Baffling The Experts

The Engineer watching a robot arm perform the task he coded.

It happened again this week.  The nurse asked the Engineer if he was having fun in school.  He hopped down the hallway behind her, blithely saying “I don’t go to school.  I’m homeschooled!”  She responded to him but had that baffled look on her face.

We get that look a lot: baffled.  Not hostile, not accepting, not enthusiastic.  Just confused.  Given how long homeschooling has been around, I’m rather confused myself.  Almost everyone I talk to has family who homeschools, or knows someone who homeschools.  It’s not new, right?

The confusion affects us in more ways than just conversation starters.  His specialist asked him if he was able to sit still in school and concentrate.  The Engineer had no idea how to answer that, so I stepped in and answered that we don’t do a lot of book work.  He’s five.  I explain that he thinks worksheets are boring.   The specialist was uncomfortable – he’s accustomed to making decisions  based on the child’s performance in school.  When we removed those educational expectations and met the Engineer at his level, it made things difficult for the doctor.

His pediatrician is more concerned about the Engineer’s demands on me.  He’s leaning toward medications so that I can catch a break.  That’s very thoughtful of him, but honestly that’s the worst reason I could think of to medicate my child.  In our pediatrician’s view, homeschooling is placing unnecessary stress on us as a family and as parents.  His goal is to work toward sending the Engineer off to public school.  My goal is to help my child learn and cope.  We’re at polite, understated odds.

I get it.  Homeschooling is much more confusing now than the simple religious stereotype.  There are more homeschoolers around than there used to be, and it’s even kind of trendy.  But, there are more types of homeschoolers than flavors of ice cream.  We homeschoolers excel at eclectic.  Just because you know one homeschooler doesn’t mean you understand the finer points to unschooling, classical, or coop homeschooling.  It’s confusing even for me, and I grew up immersed in the culture.

I want to write a letter to send to all my child’s doctors before they meet him.  Something like this:

Dear Doctor. 

You’re about to meet my son for the first time.  Sure, you have his diagnosis in front of you and you’re probably thinking you have a pretty good idea of what he’s like.  He’s so much more than that.  Yes, he’s five.  He’s young, but he knows a lot of really cool stuff that he just might share with you if he likes you.  Talk to him like you would an adult and you’ll be surprised what comes out of his mouth. 

This child loves to figure out how things work.  He makes associations that you, as a diagnostician, would probably love to do.  He loves learning and absorbs information like a sponge.  What he doesn’t like to do is sit still.  To do boring things, like worksheets, handwriting, and listening to people talk.  That doesn’t mean he’s misbehaving all the time, it means he’s immensely curious. 

We’re homeschooling him so that we can support that curiosity instead of crushing it.  Our school day doesn’t involve sitting at a table all day with textbooks, but I promise you that he’s learning every step of the way.  Please give him the respect that you would an adult, and answer his questions.  After all, he is your patient.  I’m just the guide. 

Sincerely, a very tired mom. 

If it wasn’t for the fact that I KNOW they wouldn’t read it, I would print this off and send it in to every single one of his doctors.

I’m sure this post comes across as something of an angry rant.  It’s not.  I’m amused, actually, because he never misses a beat: “I do school at home!”  He’s so positive and upbeat about it that they have to smile even as they look at me for confirmation.

I’m guessing that the traditional pedagogical learning model pervades our society at every level.  People who are otherwise supportive and well-meaning can’t envision a school where the child doesn’t do “schoolwork.”  How do you demonstrate learning without a worksheet or a test?  How do you even teach something without a textbook?

So far, we’re doing fairly well coming up with our own curriculum.  We’re using some textbooks like Story of the World for history, and we’re slowly making our way through Life of Fred for math.  Most of it, though, involves me taking a list of concepts he’s interested in and coming up with hands-on ways to learn them.  As he gets older and more advanced, this might be harder.  We’ll need more textbooks.  But, he can go research his own darn projects and I won’t have to!  I am looking forward to that point.

We did 3-D shapes the other day.  It was more of a review because I knew he already knew them.  So, I challenged him to use his new building toy (straws and connectors) to make the shapes I named.  The only one we couldn’t do was a cone because the straws made sides.  His dad got involved later and we ended up defining the different pyramid types based on the number of sides (3-sided pyramid is a tetrahedron.  I should video the Engineer saying that word.  It’s quite funny!)  So, spatial reasoning, fine motor skills practice, learning 3-D shapes, and a little Latin language roots thrown in and he’s mastered his shapes.

I could have printed out a worksheet for identifying 3-D shapes.  Would that have been as fun, or as educational?  Nope.  (note: yes, I know that teachers routinely do fun activities.  But, they don’t only do fun activities.  They might do 80% book work and 20% activity.  We do the reverse because that’s how the Engineer learns.)

I should point out that lots of kids love worksheets and textbooks.  They enjoy sitting down and seeing that progress that they’ve made.  That’s their learning style, and that’s great!  It just doesn’t work for the Engineer.

Sometimes I wish it did.  Life would be a bit easier.

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