"I know more about science from beer brewing and using that kiln and forging that knife than I ever learned in a classroom."
When my husband was 14, he brewed his first batch of homemade beer. For those of you who've never attempted, or witnessed anyone attempt, to brew a decent, drinkable beer, let me assure you that it is no easy task. There is chemistry involved. Lots and lots of chemistry. Have you met Chemistry? He is no joke. I mean, you can't even guess at Chemistry. I love guessing.
Then, when he was 16, he built a kiln AND a forge in his suburban backyard. Not on the same day. He remembers a night that he was firing some of his own ceramics in his homemade kiln, drinking a 20 oz. of home brewed stout and smoking a cigar. In his parents' backyard. When he was still in high school.
The man is talented and interesting and fearless. He speaks seven languages. He can make creme brulee. He prepared his first full meal for his family, a real meal in the kitchen, when he was in middle school. Middle. School.
Can we all please just take a moment to conjure up all the middle school boys we've met in our lives? If you're a boy, you're welcome to recall your own days as a middle schooler. Okay, I think we're all on the same page now. A page of shock and incredulity for most of us I'm sure!
He went on to graduate as valedictorian of his high school class. He was awarded a full scholarship to our selective, rigorous University. And you know what? He hated school.
He hated school.
He knew how to read before he even got there and he learned most of what he needed to know at home with his five siblings, or at FFA with his fellow adventurous friends, or by reading books on subjects that interested him. He and his sister built elaborate GI Joe-meets-Ewok villages using pulleys and other simple machines. He was not badly behaved. He never got in trouble. He was just miserable. Those walls and those hallways only served to stifle what he was capable of achieving.
Now before I go on, let me assure you that I am not against schools as a whole, either public or private. Tommy's mom was a public school teacher for decades. His younger sister and his older brother are both in public education as we speak. At least one of my cousins and countless dear friends and readers are all teachers. Teaching is a vocation. Teachers are necessary. Public schools are a necessity.
Because not every child has parents who will allow him to brew beer and build a kiln and forge a knife in their backyard. Not every child has parents who will read to them or who will let them make a mess of the dinner table creating something magical for their siblings. Not every child even has parents to ask. For them and so many others, public schools and committed, brave teachers are a true blessing.
When my oldest daughter started kindergarten, my husband and I were both working full time. We lived in a small second story condo with no yard. Homeschooling was simply not an option for us. There was no inkling in my mind or in my heart. There was no "someday". There was no "what if". There was simply: this is how it's going to be. And then my second daughter started kindergarten. And we were living in an even smaller apartment, still with no yard. And I had a newborn. There was no "someday". There was no "what if". There was simply: this is how it's going to be. I wasn't sad about it. I didn't WANT to homeschool. They went to public school and we were all happy.
So when I share with you Tommy's experience, it's only to tangibly illustrate that not everyone learns the same way. Different people thrive in different environments. Whether it was because he was the fifth of six children, or because his parents let him blaze his own trail (probably more out of necessity than out of design, but the positive results were still there), or maybe just because of how he is wired, his most fulfilling learning happened of his own accord, at his own pace, outside the classroom.
So now here we are. We have a big house. (Big for us, that is. Way bigger than our last house. More than we dared to even dream of back in our southern California condo days.) We have this property. My husband and I are both working from home. We've got chickens and dogs and a garden and a quiet dirt road outside our front door. We have a pond and a tire swing and an old barn filled with forgotten treasures. We have the space, we have the time. And now....well, now I can hear the calling.
You see, when my kids go to school, they're missing all this. And when they go to school, I am missing them. When they spend only a few hours awake together per day, they lose track of their affection for one another. They forget their inside jokes. They become less a part of each other and more a part of each others' scenery. Their days and weeks slip away under the demands of their classrooms. Our evenings are spent preparing for the next day spent away. For years it was exactly what we needed. And now it's exactly what we don't.
The last four weeks have been spent decompressing. Reassessing. Getting to know each others' rhythms as though we've just been reunited after a long absence. And the more we get back to being us, together, the more we remember just how funny she is and how interesting she is and how difficult it is to compromise on certain things but how important and fulfilling it is to learn how and that we can. For us, right now, at this stage in our lives, this is right. Together is right.
On Friday, July 15th, we made the final decision as a family to give homeschooling a real try. And let me tell you....the moment the last "okay" slipped from the last child's precious lips, the cheers were tumultuous! There was leaping and hugging and running and chattering. Then list making and web searching and giggles and grins. And of course, we wondered why it had taken us so long to finally commit to the notion. But at the same time we knew that the appreciation we were all feeling for the final decision having been made was made possible by the fact that we had prayed and discussed and what iffed and discerned together.
We decided together. We're in this together.