People Don't Do Things for No Reason
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In the second half of our school-choice-two-parter, we talk about all the caveats we make for families who make alternative decisions to meet the needs of their families.
Because this is a two-parter, there’s no intro, so here’s the info we usually include:
This is The Parent Rap, a show about inexpert parenting and trying to raise good humans in a complicated world.
Sara is: your source for the latest links on the internet that made me think of you, born and raised and planning to stay in Oklahoma.
Anna is: a writer, former doula and prenatal educator, current virtual assistant, and general supportive type in Toronto, Canada.
Resources & Information
Courtney Martin’s Series on School Choice for On Being
SARA: Hey pals, welcome to part two of our education extravaganza. And this one's a little bit shorter just because of the way that cutting it worked, but we love you a lot and we think you're doing a great job and will talk to you soon.
SARA: It—much like with everything else, there are reasons people do things. People don’t just do things for no reason. There are reasons people look to charter schools or look to online school or look to homeschooling or unschooling even, like, there's reasons for all of these. And when it's something that is so hard to talk about without feeling attacked or defensive or like you have to, huh, like you have to explain every reason that you do everything, it can be such a source of conflict but it doesn't have to, have to be. We don't have to, we don't have to agr— like, Anna and I do agree and have chosen different paths because we agree, and that’s fine.
SARA: I just ha—I have a lot of feelings about it.
ANNA: I think, I think we both do, and our feelings on it in general are pretty similar, it’s just that the outcome has been different and it’s partly because our circumstances are different. Where we are, and with the life that I have, I am very well-situated to make up for the gaps that can come from staying home. We have a lot of opportunities to be active in our communities and with a very, very diverse population and she will always have social activities and she will always have physical activities and she will always have places to go to learn the things that I don't know how to teach her. And we have the resources and access to the people [chuckle] who can make that happen, which is wildly privileged and I sometimes feel guilty about [chuckle].
SARA: Yeah. ‘Cause it feels like a betrayal. But you do what works and if it works then it works and that’s great and, you know? I, my parents made up for it with, I, if I could reach a book in the house I could read it, and we only had four tv channels anyway and three of them were educational channels so watch whatever you want. The school—this is how small my hometown is: I could walk from where I was at school, my building, to my mom's classroom and drop off my backpack, which didn't have anything in it because I didn't have homework because that was what lunch was for, and then I could walk to the public library and I could sit and read until I was picked up, until my mom was done at school, which was usually a few hours. I read, much like Anna, I was a voracious reader. I would do this thing [chuckle] where I would read the, I read the entire young adult section a couple times, like, I would just start on the first shelf and just read. Bumping back a little bit to, um, this idea that a good education guarantees you a good spot in life, right?
SARA: Ehh, d—I, when I went to the university and, Anna, I think me and you were just becoming friends then, I had a nervous I had a [stutter] nervous breakdown my first year of college.
SARA: I don't think they call it that anymore by the way, I think there’s a new name for it, um, but I don't know what it is. But I, it was a nervous breakdown because I went from under sixty people in my entire year to hundreds in some of my classes. I, I was not, I realized that everyone there had had a better education than me, or at least, not everyone, but a significant majority of the people there were better prepared than I was. Had read things I never read, had done things I never done, had so much more footing than I did. Yeah, we went to state universities, like, it wasn't like I went to, you know—
ANNA: My, my floor my freshman year in my dorm had more people than my graduating class, and the wing that I was in had almost twice as many people as my hometown.
SARA: And that’s like—you’re a smart kid, I’m a smart kid, it's hard, man!
ANNA: And I was, yeah, I was in the honors program and the honors program at NIU has a, you do a retreat right, like, the weekend before everybody else moves in, so we moved in early and then we went away for this weekend retreat and yeah. Very similar, like, my school didn’t have AP classes at all, I didn't know it was a thing that existed.
