So homeschooling is turning out to be kind of like sobriety? Which started as a joke—and no, I am not an alcoholic or addict, except for being a former smoker, which does, actually, count—but on thinking about it, I wonder if there might, actually, be a more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression. Or for that matter, addiction and mental illness. At least, in my experience of the latter, a big part of the problem is the gap between conception and reality. One sees problems globally and is overwhelmed by realizing that you can only chip away at them in tiny increments, or imagines a fabulous project or goal but is frozen with anxiety by not knowing how to start, or by perceiving the enormous gap between starting and actually achieving the thing.
I’m starting to think that this gap is a big problem for “gifted” kids—kids in particular, because their abilities are so limited simply by the circumstance of being a child. PK often complains, for example, that he can’t get research funding (!) or access to “real” scientific equipment. He has a chemistry set, but of course no lab, and was enormously disappointed in middle school when he realized that he wasn’t going to have access to a school lab until seventh grade. He frequently feels overwhelmed when he comes face to face with the gap between what he knows and what an adult knows, for instance when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven. And yes, this kind of thing depresses him, and his anger and sense of despair over it remind me, a bit, of the addicts I know and have known. I have read a bit lately connecting these things—if I were better organized, I would provide some links, but my learning curve on this stuff is so steep right now that I’m not paying too much attention to mapping my path yet, just to trying to keep my footing.
One of the things I am figuring out, though, is that homeschooling a kid is more about “forcing yourself” to do the work “to focus, to pay attention, to offer dedicated support,” than it is about forcing the kid, as this really helpful and thought-provoking blogger points out; “by setting aside those blocks of time, you are making it more likely that [your kid] will be able to do the work she wants to do. You are helping her turn her ideas into reality.” This has always been a problem for me with PK, and I’ll bet I’m not the only parent with a bright kid who has it: if I followed every new whim or passion of his, I’d never have time for my own thoughts (and dammit, he gets his brains from me and the husband, and as a brainy person myself, I value time with my own thoughts!). It would be impossible to keep up, and prohibitively expensive to boot.
But I can, and am beginning to, not only provide him the space but also some carefully-researched and chosen materials. So, for instance, the Interactive Mathematics Program that a reader of my other blog recommended. Yes, I am having to “force” him to do it in the sense that he is not going and picking up the book on his own; but it’s not at all in the way that I used to have to “force” him to do his math homework. The way it works is that I say, “let’s do some math,” and maybe we negotiate a bit on whether to do it Right This Moment or In A Little While, and then we sit down and read the book and talk about and work through the problems together. (Which works great with this curriculum, by the way, since that’s how it’s designed to be done.) It’s challenging to me as well as to him—not least because, as the adult/teacher/parent, it’s on me to stay calm when he starts to get frustrated, and to subtly and indirectly keep him on task by staying curious and calmly saying, “I’m going to keep trying to figure this out” when he stomps off in a huff (which SO COMPLETELY WORKS by the way—literally less than a minute later he was back with a new idea, and eventually we worked through last night’s problem). And because math is, in fact, something that he wants to learn, that’s what he needs: the focused, supportive hand-holding to help him struggle with and through his fear and frustration when it gets hard and scary.
I’m not gonna lie: there are times when I completely fucking hate that I am having to take on the unpaid, uncredentialed job of being his dedicated teacher. And the limits in terms of money, time, and patience reinforce my belief that it would be far more effective and cost-efficient to provide this stuff collectively, through the public education system. As we in the US are in a historic moment of enormous educational inflexibility, though, and we’re collectively too goddamn cheap to provide those resources in public schools (see above re. no lab for sixth-grade science just for starters), well, thank providence PK’s mother has the (credentialed!) research skills, connections, and years of therapy to be able to find the material and step up to the plate with the dedicated support, while his father has the income-earning potential, math/science background and motivation to back me up.