Pondering Education

The transition from 2012 to 2013 has been a wild one for me. And when I say wild here, I mean both wild in the sense of the natural world but also wild in the crazy, bumpy ride of The Wind and the Willows’ Mr. Toad. I have been on quite a precarious journey and the road has been an emotional one to navigate. If it wasn’t enough that I just had a big milestone birthday and that we endured another Christmas holiday with no money and this year had the added adventure of storm warnings and tornado angst on Christmas night to suck the life out of the holiday, I also spent a week down with the flu just around the end and into the beginning of the new year. I had a fever for 4 days straight and was still pretty iffy on the 5th day. I am still wobbly after a long day and can’t quite seem to shake the cough. I am 2 weeks in now and still don’t feel myself –though I can see light at the end of the tunnel (and it shining on a big bar of soap and signs that says “stay home!” “close the gate” “wash your hands!”).

I slept and slept when the bug first grabbed me (when I wasn’t coughing) and while sleeping, my brain seemed to be working overtime to sort out some issues I had left on the back burner for way too long last year. I was in the list-making-and-house-cleaning state of mind when the fever grabbed me so I guess my brain just ran down the direction I had started on and that path turned out to be fraught with trouble the deeper into the tangle I traveled! Every day and night I battled demons, argued with people, sorted objects, scoured leaf piles, overgrown woods and overfilled boxes for answers–direction– truths. I shouted symbolic warnings to myself over and over. With dramatic and huge metaphoric road signs, I hollered at myself to let go of unhealthy relationships and habits and to stop following wrong (stupid!) paths. I stood at crossroads while heart and head wrestled for control. I was admonished for taking easy and obvious paths. I wrestled brambles in a particularly nasty thicket and I came out exhausted and blooody. And now, here I sit, 11 days into the new year, and I am still sorting and searching–only this time with no fever dreams to guide me in their white rabbit through the looking glass kind of way. I am just standing in the real, soggy and dark wood, searching for a kernal of clarity–a shiny, tiny needle in a musty and muddy leaf pile.

I don’t know if this is because I just turned 50. The age of 49 was, as were 29 and 39 before it, a strange transitional age for me. I was married at 29 and decided to become a mother at 39. BIG life choices are always made during these periods in my life. At those earlier ages, the choices facing me seemed clearer or maybe I was just younger and more impulsive and resilient. At 49, I am slower, more cautious, more aware that the choices made will have, as they always have done, a HUGE impact on the rest of my life–and this time, other people are going to be affected! I have children now and when I take a turn through a seriously brambly part of the woods, I am dragging my children along with me. Images of little Hobbits on big ponies, fretting and scrambling for clean hankies and wishing for tea and cakes should pop into your head now. Heh.

As some of you know, we have been homeschooling for the past few years. My eldest Hobbit–er, daughter, went to a public kindergarten for one year but after a year in a classroom in a trailer with no windows and lots of standardized test training, play time in a gym rather than outdoors and lunches in cafeterias with no talking but lots of chicken nuggets and chocolate milk, we pulled her back toward our home where our classroom is often out of doors, the food is homegrown now and then and the lessons are never standardized. It has been a delightful experience.

But now, as my big girl is about to turn 10, I am at another crossroads. Funny that she turned 9 the same year I turned 49. Last year was a biggy, developmentally speaking, for both of us. Read this about the 9 year change from a Waldorf perspective. It’s interesting how the language regarding psychological identity rings true for me as well as my growing daughter. I am just beginning to explore Charlotte Mason’s writings regarding the needs of my children at ages 7 and 10. I am not clear on her thoughts and suggested methods yet, but I am reading and talking to friends–have my ear to the mama/teacher track and am listening for clues to understanding.

My urge, prompted by fear that I was doing everything wrong and depriving my children of something (what?), prompted me to seek outside support (help?) last year. I took the girls on outings with local co-op groups. I signed them up for science classes at the local family science museum. I took them on play dates. I signed them up for more music classes. I bought new school books and workbooks and tried to sort out some sort of daily routine that felt more like traditional school, I signed them up for Practice Days at a local school and — almost all of these fell short of expectation and then completely away, leaving us at home again, with stacks of unused workbooks, no money left after fees, supplies and gas money needs sucked us dry — and loads more doubt. Sigh.

