Saturday, March 14, 2009

Measuring Success

The child that triggered our entry into the homeschooling world 9 years ago is going to graduate in June. He is a terrific young man, and I am for the most part satisfied that I've done the right things for him.

Yet I have to admit his education never quite lived up to all my hopes and aspirations. The detailed plans I had laid out, all the great books I had listed to read in each grade, and all the tomes on art, philosophy and science I had bought were put aside in resignation, one by one. We went from great books to "pretty darn good" books, to "dear God just let him read something" books. My dreams crashed head on into his reality somewhere in 7th grade. It shouldn't have surprised me as we had a similar crash when he was in 2nd grade that led to the decision to pull him out of school.

That decision to homeschool was the first radical adjustment I made to accommodate his educational needs, but it was an easy adjustment in those elementary school because he was a little sponge. But between his puberty and my increasingly grand educational plans, things stopped working in 7th grade and I had to readjust my expectations of what his education should be. But we hit a wall again in 8th grade and again in 9th, even 10th. Each year I'd have grand plans for hard core academics, get-him-ready-for-college academics, and each year I'd get frustrated and angry that it wasn't working. But I also knew enough to realize the fact that his interests are the best way to get through to him, the best way for him to connect with a subject and learn. He actually tests as gifted, but is hard wired differently than most. Somehow I had to make math relate to Disneyland, 20th century American history to theater, or theater lighting relate to science, that was the only way he would learn and thrive.

I finally raised a white flag during 10th grade and decided to just let him have lots of theater electives, pile them on and graduate him early so he can get out into the world and start working. The kid has not been typical since the day he was born -- what was I thinking in expecting him to be typical now?

I know he has at least some basic academic and life skills. He can write a decent 5 paragraph essay and writes with a passionate voice. With the help of ritalin he can read, take notes and study, but he will always need every accommodation a school can offer. He can clean a bathroom and cook some food, balance a checkbook. He may yet learn how to drive. But where he really shines is in the theater where he can easily put in a 12 hour day, singing, acting AND programing lights, and be happy as a clam.

Other moms congratulate me all the time, saying what a great job I've done, about what a neat kid he is. I don't know quite what to say. I don't know if I can take any credit as I feel like I've just been trying every creative way I can to keep up with this kid for 17 years now. He wasn't cut out for the typical school, so I have just tried to create an education where he can succeed. It is absolutely terrifying to have given him such an unorthodox education when everything in me screams for the traditional route.

The biggest credit to his success I think goes to the wonderful mentors who for the last 4 years have patiently let him explore lighting design, who have coached him in singing, and who have loved him through his ups and downs. Those same mentors now trust in and rely on his expertise. He has earned the respect of all the adults with whom he works because he takes his work seriously, is talented and has a tremendous creative energy.

So how do I measure my success in homeschooling him? If it had to be measured with SAT scores and college acceptance letters, then I am a dismal failure. But if I get to measure it by the kind of young man he is, then guess I am a success. Even if I can't quite take all the credit!

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