August 13, 2009

Ry flopped down next to me two days ago and asked what I was doing. I was just starting a new book, "Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven". And for some reason, the grown up title in my hands, the look on her face, the difficulties of this summer, the rising tide of teendom about to wash through this house, my limited knowledge of the world, and the trickster nature of reality all flashed through me. It was one instant but nearly psychedelic in scope of emotion, time warp, and thought. The depth of my love for my children and my responsibility to educate them hit me like the back hand of God. Had I not been laying down my knees might have buckled.

Do you ever feel like that? I thought to myself: it is impossible. I am not up to the task of educating these children. I can not do it. Look at her there. It is too hard, impossible. I will fail. And then I did what most mothers do in such moments. I told her I was reading, smiled at her, and returned to my book. She drifted out of my sight; her body appeared to float around her eyes, carried by their light, one might say.

My frightened mind performed a frantic u-turn down Put Them In School Avenue. Then the inevitable realization, (how many times have I mentally traced these steps,) there is nothing better there. Sure, put them in school. They might find different lessons, but they won't gain advantage. Reality does not live in school. Knowledge is not held and decanted at school. Neither wisdom, creativity, nor love reside there any more than here. Put them in school if you like, but that is not a solution to your concern. School won't make them any smarter.

I thought to myself: just read, Katherine, shut up your internal yapping and read. This is the very next thing that fell under my eyes: All our lives, Claire and I had been ambitious, straight-A students who built dioramas of Aztec villages for extra credit in social studies; who recited Robert Frost poems for our parents' unsuspecting dinner guests; who took AP French in high school and edited the yearbooks and wrote honors thesises in college. It wasn't enough for us to merely navigate the world on our own. Oh no. We had to prove to everyone, in the process, just how expertly and imaginatively we could do it too. Like everything else in our lives, we seemed to believe our trip was something we'd be getting graded on.

Thank you, Susan Gilman, for that honesty. I paused from reading, the clambering frantic words in my mind fell mute before a vista of calm. School will not make them any smarter. But it may burden them with a distorted set of priorities and values, a whacked out compass constantly pointing in on itself, a hard circle with no True North by which to navigate. The children, like these young Ivy League women, like all of us, will educate themselves. We all do. Is education anything more than the gathering of tools? I can give my children tools. And they will find more of their own. And, together, we can practice asking for help.

For instance, I can model reading. Even if that means two days ignoring all else, on the couch with my nose in a book. Look, children, some of the best tools are found in books. Reading to myself is part of my job description these days. After two days obsessively reading, my daughter ended up beside me with her nose in her own book. Class in session. Perfect attendance. Grade your tools by how well they serve.


rae said...

Whether it is an internal or external battle we fight at any given moment, the fight for our beliefs in how we educate our children seems to change just our children change, as the world change, and as our circumstances change. To mix metaphors a bit here, it is a never-ending journey, isn't it? I'd rather not be on any other journey - this one rocks!

Regularmom said...

I love this. I needed to read this today, in fact.

Today, I watched my 6yo spy a book on a low shelf at the doctor's office and gasp with delight because it's one of her very favorites and then grab it and laugh with joy.

As far as I'm concerned, that about covers our required reading program.

Sarah said...

Fantastic post, Katherine. How fantastic that you read that right when you needed it.

My sister was telling me on Monday how excited she had been to send her kids back to school that day and once again the "Why the hell do you homeschool?" discussion came roaring into our relationship. "Why the hell not?" is what I ask.