Yes, you read that right. Homeschool.
The alternate titles to this piece were “Whereupon Murph Won All The Things” or “Three Reasons I Might Die Before The End of This Week.”
Homeschool. The child’s short, but lifelong, vociferously stated goal. Unschoolers. Who ever heard of that? Amiright? Yeah, that’s a thing. And I signed up for it. Florida Unschoolers. I even made myself an ID badge! And yeah, as we move beyond the carnage of losing my dream job in the place I’ve always wanted to live and the idyllic dog days of summer that came to crashing, thunderous, screeching end, there’s still some sun.
I haven’t really kept up. I know. I didn’t have any words after Irma, for a while. I just did the things. In the wake of the catastrophe, though, my hurricane brain is starting to evaporate, and there’s finally some clarity on my horizon. In the thick of things, you can’t see through the weeds, so you hold on and carry on, hoping that there will be an “other side.” Part of adulting is knowing that there will be.
I am homeschooling Murph. I cannot believe I just typed those words. OMG, is it true? We are giving homeschool a go. I think, per the internet of things, we are in the process of deschooling right now, which means we are letting go of the ideas and constructs that traditional school systems have ingrained and shedding the conventional notions of what school is supposed to be and do and look like. You know, those things I’ve spent a career learning and teaching others? Yeah, them. Letting them go. Floating away. Helium balloons full of lesson plans and instructional design theories floating up into the sky.
No, I did not make this up to sound less like I didn’t just give up and let him become feral. It’s been around for a while. I didn’t know that, but it’s true.
In other words, Murph won. The war he’s waged against going school since he was 4 has finally reached détente. I haven’t completely surrendered, but for all intents and purposes, he’s emerged victorious. For the time being, the battle is done. Sort of like when VFES was going to let his aide go because he was refusing to acknowledge that she existed and would only say, “I don’t want an aide anymore,” but they didn’t want him to think he’d won. Like that.
For those of you who have followed Murph’s adventures through pre-school and elementary school, you’re probably wondered if I got hit on the head with a flying object during the storm. No, and I’m just as terrified as you are at the thought of sharing the reins of what he’ll be learning with him.
The adjustment has been a lot easier for Murph. I’m still a bit skeptical, even as he’s figuring it out, finding his rhythm and setting his pace. My part is not as overwhelming as I imagined; I create a weekly plan that is usually derailed by Tuesday afternoon, and I try to channel what he wants to learn into something that incorporates what he needs to learn. I fight the urge to fight with him when it looks like he’s doing nothing twice an hour, and I remind myself how much of every school day is busy but not productive. Also, I scream in the shower and text suicide threats to my friends. I find this therapeutic.
Key West helped. It almost had me at homeschool in mid-August after I knew that public schools in Monroe County were not going to work for my special snowflake and there was no room at the inn at any of the charter schools. But then a spot at the Basilica School of St. Mary, Star of the Sea opened, and I jumped at it. Off he went to Catholic school. And he did like it. The structure, the uniform, the quiet and peaceful little oasis on the island that could be a bit much. That worked for three weeks, which was just enough time for him to memorize all of the important prayers and decide that communion was a form of cannibalism.
Then there was Irma. The school was officially closed for about 3 weeks, but Murph never went back. He got hurt during the evacuation, and we were delayed in our return. Then the college for which I moved there to work decided that rather than accommodate me for a month or two, they’d rather replace me.
But something odd and good happened in the in-between. When we got back to Key West, there was a letter in the mailbox approving Murph for a Gardiner Scholarship. Florida is very pro-school choice. Pennsylvania wasn’t, or maybe it is, and I didn’t even know it because I lived in a superstar school district. But Florida supports it in ways that aren’t just political, and one of the ways it does that is with scholarships. As they go, Gardiner’s offer the most money and the most options. Like in-state tuition at a state university dollars every year for kids age 3 through high school graduation. The state also has a really robust virtual school program — Florida Virtual School — that’s taught by state-certified teachers; kids can enroll full-time or part-time or just for a few classes here or there to either do school online or make up for a class that didn’t go well or graduate early. It’s impressive.
