit, I can’t do it this way–can’t we just all be reasonable? No, I’d better be tougher–it’s for their own good.” No time for Latin anymore, or long days hanging out in the woods or at the beach.
My two public high schooling children get their homework done, with some urging at times, and are quickly learning to make the grade despite no formal schooling until ages thirteen and eleven–and that was in a second language, with few academic expectations. But I grieve that they hardly ever read outside their lists, hardly have time to do anything but school stuff, and their one sport a season, with careful organization and weekends to catch up. The only free and personal stuff they can wedge in is staring at their web-enabled personal devices, and I’m even trying to limit that. What can I expect? Thank God for summer vacation, but of course they have to earn some money for college, get volunteer experience, do leadership training, fill our their resumes, so not much time to find their own flow, reclaim their love for reading again, let alone writing. Meanwhile, I bought a copy of The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn and leave it lying around…