First of all, I want to say that I really enjoyed educating my child. I’m the first one to recognize that homeschooling is not for everyone, but I might have done this, special needs or no. I had wanted to be a teacher when I was younger, and though that didn’t happen, I still worked in the fields of communication and post-secondary education in the city, before I moved up here, geared down, met a young man, and became a mom. (Seems like a whole ‘nother lifetime now.) I had been reading about homeschooling before Butterfly was even born.
When you take this on, it isn’t just the child who learns. I participated in a homeschooling forum for awhile to share with other moms, some of whom were raising special needs kids too. This brought a support network into my home. One mom who visited declared that she would never homeschool because she wouldn’t want to restrict her child to her own store of knowledge. Um... well, you don’t have to do that. There are a great many resources available to the homeschooler. I mean, just the fact that history changes was the subject of one day’s lesson for Butterfly. When I went to school, an historical figure named Louis Riel was considered a madman and a traitor who deserved to hang. Today he is a hero to the Metis people and a father of Canadian Confederation. Just depends on whose version of history you’re studying. Even the official texts had changed on this one.
So as I sought out resources for Butterfly, I wound up learning a lot myself. Not just about school subjects either, but about acceptance, patience, and people. When I first realized the extent of Butterfly’s challenges, my first thought was to find ways to “fix” her. And I encountered others, including those in the medical community, who took this approach. But as I discovered the subtle, yet often profound beauty of Butterfly’s way of seeing the world, I had a decision to make. I could try to change her, or I could change myself. I opted for the latter, discarding my organized and neatly defined world to fly with my daughter, up, up, into the sky, all around the house, over the trees... we flew. In our minds, we could see a long, long way. And so instead of trying to restrict her view to what she was supposed to see, I encouraged her take flight and explore the world her own way, through her own eyes. I became very much the follower, every bit as much as the leader.
The Terry Fox Run
Yes, she still had to learn the basics of our subjects of study, but we had a whole community of classrooms, the great outdoors, and two minds to imagine with to accomplish this. No child is going to learn something that is not made to seem interesting, and there is no rule anywhere that says learning cannot be fun. And so we used art, music, haiku, stories both existing and made up, nature, crafts and more to facilitate learning. From those grackles she watched from her Nanna’s deck, to nature trails, to discussions around the fire, to First Light at the local historical site, and then outside our little world to earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, to trips, to community events such as the Terry Fox run, to our foster child ~ a little girl about Butterfly’s age in Zimbabwe* ~ and so much more. We found ways to put the world into some sort of focus so that Butterfly could, in some small way, experience it.
And at play time she did her own thing too... like building vending machines out of cardboard boxes, and throughout her childhood, there was her persistent conviction that anything could be secured or fixed with enough Scotch tape. (I’m certain we are personally responsible for a good deal of their profit during Butterfly’s childhood years.) Obviously I could go on and on, but I’ll be merciful. Overall, Butterfly progressed through childhood into someone whose view of the world is an educated, intelligent one, despite her youthful innocence.
Is this what our education system wants? I don't know. Our education system hasn’t changed much since mass education was first conceived. It took children out of the factories of the industrial age and set an education standard that prepared them for the same work in adolescence, hence protecting little kids from becoming part of the labour force. While the system purports to have changed its standards over the years, it’s basic goals and methods have not substantially changed. Every child is given the same, exact primary and much of their secondary education, just as if every child was exactly the same, with the same aptitudes, interests and indeed, the exact same brain. Now don’t get me wrong... it is a massive undertaking to gather up all the children and try to give them all some basic education in an affordable manner. And no, I don’t have a better plan for all these children, and I’m sure there are better minds than mine working at it. (When Butterfly was of school age, there were no teacher aids following kids around, for instance.) I just had a better plan for us. Again, it's not for everyone, but I could foresee that trying to force Butterfly to conform to the system might be every bit as problematic as taking matters into my own hands. And so I made my choice.
Butterfly’s next hurdle is that GED test. Now, to get her ready for this, I thought perhaps the education system might finally be useful, but plainly I’d lost my mind or something. They gave her an assessment test, on which she apparently did well. But they said her math and grammar were weak. No surprise there. I enrolled her in a GED prep course to deal with this, and what did they do? Told that she had dysgraphia and dyscalculia, they responded by sticking a large book of small print, dry arithmetic problems in front of her and told her to do them. Well Jumpin’ Freakin’ Jehosiphat, if she could do that, there wouldn’t be a problem, would there? This was the best they had? They hired an instructor to put a newsprint book of problems under her nose? Golly! My tax dollars at work!
Moreover, when I tried to discuss this with one of the women in charge of this course, she informed me that she could not discuss my daughter’s needs with me, because Butterfly was now 18 and of age. Now, that would be fine if they’d communicated adequately with Butterfly. But a book of math problems was all she got. So she wound up confused and mystified by the whole, detached and simple-minded approach to the thing. She didn’t want to go back, but she didn’t want to be a quitter either. She agonized for days over this. I told her there were other routes we could take. Our school system just wasn’t going to be helpful to her. The experience only made me feel very glad that I hadn’t ever put her in school. She had come close one year. In fact, I almost had my hand on the phone to start that ball rolling. But one weekend, the girl next door told Butterfly some horror stories about school, teachers, homework, etc. Butterfly very simply changed her mind about trying school. I’m so glad now that she did.
And so we went to the library to see what they had, and after flipping through a few books we had a better idea what was available to help us. Butterfly picked out a GED study guide on one of her shopping trips that she thought she could work with. We have been studying together, like always, to get her ready for that test. Yes, I will help her find ways to do those tricky math problems. I will use this thing called imagination. Mostly I will try to help her build confidence, so important for success.
Butterfly loves music. She also loves computers. The collection of music on her laptop is a little astounding. Her in-depth study of song lyrics, artists, genres and more is impressive. We have always been a household of music and Butterfly learned a lot of the music from our day, just as we’ve enjoyed her favourite artists. She has chosen a college that offers a course in music technology and is hoping for a career in music production. So we have some work to do and a definite goal in mind. And so our learning continues.
* Foster child through Plan Canada, part of Plan International