A Martyr for the Cause

A Martyr for the Cause March 20, 2012

I don’t talk about homeschooling much, either on my blog or in real life. I think I’ve written a total of one post about it, and that wasn’t even really about my practical experiences with homeschooling, it was more about why we’re homeschooling. When the subject comes up with other moms around Ave Maria, the extent of my contribution is usually to say, “I’m homeschooling because we won’t send our kids to public school but we can’t afford private school. Oh, and justsoyouknow, my husband is the one who’s philosophically committed to homeschooling. I’m really not the homeschooling type. I’d much rather just send their little bottoms off to school and be done with it.”

Why do I say that? Why do I have such a negative attitude toward homeschooling, and why do I feel the need to make sure everyone knows it? I’ve been wondering that a lot these past few days, and I think I’m finally ready to put the answer in words and then make myself read them.

I have a colossal martyr complex. Homeschooling was not my idea, but the Ogre has been pro-homeschooling since the days of Sienna’s gestation. There was a time when I responded to any attempt to broach the homeschooling subject with, “if you want to homeschool so badly you can stay home and do it.” And he said that he would. And I believe that he would, if I was still being such an ass about it. I believe that he would probably keep teaching a full course-load while working on his dissertation and also pick up homeschooling if it came down to it. He’s already taken over Sienna’s art lessons, since I can draw one sweet asymmetrical stick figure and nothing else. However, in the intervening years we’ve discussed schooling options until it’s basically become a familiar dialogue that we could do in our sleep. We won’t do public school, period, ever. We might consider a charter school if it’s very exceptional and absolutely no sex ed is broached at said school. If it suddenly began to rain money we’d look into private schools, but even then we (and by we I mean the Ogre) would be very picky. His experience at a large state school has been somewhat horrifically eye-opening. The educational system, public of course but to a large extent private as well, is grossly failing American students. They come into the university barely knowing how to read, many times unable to write a single grammatically correct sentence, let alone an entire paper, and worst of all they do not care. They are not ashamed of their lack of education. They do not see the point of learning. They do not want to learn. They want to earn their diploma so that they can get a higher-paying job…sometimes. Sometimes they don’t even care about earning their diplomas, they’re just in college because that’s what they’re supposed to do after high school and their parents are paying for it. Some are there for the athletics, some for the fraternities and sororities, but by and large they absolutely are not at college to learn.

Obviously, we don’t want our kids to grow up and not value knowledge. We want them to seek truth and prize it highly. And if we can’t find a really exceptional private school that we can also afford, the only other way to attempt to raise such children is to teach them ourselves. When it came time for Sienna to start kindergarten, the Ogre was living a few hundred miles away from us and studying frantically for qualifying exams. I had all three kids on my own, which was terrible and difficult and stressful, but I still had time to blog occasionally, check facebook, and complain frequently about how hard being a pseudo-single mother was. I actually had time to homeschool. While I could still have insisted that the Ogre do the homeschooling via webcam or something, I would have been a pretty crappy wife if I did. And so I fell on my sword and accepted the responsibility as head educator at Chez Alexander. This meant researching homeschooling curricula, which I dreaded so much that I put it off until a month after we were supposed to start school. This meant choosing books, ordering them, and then actually reading the introductions and prepping for lessons, something which I felt was really too cruel a punishment. But I did it, sort of, grudgingly. We managed to eke out a few painful months of school last fall while the Ogre was taking his qualifying exams. But they were painful, for both Sienna and I, and I imagine for the Ogre as well, who was forced to listen to me re-cap them in excruciating detail. Every lesson was painful. Every word she read was like pulling a tooth out of her little mouth without anesthesia. Almost every day I resolved to be patient and kind, and almost every day I lost my temper and yelled at her. She dreaded school, I dreaded school, our relationship suffered and so did her interest in learning. She was no longer eager to pick up books and ask someone to read them to her or help her read. She didn’t want to count out how many raspberries were on her breakfast plate or how many M&M;’s she had. She stopped asking why things happened or what kind of bug that was, and I stopped telling her. We were burnt out on learning and on each other. The good mom on my shoulder wanted me to feel guilty about it all and find a better way to teach her, but what I really felt was vindicated. Hadn’t I said that I wasn’t cut out for homeschooling? Hadn’t I said that I wouldn’t be good at it? Hadn’t I said that I didn’t want to do it?

After we moved to Ave Maria, I put off starting up school again for a very, very, embarrassingly long time. The Ogre was patient with me, even when I reminded him again that I had never wanted to homeschool, even when I recounted just how painful homeschooling had been in the fall, even when I constructed a giant cross out of HOMESCHOOLING that I climbed up and nailed myself to. Finally, though, the good mother on my shoulder got the better of me and Sienna and I began again, several lessons back from where we had left off.

I have been shocked at the difference between last fall and now. Part of it is Sienna. The break seemed to give her mind the time it needed to catch up to what I was asking her to do. Sounding out words isn’t excruciating anymore. She’s doing it quickly, well, and she’s enjoying it. She gets excited when we have a new story to read instead of breaking down into tears at the sight of all those words. In the fall when I read out loud to her, she lost interest after a page or two. Now, she’s sitting with rapt attention through entire chapters of The Magician’s Nephew. She still has days where she resists handwriting and groans her way through lessons, but those are exceptions. Yesterday she actually asked for more sentences to copy, and then actually copied them. Voluntarily.

Part of the change, though, is me. I realize that having my husband back and being in my own house again makes a huge difference. I’m less stressed and much calmer. But there’s something else going on that I never expected. Sienna asks to do school instead of being ordered to, and I find myself looking forward to it. Actually looking forward to it. I’m enjoying the time with her, enjoying teaching her, enjoying watching her learn. I like watching her eyes widen when I read about Polly disappearing and her grin of agreement when Digory wants to punch his uncle. I smile when she asks me questions instead of being annoyed, and if I don’t know the answer I’m much more willing to stop what I’m doing and help her find it. Even more unsettling, I found myself ordering a new math program today and asking the Ogre if we could afford to do priority shipping because I couldn’t wait to get started.

I’m starting to see homeschooling not as something I’m forced to do, but as something I get to do. Something I have the opportunity and resources and time to do with my children. The years of homeschooling that might lie ahead are looking less and less like drudgery and more like…dare I say it?…an adventure. And I’m not sure which came first, enjoying homeschooling or climbing down from my cross of martyrdom. Either way, I’m pleased with this new turn of events. Pleased enough to consider just what other crosses I might need to stop publicly nailing myself to and actually pick up, lest I want one of my children, on some distant future Christmas, to say this to me:

(There’s a naughty word in this so don’t click on it with the kids around.)

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