When my friends decided to return their kids to school, my eldest boy was angry and upset. His (probably legitimate) complaint was that we would never see them again. This is not the first friend he has lost.
His great friend who he has known from birth went to school at the same time we started homeschooling, and just kind of disappeared. With his friend going to school during the week and doing extracurricular activity during the weekends, they hardly ever see each other any more.
His best friend who he always talks about, moved away a while ago. The boys parents, appalled at Australia’s politics, took their levels of disgust as far as packing up and leaving the country. In the relatively small circles we move in, three friends is a lot to lose.
The subject of friendships has been a recurrent conversation over the last couple of months. This is not something I feel capable of helping with very much. A memorable workplace appraisal in the not too distant past saw me described as ‘prickly,’ ‘intense,’ and ‘difficult to approach.’ Truth is that I have always struggled to enjoy being in other peoples company, and it shows that I have largely stopped trying. I just don’t have it in me to model good behaviour in this regard, and it is a major challenge even to set up conditions where the boys can work it out themselves.
At the same time this was happening, a cluster of interesting, well paid jobs came up at work which I was unable to apply for, due to homeschooling the boys.
I have spent a large section of my adult life trying to follow my dreams and not be boxed in by the system. While such behaviour brings a certain kind of reward, life is definitely far easier and more profitable when you just do what everyone expects you to.
I was brooding rather resentfully over all of this when I started searching the websites of schools in the local area. For the most part, they seemed worst than I remembered them, but there is a Steiner school within reach which held out some promise.
Despite having worked as both a homeopath and a biodynamic market gardener, I am not entirely sold on Steiner. Still, I know a few sets of parents from that school, and while they all do different things, they also all seem to do it with a purpose, which I found encouraging. I booked an appointment for a tour.
My wife and I, along with both the boys, spent a couple of hours being shown around. Although both the adults went with something of a negative eye, we all actually found ourselves loving the place. Physically, it is a beautifully built area of stone and timber on an amphitheatre like ground. The classes which we saw were all small, very relaxed and humanised. Of course there were no uniforms. Despite my boys being dressed in literally the first clothes I grabbed, which was then topped off by ugly crocks and daggy hats, what struck me is that they completely blended in with all the other kids there.
I took a look at the curriculum, obviously. It always surprises me just how simple the expectations are with school kids, especially given how much time they devote to learning it. Still, what I would see as dead time elsewhere, here seems to be spent in a fairly open ended and artistic environment. I was frequently criticised for being a dreamer as a kid. It is an attribute I would like to encourage in my own children.
There is a lot of musical and artistic expression at this school which, I have to admit, is something of a foible for us. In a sense, I am not so concerned about English, Maths, Science and History. Whatever the boys don’t get at school, I know it will easily be covered at home.
After a biggish pile of paperwork, we enrolled both of them. My youngest boy starts next year, and my eldest begins in a few weeks. He is wildly excited by the prospect. The rationale for Bloke School disappeared instantly and, it seemed, almost by accident.
It has left me feeling strangely nostalgic. The hard times of the last year and a half don’t seem that hard, and the good times seem fantastic. For all the complaints that I had about never having any time to myself, I am already missing the time we spent together with just me and the boys.
I am very glad to know that our homeschooling adventure was something quite achievable. It was often messy, but in a relaxed manner. In many ways, the boys learned far more than they otherwise would have. I am confident that should circumstances change again, we could easily return to homeschooling.
My wife and I always maintained that we were homeschooling the kids, not for any abstract reasons of idealism, but because it seemed the best option available for them. Suddenly our options changed, and we need to acknowledge that.
How long things remain like this is anyone’s guess. One of the best and worst things in life is that nothing is certain.