Last year at this time, we made a huge decision. Based on our family’s needs, our oldest son’s needs and taking into account his strengths and weaknesses, we decided to send him to a charter school. I had homeschooled him from his beginning and I still fully believe in the merits of home education (I have two other sons I continue to teach at home), but simply said, there needed to be some new elements added to the life of my oldest.
Keeping in mind that there is good and bad, sweet and sorrow, “beauty and blood” in everything I’ll just say that we’ve had a year of growth opportunities. New struggles have popped up but new joys were found as well. Now that we’re at the end of the year, it seems right to evaluate our experience. And it seems right to do it gracefully.
Unexpectedly, I didn’t feel the relief; the fulfillment of that wistful, desperate homeschooler’s dream wherein the yellow bus comes and takes our ornery children off to school making all things right. There was no wistfulness in my heart when he left our home each day. In fact, my favorite time of day became 3:00 -- when I got to have him back. On our ride home we’d talk through his day, make a plan for getting the week’s assignments done, walk through tough situations he’d had and I got a general feel for the state of his heart. So very sensitive to the state of his heart. And based on that daily conversation, either my peace was proved or my suspicions confirmed. The rising and falling action were continual for me.
My days were filled with a new kind of tension. A homeschooler at heart, sending my child to an institution grated on me for the entire year. Those first months I was looking for reasons to pull him out and bring him home and almost fell prey to creating an insurmountable situation just so I could do that. I had to buy him boxer shorts because his tightie whities were pointed out in the locker room. His math teacher tried to put him two years behind in his placement based on my brilliant quirky kid’s performance on one math entrance exam. They couldn’t keep his records with confidentiality. I didn't see the results of his hearing screening. The lunch menu wasn’t published in time for him to take part in pizza day. You name it & I made an enormous desolate internal mountain out of it.
But I never had, and still don’t have, a peace about bringing him home. As much as I hated the negative peer interaction, the amount of volunteer time we had to put in, the lack of communication between the school and the parent, and the daily exposure to degenerate phrases and values, I really loved the content he was working with in his core classes. He was reading Poe and Bradbury, writing poetry, drawing. They covered rough riders, concentration camps, genetics and other topics I hadn’t even scratched the surface of. His science teacher actually skipped the chapter on evolution and he aced his human reproduction test. I was okay with both of those.
The son I have at the end of the year is different from the son I sent at the beginning. Through different forms of hardship, he has learned more about who he is. His experiences with bullying put him a position to confront his aggressor with objectivity and to consider his own levels of compassion. (In the end his words to me were, “Maybe one day, I hope he and I can be friends.”) His class time rekindled his love for the social justice of FDR, his speaking abilities were affirmed, his leadership qualities surfaced. They read together 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and I saw him implementing the habits in his own pre-adolescent baby-step kind of way. He figured out that grades are really strange ways of measuring knowledge and ability, but learned to roll with them when they offered the honor roll kids ice cream. In his first semester when the social aspects were really, really tough, he reminded himself that he was there to learn and if the kids around him were getting in the way of that he’d have to adjust. All of my conferences with his teachers were positive and complementary and I like to think he was a bright spot in that school, which was something I never imagined that my easily frustrated, explosive, inflexible, brilliant, romantic child could be.
I didn’t love the peer interactions that he had. He had a couple good buddies that seemed to be the grease in the wheels of his day. But, when the parents’ end-of-the-year survey asked me if he felt respected by his peers I had to say, “no.” For the most part, his peers are clueless to the ways of grace and integrity. Of course, I wasn’t there with him every day. I missed those small moments of acceptance that must have been there. I didn’t hear his teachers’ affirming words. I didn’t see how his principle noticed the days when J wasn’t his happy self. I have to give the school the benefit of the doubt, that at least the adults around him really did care and really did try to make learning and growth happen. I’ve been in youth ministry. I know that you can only give young people an opportunity, but they must choose to take it.
We've decided that he will return to his school next year, where he will have all the same teachers, will know the culture and will understand the expectations from the moment he sets his size 10 foot through the doors. And I will learn again to live with the tension of wanting to teach him myself in a place where he is loved and yet wanting him to make personal choices while he still has me to run home to. He is becoming himself and being challenged and he can stay as long as we see him moving toward those two things.
In the end he made the honor roll both semesters and his goal is to make the dean’s list. He performed at a higher standard because that’s what we had always expected of him and it’s the standard he’s now adopted for himself. He performed quality work. He engaged in the things that captured his heart and politely completed the rest. His teachers awarded him with the ownership award for exhibiting that “key of excellence.” He was given the opportunity to make good choices outside of my reach and to my proud delight. He recognized that the values of the world really are very different than the values of our family and he chose to stick with the family’s values. He still hugs me, still says he loves me, and I didn’t lose him just because I let go of his hand.