What I’m Sure of in This Uncertain Time
Where politics, education, and family converge
In the waiting, that’s where I am, we are. Seven-something on Wednesday morning, the day after the U.S. presidential election. No winner yet declared. My kids still in bed after a late night of results watching.
We can do that, stay up late and sleep in late, because we homeschool. Because we’re privileged with the means and I have the drive to do so.
Technically, we’re unschoolers. No curriculum; life-led learning instead. My kids gorge themselves on it, their understanding of current events, science, society, and geography far exceeding my own at their ages (9 and 11). They spend much of their days in pursuit of answers to explicit and unconscious questions curiosity prompts them to ask.
We have a good thing going, the three of us. We make a great team, a forward-looking unit that I get to guide. They each guide us too. Innate qualities intact — wonder, eagerness to learn, egalitarianism — they explore and build on these each day. Because of them, because of the culture we’ve created within our family, I do too.
No, they don’t know many of the things kids in traditional schools do, but they know more, other things, things that are of vast importance in the world I hope we build. They’re educated in a way that combines factual knowledge with curiosity, care, conviction, and problem-solving.
Education is inherently a values-laden endeavor, and they’re learning my values, our family’s values, values that speak to the betterment of people all over the world. We measure ourselves and our success differently than we would in school or in a traditional approach to education. Actually, we don’t measure ourselves at all.
I’m not compelled to grade them and express pride over their ability to jump through hoops and call it learning. I’m not compelled to compare them to others their age or force them into competition with one another.
Instead, I’m open to learning as it comes, to living in the moment-to-moment absorption of life, of allowing ourselves to explore the uncomfortable, to attempt to see through others’ eyes. There is no amount of facts they could temporarily stuff in their heads that could surpass the foundational way of being they’re building upon now.
They may never go to an Ivy League college. They may never go to any college, though they could. They may win no praise for their ability to take standardized tests. They may never be rewarded for a string of A’s. Primarily because I’m their mother, and none of this matters to me. (I’ve been down that path—accolades for being the smartest in my elementary class, graduate from a prestigious, independent high school, National Merit Finalist, academic college scholarship offers, Bachelor of Science degree, Masters degree—and I reject much—all?— of it.)
As a stay-at-home mom to two young kids I yearned for, among other things, the mental stimulation lacking in such a role. I find it now, in part, in our learning, in the consideration of our learning, in the consideration of how we’re growing as people. I find it in channeling the mental acuity I was labeled at a young age as possessing into reading, writing, talking to my kids, and exposing us to the world and a variety of people in it.
My kids play regularly with their friends from Trump-supporting families. I mention this not as a push to love thy neighbor but to say that if we stay true to who we are and who we know ourselves to be, if we maintain curiosity, care, and conviction, then that—not segregating ourselves from others or throwing them away—is the best we can do. That’s the best I can ask of them and of me.
I have faith in us, the three of us, individually and collectively. Unwavering faith that we will change and, where necessary, be changed. That we will move and be moved. That we are the best of humanity much of the time and that from our worst we can learn and repair.
When so much is uncertain and scary and potentially life-threatening, I’m sure of my kids and I’m sure of myself.