Illustration by Arnel Reynon
Every summer, for the past three summers, I've approached the coming autumn with a vague, unsettled dread. Which is a change for me, because all my life I've looked forward to autumn. September means the State Fair, of course, and cool, crisp mornings when a sweater is just enough. And, as an inveterate nerd, I've always looked forward to autumn because it meant school was starting, and that meant clean notebooks, new pencils, different classes and a fresh bunch of knowledge, just waiting for me after Labor Day.
Now, though, the very thing that has always made September so promising is what keeps me up at night. As a parent who has opted out of using the public school system, every summer is a chance to evaluate, examine and second-guess the way we are handling The Boy's education. And, just as with every other aspect of parenting, I can immediately see dozens of things I could be doing better. A hundred ways I'm failing my kid. A thousand educational options that might be more promising, if only I'd give them a shot.
How much of a shot to give them, though? That becomes its own problem once you think about it. Jumping from school to school, or organized home-school group to group, or even from one bunch of lessons and activities to another results in a disjointed hodgepodge of an education. And yet, every year it seems like a new option presents itself, shiny, untested and promising. It could be wonderful. If we don't try, we'll never know. But then I start doubting my doubts. Would it better to stay where we are, where he has a comfort zone and a constant group of friendly faces? And what if — and this is the really sticky part — what if the new place doesn't live up to the hype? Then we've put our kid through the potential trauma of being "the new kid" yet again for no real gain.
Tad is the voice of reason when faced with my inclination to jump on the bandwagon of every co-op, charter or private school that I happen to decide has all of the things The Boy needs and more. Tad grew up in a family that was prone to spur-of-the-moment interstate moves. In addition to the social stigma, he ended up going through life with serious undiagnosed learning disabilities, and he missed whole sections of curriculum. "I don't want that for him," Tad reminds me every time I decide that we're going to pull up our school roots and plant him somewhere else come September. And usually, I come to my senses. But summers are long, and the looming start of the school year always makes me itchy to be a better parent educator, in the same way it made me want to be a better teacher for the 13 years I was in the classroom.
Then there's the part of me that looks wistfully upon the parents whose greatest worry is what homeroom teacher their kid will have in September. Without getting on my philosophical bandwagon, I wish I lived in a country where I could — where all parents could — send their kid to the public school for which they are zoned, and feel good about the education that will be provided. Sometimes I can convince myself that I am over-thinking this whole school thing, and that The Boy would be better off in the familiar embrace of the public school system, where at least he'd have the same daily routine with the same kids to welcome him back every year. So what if I feel like I'd be going against everything I know and believe to be true when it comes to educational philosophy? There'd be consistency! And camaraderie!
So far we've managed to educate with some consistency, in spite of my brain's best efforts to the contrary. The Boy has been doing well with the home-school group we discovered just before kindergarten started, and we're continuing with the same music lessons and martial arts classes, too. But there's this new group …
By the time you read this, I'm hoping I will have come to my senses. Until next summer.