Friday, August 22, 2008


'Beginnings are hard.'
--The Talmud

Several people--all homeschoolers--have asked me versions of this question:

"I'm more concerned about you. As a veteran homeschooler myself, I know what you mean about the feeling of loss. What are your plans? How do you feel about leaving your active role as a homeschool mom?" (Barbara Frank, August 19, 2008).

Homeshoolers who are in the trenches, and those already 'retired,' are well aware of how much of a homeschool mom's time and identity have been given to the project, and how much empty space there will now be for me as the Boychick tests his wings.

For us, homeschooling was an important part of our lives, but it was not the whole of our lives. The Engineering Geek is busy as always, balancing his professional responsibilites--which are considerable--with his home improvement projects and his commitments to scouts and amateur astronomy. But this summer, as I took a paid job that had me away from home most weekends, he was a bit testy about me not being there and some of the complications this produced for him and for us. Change is difficult for the Engineering Geek, unless and until he can get it all mapped out in his mind. When he fills in the "here there be dragons" places at the edges of his maps, the change becomes routine and he resumes his normal and preoccupied ways. He can then wander around the house, humming idiosyncratic nigunim* under his breath.

*A nigun (pl. nigunim) is a Hassidic invention: songs without words, hummed to syllables--ay,dai-dai or bim-bom-bum. These can go on in on in contrapunctual rhythms with variations for hours. The EG's are often set to The Beatles, the Tijuana Brass, or Pink Floyd, and quickly become variations on a theme.

For me, change is also difficult; I react by filling in my time with all kinds of activity, complaining, often loudly, about how overscheduled I have gotten myself. Once I then settle into a routine and prune some of the wild first growth of activity, settling on some projects that can sustain my interest, I then alternate between my organized /organizing state (which drives the rest of my family nuts), and a state of intense preoccupation with whichever project has alternated to the front burner. I can sustain this for roughly a semester. Usually at winter break, and again at the end of May, I become languid and slow. I wander unproductively, I sit and watch the clouds and shadows pass across the mountains. In December, I hibernate; In May, I flit. These periods, timed as they are, make me the perfect academic.

Aside: One reason that I had such difficulty with the IRD training is that for me, those weeks at the end of May are what I call the Time for Mind Wandering and Wool Gathering. I don't want to be bothered by anything more important than what to make for dinner.

So what are my plans?
I have a tendency to live life backwards. I left classroom teaching at the beginning of my Educational Anarchist journey. Living homeschooling life with the Boychick, and the thinking that I have done as I dwelt on the gifted ed fringes of special education, have taken me further into educational iconoclasm. This has brought me 'round to a place where I have wanted to learn from educational mavericks about the pedagogy of reading and writing. I am interested in reading and writing specifically, because these are the basis of western thought and classical education; and here, if anywhere, can be found the reasons for the failure of public school as Education, with a capital E.

My primary research interest has not shifted: I am still passionate about the neuropsychology of twice-exceptional children, especially those on the autism spectrum and/or those with "maverick minds." But my interest has always been focussed on the gap between the neurology and the kinds of teaching required to bring these brilliant, quirky kids into our world enough so that they can contribute to it, live good lives by their own standards, and, perhaps, bring our world and their world closer together.

These are the theoretical underpinnings of my plans. They are goals towards which my activities are directed. This year, though, where does the rubber meet the road? How does all of this get expressed in a practical way? How do I meet my goals now that I do not have the endless fascination of being with and guiding The Boychick on such a journey?

This summer, I learned quite a bit about the pedagogy of reading, practically, and from people who know reading, rather than from the Ivory Tower. Of course, being me, I did flesh out my experience with some neuropsychological study about how reading affects the brain, and changes thinking patterns in literate people.

While I was teaching this summer, I also applied for and received a Graduate Assistantship (GA) as a writing tutor in the College of Education's Graduate Writing Workshop. This will not only provide me with a tuition waver and a small stipend; I will be learning about the pedagogy of the writing process from the coordinator of the GWW and from my students. The model here is not one of the trendy educationist movements that come and go; it is based on the practical experience that comes from developing what works for students whose previous educations have failed them in the area writing; they need to be able to write and they don't know how.

I also will be taking two doctoral-level seminars. One is a two credit-hour Seminar in Physiological Psychology and the other is a one credit-hour Neuroscience seminar. The first will be a critical examination of current empirical and theoretical research in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience. The second seminar is a weekly presentation of new research results in all aspects of neurobiology. These are both necessary and interesting areas of learning for the research I am contemplating.

I will be taking three hours of Graduate Problems in Behavioral Neuropsychology. Here I will be working with my neuropsych advisor (I have two, and getting both of these busy people plus a committee together is one of the trials and tribulations of a multi-disciplinary Ph.D.) on a paper for publication and a research proposal for my dissertation. Here we will be planning a pilot study, as well as beginning that study (probably in the spring), as well as doing data analysis and writing the paper for a study already in progress.

All of the above means that some time must also be spent wrangling with the Office of Graduate Studies about the multidisciplinary Ph.D. Bureaucracies don't like it when someone pushes the boundaries. There are no neat categories for it. But I am a 'retired' homeschooling mom--I am used to pushing the boundaries. I live in a family of boundary pushers, and anyway, being Jewish* means being a boundary crosser.

*Our name for ourselves, Ivri, Hebrew, means boundary-crosser. For more, see Rabbi Gershon Winkler's book, The Way of the Boundary Crosser.

And then there are the other areas of life: seeing the Boychick through high school, drivers ed (OY!), confirmation, and on into the goals he sets for himself. Helping out with scouts, Taekwondo, and Machon. Enjoying being married to the Engineering Geek.

These are the plans. This beginning is like planting a garden. I will get into the dirt up to my elbows, and wait to see what sprouts, what needs to be pruned, and what must be pulled up.

And through it all (see Lisa P.-- I've learned from you), I want to have fun with it all. There's something nice about approaching fifty; almost nothing is as dead serious as I thought it was when I was in my twenties and thirties. So...
...this is going to be FUN!


Frankie said...

I was wondering what your plans were, but I knew that you wouldn't be sitting home fretting. I knew you were a go-getter, on a quest, thirsty for knowledge.

I just hope you continue your blog.

Susan Ryan said...

I've been thinking about you. Looks like N has/is adjusting well to his new routine and taking charge. That's what I hoped for when the kids weren't under the home education roof, so to speak.

I've thought about where we'll be a few years from now after our guys do whatever they're going to do. I think it'll be a good place. I think it has a lot to do with what I've learned and gained over the homeschooling years.

I think you are in a very unique position with your experiences and it'll only be for the general good and your good future.

Besides, you do have that driving thing to look forward to...

christinemm said...

Wow you have a lot on your plate. It filled up to be so full!

It is quite apparent that you will have a lot to think about and to do!

Have a great day!