Anyway, that laundry list of medical crap that’s kept us at specialist appointments and in ERs for years that I have bemoaned and bitched about? It puts him on the official list of rare medical conditions, and that qualified him. Were it not for moving to Key West, I wouldn’t even know that such a weird list existed in “official” form, nor would I know about Gardiner or McKay. My Parrothead friends had better get that reference to Gardner McKay there because we surely are the people our parents warned us about. Didn’t know he was real? Oh yeah, he was…
Still looking for context? It’s around 1:30 here:
None of the good stuff would have happened if I hadn’t gone down that rabbit hole. The universe is so weird, y’all. The way things line up is both spectacular and incomprehensible sometimes.
The second-to-last thing I wanted, after Irma, was for Murph to bounce from school to school while we sorted ourselves out and decided if we were going to stay in the Keys or move to the mainland. The last thing was homeschooling. I mean, I was that mom sobbing happy tears on the first day of school. The one with champagne for the other moms who were oddly sad to see their kids drive away at the bus stop? Raising a glass to another school-free summer vacation where no one (like me) went to jail for a homicide? I’m her. The mom who started the petition for a voluntary summer-school program where we could pay teachers to keep the kids all summer.
But Gardiner opened some real possibilities for him. It will pay for private school for him if/when I decide to put him back in a brick and mortar school, but it will also pay for online or face-to-face classes, curriculum materials, technology and equipment, tutors, occupational therapy and other things he might need.
So if I owe you money for the move to Key West and you follow me on Facebook and start to wonder if I robbed a Best Buy or hit the lotto or am just not paying you back? No, I haven’t. You don’t need to send that snarky text. Gardiner has provided just about everything I’ve ever wanted for him plus all of the things that any OT has ever suggested might be beneficial and some stuff that is just plain awesome. Added amazing bonus? The money you don’t use in one year doesn’t vanish; it gets rolled into a college scholarship fund that he can use to go to any Florida state college or university. Through grad school.
I know. Mind blown.
After we found the acceptance letter, I joined some Facebook groups for parents of Gardiner-recipient kids, and I started reading about homeschooling. I thought homeschool was something that parents with strong religious beliefs opted to do. I thought it was the stomping ground of “moms who know better” than the professionals and anti-vaxxers and other fringe groups. It has always been the province of kids who typically outpace their peers on standardized exams, but it also seemed like homeschool kids were weirdly out of place among others their age. It used to be all of that. Not so much anymore, I discovered.
There are those folks, but there are other families who see it as a way to keep things continuous because they move a lot. Some do it because the schools weren’t doing very much to meet the unique needs of their kids. For others, it’s a way out of bullying or a way to help a child with anxiety or other issues about going to school. The population of homeschoolers has changed as much as the world, and honestly, in the wake of the hurricane and a bunch of mass shootings? I’m not sure that it’s the worst option for my anxiety-riddled, very bright boy.
As with all things Murph, it’s been a negotiation. He’s doing Language Arts and Math online at Florida Virtual School. It’s nice. His teachers call him, he’s engaged, he can interact with classmates, and it’s keeping him on track with the specific skills he’ll need to go back to a classroom seamlessly. He’s also taking Photography as an elective, and he’s loving it. He’s a creative kid, and it’s channeling some of his interest in visual arts in a direction that he can control. World History was too much. I helped him with one 60-question pre-test and thought I should probably return my A.B. to Bryn Mawr with an apology for having forgotten literally everything, even things I don’t think I ever knew. That got dropped.
The rest is where it gets kind of cool and creative and interesting. And it’s only possible for us because of the Gardiner Scholarship. There is no way I could afford to do this well, or to keep up with him if he did not have these funds. But now, he’s built his own computer, and he’s coding with Kano and Bitsbox.
