[in mid-November DH and I sent the kids to the grandparents and went on a short European tour of Zurich, Vienna, and the Czech Republic. I took way too many pictures of doors.]
Even the most relaxed homeschooling parents usually still have some bottom line subjects they insist on, or a level of competence they expect no matter what.
Often we talk about this in terms of keeping doors open. A kid who says “but when will I ever really use algebra?” is likely to grow up and a) want to go to college and quite possibly b) go into a field in which solid math skills are necessary.
[These were in the back of the Spilberk Castle in Brno. I especially liked the hinges.]
Sounds reasonable so far.
But then the questions come: How long do you hold the doors open for your kids before you let them close? How many doors can you keep open at once? For parents of kids with multiple interests and multiple talents, stretching far enough to keep all the doors open starts to feel like spinning too many plates. So which doors do you keep open?
[The door on the left is from the Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland; the door on the right is from the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Brno.]
Math is a big one for most families. “Math is cumulative,” people say. Slack off for a bit and that lost time will come back to bite you later. For some “English” is big: spelling, grammar, vocabulary building.
As we move further along the relaxed spectrum, and as my 13yo reaches high school transcript age, this is a big question for me: Am I keeping the doors open? What doors am I closing?
[More castle doors in Brno. There must have been quite an artisan in the area at some point in the castle’s long history.]
So far I’ve figured out two things:
1. At a certain point, it’s no longer my job to keep the door open. That feeling that I am stretching too far probably means that I am stretching too far. I’ve shown the kid the door, I’ve made my best argument for why we should leave it open, but I just can’t make someone walk through. Anyway, most doors that have closed can be opened again by a motivated young adult.
2. There are more doors than you think. I have to say, I have never heard anyone argue, “I insist on my child continuing music lessons because I want to keep the door to a musical career open.” No parent has ever told me, “I told my child to spend lots of time role playing, because I want to keep the door open for a career as a novelist, playwright, or actor.” Aren’t drawing skills cumulative too?
I suppose it’s easy to argue that if a kid is “really passionate” or if it’s “meant to be” she will find a way. One could argue that math is a door you have to keep pushing open for them; art is a door they will run through at every opportunity.
But hogwash, to put it mildly. A kid who’s keeping every door open doesn’t have that many opportunities. She’s too busy scraping herself like butter over too much bread. And some kids know very clearly that some doors lead to parental (or social) admiration and support, while others are for lesser minds and also-rans. In other words, there is a point at which insisting that some doors stay open means that others close.
[The Grossmünster in Zurich; Spillberk in Brno. The Grossmünster door at least is relatively recent: no doubt Zwingli and Bollinger would not have approved.]
Careers in the arts are incredibly competitive — that’s what makes them so scary to parents who want their children to grow up and support themselves. All the time that goes into building a robust Plan B, however, is time that is not going into developing a craft. And whether either or both of our kids have careers in the arts, they’ll likely find that having some fluency in a creative medium makes life a lot better.
I can’t say that I feel totally confident about moving in a more unschooly direction: blog posts like this are about convincing myself, not necessarily sharing my brilliant insights with the world. But I can’t say that I felt totally confident about the path we seemed in danger of starting down: relegating genuine talents and passions to the back burner in order to be sure our homeschooling met some made-up definition of “college prep” — to say nothing of what happens to our relationships and quality of life along the way.
[Doors to one of the many art museums in Vienna, nearly three stories high; a yarn-bombed door on an office building in Brno.]
I am curious, though, whether we’ll eventually find out that “keeping the door open” has been an insufficient metaphor all along.