ANNA: Um, and so all these kids like, “oh, I've got credits and blah blah blah and I did all this,” and I am like, “What? Hold up.”
SARA: “I can write a five-paragraph essay like a motherfucker, are we, is that what we’re talking about?”
ANNA: Yeah and so, like, I did fine. I mean, I spent a summer at Oxford and I went to grad school and I did all the things. I had a very involved mentor and some things like that when I was in undergrad but [chuckle] it was definitely culture shock.
SARA: Yeah. I took a half day my senior year of high school. I was lazy—I am lazy. I was very lazy as a high school student, um. I took a half day and went to work, like, I didn't do, I didn’t do any college prep. I did AP English because my academic team coach was my AP English teacher and, one, would have yelled at me if I hadn’t done AP English and, two, knew that I could do it and knew that I needed to, for whatever reason. One thing I wanted to mention offhandedly because it came up this week in a Twitter thing talking about, where did you almost go to school. So, I don't know if people know this, Oklahoma, generally speaking, in Oklahoma you don't take the SAT, the, whatever it’s called, Scholastic Aptitude Test.
ANNA: It’s an ACT state too, right? Illinois was.
SARA: Yeah, and so we have our own tests that we take and you don’t need to take the other one unless you're going to leave the state, which functionally means that my school there was no prep for the SAT. No one I knew had ever taken it, no one, there was nothing. There was nothing in the public library, there were no study guides for this thing. So that's really fun, to drive three hours to take a test that you don't know anything about. Um [chuckle] so I didn't do very well on it. I did fine on the English but I did even worse than expected on the math and did not make my minimum required score to apply where I wanted to apply. It's another one of those blind spots of—my school did a perfectly fine job of preparing people to go to the community college in town and do fine there, and then go to a four-year school. That was what I should have done, was go to the two-year junior college and then go to a four-year school. Instead I didn't do that, and was not prepared for it. And my school was the best in the county. When people don't put their kids in a public school because the public school sucks, like, I get it. I went to that, I get it, I went to that school. It sucks.
SARA: But because, like Anna has said and like I've said, we are so— I'm privileged enough that I, we have a million books in the house and we have a really good public library system, we have museums, we have the big science building up in Oklahoma City. We have all kinds of stuff that we can do in any situation where she has a sh, a shortfall in something she wants to learn about. And so, it's not because the school is so great that she's going there. That’s irrelevant. The school could be, you know, three rooms like my grandmother taught in and it would be, we would, she would still go. Because for us that's the, that's the flag we’ve decided to plant is, one of the ways that we are a part of our community is that my child goes to the same school as yours. [sigh] No, I, I knew th— I thought I was going to be yelling, I didn't think I was going to be emotional.
ANNA: We weren’t prepared for feelings.
SARA: I was not a, I was prepared for, “let's talk about the evil that is charter schools,” but not, “hey, let me tell you about some of the most deep-seated regrets that I have in my entire life.”
SARA: So I have a masters, like, [stutter] I have a bachelors and a masters in very, very practical degrees, neither of which I use, which is why I really want to go back and get another masters in something frivolous that I just want to learn about. Another thing that public doesn’t really do very well in general.
ANNA: I, my bachelors is in political philosophy which I love and do not regret, but—
ANNA: Uh, in terms of, in terms of thinking about how we interact with our communities and our world it's great. I have a lot of, a lot of thinking in there.
SARA: Read a lot of books.
ANNA: In terms of building a career out of it [chuckle] a little bit more tricky and then I went to, yeah, library school. Um.
SARA: Which, same thing, it’s a community-focused degree but it’s, but it’s a job degree. You get that degree to get a job, and we didn’t do that.
ANNA: Just didn’t, didn’t do that. I did all kinds of different stuff instead. And here we are.
SARA: And now here we are, making a podcast. I work at a bank, you are a virtual assistant and organizer extraordinaire. But even grad school with such a weird—when I told people I was going to grad school, they were like, “Oh, yeah, of course,” because the assumption was that I was good at college, which I was not. Um.
