That time we decided to homeschool the brothers . .

I’m writing this more for myself than I am for anyone else.

It’s my proclamation, my ebenezer, my credo, my string tied around the left index finger, my writing on the wall, my manifesto. It’s there so on days when things get hard, and they will get hard, I can look back and say, “this is why we decided to do this. This is why, after raising our two older boys into their middle school years, we suddenly decided to homeschool them as they were going into the 6th and 7th grades.”

I take a deep breath as I look at those words and hear myself say them out loud.

This school year,
starting this month,
we will homeschool, HOMESCHOOL, our two older boys, Micah and Tyler.

To give the full backstory of why and how would take too long here, but I can think of a few mile markers along the path that are worth mentioning.

Mile Marker 1: the past.
Every year around this time for the last four years, I have found myself caught between the same rock and hard place. I recognize we work from home and our business needs my attention and participation. I know I want my time to be my own, that I “need” the eight hours of free babysitting provided by the public school system. I know I want my children to continue to be socially skilled beings who can look other people in the eyes and have lively conversation instead of being awkward weirdos. BUT I also know our boys are unique and different in the ways they engage life and learn best. I know they are creative and need to have their own space to dive into the things that make them come alive. I know the modern mode of education in schools is largely based on memorizing & testing. Every summer we think about homeschooling the older two, “the brothers.” We talk about it a lot, research it, talk to a few friends, get overwhelmed, and then give up… until now.

Mile Marker 2: the present.
The past sixteen months off social media have been marked with radical change in our family’s life. We recognize it most in the level of participation and intentionality in these walls and the developing creativity in our boys. Without the mindless and time-sucking practice of constantly looking outwards, we have been able to “circle the wagons” and see who our children really are, and what they really need from us. We have been able to learn them, listen to them, see where school isn’t serving them or where it might be holding them back from growth in other areas. This summer we’ve seen them come alive in new ways that weren’t existent during the school year. With excess time on their hands, they’ve been able to just be kids – to come up with new games, stories, comics, plot lines, goals for the future, and find new ways to participate in the life of our family. They are closer than they’ve ever been and our family is more united than we have ever been.

Mile Marker 3: the local middle school.
This is a big one. I had the chance to meet with two members of the administration at the local middle school the boys would be going to this year. Being a screen-conscious family, I asked them about the fact that each middle schooler is given their own Google Chrome book laptop at the beginning of the year. (I had, coincidentally, read several books, articles, and scientific studies this summer that were pointing out the empirical evidence that frequent, persistent screen usage among teens is detrimental to their attention spans, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, lowers test scores, and decreases their ability to empathize.) The staff members acknowledged the data coming out is not favorable but proceeded to tell me that “they will be on them in high school so why not start now?” They then said that the middle schools are on the laptops “all the time.” When I asked them to clarify they said, “All the time.. meaning, they do their lessons on there, talk to classmates on there, correspond with their teachers, do research .. they even take their laptops to PE and use them there.” After eight hours of our 11 and 12 year old boys doing clerical work on a screen, they would be bringing their laptops home to do another hour or so of screen-based homework and online submission. Since the school isn’t able to filter sites like google due to how useful they are for research, middle schoolers can google image anything they want. Imagine that. Hundreds of curious and angst-y teen kids with laptops and google images at their fingertips. I brought up a hypothetical situation – “So say some kid in the class wanted to google some sexual phrase or body part, like boobs .. that would be allowed?” Basically, yes. They discourage kids looking at porn and official pornographic sites are blocked with a “4 strikes, you get a text book for awhile” rule. But they would have to catch the child “in the act” in order to keep track of that. Cyber-bullying was another major concern, almost like a rite of passage. If kids use cuss words while writing the message, they are flagged in the system and given a warning. But once the kids figure out they can cyber bully by avoiding certain words, no more flags. Hearing the administration say, “And these kids.. man, they are so mean these days! They say things online that you wouldn’t believe!” and yet accept it with a shrug made, me sad about the state of middle schoolers on planet earth.

Mile Marker 4: the conviction
Our boys are wonderful and kind and special and creative and empathetic and all the rest of it. I would guess we are as crazy about them as any parent is about their children. So, of course, I have a desire to protect them from things that could harm them or damage their character. But I also am a firm believer in struggle. I remember middle school sucking. I remember being bullied and sad and hating certain subjects. I also remember making it through and knowing I could handle the world a little bit more because I made it out of middle school alive. Then you get out of middle school and life beats the shit out of you in many unexpected ways in your grown-up years. So this is where I have to say THIS DECISION WAS NOT MADE OUT OF A PLACE OF BEING AFRAID OF THE BIG, BAD WORLD. Too many parents out there have made a rash decision based on fear alone, or their version of “protecting their children” and we do not want to be those people. But here’s the thing – we know our kids better than anyone else. We know the things that keep their minds and creativity sharp and we know the things that dull them. We know who they become in front of screens and their desire to be tactile and engaged learners. We still don’t allow our kids to own their own screens or use screens in the home until the weekends, and any school that takes the power to make that decision away from us doesn’t respect our family.

