Van Chronicles – Chapter 14

Good morning little schoolgirl

In American society there are certain ties that bind, and some places they bind you tight. Coming from the bright lights big city of Toronto to suburban New England, the first round peg in a square hole was religion. It seemed that everyone had one here. Except we had come from a place where mostly everyone didn’t have one. We sure didn’t have one.

And I know I can get snippy sometimes, but it seemed to me that the churchgoers were the same people who were most supportive of President Bush the former’s Gulf War. I decided early on that two things I wouldn’t be talking to the neighbors about were religion and war. Given that I wasn’t talking to the neighbors about anything, this was not too difficult an achievement.

So, if we were looking to fit in, having no religion was the first strike. When people found out we were libertarians, it was strike two and there went my chances to host the charity ball. When they found out that we were homeschooling our kids, third strike and you’re out. There is only so much weirdness that normal people can take. There went our social circle.

Having children is, among all the superlatives, the neatest thing I have ever done. I am so enthralled by my two children – it is beyond words how my life grows larger each day they are in my life. Just having them out there in the world does my heart good.

We always knew we were going to homeschool our children. I don’t think we even discussed it. One of us brought it up and the other agreed on the spot, so it was simply an understood. The one reason we agreed on, the paramount reason, is that we did not want the government teaching our children. Everything else was secondary.

Lots of times people think of homeschooling as a little school at home. We didn’t really do that, except for that one time when Bridget wanted to play school. We turned Dad’s office into the official schoolroom and within a week, I had the long and short vowel sounds chart up on the wall, the abacus on the desk to Bridget’s left, two sharpened pencils, pink eraser, and 12-inch ruler to her right and a neat pile of workbooks at the ready. I was the teacher and she was my star pupil. That lasted for about a week (I think I wasn’t giving out enough gold stars for her liking). The grand experiment was over.

No, we were more the unstructured homeschoolers you hear about. The first order of the day (orders directly from Mom) was to sleep in. My theory has always been that there is nothing that can be done at 9 o’clock in the morning that can’t be just as easily done at 2:00 in the afternoon, including breakfast. Our main goal of the day was to be out of our pajamas before Dad got home for dinner. Just kidding; we were always dressed for lunch. Just in case we got company or something. Our big circle of friends.

As adherents to the division of labor theory, Dennis and I divided up the jobs: one of the jobs that fell to me was reading the homeschool and educational literature. Early in my reading I had come across one name that stood out: John Holt. He wrote about education, on the one hand vehemently opposed to its current setup in the public arena, and on the other, showing how children learn, and how by allowing children to follow their instincts, to sniff out where they want to go next, only then are they engaged and keen to go down the path to learning. It seemed very reasonable to me, but then again, he had me back at being vehemently opposed to the current public education system. This outlook on life, “child-led learning,” or unschooling, seemed right. It made a lot of sense. Not only that, it sounded like fun. Doing what you want to do? I could get along with that. I didn’t think I’d have any difficulty convincing the children.

Unschooling is a little like life: you start off at a certain spot and you’re never sure where you’re going to end up until you get there. You might have a plan, but then sometimes life gets in the way and you end up somewhere else, somewhere you hadn’t planned on going. The best part is the stops along the way.

The kids and I might be talking about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the conversation leads to ghetto-ization in Europe, which leads to World War II, the good guys and the bad guys; and with the good guys and bad guys in history, we land on Julius Caesar after dissecting Hitler and Napoleon. And that leads us to thinking about all the glorious achievements of mankind down through the ages, even those conceived by the bad guys, and somehow we end up at the pyramids in Egypt. What started as a political discussion about Germany really turned out to be a class in Euclidean geometry.

But that was years later. In 1993 I was deep into the Berenstein Bears and cutting out pictures from magazines with Bridget, and Sean was making Power Ranger guns out of Legos because his mother wouldn’t have guns in the house. Everything was a potential gun, from Lego blocks to bananas to sticks. We were well protected.

The best part of homeschooling was not sending them off to school each day on the yellow bus. The way I looked at it was how hard could this academic stuff be – it’s only Grades 1 and 2; I knew all that stuff backwards. When we got to long division we might have to reconsider the whole thing, but for now I could recite the alphabet with the best of them. We’d worry about physics when the time came.

My Top 10 Reasons to Homeschool
10. No fire drills
9. No assembly
8. Every day is a snow day
7. Slack dress code
6. No book reports
5. No standing at the bus stop in minus-15-degree weather
4. Never being sent to the principal’s office
3. No parent-teacher nights
2. No pop quizzes
and the #1 reason…
1. No homework

to be continued …

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