Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New Frontiers

This morning, we walked out into the sunshine, Kiddo and I. Happy together, heading toward Portland Nursery for chrysanthemums (me) and a fancy Italian soda (him), I was celebrating in my heart our last day of just hanging out we'll have in a while. In my post a few months ago, I was reflecting on how much I enjoyed our year-round homeschool learning. However, a few things have happened since then which is why I've been making the most of the last few days.

Toward the beginning of August, while scrolling through some nonsense on Facebook, I found an ad for a new online charter school. They were advertising this school as being project-based and inquiry-driven, two things I believe help to form a strong education. In fact, I've believed this since I first encountered Neil Postman's book with Charles Weingartener, "Teaching as a Subversive Activity". If I have a guru, it's likely Postman, who died in 2003 but will always live on through his extensive writing on education, communication and technology. Postman didn't just write this book, which suggests that learning how to learn, learning how to ask questions, and learning how to discern substance from noise ('crap detecting', he rather aptly put it), he also put his theories into practice with his "Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study", which was a school within a school in New York and ran for 15 years. 

For me, this book is my touchstone. This dovetails with the emergent curriculum style of early childhood ed that I practiced for years as a preschool teacher. The children drove the activities, the information presented and the play. Of course, older students need more formal guidance and the school focuses on some things Kiddo is adept at and others which he will find challenging: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creative thinking. While his goal today, if asked, is to become a famous YouTuber, I can see that the skills being developed (and, I should add, the technology which he will be learning, as the school is online with the Google suite being used) can assist him in pursuing both his hobbies and have practical application in the future. No harm in working toward an end goal like his when one is gaining a lot of knowledge in how to deal with this new world and new economy. 

After my due diligence, we decided to enroll J a few weeks ago, therefore we have been taking the past few weeks to do fun things: spending days with friends, playing Monopoly, and truth be told, being a bit lazy. It's been nice to get to do housework at a slower pace because I wasn't trying to get school time in. 
Next week, though, that changes for us. I take a backseat as teacher and am now a parent coach/helper in this new arrangement. This will mean a lot from me, but in a different way than we'd previously experienced.

Many emotions come with this change. First, the letting go of doing something I've so loved, creating that educational space for both of us to learn and grow. Our relationship as teacher and student is something which has added a new layer of closeness and connection. I'll be more able to do some other projects since I will not be doing the work of planning and preparing curriculum,  because this is something I have always greatly enjoyed. Even when it was work, the work was meaningful to me and greatly rewarding. This has also given me a fuller sense of freedom, in that what I do really only matters so long as it matters to me. This isn't said in a selfish way, but is grounded in a history of wanting outside approval. I'm seeing that this need for validation has lessened considerably; to put it in a different way, if it matters to me, it matters. 

The other feelings, though, that I least expected to discover, was the realization of a feeling of failure surrounding Kiddo's previous school experience. This came to me, powerfully, as I spoke to one of the administrators of his new school. In fact, it hit rather like a punch to the gut. Somehow, I'd never realized one part of my frustration when we had pulled him out: I felt that I had failed my son. That I should never have left him in that situation as long as I did. That I should have pushed harder (to what end?) about the bullying issues, been less tolerant and reasonable, that I should have intervened sooner. That's a pretty monumental load to discover I was carrying. Entering a situation where I have to give up control of his educational engagement means putting trust in strangers again. Well-qualified strangers, to be sure, but  there does carry a feeling of risk. Over the last year and a half, Kiddo has made great strides in his perception as a learner; his anxiety is all but gone. He's becoming more confident in his abilities in areas which were previously a tearful struggle. I am handing over the put-back-together new and improved student I've nurtured to new hands. This isn't an unreasonable fear; imagine if you had a car, it was cracked up in a wreck and you've finally got it good as new...you'd probably be wary of a stranger driving it. It's normal. Please be gentle, dear teachers. For both our sakes. 

Yes, the last situation was lousy, but I also have to ask myself what a great child psycholist said to a complaint: "So what?" This is probably the best crap-detecting question there is, and previously I'd brushed it off as being a bit brusque, but the fact of the matter is, "so what?" makes one distill things. What do I need to hold onto from that experience any further? Get the lessons and then, make the choice to emotionally walk away from that moment. Let it go. So what? It's over and while it's a bad hangover, I don't want to carry it around any longer. I'm not sure it will matter in five years or when he's an adult. I realize that my anxiety is my own this time, not his. Change and growth are hard sometimes, even when they are good. We now have a kid who really doesn't need hugs (or at least, prefers them only occasionally now), who can walk down the block to a friends house on his own, who now remembers to look both ways when crossing the street. He's grown up a lot. As for me, I've been stepping back from being as engaged with the world at large. Writing here had given way to writing curriculum, questions, and other school-related work. Part of me thinks I have less to say than I previously thought, so I don't know what form my writing will take or what I'll share in the future. I know I want to focus on getting a few things done around here to make our home more enjoyable. A outdoor 'room' for the backyard is a priority, and we need to finish the kitchen and nook. For now, the deep garnet and the pink mums will go in near a single gorgeous sunflower, red centered and yellow-tipped, along with some gorgeous annual with darling white flowers. And I'll go back now and finish doing the dishes. Life is good, these days. Life is really good. 

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