He’s exploring STEAM topics with Kiwi Tinker and Doodle Crates, doing chemistry experiments with Mel Science, and continuing his love of all things culinary with Raddish and Dinnerly. He’s really into a Minecraft Video Creation course we found at JAM that’s taught by one of his favorite YouTube stars.
School looks different, now. Every day. It’s never the same.
He loves these headphones almost as much as his supercool new HP Envy laptop.
He’s also got a new Ipad Pro, Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil as well as a GoPro with lots of accessories.
So far, it’s been pretty indestructible, and he loves the voice commands. It’s on his bike and his kayak. I keep telling him not to try to strap it to Dark Lord Cheeto’s head, but he’s 11. And we’re waiting for this 3D printer to arrive any day now.
We’re planning to grow hydroponic fruits, herbs and vegetables in a spectacular Tower Garden that is way too cool for school. He’s reading growth charts and researching planting cycles because Florida has a kind of “opposite” growing season to the one that we knew in Pennsylvania. Possibly, that could explain the $9 watermelons all summer in Key West. Probably not, though. I can’t wait for fresh tomatoes and basil and strawberries that we can pick on our patio.
I keep checking in with him about wanting to go to a “regular” school, and he keeps telling me nope. I want him to have friends, do things, go places, and feel connected. That’s the part of homeschooling that worries me most (next to losing my sanity because we’re always together, and all the “get to work” stuff teachers do falls to me). School is a place to meet other kids. But I’m finding it’s not the only way, and it may not be the best way to find nice ones at this weird tweeny time of his life. I’ve connected with some homeschool groups, and we’re going to meet to hang out with some of them in the coming weeks. Beach dates and meet-ups at zoos and movie theaters are on our agenda.
I don’t know if this is “for now” or forever. Parenting mostly feels like a series of educated best guesses and a lot of hope with a dash of prayer. What he’s been telling me for years that he wanted does seem to be working for him. He’s the kind of kid who will pursue an interest with a bit of direction, and I’ve found that he will eagerly and happily “work” at things capture his quick mind. If he wants to sleep in, it’s not a big fight for him to get up at a specific time, and if he wants to work late at night, that’s okay, too. My fears about never-ending YouTube videos, the Xbox exploding from overheated overuse and me losing my last marble in a battle over doing “anything educational” are slowly vanishing as I see him stepping up to the plate. I’ve made it clear that if I feel like he’s not keeping up his side of this bargain, he’s going to find his tween behind in a desk in a school. We work at home, at Starbucks, at the library and at the beach. Sometimes stuff that washes ashore becomes an art project or a scientific inquiry.
The challenge for me is to provide the structure that school has always given him. That is not my maternal strong suit. I’m more loose and laid back. That he is not taking advantage of that is a testament to how badly he wants this to work.
The world is a quickly changing place. As I watch him dig into things, I wonder about education and schools and how we’re all going to adapt to life going forward. There isn’t just one way to learn or do things; the options are endless. Colleges and universities, where I’ve spent much of my life, and are not the gatekeepers to a “good life” anymore. They don’t really even teach much about how the modern world is being shaped, and they’ve failed to identify what skills people are going to need going forward, in part because those things are dynamic and change with every leap of technology. For every person who follows the rule book and goes to college and then gets an MBA, there’s a 19-year-old tech whiz who designed an app that we’re downloading onto our phones and wondering how we ever lived without it.
For now, I’m calling myself a Reluctant Homeschooler. My own ties to conventions are hard to push back, but I’m willing to see what happens this 5th-grade year. If I’ve learned nothing else, it’s that things will sort themselves out if we get out of their way. I still have the feeling that I did back in May; I don’t worry that something awful is going to happen. The next chapter is writing itself, and we’ll see where that takes us. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying Vibe; I get why it’s a bestseller.
Need some cool gift ideas? I’m loving all of these!
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