Yesterday morning the temperature was a rousing twelve degrees below zero. The air was still when I awoke, but the wind had howled throughout much of the night, forming graceful wave-like patterns in the accumulated snow. I love this weather, the cold not merely a factor but a force. There is an emotional quality to any weather, of course, but for me, nothing is so evocative as deep cold. I’m not sure why.
It has been a very long time since I’ve written about education, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Mostly I’ve been thinking about how my ideas have broadened and softened with time, not from any specific experience, but rather, I think, from an evolving understanding that rigidness in thought is a precursor to assumption. Or, as someone put it to me recently, a great deal of certainty leads to judgment, while an acceptance of uncertainty fosters compassion. And not merely for others, but for oneself. Naturally, this applies to so much more than one’s beliefs around education.
I think the homeschooling (and particularly those of us following an even less conventional path) community often finds itself a defensive posture, perhaps in no small part due to the certainty of others that our educational choices are not valid. And when one feels judged in such a manner, the most natural thing to do is to dig in, to deflect that judgment and with it – let’s be honest – the possibility of substance in the views behind that judgment. And so, rather than acknowledging our own uncertainty (and I know of very, very few home and unschoolers who do not at times experience uncertainty) and the inherent vulnerability that comes with uncertainty, we double down in the opposite direction.
(This may be patronizingly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: This pattern is precisely why we find ourselves in such a divisive political landscape)
I say this with our older son having just completed a self-designed independent study program through a nearby high school, focused on guitar building and blues guitar playing. He loved it, and not just for the study itself, but for the opportunity to be part of the school community, albeit on a very part-time basis. He is currently designing an independent study for the coming semester around issues of climate justice and direct action, and I am incredibly grateful for the doors his advisor is opening for him, and the mentors who are offering their time and experience. An interesting aside: When it became clear that he wanted something more than what we could offer at home, we visited a half-dozen schools in the area (our town has school choice, which made all this possible). How shocking to experience the vast differences in offerings and overall “vibe” between these public schools, and how fortunate we feel to have found this unique program within reasonable driving distance.
I guess this isn’t really a post about education after all. It’s really just about certainty vs uncertainty, and therefore, judgment vs compassion. It is only now, late-learner that I am, that I’m coming to understand how being less certain can be liberating. And I think it’s liberating because it aligns with an inescapable truth: Life is uncertain. It is fraught and messy and beautiful and hard and I suppose the best thing we can do through it all is try to remain compassionate and curious. We’re are going to fail at this, over and over and over. With our kids, with our partners, with our friends. With ourselves.
But failure too is good and important because it is also an inescapable truth. You can try all you want to avoid it, and indeed, this is what we are taught to do. So yeah, go ahead and try to avoid. But know this: You’re going to fail.