Monday, June 7, 2010

"What ABOUT socialization?"

It eventually became a bit of a joke between us but it didn't start that way. The idea of homeschooling our kids came to us in the company of two big gnarly questions. One of them was distinctly Ev's and really only gnarly to her. When it first showed up, it appeared like this: "Could we do it?" --- but being translated, I knew my good and godly woman was meaning that she wondered if she herself could do it. I had the answer ready to go before she asked it, based on our fourteen years of marriage --- and the years prior that I had devoted to convincing her to marry me. Conscientious, dutiful, organized, industrious and intelligent. These are words I had always used to describe the woman I fell in love with (when I wasn't so much focusing on what I thought of her appearance). I had no question about her ability to handle the lioness's share of the homeschool work load. So from the very beginning, I took the positive position and worked to convince that she was way, way, way more than simply up to the challenge.

The gnarly question we initially shared was about the actual lasting effects of homeschooling, especially the effects pertaining to socialization. Being ourselves both self-confessed happy products of the public school system, we held to the usually unarticulated and unexplained belief that an important part of a child's education was learning all that was learned from adjusting to the dynamics of the classroom experience. Our assumption was that good educational things happen at school just because the child in question, from the age of 5 to the age of 18, spends six or seven hours of every school day in the close company of two dozen or so children of about the same age. So the gnarly question was, "Will we be depriving our children of valuable learning experiences for the year that we school them at home?"

It was the gnarly question that provoked us to talk out some details of our children's schooling experience in a new way, that is, with the live possibility of an alternative form of education. The difficulties that Ben had been having at school and the corresponding difficulties that Ev had been having with his teacher in addressing her concerns was one thing. One significant thing.

At the same time, we had a whole set of concerns from Jess's experience. Prior to the start of her Grade 5 year, we had sat down with her to make an arrangement. In this case, I was the appointed explainer. "Here's the thing, Jess, " I had said. "This year you are likely going to hear some of the kids in your class telling jokes and talking about things that you won't quite understand. Whenever it happens, what we don't want you to do is to ask the kids what they mean. What we want you to do is to wait until you are home and ask us. We'll explain whatever you would like explained." Happily, Jess was fine with the arrangement and stuck to it the entire year. The result was that by the time she was graduating from Grade 5, she had heard her mother or me explain to her (in summary form, usually!) just about every sexual practice and preversion we ourselves knew of. It was all very enlightening to Jess but it was heartbreaking to us. Our innocent little girl! At the time, the disillusionment seemed like some sort of inevitable rite of passage. But now that we were discussing the startling possibility of homeschooling, we thought about it as a particular instance of socilaization. As the memory of the unsettling experience came to mind, it led us to asking the basic question with a different sort of emphasis. The question was "What ABOUT socialization?"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Two for the price of one.

Not one but two huge new family-life-transforming ideas popped into existence almost simultaneously. Ev and I were out for a walk one evening in early spring. I was telling her that earlier that day, right in the middle of my final lecture of the academic year, it suddenly occured to me that my newest idea for a book wasn't likely to get started anytime soon because of our idea of devoting the months of July and August to being an "island family." She agreed that it wouldn't be that sort of summer at all. Before we went any further with that thought, she changed the subject to tell me of her latest instalment in an ongoing frustration she was having with Ben's teacher. The details aren't important but the upshot was, and is. We walked a few steps in silence, actually both of us thinking more of our own topic of interest than that of the others. And then it happened. Somewhat randomly, since it wasn't something we had ever discussed before, Ev said, "Maybe I should start homeschooling them all." Her sentence happened to coincide with my saying, "Maybe I should take a sabbatical." So there it was: the idea of staying on the island long past summer holidays, in fact for a whole calendar year, so that I could write my book and so that she could try her hand at homeschooling. We looked at each other as we walked and then started talking it out.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What John Donne said. Sort of.

It was John Donne who said, "No man is an island." I have never had any intention of contradicting the point. But it gave me an idea. As a family man, married to a woman of kindred spirit, and the father of three children, I found myself wondering (with her) if a family, a family like ours, in fact, ours, could not be an island. In a good way. From that question, an idea was born. The idea of our family spending one whole summer together, all on our own, alone on an island. A colleague of mine mentioned to me a friend of his who was wanting to rent out his cottage for the summer. A cottage on an island of its own. "Tell me about it," I responded. He knew nothing about the cottage but he put me in touch with his friend. I fired off an email and told my wife about it that evening. Over the course of the three days it took to receive a reply, my wife and I developed a happy vision of what the summer might be like. We both got more and more enthused. And then I heard back. (What's with people who only seem to check their email every three or four days?) As it turned out, arranging the whole thing was remarkably simple. And so the plans were set and we broke the happy news to the children. No surprise. They were thrilled at the thoughts of an island summer. But there was a surprise coming. A surprise that would take the concept of an island family well past the last days of summer.