Friday, June 10, 2016

School Doesn't Always Matter...and We Shouldn't Treat it Like It Has To

Kirsten is a homeschooling mom and administrator of the PACT homeschooling academy of Natomas Charter School. She loves all things education. Questions about homeschooling? Email her at

This month we lost my stepfather, Matt. It was unexpected and tough. I found myself writing an obituary for a man who spent 35 years serving California as a Firefighter. When he decided to retire, he worked at the State Fire Marshall's office as a Deputy Chief.

His title and job were impressive. More importantly, he was someone who made you feel like you were his best friend after being in the room with him for five minutes. His friends and wife jokingly pointed out his adult ADHD as the reason he could never sit still and probably a key to his success as a firefighter and law enforcement officer. He could not stop moving, talking, doing. He lived for the opportunity to grab his badge and gear to  be a part of the action.

When I spent time with Matt's mother in the days preceding and following his passing, she did what all moms do. She comforted those around her.

"Robert was very special to Matt, he talked about him all the time." She told me as she hugged me. "He called him his grandson."

I knew about their relationship. When we went to Grandma's the question is always, "Is Matt there?" Whatever Matt was doing, Robert wanted to do.

 Matt's mom was the counselor at Sacramento High School when hers sons and daughter were students. She told me the story of how he found fire fighting.

"Matt hated school. There were other things he wanted to do. We would not let him get his driver's license because of his GPA. When he graduated high school, I knew he wasn't going to go to college, and I wondered....what are we going to do with him?"

It was at the end of his Senior year that a flier landed on  her desk for the fire academy.

"...and I thought, this is what we are going to do." She smiled as she told the story and explained that after a few weeks they all knew he had found his niche. It was after the academy that she discovered her son really WAS a reader. A voracious reader. Mom and son often swapped books. "When he was in school he didn't read!"

While writing his obituary I referenced his resume. He steadily rose through the ranks of CAL FIRE. At some point he did get his AA in Fire Science, but the AA was the least impressive of his accomplishments and training. In fact, his list of accomplishments was surprising to me. His humble, down to earth nature never hinted at what he was doing on the job.

The number of people he mentored and colleagues who respected him wasn't on his resume, but were apparent on the days preceding his funeral with the number of men and women who sought me out to talk to me about Matt's impact on them.

As the mom of a son who doesn't particular like school or think school matters, I often wonder if I am doing the right thing by not trying harder to ignite his passion for learning and traditional school.

When his standardized scores come in and he is in the  middle of the road (when his IQ says he should be much higher) I have second thoughts about spending my homeschooling time doing interest led learning units on World War II and Donuts. Those scores often make me consider running straight to the local Huntington Learning Center.

I often second guess my decision to let Robert join the Lincoln Youth Shooting League and Nerf Boot Camp instead of forcing him to play little league baseball, take robotics, or attend coding camp. I mean, when your kid is drawing pictures of guns on his testing privacy screen during SBAC, it can cause raised eye brows.

That little kernel of fear in the pit of my stomach begs the question, "What is going to happen to him, what am I going to do with him?" and must be like what Matt's mom felt 35 years ago.

She must have been pretty brave and smart (or desperate?!) not to try and shove him into a college shoe that didn't fit. Something that most parents now, can't imagine doing.

Because college debt, an unhappy (and under employed) millennial is better than an adult child with no college degree, right?

Somehow, liking school and being good at school has become (at times) more important than the particular aptitudes of a child. It has become a measuring stick by which parents are measured and considered a benchmark towards becoming a successful person.

Teachers feel the pressure, too. Somehow if we create the most engaging lesson plans or turn it into a Minecraft project, even the kid who would rather be at home, in his room reading,  will LOVE learning!

Uhhhh....sometimes a kid just doesn't like school. And that needs to be okay. Their dislike of school should not be a commentary on them as a person, their future, their teachers, or their up bringing.

The past few weeks have confirmed for me that really, school doesn't have to matter.  For some kiddos, school is an exercise in patience until they can move on to what REALLY matters to them.

When I think about the people Matt impacted, the communities and people he protected, and the role he played in Robert's life I think about all that we would have sacrificed if Matt's Mom had thrown away the flier and insisted that a degree had to happen "first" or if CAL FIRE had required a degree before he was allowed into the Fire Academy.

As an educator, I am more motivated than ever to help students find and develop their passion instead of forcing them onto one path.

As a mom, I hope I am strong enough to stand by my own kid as he discovers what is important and meaningful to him.

I am more sure that his stubborn personality will allow him to  resist my pressure or society's pressure to LOVE school or get a degree IF there are more interesting and relevant things he wants to do.

Thank you Matt. Love you.

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