Tuesday, August 27, 2013

DON'T try this at home

This post is not for the faint of heart.  If you disregard this warning and choose to read on, I accept no responsibility for the nausea, queasiness, or feelings of revulsion that may follow.

This post is about homeschooling and Bavarian headcheese.

What, you may ask, do these things have in common?  In my limited experience, they are both things that one should not, under any circumstances (unless you are a trained, licensed, bonded and insured professional) try at home.

I picked up this package of Bavarian headcheese on a whim, as an answer to Suresh's previous choice of tasty, spicy slices of capicola, from the deli. I had no idea what "headcheese" was, all I knew was that it looked interesting, had a fascinating name, and that I was in Berkeley and it was time to break out of old patterns and try new things.  Suresh and I have a long-standing tradition of hosting date-nights at home for each other, in which we'd get a bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese we had never tried before, and maybe some cold cuts and a baguette, and nibble away in front of a movie after the children were in bed.  So with something similar in mind, I tossed the headcheese into my basket without a second thought.

When we opened the package yesterday evening, a pickled meat aroma greeted us. Not to be dissuaded by the meat slices' rubbery feel (because, as you recall, I was breaking boundaries!  Experiencing new things! I am on sabbatical, dang it all!), I slid a piece of the meat-gel conglomerate into my mouth. Not bad, but not good either. Then Suresh had the brilliant idea of googling just what this stuff was, and how it got its name. (I recommend you do not do this, for your own peace of mind.). After we found out, I was nauseous the rest of the evening. I am still in shock that a) someone once thought that making congealed head parts into something edible was a good idea and b) Safeways, of all places, is allowed to sell the stuff in stores. I am also constantly checking myself for the first symptoms of Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, which my over-active amygdala is quite convinced I have contracted from the experience.

This is precisely how a seemingly good and innocent idea (trying out something new at a grocery store) can lead to chaos, despair, and ultimately one's own demise.

The same may very well be true for homeschooling: a simple, innocent-sounding idea that can go very very wrong in the wrong hands.  Let's consider this endeavor for a moment. Two sweet young boys, with their whole lives ahead of them, and who have absolutely no say in the matter, are kept at home by their well-meaning but misguided mother who can convince herself, even momentarily, that eating something called "headcheese" is a good idea.  You begin to see what I mean. There are no pre-requisites for this year-long engagement.  I didn't have to apply for a license to teach my children (even though to be a teacher in any public school you need to have a license).  I didn't have to undertake any additional schooling for this job or even student-teach under the watchful eye of a master elementary school teacher. I simply walked into the district office, provided proof of residency, put down Independent Study as my choice for my children, and walked out, with all my documentation signed and approved. I didn't have to provide any proof that my husband and I would do a good job as the sole educators of our children. To legally drive a car, I would have had to produce several forms of identification, pay fees, fill out several forms, take a test proving that I could read, write, follow directions, and assimilate knowledge on some rudimentary level, and then I would have had to actually get in the car and prove that I could maneuver a vehicle with some degree of competence.  Not so when placed at the helm of the family's educational schooner on uncharted waters.

Well-meaning friends have looked at me when I voiced my concerns and said with all kindness and optimism, "Don't worry, you'll do fine." Perhaps they are thinking I will "do fine" because I survived stay-at-home motherhood for half a decade while the boys were still infants and toddlers relatively unscathed (not counting the numerous times I hid from the kids in the bathroom using yoga breaths to keep from hyperventillating). Perhaps it is because there is some misguided notion that if you have a PhD, then you did well at school and therefore are fully equipped to help others do well at school. What they don't realize is that a PhD is precisely the degree that you do not want to have in order to give your children a good elementary education.  Having a PhD means I have spent the last few decades of my life focusing intensely on the detailed minutiae of one tiny aspect of the universe, in my case, fruit fly and human genetics, at the expense of everything else. And in some ways, that expense can be costly. I may be able to describe how the fourth wing vein of Drosophila melanogaster is formed in intimate detail, but frankly, I don't think I could pick out Justin Timberlake from a lineup of Caucasian men. I could tell you about the putative role arbaclofen has in the treatment of types of autism and Fragile X Syndrome, but I can't keep my mind from wandering wildly as I hear a child chant his multiplication tables, waving him off with a, "That sounds fine, dear." I don't see dirty laundry on the floor, or crumbs on the kitchen countertop, or even register that my younger son has eaten a whole bag of M&Ms when I'm reading a paper, looking up something on Pubmed, or googling the function of a new gene just linked to obesity.  I am wholly unqualified to be a homeschool teacher, and yet signing up to do it was actually one of the easiest things I've done, administratively speaking, in my life.

That deep knowledge, that I am completely unqualified to be at the reins of my children's education, and have no safety net, no higher governmental authority or some kind of Council for the Welfare of Childrens' Minds to turn to, is what keeps me up at night.  Perhaps it is the PhDs of this world who actually require more watching over, more practical help, more infusions of common sense than the rest of us. After all, where was a higher authority looking over my shoulder at my shopping basket in the grocery store when I needed her?

Tomorrow we go to meet the children's Independent Study Coordinator/Teacher for the first time. I'm hoping against hope that this person will be that authority for me, looking over my shoulder when I start getting dangerous thoughts about the things I could teach my children ("Come here and let's look at your hot dog under the microscope!") and stepping in when I want to start feeding them the academic equivalent of headcheese.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Karen! I loved reading your post. I think I would feel exactly the same way about both the head cheese and homeschooling. But let's look at the positives: 1. You knew Justin Timberlake is Caucasian and 2. You can't mess your boys up in 1 year. It's your own sanity you need to protect. Keep writing! Vita