SARA: I didn't do well. I didn't do well unless it was an English class, was only thing I was good at. Uh, recently, I was talking to somebody about wanting to go back and get another masters and I had to explain to them that I do not have the grades in college to just get into another masters program. I’m going to have to work my tail off and figure out some way to sneak in, ‘cause they’re not going to take me. I feel like I've talked a lot this episode, and I apologize, uh.
SARA: But it, it’s, today my kid went school and I, we were running late so I did the drop-off line instead of walking her in like I normally do. And she did school lunch because I was running late, I didn't pack a lunch, and she got a sticker on her chart because she did something good. She doesn't remember why she got the sticker, so I don't know. But.
SARA: Um, and she is supposed to read a book before bed, so I'm hoping that she did ‘cause I'm doing this. It's little stuff every day, [chuckle] you know?
ANNA: I do.
SARA: I do, I deeply admire you for being able to homeschool. I thought about it for about thirty seconds and realized I would snap. I would not be able to do it. I need to play Diablo for an hour a day. I can’t, I can't do it.
ANNA: Um, I’m pretty sure you would still have been able to play Diablo for an hour a day.
SARA: “Here is your, here is your book, please, please leave me alone,” um.
ANNA: I mean, that’s the, that’s the thing about homeschooling, though, is that it doesn’t have to be, like, every minute is full of—
SARA: Which I think is the way, the way it gets cast for a lot of people, me included, is like, “Oh, so like your whole day is doing that.”
ANNA: Yeah, I mean, I know, I know people in, in sort of the Toronto homeschooling community who work full-time and so their kids go to a daycare or stay with Grandma or whatever and do like their structured lesson in the evening. Totally a thing, but, like, and I mean, Beans is still little so we don't do a lot of school kind of stuff but like we have sort of made plans to orient ourselves toward it. So like I'd go through the, like, the CDC milestones and set up like, for her next batch, what are the things that we need to work on, what are we not out yet, and, like, I do a goals-plans-outcomes chart and, like, we go through that like a few times a year at this point. But I mean, so, every day, she and I spend the morning downstairs in her playroom and we do some shapes learning and some colors and some letters and she can name about half the alphabet.
ANNA: Which, she’s twenty months old now? So that’s pretty cool, she’s ahead, she’s got all her colors down. Um.
SARA: Nailing it, man.
ANNA: I know!
SARA: I did wonder that, ‘cause here, like, homeschooling here is relatively unregimented. Like, you just tell the school you’re gonna homeschool and then you homeschool, like, there's not—
ANNA: Yeah, we don't have, like, strict, where I have to submit a curriculum or anything, um, as long as when it comes time to do, like, middle school and I think high school, not really entrance exams, but like the benchmark exams she’ll have to take, I think. But I don't have to do, like, every year a plan and a report the way I know like in Maryland for one thing they have to do like a full big portfolio every year of everything they've been doing. Um, but like I do want to do it with some structure, because that is, like, I did do some—I spent a couple years as a substitute teacher, but I was in the same classrooms a lot so I did a lot. Um, I do have some background in that. And in like, early literacy is part of my masters degree, um, so some of that is, I, I know the systems that exist and how to do that. I think it'll be a little bit more tricky when we get into, like, I think like grade two is when it’s gonna start pushing up against like what I already know. And then, you know, as we said, my partner and I are both very aware that we are not prepared to teach at high school level.
ANNA: Like we both have, my, my husband has a PhD in—
SARA: Something sciencey?
ANNA: —nanotechnology, um.
SARA: There you go. Yup.
ANNA: [chuckl] So it, uh, it’s not like we are uneducated, it’s just that I know my limits and high school is it.
