We have been a homeschool family for almost five years. For me, this journey has been the most challenging thing I have undertaken, more than working my way through college, more than getting myself into law school, more challenging, even, then the one and only year of law school I completed, (forever a 1L). I can give a million reasons as to why it has been so challenging, but the number one reason for my constant struggles, *anxiousness, and worry was buying into the conventional views of success. Striving for success is part of human nature and there is nothing wrong with wanting to achieve success in our lives. The problem is that we have been purposefully shaped by society to have a very specific view of success.
Success, as current society will have you believe, is being the most industrious we can be, not for ourselves, but for others. We have to be the best student by “learning” and regurgitating the information they give us in exactly the fashion they tell us to give it back. We have to be the most productive at work, to generate the most money, not for us, but for whomever employs us. And if we do these things, we get the best grades, get into the best college, get the best salary, so we can get the best house, nicest car, fanciest clothes. All this to show how successful we are to the rest of society. We have been brainwashed into believing that the amount and a specific kind of “success” is tied to our self-worth. We all go along with it, and do all we can to show the world how great we are through our “successes” and the “successes” of our children. There is nothing bad or wrong with wanting, to excel in work or school, or to want financial security, or home ownership, etc. But I want to challenge the notion that these are the only real markers of success. In particular I am challening the notions of “success” in education, today. Academic and educational success is nothing more then a measure of whether we can follow directions, and take a test to show how well we followed those directions, nothing more.
For many of us the pursuit of this particular kind of success is a road to unhappiness, and stress, mainly because these are not our ideas of success. I would argue that these ideas of success are actually tools, put in place to keep us in check. These ideas are all a form of social control, a method of the engrained system of white supremacy, racism, and classism that permeates our culture, government, and society. We are all victims of this, people of color, and white people. Do some of us benefit from this more than others? Yes, of course. However, the reality is that most of us are victims of the effects of these ideas. And we all play a part in perpetuating this fraud.
The irony is that those of us that decided to educate our children at home, do this because we do not want our children to fall in line with the status quo. We found that the education system in this country does not adequately take on the task of educating our children. Be it the wanton teaching of false narratives in history and science, or willfully being ignorant to the realities of racism that our Black and Brown children deal with, or not having the means to educate our children with special needs, we all found the education system sorely lacking. We all knew at a some level that the conventional ideas of success, are not at all a real measure of how well our children are doing, intellectually, or emotionally. These ideas do not help our children to be independent thinkers, they don’t give them the tools to be leaders, nor does the false narrative of success foster the natural curiosity of children. Yet and still, many of us continue to use the strategies that have been used on all of us, to educate our children. We hold on to these notions of succcess to measure how “well” we are doing in our homeschooling.
The mistake that some of us have made when taking on our children’s education was to hold on to the idea that our children have to hit these arbitrary milestones in their learning. I know, because this is the trap that I fell into when we started our homeschooling. Another trap some fall into is to begin actively homeschooling our children at the ages of one to four years of age. We hear that other parents are putting their children into daycare and pre-k, we hear stories about how their children are already learning letters, and getting “work” at these young ages. We worry that if we don’t begin “teaching” at these young ages our children will be behind and will not be “successful”. The truth is if you engage your babies, in play, read to them, show them love and attention, and let them explore they will learn. For toddlers playing IS learning. They don’t care about any of your plans or how you have made up a Pinterest worthy curriculum, or homeschool corner. Your babies will quickly disabuse you of those well laid plans, and when they do, let them. Following their lead and giving them the support and tools they need to fulfill their curiosities will lead to far more “learning” then memorizing letters and sounds. As our children grow we must remember, there is no need for our children to be engaged in “school activities” for 8 hours a day. There is no need for your child to be doing four hours of busy work to “reenforce” their learning. If you give them support, space, and guidance your children will learn. Encouraging them when they show interest in things that you may not think as “educational” can lead to the best learning experiences. For example if your child loves video games, encourage them to learn how video games are made, and maybe even ask them to make their own video games. If they love watching YouTube videos, ask them what they like about the videos, would they like to try making their own videos? If so, encourage research about what is needed to make a video and see if they can put your own videos together. They will have to read, think, organize, depending on the interest, math may even be involved, learning is happening they are getting all the skills they need and creating amazing things in the process.
Remember our reasons for doing this, we want to raise independent, self reliant people, who can live a fullfilled life on their own terms. If we refocus, reimagine what success is for ourselves great learning will happen. Success should be about living life on your own terms, doing what makes you fulfilled and happy. Trust that you have what you need to teach your child, and the wisdom to know when you need to contract out some of the education of your child to the village.
I am constantly asked how I do it. How are my kids so, smart, creative, happy, well adjusted? Well, truth is, we are constantly evolving in how we go about our education. During this evolution I came to the realization that I need to take my kids lead. They are smart, wise, and know what they need. Believe me when I say there were plenty of missteps, especially with the three oldest, they were definitely guinea pigs. By the time it came to the twins homeschooling, our homeschool evolved into this hybrid, an unschooling, project based, self directed learning, monster that completely works for us. My kids, want freedom in some things, and want structure in other aspects. I learned to hang back and let them rock, when they need me they tell me. My husband says, at this point we are just the adults in the room, the ones they need to get them on the ride, as it were. They love being creative, we helped find outlets for them and let them run with it. Music, fan-fiction writing, poetry, cosplay, drawing, learning to make their own pop up books, coding, these are all their ideas. We throw in math and help them to read, sprinkle in some history with a healthy dose of science, and technology and that’s it. I understand that this may not be the recipe for success for everyone, point is that we figured out our own recipe, and I greatly encourage you to do the same. The way I went about striving for success as we saw it, was by no longer worrying about how it looks to others. I stopped getting myself tangled up in knots over whether they will be “ready” for college at eighteen years old. The questions about socialization, and what “grade” they are in, and if they were reading and doing math at “grade level” no longer fill me with dread. These questions always make me roll my eyes, and if you catch me on a bad day you may get some heavy shade, if I choose to answer those questions. Really, I couldn’t care less what society as a whole thinks about our family and how we educate ourselves. This is as much, and sometimes more, of a learning journey for me and my husband. We are constantly learning, and I still have to fall back and check myself when those old notions of success creep in to tell me we are doing it all wrong.
Let me end by sharing some things I wish someone could have told me when we embarked on this journey. First, do not play the comparison game, that just leads to stress that is unwanted and unneeded. If you are thinking of homeschooling, take time to unlearn the bad habits, deschool, decolonize, and talk to people whose homeschool style you admire before you begin. Seriously assess how you view success and think about whether your quest for success has left you content, fulfilled, joyous, or has it made you feel like a hamster on a wheel. If it’s the latter check that shit before you engage in homeschooling, and do some soul searching on what you would like success to be for you as the educator. If it’s the former then go with that. Talk to your children always and often, let them define success for themselves. If you are currently on a homeschool journey and are feeling all these stresses. Stop. Breathe. Reassess. Deschool. Reevaluate. And finally construct your own definition of success, write it down, keep it close, and when you feel those old feelings and stresses creeping back, read it to yourself. Remember success is what YOU make it. Your success, your children’s success can ONLY be defined by you and your children.
*( I know I have mentioned my own anxiousness through out this piece, I am by no means saying that if you have an anxiety disorder that changing your definition of success will keep you from suffering from any of the effects of anxiety. I am only speaking of anxiousness not tied to anxiety disorder or any other mental illness. I would never suggest that this will be a fix for any mental health disorders. Please, always take care of yourself and seek professional help if you suffer from depression and anxiety. Peace.)