My only child, my son, turns 14 years old next week. I’ve always referred to him as my “Saturday night special” because he was born on a Saturday night, 43 minutes before Mother’s Day. The old cliché stands true: Time flies. Undoubtedly, I have made mistakes as a mother. I probably have done some things right, too. And, as we all do at some point, he’ll look back and judge me and ultimately forgive me my trespasses and appreciate my strengths. Until then, my job is changing. My job now is to see him through high school.
I am not entirely sure when we decided or even thought about it, but, at some point, when he was a small child, my husband and I chose to homeschool him. We are not religious. (Truthfully, I’m not sure what I am, what I believe, if I believe. I used to torture myself thinking about it, but I have made peace with myself over the past few years. I will keep my mind open as I always have.) We are not necessarily counterculture hippies either. Thankfully, my son does not have learning challenges. These three scenarios are common reasons for homeschooling. I was raised on a farm in Eastern Pennsylvania. My husband was raised in the highlands of Western Pennsylvania. My father-in-law was a factory worker. My dad was a farmer. We grew up with a “do it yourself” mindset. Don’t spend money you don’t have if you can figure a way to accomplish it yourself. I am pretty sure this is what fed into our homeschooling choice.
Another factor was the hard time I had in school. I was painfully shy when I was little. As I entered my teens, the shyness melted into depression and difficulty dealing with my peers. It was a small town. It was a small school. And I always seemed to see things from a different point of view. This trouble continued well into my early twenties. I did well in school. I think my intelligence is average. But, I am haunted by the thought that I could have been so much more. I wanted something different for my son. I wanted him to feel free to learn at his own pace, in his own style.
For kindergarten, we did it on our own. However, as time went on, I decided professional support was a good plan. Although I am educated, I am not a trained teacher. Many of my best friends are teachers. I know the education and training they have completed. Luckily, I live in California, where public charter schools opened in 1993. (Minnesota was first in the country to pass charter school legislation. California was second.)
If you are unfamiliar with charter schools, they are public schools of choice. Instead of going to the local school district, parents and students may choose to enroll in a charter school. Many models of charters exist. The model I chose for my son was an independent study charter school. He does most of his learning at home and may choose classes at the school site. I am in charge of making sure he meets his educational goals and have freedom to tailor curriculum to his interests and needs. We meet with a teacher assigned to us every 20 days according to California education code.
Now, as he reaches the end of his 8th grade year, our thoughts have turned to high school. We have chosen another independent study charter school. However, he will have more responsibilities for his education. He will be accountable to himself and his teacher. He also will have opportunities to pursue his interests in technology, animation and media design as well as work on bigger projects with other teens with the same interests. This scenario translates to me stepping back. The change, for me, is at once exhilarating and a cause for reflection.
Obviously, I have dreams, hopes and expectations for my son. I have had a great deal of control over his education, but I don’t consider myself one of those “helicopter” parents. I’ve always encouraged him to find facts, come to his own conclusions, use his own powers of observation and research. More importantly, my husband and I have emulated tolerance, patience, compassion and understanding. He is a kind and thoughtful young man now. He lives by our family mantra, always be kind. He is becoming “a simple kind of man.” It is all I have ever wanted for him.
Forget your lust for the rich man’s gold
All that you need is in your soul,
And you can do this if you try.
All that I want for you my son,
Is to be satisfied. (from Simple Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Lyrics and music by Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington.