"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wandering through Education

First day of 8th and 6th Grade

Two posts ago I mentioned not feeling ready for school to begin and that such a feeling was totally foreign to me.  Today I am chocks pulled, full speed ahead, ready to go.  

So what's the difference between today and last week?  Thanks for asking.  In the last week the Twist family learned a few valuable lessons, most likely unique to our family but maybe not.

We plunged into virtual public school, anticipating great things.  The boys had laptops, headsets, text books, science equipment, art supplies, new pencils, fresh paper.  They were stoked about being totally immersed in technology.

To start with, the new (cheap) laptops didn't pick up the internet in the schoolroom so my desk and the dining table became the school room.  Sorting out a completely online system came with one heck of a learning curve which the boys intuitively figured out but left me absolutely gobsmacked.  But then again, I can barely work my cell phone.  Which, by the way, has been lost for more than a week.  But I digress.

My log in page for the online school was flooded with about eight million emails from what seemed like dozens of teachers but in reality was probably more like four.  I not only had to figure out the system but also had to wade through and process masses of new information.

Day one took eight hours and we fell into bed, bewildered.  Day two took ten hours and we fell into bed, bewildered and exhausted.  We had to drag our weary selves out of bed for day three which took another ten hours.  Day four took a further ten hours and we nearly wept with joy that it was the weekend.  However, it was not to be.  Nearly all of Saturday was spent re-doing some assignments (errors that were communicated via another landslide of emails) and trying to work ahead in anticipation of missing three days next week to attend Outdoor School.

Don and I limped weakly to a party on Saturday evening.  As it happened, a party was exactly what we needed - a heavy injection of fun.  The boys stayed home in their underwear playing video games and watching movies, which, as it happened, was exactly what they needed.  Sunday arrived and all I wanted to do was lay like a limp rag on the couch.  My responsible thirteen year old said, "No, Mama, today is Mass on the Grass and it's so nice outside.  We don't want to miss it!"  He was right.  We thoroughly needed the service and the meal afterward.  The original plan was to do more school in the afternoon in order to keep working ahead because they only got through two subjects Saturday afternoon.

When we got home, I couldn't do it.  I literally said, "I forbid anyone to open a computer or think about school."  We were beyond exhaustion and wondering why, outside of attending Harvard, our boys should be working so hard.  Monday came with wailing and gnashing of teeth and that was just by me.  By the time #1 had to leave for his first ever Cross Country practice he had already put in six hours of school and still had about four hours to look forward to when he returned home.  #2 was just plain miserable, hunched over his computer and nearly in tears.

An emergency family meeting that evening confirmed what ALL of us were thinking:  this is absurd, ridiculous, asinine, fill-in-the-blank-with-more-adjectives/expletives.  We decided to call it quits.

Quitting is another thing I'm totally unfamiliar with.  I have two generations of the Marine Corps barking in my blood - I don't quit.  One of our cardinal family rules is that we see things through.  Some of you may be thinking, well, you hardly gave it a reasonable shake.  Fair enough.

Here's what we learned in the last week:

1.  Another of our cardinal rules is that kids need time to be kids.  They grow up too fast anyway and one of the perks of homeschooling is lots of extra time for Legos and carpentry.  Reading and dreaming in a hammock.  Hanging out in the kitchen with me.  None of those things happened last week.  For #1 to have a day without Legos is practically like a day without air.  For #2 to have a day where he has to sit still for ten hours is practically like a prison sentence.

2.  We have two very different sons.  We already knew this, of course, but our foray into virtual school confirmed this yet again.  #1 is going to study every screen, do every single problem, read every single page in his text book, do every single assigned piece and then move to the assessment that is required at the end of every single lesson.  Thus, three hours per subject.  #2 is going to skim his screens, check his webmail, skip the suggested practices, take a few photos with his webcam and then try to do an assessment that he will fail because it is over the material he skipped.  Then I will have him repeat the entire lesson while I stand over him, making sure he dots every "i" and crosses every "t."  Thus, three hours per subject.

3.  Another perk of homeschooling is that kids can tailor their education to their interests.  Yes, there are standardized tests looming.  I can teach for that.  But if my 8th grader wants to study physics and British Literature, then dang it, let's do it!  If my 6th grader cares about American Literature and Algebra (smh over that one), rock on, dude!

4.  I don't believe in busy work for the sake of being busy.  If something is assigned, then let it be assessed as well.  Telling kids to do something simply to fill a curriculum requirement doesn't work.  For me.  For my kids.  For nearly all kids.  For anyone.  Time is precious - we are only given so much and it's easy to fill it with unimportant stuff.  Life gets too busy as it is without heaping more busy on at such a young age.

5.  I want my boys to enjoy learning.  There was no enjoyment sitting behind a computer for ten hours a day.  There was no joy, peace, or contentment and very little patience in our house last week.  We are a low-key, one sport at a time, an empty weekend is great kind of family.  When we woke up yesterday morning, peace reigned.

6.  The reason I wasn't ready for school to start last week was that for thirty one years I have been either a student or teacher.  Last week I wasn't either one and the knowledge was disquieting.  Now, I am a teacher again.  I happily spent yesterday morning planning our year, researching curriculum and shopping on Amazon.  Tomorrow I will smile when I receive those brown boxes with the smileys on them.

Autumn is here and school is back in session!

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