ANNA: So it, you know, it’s about, kind of where we hit the point where I don't feel comfortable keeping up with it. But—
SARA: Well, hey, if you, if you want her to have a US history tutor, that is my jam. I did that all through college. Um, not because I have any especial knowledge but, I like—history one of those things, it's so easy to teach badly, and it has always infuriated me, because, sit down with a kid taking APUSH, AP US history, and ask them about Andrew Jackson and they're going to tell you whatever. And then go, “Okay, do you want to hear about what a gigantic buttface Andrew Jackson was? ‘Cause he was the worst!”
ANNA: The worst!
SARA: The worst! And then you’ve got them. And then they know a lot about Andrew Jackson, and also happen to know that he was a bad person, which, tutoring with a lot better fit for me, because I could just talk to them instead of being actually responsible for their education.
ANNA: Which is kind of the cool thing about homeschooling, too, is that we will be able to, like, I’m gonna make sure that she has the foundations of everything, but it also gives us the opportunity to where, if she gets really obsessed about tigers for a year, we can we can do a lot of tiger units.
SARA: Uh, yeah, curriculum is really hard. When I was, the thirty seconds I was thinking about homeschooling, I was looking into curricula, and they are—here, a lot of people who homeschool do so for religious reasons, and so the curriculum is oriented to a religious education, which is fine, but not something that I'm interested in for my kid.
ANNA: Yeah, a lot of the time as a secular homeschooler, you kind of have to do some picking and choosing from different ones. Which, as it turns out, gets really expensive, uh, unless you’re, you know, able to build your own. What I’m planning to do, like, I have the Ontario curriculum from grades one to eight—
ANNA: Um, like, printed out [chuckle] in books, so we're going to basically structure around that, I think. So it’s, she's going to follow basically the trajectory that the public school kids are following, with, with the freedom to kind of go off on tangents every once in awhile.
SARA: Yeah, ‘cause little kids, man, I got really into the Titanic, and the Romanovs, and Egypt.
ANNA: The very first website I ever built was about Anastasia Romanov.
ANNA: It had like a timeline, yeah, it was really, really nerdy.
SARA: Oh, ah. The, the very first website I ever built I never published because I didn't know how, but it was a Redwall RP fan th—I made an abbey. If you haven’t read the Redwall books they're mice who live in an abbey and have swords and religious-is conversations, anyway, it's not the point. The point is I wrote about the adventures of my Redwall character, who was a squirrel who was an orphan because of pirates that killed her parents.
ANNA: So, so your first website was fanfic.
SARA: A little bit? Which is very on-brand. Very on-brand for me.
ANNA: Very, very Sara.
SARA: Ugh, so sad. But also, you know, in my defense, she was freaking cool. She had two swords on her back? So cool.
SARA: What we wanna come down to, basic ideas. Idea number one: charter schools are bad. Idea number two: education is a very, with kids especially, learning and education are so tender and make people so uncomfortable to talk about because, rightly so, there’s a lot of tension around them.
SARA: And we love you, and we love your kid, and we love however you choose to help them learn, however works for you and for them. Nothing is going to get better—
ANNA: —unless we make it better.
SARA: Unless we make it better. Inaction solves nothing, so, um.
ANNA: So whatever you choose, it is also your responsibility to take part in your community.
ANNA: And value the education of all the children around you.
SARA: Yeah. You—none of us are in a vacuum, pals. As much as we would like it sometimes, none of us are in a vacuum. So to bring this emotional, uh, kind of episode to a better thing, hey, Anna, why don’t you tell me about a parenting triumph for this week?
SARA: ‘Cause I need, I need to hear one, please, thank you.
ANNA: In addition to my kid knows some letters, which I think is pretty cool—
SARA: It’s pretty awesome.
ANNA: Um, we went to the Workaround yesterday morning and it was the first time that she didn't just scream the entire time she was at daycare.
ANNA: There were like two whole hours of my work slot that I couldn’t hear her yelling, “Mommy Anna Mommy Anna Mommy Anna!” from downstairs.
