July 31, 2019
This is the final post in a three-part series called From Homeschool to University.
My goal in writing these going-to-university posts was the same as my goal in sharing stories of our home education experience for the past fifteen years. To share a story of how it's possible to make a different choice than the conveyer belt, compulsory model of schooling. And how that looks for our family.
One of the differences at this point in the journey, from earlier years of homeschooling, is that I don't have the same gung-ho enthusiasm.
I need to be honest about the fact that I'm tired. We had a whooper of a year dealing with schooling bureaucracy for Brienne, in addition to the mental and emotional load of homeschooling through high school, on top of all the normal teen stuff. (I really needed a summer break, which I've had. Hallelujah!)
For me, homeschooling young children was fun and relaxed. (Which is partly the reason my blog used to be called Fun In My Back Yard.) It was a great way to start the journey. I would recommend the same to anyone.
The teen years have been fun in a different way, fun watching kids become themselves, but the work involved has dulled the shine on my homeschool enthusiasm. I'm more tempered and a little battered around the edges.
I don't have the same sparkly idealism. (It's fun! It's easy!) What I have instead is years of experience to confirm what was once just theory - it's possible to do something different with education and to build the kind of relationships I envisioned for family life.
I have an unwavering commitment to adult-guided self-directed education for children. A commitment borne from the work of actually doing it from preschool to graduation, with a realistic notion of what it requires and what it can yield in return.
And the yield has made it worth the work.
I am delighted that my kids are open to learning.
What about those things they are not as interested in doing or learning? (My kids are normal humans, after all. None of us are eager for everything.) They have the freedom to make choices, based on their values, goals, and interests (not based on fear, manipulation, or reprisal) about what kind of effort and emphasis to place on those subjects and activities. Which means of course, they don't do everything. No one does.
They accept, by their own choice and according to their choice, to work at the unpleasant tasks of life and learning as necessary for reaching their particular life goals. Which includes the labor and effort of being part of a family unit. This is self-discipline.
They are free to try things. They haven't been constructing their whole high school experience around getting the best grades. In that freedom we can experiment with processes and ideas. Just like you do in real life, go figure.
Learning is not shut down for fear of the consequences to your academic record.
In life, when we fail at something or it doesn't work, we cut our losses, adapt, and try another approach. Compulsory schooling, with its emphasis on grades, achievement, and competition does not foster this mindset.
I'm happy that my kids can identify what they want and pursue those things.
Two notes about this. I don't mean their ability to identify a lifelong career, this is unrealistic in our world of rapid change. Also, identifying what you want can take time, and that's ok. Part of the reason for homeschooling is to provide this time and safety. Who says we have to live by the construct of school years, grades, September to June, and all the rest of it? The unquestioning slavishness to which most of society complies with all this is both frightening and disheartening to me.
I am delighted that my kids are independent learners who can recognize they need tools, resources, and accountability to reach their goals. And that their parents, and other mentors and teachers, are there to help them.
They've learned this through their experience of working to achieve their own goals, not because a system has imposed a curriculum and a schedule for learning and then offers the tools and resources to help you meet those artificial requirements. Like being required to dig a trench and having a supervisor supply the shovel, how generous.
Without the emphasis on grades or competition, they have learned that learning, like life, is best done as a collaborative effort.
All of this may have been possible with another path. But we didn't take that path, we took this path. And this is where it lead us.
So much can be said for the education they have received and lived. But it hasn't been perfect (that's never been the point, see note on failure and adaptation) or without losses.
There are good experiences my children have never had because they didn't go to school. They have missed out on things. It was going to be that way regardless. Every life path we choose precludes an alternative path.
This was the path we chose for our family and our children. And that choice was only made possible by other choices and life circumstances completely outside our control.
For now, Céline has chosen university and where she'll go from there, who knows. A Bachelors degree is not a foregone conclusion, neither is designing costumes for film. But both are at least made more likely with these initial steps. Neither are as important as the overall trajectory of making choices in positive directions, which is our desire for our teenaged and young adult children.
Laurent is graduating this year, he's essentially done but we have a few loose ends to wrap up when he returns from camp. Homeschooling gives us that freedom. And the plan is to have Brienne finish homeschooling by next summer, in-line with the Quebec schools which end at grade 11, and then transition into the Quebec public college system (called CEGEP), which I will not explain in this post, but if you're especially curious you can read about it here.
With all this happening, the overall energy in our home is like a two sided coin stamped "finish" on one side and "start" on the other. Endings and beginnings.
And if I was to give a commencement speech to my kids, which I won't (can you imagine all the eye rolling!) I might say something like this.
Point yourself in a good direction. Stuff will happen along the way to veer you off course, challenge your resolve, and discourage your progress. Nothing is guaranteed. And you'll probably change your mind on the details. But if you're going in the direction of things that are noble, admirable, lovely, or at the very least interesting to you, you're more likely to end up in those places then if you had never walked a path in that direction to begin with.
Yeah, I know, not super inspirational or "you can do anything you set your mind to achieve". You can't. We're limited by factors outside our control. I can't make any promises.
But I can say we're more likely to reach the ends we want - going to university or college, having a loving family life, finding a satisfying vocation, or successfully homeschooling our kids - if we take steps in that direction and keep taking steps in that direction, day after day after day.
This summer I am allowing myself to savor the experience of our children's successes and our own success in homeschooling through high school.
And it feels good.
We're not finished, but we're nearly there. Things could be worse and things will be worse at various future points along this parenting journey. But this is a high moment and I'm enjoying it.
As a person regularly plagued with self-doubt, anxiety, and indecision I often ask myself did we make the right choices for our kids? Which is rather futile, since you can't go back and change things anyway. And who knows if they were "right"? Most of the way life plays out is way too complicated and convoluted to assess decisions on a right or wrong basis.
But I do feel, and need to acknowledge to myself, that overall they were good. Not good because we're particularly good, or because in the moment it always felt good, or everything that happened was good (far from it!), but good because they pointed us in an overall good direction. They pointed us towards mutual love and respect, towards responsibility and interdependence. To knowing some things about oneself, others, and the world. And maybe the same could be said had we chosen a different path. But we didn't.
This was our path. This was our outcome.
Céline's life is her own at this point, and has been for a couple years already. Where she directs her ship is her choice. But Damien and I achieved what we set out to do in homeschooling her and her siblings. Not perfectly, not without flaws, and failures and mishaps and missteps - but those are going to happen in any context.
We built a family. We raised good humans.
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