Monday, August 01, 2005
REJECTING A PRE-PACKAGED LIFE
How many things do you do because you're supposed to, because your relatives and neighbors expect it, because it's easy and you don't have to think about it? How many of those things are taking you and your kids in a positive and healthy direction?
"Changing paradigms" is an option! If you're operating on one plane, with one set of rules and expectations, it is possible and often advisable, to shift and see things differently. It's just thinking. It won't hurt you.
Is school the center of children's lives? Should it be?
Is the only acceptable goal of adult life having the most expensive house and furniture credit will buy?
It doesn't take much of a shift to consider house and education secondary instead of primary. What might be primary then? Health? Joy? Togetherness and love?
Part of the pre-packaged life Americans are issued is the idea that happiness comes after college, after home ownership, after the new car. The stick that holds that carrot will not bend. If happiness depends on performance and acquisition, how long will it last? How long is your car the newest on your street before unhappiness returns?
Here's a little paradigm shift for you to practice on. Perhaps happiness shouldn't be the primary goal. Try joy. Try the idea that it might be enJOYable to cook, to set the table, to see your family, rather than the idea that you'll be happy after dinner's done and cleaned up. My guess is that such happiness might last a couple of seconds before you look around and see something else between you and happiness. Joy, though, can be ongoing, and can be felt before, during and after the meeting of goals.
Enjoyment--that word itself is hardly used. Enjoyment is seen nearly as a sin for some people. "You're not here to have fun, you're here to work." Why can't work bring joy? Any tiny moment can be enjoyed: the feel of warm running water when you wash your hands; light and shadow on the floor; pictures in the clouds; the feel of an old book. If you see an old friend that can bring pure, tingly joy for which there are no words.
If you practice noticing and experiencing joy, if you take a second out of each hour to find joy, your life improves with each remembrance of your new primary goal. You don't need someone else to give you permission, or to decide whether or not what you thought gave you joy was an acceptable source of enjoyment.
Can learning be fun? If it's not fun, it won't stick. Can laundry be fun? If you have to do laundry and you choose NOT to enjoy it, an hour or more of your precious hours on earth have been wasted. Can looking at your child bring you joy even when he needs a bath and has lost a shoe and hasn't lived up to some expectation that only exists in your mind? If not, a paradigm shift could help you both.
Your life is yours, and it is being lived even as you read this. Do not wait for approval. Do not wait for instructions, or for a proctor to say "Open your lifebook now and write." Have all the joy you want, and help your children, neighbors and relatives find some too. Joy doesn't cost anything but some reuseable thought and awareness. Tell your kids it's recyclable. They'll love that!
A RADICAL THOUGHT
Never tell a child "Go look it up." Parents, teachers, friends and countrymen, how would you like it?
When a child wants to know why flowers have a scent, they want someone to say "To attract bees" not "GO LOOK IT UP."
"Go look it up" tends to mean "I don't know" or "I know but I'm not going to tell you." What's the advantage of that?
Either a child will opt NOT to look it up (and the trust in the parent will erode a little) or he will, under duress, perform this task which might be difficult for him, or might take so long that he doesn't care anymore (and the trust in the parent will erode a little).
I'm NOT saying to discourage kids from looking things up. I never said not to show kids how to look things up. I mean don't treat it like something parents won't do, parents don't have to do, but that kids do, or that kids have to do, because they are powerless kids.
Encyclopedias should be alluring, not forbidding. Dictionaries should be a playland, not a dark, scary place you dart into for one thing and slam shut behind you. If you believe they ARE fun, you should look things up in front of your children, often, and with enthusiasm. That will teach them how to use reference materials, and will make them want to do so, because they will see it as something useful and enjoyable that adults do. If you believe dictionaries and encyclopedias ARE dark, scary and forbidding, why on EARTH would you send your children there?
Advice to someone considering homeschooling:
Don't rush. This is a hard but crucial piece of advice. Rush to take him out of school but don't rush to replace it with anything. Bring your child home, don't bring school home. You don't even have to bring their terminology and judgments home. You can start from scratch, brush off the labels, and find your son where he is. Forget school. Move to life.
Let your child have a break. You too. You'll need some time to get used to all this. At first just goof around, play games, watch videos, go to museums and out to lunch. Drive out of town (mountains, woods, desert, whatever you might have) and just talk. Not about school, not about the future, just about now. About the mountains, woods and desert. About friends and relatives and hobbies and food.
It can save you much money and grief and frustration to take a couple of months or more to decide how you want to proceed. That time will not be lost or wasted in any way. The best way to waste time right now is to jump into some curriculum and schedule which you will end up abandoning.
[In New Mexico, parents have 30 days from the establishment of a homeschool to declare their intent to homeschool.]
"I'm totally overwhelmed by how much CALMER our house actually is now. I realize that some of the tension between my boys and me in the past (not that there was ever a lot) has been due to their dealing with the stress of having been in public school all day, then riding the *big yellow monster* home for an hour."
Denise, I'm glad you worded that so well.
I try to tell people this, but either they can't hear me, can't comprehend it, or think I don't know what I'm talking about because my kids weren't in school.
I've had custody of other kids who WERE in school in the past (my brother, at two different ages, and another couple of kids), and I've taught Jr. High.
Much of what parents think is normal kid behavior, or normal behavior for THEIR kid, is a reaction and response to the kids' very real desire NOT to go to school. Even kids who like school, relatively, or who can tolerate it, would rather be home in many cases.
The dread and fatigue and irritation and the burden of homework, and the worrying about the attitudes and teasing of the other kids (with whom they're locked up and can't shake loose) is a constant background "noise" for schoolkids. They HAVE to act it out some at home.
Parents, too, I think, have pressure without knowing it about the separation from their kids. They don't love making kids do homework, often can't help them, or see that the assignment is assinine and they begin to resent the teachers, or they've met the teachers and might not like them, but they have no real choice about aiding and abetting the schools to torment their own children.
The cure for those things is sometimes to mentally and emotionally separate oneself from "the problem," and the problem often involves the parent/child relationship.
My mom didn't like my saying "nothing" when she asked what I'd learned in school. Often the true answer WAS "nothing" but always the thought behind it was, "I want to think about anything BUT school now that I'm home, thank you very much."
Having homeschooled kids at home is nothing at all like having school-kids at home between school days, or on weekends, or in the summer. Every day of a schoolkids life is defined by school. He's home on Saturday because the school system deigns to allow that. He's home during vacations because those vacations were ordained and established by the school board. Which days belong to the school family?
NONE of them.
Which days belong to the homeschooling family?
ALL of them.