ANNA: So that was cool. I’m really glad she, she, like, she actually played with the other kids for a little while. I was very excited. She, this is a kid who is with me almost literally every minute of the day, so this is, this was our third day there, and, like, I was just really proud of her. ‘Cause I know it's really hard, and it's a totally different thing for her, but she actually had some fun at her, her little school, um, and they painted, and—
SARA: Ooh, that’ll help. Being able to paint always helps.
ANNA: Yes, I was very proud.
SARA: Uh, well, Chips has been a blast the past couple weeks. She was, we had a lot of tension until school started, because we were both done with summer. I was done with her being home all the time, she was done with not being at school with her friends. We were done, um, and so first day of school is always— The, the night before the first day of public school here, they do, um, like, a back to school night and you, you meet your teacher, you find your classroom and show you where your locker is and all that, her little cubby that she has that has her name. And we walked in and she was petrified, um, and then she saw a kid that she knew from kindergarten and ran over and gave them a hug. And then I didn't see her again for like forty-five minutes, she was just off playing, having a good time, and then we came back and gathered her back up and were leaving she said, “I think I'm going to really like first grade.”
SARA: And I was like, I'm so glad because it took you a few weeks to warm up to pre-k and a few weeks to warm up to kindergarten. And she just slotted right in and has had a blast and. Not a parenting triumph specifically, but we were able to, my mom and Jas— my husband's mom donated a full set of supplies, and then we brought ours for Chips and some other extra stuff that we had found, and so we brought this huge crate of like everything that you're supposed to have, and the teacher looked very happy, which made me feel really good. Like, “we are able to help, you can always ask us for help. I'm home, I live seven minutes away from the school and I'm home all the time, please call me. Um, I will put on pants and I will come.”
ANNA: “I will brush my hair!”
SARA: “I will even brush my hair for you because I want you to know that I will help.”
SARA: We love you very, very much.
SARA: All of you.
ANNA: I trust that you are making the best decision for your family.
SARA: Yes. I wish that there were better decisions available to you.
ANNA: I don’t, I, I don’t always believe that it’s the best decision for, like, the world but I trust that you’re making the best decision for your family and doing the best that you can and I hope you’re doing something to, uh, mitigate the costs of that.
ANNA: That’s, that’s where I’ll leave it.
SARA: We all have to live in a society, you know, we all—I, I work at a bank and banks and capitalism are evil. We all work, live in a society, we just have to try to even out as best we can.
ANNA: I mean, I, I do come from the, like, the decision to not take part in public school, so like I do have some sympathy for making that choice. I just, I think it's important to recognize that you are taking something out by doing that, and you try to find a way to put it back in. However you do it, try to do it. Anyway.
SARA: Hey, Anna, where can, uh, where can people find you?
ANNA: I am on Instagram and Twitter @mulberryterrace and you can find my newsletter, the Letters from Mulberry Terrace, and more about me and my work at mulberryterrace.net. Where can I find you?
SARA: Uh, y—me?
SARA: You can find the Parent Rap, anyway, on Twitter and Instagram—
SARA: —under parent_rap, where we share episodes and extras and the occasional, especially on Twitter, relevant post to our whole endealment. If you really want to hear me yell about Watership Down for an hour on Sundays, uh—
ANNA: You do.
SARA: —you can find me, yeah, it's a really good book, so. You can find me @cyranoh_ on Twitter. That’s [spells username]. And I have an Insta but it’s locked so you can't see it. We love you.
ANNA: You’re doing great. It's going to be okay.
SARA: It really is. We'll see you soon!
ANNA: Our theme music is “Humm OK” by Gablè off their album Le Sac De L’Enfer, and is provided free with attribution, for which we’re very grateful. You can find Gablè at www.gableboulga.com. I’m not sure I’m pronouncing that correctly, so it’s [spells website].
ANNA: Yeah, we did it.