Our plans for school this year will probably fail—and that’s O.K.

Rachel Adamus holds her son Paul, 7, on their porch before the bus arrives for the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

When I first started home schooling, my mother told me, “You know, the thing about home schooling is that it’s impossible.”

She was not only experienced but a pioneer, one of the first in the region to even attempt such a thing as home schooling. So she knew what she was talking about. But a ray of sunshine she was not.

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It was the last thing I wanted to hear, that my new plan was impossible. Who could wake up each morning and willingly set out to do a thing that cannot be done? I knew I was born to home school my children. We would be courageous explorers on the sea of ideas, ravenous guests at a banquet of wisdom and culture. My children’s 12 years of school would be only the beginning of their education, and they would graduate with a lifelong thirst for learning.

Well, we did make a sundial one time. And a bean mosaic. All my kids can read and add and tell jokes, and no one has once suggested they would be better off learning how to make brooms. After six years of home schooling, we realized it was time for a change, and since then, we have tried private school, charter school, public school and this coming year, parochial school. We have at least dipped our toes into just about every form of educating children, and guess what we learned?

We have at least dipped our toes into just about every form of educating children, and guess what we learned? It is all impossible.

It is all impossible. All of it. Every possible kind of school is impossible. Every form of education is a shot in the dark. Every form of education has gaps, dead ends, wasted time, lost opportunities and screw-ups. There is no form of education that gives every child everything he or she needs.

Any form of education you could possibly design is going to be thwarted by the four horsemen of all human endeavors: time, strength, cash and patience. And that is in ordinary times. Add in the virus and all the virus-related political and behavioral chaos, and the fact that school children will almost certainly invent a game called “Covid tag” that involves licking each other, and school this year is going to be, well, impossible.

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Our various schools have crafted policies that seem sane, safe and reasonable to me. But if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we have no idea what might happen. I think it is likely that, despite the heroic efforts of countless dedicated professionals and parents, schools and everything else will be shuttered by Thanksgiving, and our kids will head right back home again, and that is going to be impossible, too.

Any form of education you could possibly design is going to be thwarted by the four horsemen of all human endeavors: time, strength, cash and patience.

Now let’s talk about why that is so freeing.

My mother’s point was not that home school is impossible, so don’t even try. Her point was that it is impossible, so when it fails, why worry?

Read that again: Why worry? What is going to happen? What is going to be worse for your kids that the whole country isn’t also dealing with? Call it the Non Est Tanti plan. It is no big deal. Life is going to be terrible, and there is nothing you can do about it, so why fight it? Sometimes, if you lean into an attitude of a sort of comfy despair, that is enough momentum to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I hasten to add that there are exceptions. There are kids with special needs, parents with inflexible schedules and families in rotten and dire situations of every sort, and what happens next may truly be crushingly awful for them. There is no change of attitude that can lessen that burden.

But there are also plenty of families that are not in that situation and are simply feeling an understandable terror at the idea of having to take on the burden of their kids’ education.

My mother’s point was not that home school is impossible, so don’t even try. Her point was that it is impossible, so when it fails, why worry?

The truth is, all school-aged children are facing a gap year this year, whether they know it or not. With a few exceptions, we are not going to get done the things we want and ought to get done—yes, even if people start behaving rationally and we get a safe, effective, available vaccine and everything gets funded justly and adequately. This school year is going to be impossible. If we do not want to lose our minds, we need to build that idea into our plans.

So, in our family, we are sending our kids to classroom school, and we are even buying notebooks and lunch boxes and such because the kids want them and I am tired of telling them “no.” But we are also talking a lot about how fully we expect to have to change course and how changing course is not the end of the world.

If and when we do bring the kids home again, I am hoping to have them do distance learning through the school for the subjects I am bad at (math and science) and then to put together my own little free-form, bare-bones, mother’s choice curriculum for the things I am good at. If anyone challenges us on this, I intend to argue that I am a taxpayer and, besides [gestures vaguely at the inevitable smoking ruins of whatever kind of schooling the state is providing].

The curriculum I have designed is this:

  • Every day, you read (or someone reads to you) from a good book.
  • If you can write, you write a little something every day. If you are older, you write more.
  • Every day, you listen to good music.
  • You go outside (if it is not too cold) and draw something every day. It is O.K. if it is not good.
  • Then on Fridays, we just take it easy.

That’s it. That’s school. This will be the curriculum for everybody in my family, from the fresh little kindergarten duckling to the super-teen-hunk 11th-grader. I know from experience that this will be plenty to keep us busy, and the kids may even learn something.

But the main thing I hope they learn this year is this: Sometimes, things are just impossible. This is true for school and also for childrearing and marriage and careers and just being a human. It is impossible.

That being the case, let us wake up each morning and willingly set out to do the thing that cannot be done. It does not matter if we fail because it is impossible. It is impossible, so why worry?

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