Our family started in Minneapolis, Minnesota where the two older kids were born. And it is this time of year, winter and cold and grey, that I most often think about and even miss Minneapolis. Winters there are hard. Very hard. The snow shoveling seems endless. The driving can be hard (much less walking or biking in the icy sidewalks and roads). There were days that it felt like it took twenty minutes just to get the kids and myself dressed to go outside. But this hardship seems to create a certain feeling of camaraderie and “hygge” (or a sort of coziness). People find and create ways to be together against the cold and against the elements.
And this feeling of reliance on each other and of shared hardship creates for really lovely schools. We only had a limited exposure to the schools in Minneapolis (we moved when our kids were still young but we did attend the Early Childhood and Family Education program that the public school district offers as, I think, all public school systems should offer). Since then, however, we have watched my nephews and niece move through the system and I did my teacher training one state over in Wisconsin which, I believe, has many similarities with the school systems in Minnesota (but don’t tell anyone I said as much as I’m pretty sure it’s some sort of violation of the inter-state rivalry). I am confident that, had we stayed in Minneapolis, we would not have homeschooled our children. The winters are already isolating enough without further withdrawing from community life. And the school system there is very much community centered and offers students a very well rounded, thoughtful education.
As he posted about here, Eric grew up in rural Minnesota. I grew up in DC and attended small private schools for elementary and high school. Although we grew up in very different places, I think that our early experiences in education gave us a community and early childhood life that was somewhere in between rural and urban. For Eric, the school he attended was his one way into a larger social and learning environment away from the relative isolation of where he lived. For me, the small private schools in a large city felt like an extension of my family or home life and relatively sheltered from urban life.
I think that these experiences have a lot to do with how and why we’ve ended up homeschooling our children. We don’t live far from where I grew up geographically but suburban DC (even barely outside of the beltway) is a completely different place from the DC in which I grew up.
The school system feels disjointed here. Unlike in Minnesota, there doesn’t seem to be any experiences that pull everyone together. Some families have roots here, some have immigrated from other countries, some moved here for government work from different parts of the country and world and may or may not be staying here long term. And while on the one hand, this makes this area rich and diverse, often these different groups seem to have competing interests. Sometimes one groups seem to “win out” with little or not concern for the other groups. And the public school system, which would seem to be one place where there might be some sort of “equalizing” or at least where students would be able to be on some sort of equal footing, in fact doesn’t seem to make any decisions based on trying to improve things for *all* students and families.
And so: we homeschool. And I think part of this is that both of us have been exposed to education that works (in rural Minnesota, in DC, in Minneapolis, and in, yes, Wisconsin) and so we can see how much it fails here in Montgomery County — or at least how much it hasn’t lived up to what our family hoped and expected for our children in a traditional school setting. But when we decided to homeschool (and every day since then) our choice did not feel like a rejection of the status quo. All along it has felt like an opening up to opportunities and ways of learning and being a family. It has been a gift.
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