Mile Marker 5: the talks.
The first talk was with Micah and Tyler. We all sat down for a “family meeting” and shared our concerns. We talked through the pros about this middle school and the massive sacrifices we would all be making if we homeschooled. We shared our concerns and listened to theirs. It turns out they had been feeling overwhelmed about this school since they toured it in May. They had no excitement when they thought about learning primarily behind a screen. We talked to other educators and trusted friends and mentors. We were completely transparent with one another, and we prayed a lot.. A . LOT . In the wake of all these talks, we just so happened to have a family coming to visit us for the week – some of our dearest friends who happen to have homeschooled for several years and even have a daughter Micah’s age. Their visit was a reminder that kids who live lives of creativity and curious exploration in learning are really awesome kids. And that our kids seem to behave the same.. as though they have been homeschool kids trapped in rigid, public school bodies all these years.

Mile Marker 6: consolation, desolation, and the decision.
I had a talk a couple months back with a dear friend and mentor. She opened up the concepts for me used in Ignatian Spirituality when making decisions during a confusing or difficult season – the concepts of consolation and desolation.
The footnotes version of what she shared with me is this: St. Ignatius Loyola believed that in moments of indecision, God can use our experiences and internal direction to speak to us. For Ignatius, consolation was the internal feeling that moving in a particular direction would create “the soul .. to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord” and the person would increase in hope, faith, and charity as a result of moving in that direction. Desolation was the exact opposite. Movement in a desolate direction would cause a “darkness of soul, disturbance, movement to things low and earthly, disquiet of different agitations and temptations.”

When it came down to it, the decision to homeschool was in large part made based on consolation… we moved toward where the life was, the peace, the joy, the ability to sleep at night and live more intentional lives as a family rooted in our convictions of who our kids are and what is best for them in this season.

So there it is. Just over 1500 words for me to come back to and look at on the days when I am thinking “What the hell did we just do????!”

We decided to homeschool. We know our kids. We know ourselves. We recognize our family is not “mainstream” and we don’t have to pretend we are. We have every right to decide how our family functions best, and no school district or glowing screen is going take that right away from us.. at least not without a valiant attempt on our part.

….

If you are a homeschooler or know someone who home schools middle school kids, I would love to hear from you! I am baby brand new at this and going into it hoping to use a wealth of guides and reinforcements along the way. Click “send me a note” above and I will be excited to chat.

If you are curious or want to read more about the concepts of consolation and desolation in more depth, click here. to visit the Ignatian Spirituality site.

If you want to hear some of the effects of screen usage in teen culture, shared in the words of a seventeen year old I interviewed for the “Lifeguard” episode of the Boredom Experiment, click here. (or subscribe on iTunes!)

anyone who read this far gets the blue ribbon.

love,
ash

show hide 6 comments

Anka Ash,
I don’t know you, you don’t know me, and there’s an ocean between us (as in, the actual ocean with fish in it :-). I’m not a regular reader, but the interwebs just brought me here today and I read, and stayed reading, about your struggle in deciding whether or not to homeschool. My son is only a toddler, but he will be entering the school system soon (the time flies, oh how it flies) and I am contemplating the same issues. I am now leaning not towards homeschooling as such, but maybe towards starting, with others, a different type of school (or a coop maybe?). Never mind, though. I am writing to you here to let you know that I, with the full authority of a stranger on the internet 🙂 believe that your concerns are valid, and whether you continue to homeschool or not, the attempt is valid, and important in and of itself. Que sera, sera, but showing your boys a different option is valuable in itself. It may work out, it may not, in the sense that maybe they will return to the public school at some point. I don’t think it matters as much. What matters is the clear demonstration that you want what is best for them, even if it is difficult and inconvenient – and possibly a bit weird, sure, why not. I am all for weird 🙂 Anyway – hugs to you and your family, and best wishes from a far-away stranger! AnkaSeptember 17, 2016 – 9:38 am

brian kwan your kiddos are so lucky to have you homeschool them and spend quality time with them 🙂 love itAugust 16, 2016 – 8:11 pm

kelly This is so exciting! Your days will look different, but your heart will be full. 🙂August 15, 2016 – 12:44 pm

Elizabeth Koehler Living in the spirit! I believe in you guys!August 9, 2016 – 8:29 am

jac you got this my friends.August 7, 2016 – 7:36 pm

amy i get the blue ribbon! insightful, thought-provoking and a wonderful description of the process of all this. i’m proud of you. & EXCITED for all y’all!August 7, 2016 – 4:58 pm

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