Perfectly Imperfect

I am not overtly kind to my children’s teacher. I’m not actively mean to her, but I am pretty abrupt. Now, understand that my children have not set foot in a classroom in 4.5 years. We “unschooled,” or joined a charter school that registered the children but has no requirements. As in: do what you want.

It started when Jacob was in kindergarten and came home sad every day. I volunteered in the classroom and could see first hand that the teacher had too many students to be emotionally engaged with any of them. Jacob is a particularly well-behaved boy. She loved him, in part because she didn’t really have to pay attention to him. Obnoxious kids or struggling kids got all the mindshare. Which makes sense, but when your previously bubbly 5 year old comes home sad every day, you gotta make some changes.

So, I visited 11 private schools in the area. We settled on one in Orange, and gave Josie the opportunity to try it out as well. We unenrolled them from their elementary school on the last day prior to Christmas vacation, and at 3pm that day, the Orange school sent me an email “We have decided your family is not a fit for our school,” with no further communication. I was sick at that time, and had been in bed for over a week. I got that email and just about lost my mind. What was I going to do?!

Somehow some combination of search words led me to Peggy Webb and West River Academy. She told me not to worry, I could always re-enroll my kids in public school, but let’s have them take a break and just decompress. She said they would ask me to do something, and I should say “yes.” Rinse and repeat. See how it goes.

Within 2 weeks of classes resuming in the regular schools, we realized our life had been utterly transformed. We did not expect it one bit, but here it was. The kids got along better. We weren’t slaves to the school schedule. Our evenings weren’t consumed by homework and stressors. We were hooked.

Lots of things happened, including a healing event for me, and that’s what led to the ‘worldschooling’ time of travel. It was also, though, a time of maybe a bit too much change for the kids. So after 18 months when they asked if we could live in one house and they could do sports, we said “yes.” And then, when Josie asked to try high school, we said “yes.” Honestly, without the travel, and with just a few activities through the week, we needed an infusion of something new, some new practices and time considerations.

So, Josie went to high school. I don’t know if you’ve dealt with a high school lately, but let’s just say we started with a series of bureaucratic duct tape (much more sticky and annoying than red tape) and between the long days, her outside-school passion project obligations and, frankly, two completely “phoning it in” teachers, the benefits did not equal the costs. Don’t get me wrong, there were benefits. We met a couple of wonderful people and she had a couple of excellent teachers. She made friends. There were benefits. But there were also costs. Lots of them. Once again, the school schedule ran our lives.

So, we opted for online school.

Sad thing is, online school has not come very far since I was working in it in the 90’s. This is a huge and disappointing surprise to me. I imagine there is better execution than the one we are in somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. But, I know how far technology has come. I know that we shouldn’t have to play the ‘upload/download/upload’ game in 2017. And I know that curricula should say one thing, and do the thing as they said it.

So, online school isn’t ideal. But it offers us a “learning fund” which will give the kids opportunity to do some cool activities we couldn’t budget for otherwise. Else I would take them out. Because both of them tested far above grade level in reading and at/above grade level in math. And this is without opening a traditional school book in 4+ years. So, clearly their learning wasn’t dependent upon school.

But, their teacher. She’s a perfectly lovely individual. She’s new to the school. She’s overwhelmed. She started just before the school year and hasn’t had time to do everything she needs to do. She’s really bad at time management. and she does things like tell me how many hours my kids should be on the computer (bad idea). But what really may be the end of her is that she keeps putting us in positions that aren’t ideal, and when I say “WTF” she says, “oh, yeah, everyone has had that problem, you need to x,y, z.” Excuse me, if you know this is going to be a problem, how ’bout you preface your recommendation with the caveat?

Now that I think of it this is the same problem I had with the first curriculum we encountered. It didn’t prepare you for what was to come (set the expectation). It said one thing, had a little bomb go off, then told you how to diffuse the bomb before getting to the one thing it said in the first place. Does that make sense? Probably only barely. But it’s remarkable to me the mediocrity that we’ve experienced both in traditional and online school. If my kids made mistakes like these, they’d get low grades. So, yeah, school gets a really low grade in my book. Especially in comparison to the freedom and progress unschooling offered.

We’ll see how long it lasts…


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