The Graduate

In anticipation of our interview with Dr. Veith next week (see Emily’s anticipatory post), I intended to write some thoughts on life after homeschooling to share with the large number of our readers who are homeschoolers now.  But I found myself lingering on how it looked to me then, rather than how it looks now.

I well recall one day about two months after we took our children out of public school, in the middle of their third and first grades, in order to start teaching them at home.  I had a high sense of mission and purpose  at the beginning, not to mention a nice clean lesson-plan book and new textbooks and new pencils and posterboard.  The kids were excited, too.  There are advantages to giving them a taste of the public-school eight-to-two-thirty education mill before bringing them home, so they’ll know what the alternative is.  It’s true that some children like it, especially in the early grades; ours didn’t, particularly.

Of course within a couple of months the new wore off, my daughter was weeping in frustration, my son was demanding to go back to school, and I was throwing things.  Late one morning I escaped to the kitchen on the pretense of starting lunch, but really just to get a few minutes alone.  I was staring at the refrigerator, thinking, “I can’t take two years of this, much less twelve.  I can’t.”  Were those serene moms and well-behaved kids in the books and magazine articles real?  How did they keep track of all the records, grades, five subjects per child–and what did they do for PE?  How did anybody actually do this?

That was in 1985.  Eleven years passed.  I learned that people do homeschool like they do life: one day at a time.  I managed to evolve from desperate last-minute schedule changes and hasty improvisations to weekly, even bi-weekly planning, sometimes sketching out whole units that lasted a month or more.  Some of my brilliant ideas failed; some spontaneous opportunities succeeded.  The children learned, too: probably less than I expected in the way of book knowledge, but more about themselves and God and us as a family.

In 1996, our small-town homeschool support group held its first graduation ceremony for two high schoolers and two eighth-graders.  Our son made up half of the class of ’96; his sister had graduated early in the winter of ’93 and was already halfway through college.  The ceremony took place at a local park and was a casual affair, which suited everybody.  All the kids were asked to make a few remarks.  My son wrote his speech out and I didn’t ask to read it ahead of time–he’s got to fly on his own sometime, right?  I’m glad he wrote it, though, because it was worth remembering.  Here it is:

I’ve had adults tell me that life gets harder as you get older.  I don’t believe it–because it never has.

I can remember my sister, a couple of grades ahead of me, telling me that subtraction was nothing–subtraction was a walk in the park; wait until I get to division.  Then I got to division and it was tough; I nearly cried sometimes it was so bad.  But she said, Ha, division was a snap.  It was fractions that were tough–just wait.  So I came to the point where division was just a procedure, and then I got into fractions.  Fractions tore my heart out.  I couldn’t comprehend any relation between the pies in math books and half an apple, and I nearly cried sometimes it was so bad, but she said, No it was decimals that will eat you alive.  Then I beat fractions, and decimals did eat me alive, and again I almost cried at the difficulty.  Then she said equations would kill me, then it was exponents, then polynomials, then I can’t even remember.

The point is that they all drove me to the brink of tears, but I learned them.  And in the end, learning polynomials was no harder than learning exponents.  And learning exponents was no harder than decimals.  And they were no harder than fractions, which were no tougher than division which was not in the least way any more difficult than simple subtraction.

It never got any harder than subtraction.  Nothing ever got any harder than subtraction.  It just got more complicated.

Things get bigger.  Your domain grows from a crib to a house, from a neighborhood to a city.  Your transportation from feet to a tricycle, from a bike to a car.  Learning to ride a bike was a hundred times harder than learning to drive a car.  But not as complicated.

And that’s why I don’t believe the future will be harder.  I know it will get a thousand times more complicated, but if it ever gets harder than learning to ride that bicycle I wouldn’t be able to take it.

Because the bike had me crying.  It meant so much to me, and only the important stuff in your life can thrash your emotions so badly.

God is important to me.  He controls everything, including my life, and if He ever let me down I’d have to kill myself.  That’s why I’ll never take my own life.  God never fails, He controls me, and He’s perfect.  He’ll never let things get harder than riding a bike, or getting dissed by your peers.  When you get right down to it, life will never be tougher than sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room of your parents’ house, staring at a math page and trying to puzzle out simple subtraction.

He was 17 when he wrote this speech.  He’s almost 33 now.  I asked him if his views had changed and he said no: “But I’d probably write it with less drama now.”  Maybe that means not as much crying.

I include this for two reasons.  First, I didn’t realize what he was going through when trying to ride that bicycle or do those fractions–I thought he was just being stubborn about the latter and I didn’t worry much about the former.  All kids learn to ride a bike, right?  But it doesn’t look that way to them, and reading his recollection I could remember my own fear and frustration about getting that bike to stay up (also, nobody told me how to stop the thing–I learned the hard way).   So even though he didn’t seem to be asking for sympathy, I could have been more sympathetic.  Parents should remember that it’s not easy to be a kid, at any age.  If I had it to do over again I would say No, thanks.

Second, his struggles with each new stage of learning were exactly like mine (I can’t do this. I can’t.) and, I suspect, like nearly everyone’s.  From one side of the task, it looked impossible.  From the other side, it was the work of a moment.  Eleven years sped like arrows, and then two young adults were on their own, to try and  succeed and fail.  They are still works in progress, but so am I, and we still get where we’re going one day at a time.

Make that three reasons.  The last is, this enterprise of raising godly children, whether that involves homeschooling or some other option, does not depend on us.  We are the agents, and we try to do our best . . . Except we don’t, not really.  Do you know any human being that literally tries to do her best at all times?  The thing is, we’re going to fail, in lots of ways.  Hopefully not overall, and I rejoice in so many Christian moms and dads who have been rewarded with faithful children who’ve started their own godly families.  But I’ve also seen young adults who were raised in Christian homes–even homeschooled–wander off the path, temporarily or permanently.  I’ve seen heartbreak, disobedience, failed marriages, early death, even suicide.  We still have this, and it’s everything: if we are God’s, our successes belong to Him, but also our failures.  Redeeming failure is not outside His purview.  In fact, you could almost say it’s what He does best.

If you’re at the beginning of this journey, you might appreciate Emily’s Mother’s Day post, as well as her thoughts on God’s Little Princess and Ginger Plowman.  If you’re in the thick of it, with teens and pre-teens, my post on the growth and development of YA publishing and the paranormal teen romance might have some food for thought.

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3 Responses to The Graduate

  1. Melinda May 20, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    It is a pleasure to read this post, Janie!

  2. emily May 19, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    Personally, I am still inclined to believe the brochures most of the time. Thank you for a realistic point of view on what we’re up against and where our hope lies.

  3. Elizabeth May 19, 2011 at 9:04 am #

    Thanks so much for posting this! As a home-schooled high-schooler with semester exams looming, I appreciated this reminder to look back, look ahead, and look up — God’s gotten me through exams and worse, and He’ll be there for me next week and forever.

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