Me? I haven't even taken my summer vacation yet.
Look, I know how important an early training is. I know that planning is three-quarters of the battle, and that a good textbook does a lot of the work for you, and instruction in penmanship builds character, etc. I've been around the homeschooling world for 25 years, and I've heard all the discussions. And I just can't get exercised about it. My children's education is important to me, I promise, and yet right now I feel like the philosopher Alfred E. Newman: "What, me worry?"
Some of this has to do with the way we've spent our summer. Four kids and I have been in play rehearsals since June, with later and later evenings culminating in our performances this weekend. Nights have gotten later and later, and Darwin has had to change his schedule multiple times to accommodate us (this is what happens when a houseful of babysitters takes up a time-consuming hobby). We've had a fantastic amount of fun, and the rockiness of our final tech rehearsals this week offers a hopeful testimony to the proportional fabulousness of our opening night on Thursday. And, coincidentally, we've spent a great deal of down time with other kids and teens.
I don't have to take this opportunity to lay to rest the cherished canard about homeschoolers not socializing. We all know that's a crock, especially if you're a homeschooling parent trying to balance your children's rounds of co-ops and playgroups and religion classes with actually getting a little work done at home. So, we've been socializing this summer with a lot of new friends from various school and home backgrounds. Except that we haven't been socializing all that much, except for this week or two as rehearsals have gotten particularly intense and everyone's had to get off their phones.
Yes, I'm going to talk about phones. The chorus is not in every scene, so we've done a lot of sitting around in rehearsals. There are several places you can go with this. If you want to learn more about the craft of acting and directing, or if you're interested in seeing the progress of the play, or if you just want to laugh at the humor of the show, you watch the rehearsal. There's lot of educational potential there, and entertainment as well. Or, if you don't care as much about what goes on outside of your appearances, you can do something quiet without disrupting the action. You can read a book. You can close your eyes.
Or you can sit for an hour at a time, taking selfies and sending them with the person sitting next to you, who is also taking selfies.
Now look, I know talk of kids and phones is controversial. So let me tell you where I'm coming from, and say: my kids don't have a phone, and I don't see a reason why they need to. Apparently this is a provocative opinion, although most of us were raised without having a phone, and have survived into adulthood. I told my kids the other day that when I was in college, hardly anyone had a cell phone, and then it was literally only used for emergencies because a) it was too expensive to fool around with wasting your minutes on idle chat, and b) they were dull phones in those days, and texting was a big pain. Darwin and I graduated from college in 2000, a year and change before 9/11, which might have had something to do with initiating the constant contact culture we have now, but that's speculation for another time.
So, many people get their kids phones for a variety of reasons, and with good intentions. But surely this is less controversial: if your kids have phones, they don't need entertainment or photo-sharing apps. Not everyone agrees; exhibit A is Pokemon Go. Everyone has some reason why their particular entertainment app is the exception that proves the rule. Well, it's a free country, and I've been wrong before.
But surely, surely we can all agree on this. When you are in a situation when your attention is required, when, even if you are not actively participating, you may be called up, or need to have stored up the information presented for later application; when you are in a situation where etiquette demands your quiet, attentive presence -- church, school, meetings, play rehearsals, band practice, dance class, you name it -- your phone should be out of your hands, put away, silenced. This is not controversial. This is not even being out of contact with the world. This is simply being in the moment you are required to be in, away from a constant stream of entertainment and virtual interaction. It is a matter of courtesy towards the person presenting to you or to others, and to the others trying to focus on that presentation. It is a matter of mental discipline, to train your mind to absorb information that may not be instantly amusing or applicable to you, because it is applicable to the whole project in which you play a small role. It is a good training in silence, not just in the physical silence required when someone else is speaking, but in the mental silence necessary for learning new material and growing as a person. When this mental silence is not cultivated, people and projects suffer, and the culture suffers.
As I have watched my children this summer as we work on our show, I've seen that they can sit quietly and watch even when they are not called to action. I've seen that they can take direction and internalize it. I've seen them practice mental agility as they receive new and conflicting direction, and implement it without complaint or blankness. I've seen them pitch in and help before and after rehearsal, when their presence isn't compelled, without needing to be asked or given step-by-step commands. I've seen them being friendly without gossiping or being distracted from the task at hand. I have received what Jane Eyre calls "the meed teachers most covet; praise of their pupils' progress."
This year, we are making some educational changes. We're going to go with some packaged curriculum (unselected as of yet) for the older girls, because as much as I want to do things my own way, I am nurturing some young persons who crave a structure and a check-list culture that I don't naturally seem to provide. Our oldest is taking one 50-minute class at the high school this year -- freshman chorus, a class that would seem to be a fit for an afternoon slot but will instead require a family lifestyle shift to meet the starting time of 7:25 am.
In past years, I might have felt roiled by these changes. Maybe I still will. But right now, they don't bother me because they don't actually touch what is important about our family and our educational culture. We can make changes and pivot without those changes affecting the core of who we are and how we learn in this house. With God's grace, the kids are, and will continue to be, all right.