Score Another One for Homeschooling

We homeschool, but on the books we’re public school students. We run our homeschool through an independent study charter school, Ocean Grove. In exchange for meeting with an Education Specialist once a month to sign attendance (as if you could be absent from homeschool!), submitting work samples, taking one CA state test, and writing one annual essay, we get $1800 in funding per kid to be used for classes and materials from approved vendors. A pretty good deal for us.

So it was that time of year when Stella’s five-paragraph essay was due. Now, when we first began this journey, my vision of homeschooling looked something like this:

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In reality, our experience is more like this (our road, as it looks now in the rain):

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The assignment was to write a persuasive essay: Choose an activity you like to do and persuade someone to try it. Boring, but straightforward enough.

Not for Stella. It took three long sittings before one word was ever even written. We talked about methods of persuasion. We looked at sample persuasive essays. We talked about Oreo cookies as a metaphor for the essay format: say what you’re going to say (cookie), give your reasons (cream), say what you just said (cookie). We talked about why she had to do it. We talked about consequences of not doing it. She refused. I listened. She cried. I reassured. She threw pencils and crumpled paper. I drew on every last vestige of patience.

Finally, finally, she decided she would persuade someone that they should read. She had a pretty good intro sentence, inspired by the Pseudonymous Bosch series she was reading. Her first line said, “Don’t read this essay.” It was going to be interesting.

Until she tore it up in a gazillion pieces. Oh, that oppressive anti-muse, Perfectionism.

Back to Square One. More discussions. More outright refusals. More crying.

More patience and settling in for the long haul. This, over the course of a month, with me trying to carve out three uninterrupted hours at a time in which to take this on.

Then something magical started to happen. Stella decided on a different persuasive topic. She would persuade Ocean Grove that she shouldn’t have to write an essay. We looked at the scoring rubric and discussed how her score would be affected by straying from the assignment. We talked about the consequences of a lower score. We talked about how sometimes, you have to do what’s asked of you even when you don’t want to (pay taxes, keep a promise to a friend, for example). We talked about how sometimes, you go against the grain and pay the price because it’s what you believe in (civil rights, standing up for a friend, for example). We had great conversations.

Her writing actually began, though it was more like a slow, winding hike with steep climbs and frequent detours into the weeds to admire the wildflowers and bugs along the way.

First, she had to imagine her audience. Then, she had to move herself into her audience and imagine what they would want to know. Her imaginary audience included Marie Antoinette and a newborn.

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With herself now in her mental audience, she had to create an imaginary writer and pseudonym. She decided on calling her writer Sarah Schreibel (pronounced “scribble,” but with the spelling changed to make the meaning less obvious).

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There were more refusals, but this time, they were in writing.

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And there were moments of beauty, such as noticing the symmetry of written words and how scenic they look on the page. The significance of the sun coming out from behind the writing cloud was not lost on me.

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There were teaching moments about editing marks, including the insertion caret that got internalized as a mnemonic carrot.

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There were spurts of writing, where Stella actually managed to write three (!) sentences in a two-hour sitting. And there were other times when two hours of work resulted in word art rather than a complete sentence.

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Along the way, I had my moments of frustration, too. I mean, geez, just write a damn sentence already. Write anything! I had to really reign in my impatience. Because when I did, these unexpected insights would just pop out. Like when she decided to write her closing paragraph in rhyming couplets. Never would have thought of that one.

Then the last push required her to pull all her scraps of paper together and do the rewrite of the final draft. I had promised to take her to the kitten adoption fair to look at cats, but they closed at 5, so she had until 4 pm to finish. At 3:40, she had one last freak out, sobbing that she would never make it. But through her tears, she pushed through and finished with a few minutes to spare.

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Mauricio is a little doubtful at times that we’re doing the right thing with homeschooling. After all, he says, if she were in school, she would just have to sit down and write that essay in an hour instead of across two months, and “that’s life.”

I think differently. Yes, that essay would have gotten done. But, if she were in school, the result would have been a boring, passionless essay about why you should read, as if everyone doesn’t know why. The result would be a belief that you always have to just do what you’re told.

Instead, what we got were long discussions of substance, appreciation of the written word, creative explosions, examination of consequences of choices, incredible time together, and hard battles won. Isn’t that life?

Most importantly, what came out of the process was that Stella persuaded herself that she has something important to say. Or rather, she persuaded me. She knew it all along. And held her muddy ground.

Now, many times in our homeschooling, I totally blow it. I lose my temper. I lower my standards. I have no patience to spare. I make the kids do something that makes all of us miserable. Because I think it’s what they should be learning. Because we just need to get it done. Because I see other kids good at something mine aren’t good at.

This time, I feel like I got it right. Homeschooling got it right. Without knowing where the gloopy, muddy, treacherous path was headed, I allowed the process to play out. Here is the essay that she never would have written at a desk in school. I include it not to show off what my child can do, but to show off what homeschooling can do. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m so proud of her.

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