We did manage to choose two programs to stick with last year that I am still feeling optimistic about. We are still taking the girls to music classes at Scrollworks, a wonderful program that allows a financially challenged family like ours to bring music into our school curriculum and lives.  We are also attending Practice Days once a week at a beautiful local school that describes their mission as “an educational offering in the Charlotte Mason tradition”. The community at the this school is helping me as well as my children in so many ways. My girls are finding friends and learning so much even though we only go to the school once a week. They are reading new books and singing with friends, crafting and playing –and so much more. They are also learning how to interact with other children in a school setting. They are learning attentiveness and good habits that I can see helping us with our schooling at home. It’s been a wonderful experience so far. We feel both of these communities offer up respectful and creative learning atmospheres for our family and we are all feeling really good about that at the start of this new year.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, the problem lies in my ideas about planning for the future. So many of my ideas about how to build a home, how to live in this world–on this planet, have changed so much over this past decade and this past year, I realized that this is about so much more that alternative energy options and food forests, water catchment systems and global warming angst. This is about all of these things and more. This is about a cultural paradigm shift! I really do believe that we need to make great strides to change the way we live on this planet. That means downsizing homes, being more conscientious about how we utilize our limited resources, restoring local communities… retrofitting our old wasteful lives for a more sustainable and resilient future. This leads me to thoughts, obviously, about how to best prepare my children for the future. This makes me doubt the current factory mindset of the current American educational system. This makes me scared about choices we have already made. I keep second guessing myself at every turn. I am so unsure how to proceed with their education and I am struggling.

I keep coming around to these thoughts that I need to prepare my children for a different sort of future. Telling them they need to go to college and incur huge debt in preparation for a high powered, money making job seems the wrong approach entirely. I want them to have a good education, obviously. I want them to study and become active and creative members of society with a mindset toward sustainability and lower impact living so obviously (to me anyway) setting their little trains on the tired old broken down track of our failing consumerist culture seems a poor choice. I don’t want to fuel their engines with the dregs of the tired old American Dream. I want, instead, to lay new tracks –or hell, jump the tracks completely and set off even more purposefully on a path of deliberate and responsible living. I want to continue to teach them about beekeeping and gardening and home building. I want to continue to read about history and literature at the kitchen table. I want to continue to learn about growing and storing and preparing our food together. I want to continue to learn music together and share every moment they can bear together walking in the woods gathering leaves and talking to the trees, singing and learning new songs, digging in the dirt and growing good food. I know, for now, this is the right path. But how long will this path sustain us?

When I start thinking about what should come next, I panic. I worry that I am dragging them too far away from the well worn path that is mainstream culture and I worry they will resent me one day when they realize how far I have dragged them into my part of the woods. I worry that my ideas are crazy some days and that I am depriving them of opportunities to make a place for themselves on the standardized education ladder. I worry that I am not preparing them socially for mainstream society–a society that I see as shallow, racist, sexist, hateful and wasteful most days. I worry that one day when I am old and can only offer them figs and pecans and a bed to sleep in or a fire to warm themselves by and my funny old stone house in the woods that they will feel resentful and trapped and totally unprepared to face the world–whatever shape it finds itself in ten to 20 years from now. Yes, I am a mother. I worry.

I know it’s is my job as mama to worry but the rules of the game seem to be changing drastically and from where I sit, I have some big decisions to make and I am feeling a little overwhelmed–and alone. For now, we are continuing on the path we started down last fall. We will continue to homeschool and we will reach out to others in the community to help us teach our children things we believe they need to grow into the brilliant, creative women I know they will be one day and I will hope it is enough. I will call on O to give me input from the public education world, where he works and keeps up with current educational trends–and woes. I will also hope and trust that my daughters will be well enough prepared in a few more years to help me see which path to venture down at the next stage of our educational and social development so I don’t have to make all of the decisions on my own. Wish us luck. I suspect the journey could get interesting!

A friend just sent me this wonderful quote in an email. It seems fitting to share it here–now:

“A good traveller has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.

A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.

A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.”

~ Tao Te Ching

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