Last week, the 13-year-old whom I co-teach two days a week, the daughter of my good friend M., did not come to my house with her younger sister to learn Latin and History with me, or English with my other friend H. She was off all day "shadowing" a ninth-grader at a high school near her home, a well-regarded "classical academy," because she and her family are trying to discern whether high school for her, instead of homeschool, is the best choice for their family next fall. So I gave a quiz in Latin (so she wouldn't miss anything), and her "classmates" (H.'s sixth-grade son and mine) worked on history by themselves -- an ordinary sort of lesson, I saved the art project for the next time -- and we thought about her all day while we were serving lunch and later making tea.
Yesterday, we asked her how it went. "It was really fun," she told me. "The girl I was with was one of those really fun, bubbly types. She had a weird schedule. We sat with her friend at lunch, and the friend had been homeschooled. Pottery class was fun -- I made an ear. I went to an astronomy class, and that was really interesting."
M. told me: "She really liked it. It's only four miles away from the house, too -- she could ride her bike to school."
H. told me with no little pride: "They were studying the Iliad in English class, and she got to participate in the discussion." I found a brochure in their kitchen she had brought home: "Why Study Latin?" explaining all the benefits to logical thinking, future language study, and vocabulary building. I wondered how I -- I mean she -- would do when she took a placement test before beginning school.
If she takes the placement test, I mean. "She isn't in yet. But she probably will, because they have a lot of attrition and turnover between eighth and ninth grade. And of course it isn't decided yet."
There is so much to think about here.
First, the inevitable: Can our kids really be this old? When I met this girl she was barely walking, toddling around with a piece of cake that fell off her plate and that she subsequently trod upon. I watched her learn to talk. She was the little girl whom I looked to to learn what I, the mother of a firstborn a bit younger than she, had in store for me in a year or so. It was bad enough when she turned thirteen last year, but can she really be getting ready for high school work? I guess I had better start getting our family ready too.
Next: if she goes to school next year, I will miss her so much! You might think that it would be more work to teach three than to teach two, but it really is not so. She is so delightful and adds so much to the discussions we have. The kids do a lot of teaching each other, of course, and it warms my heart to see someone so serious about printing labels on her maps clearly and legibly, about making the sketches and diagrams so detailed and beautifully colored. She loves writing verse that doesn't just tell the story, but that sounds elegant to the ear and has accurate meter. She loves composing sentences. And I truly enjoy working with her -- it is a real motivation to create a good lesson, for a young woman who will be eager to do the work and learn from it. I had been planning to teach the kids proof-based geometry when they had all finished enough algebra -- I just know she would love it, all those constructions and careful logical steps, and I was more excited about teaching her and sharing that (admittedly really geeky) passion I have for the subject than I was about teaching anybody else.
But: Whatever is best for her, well, I want that too. I will be so sad to see her leave our little school group. ("She'll come back around three in the afternoon," H. said to me hopefully this morning. "The boys won't be done with their work yet. Maybe she'll want us to tutor her.")
Still, the school exists for the child, not the child for the school. We don't send our children into the schools of any kind to spend hours per day just so they can improve the general environment. We send them to school to learn and grow and to gather, not to spend themselves for someone else's benefit. I know this. Most homeschoolers do. We are familiar with the accusation leveled at us that we, the involved parents, are selfishly keeping our children to ourselves instead of sending then away to strengthen the peer group at the neighborhood public school, instead of sending them out to float a foundering diocesan school system, instead of employing them to prop up the fragile charter-school movement. And of course we hope that the public school system will be stronger, that the diocesan schools will thrive, that the charter-school movement will flourish, because everyone is better off when there are plenty of good choices.
But every family's first responsibility is to its own health, safety, and growth. That is the whole purpose of being in families: to know and be known, to grow and to thrive, protected and cared for as someone's "own." Communities, extended families, even "chosen" extended families like our little tribe, all exist to support those little cores of "own-ness," not to supplant it.
So I want what is best for this young lady who is not mine, even if I have to do some work, letting go and standing back, learning to watch. As with so many other things, she is still teaching me what I have to look forward to.