A conversation in the car on the way to school yesterday with my kids, ages 9, 12, and 14.
Me: Don’t you guys know why the Confederate states seceded from the Union?
My kids: They didn’t like it? Because the Union sucked? Who were the Confederate states?
Me (groaning): Do you guys even know what the Confederate states were? Can you name any of them?
My kids: New Hampshire! California! New York! Canada! Something that starts with a V!
Me: Look, they were all in the South. Name some states in the South.
My kids: Alabama? Arizona? New Hampshire?
Naturally, by then I felt like banging my head against the steering wheel. And screaming. Or maybe both. Because clearly, my kids – especially my older two, should know how to answer such basic questions about American history. But clearly, there are some tremendous gaps in their education.
To truly understand my frustration in moments like these, you must know that I used to be a homeschooling mom. Not for long – I homeschooled my oldest in Kindergarten, and my second oldest in 1st grade. It was so important to me that my children receive a thorough, well-rounded education, and I once felt that homeschooling was the best way to provide that. I gave it up when they were accepted into excellent public schools, but in order to fill in the gaps, I continued to afterschool them for years to come.
Yes, Afterschooling. Ever heard of it? It’s pretty much like Mom homework on top of school homework. Sometimes it means supporting the subjects they are learning in school with extra enrichment at home. Sometimes it means studying something together which is not being taught at school (like the history of the Civil War, or geography, for example). Sometimes afterschooling means quick, ten-minute discussions in the car about social issues or dystopian literature. Sometimes it means a family project, like building something together, or exploring recipes or music from other cultures. And sometimes it is more formal. During school vacations, for example, I require that my kids spend an hour being engaged in something academic in order to earn television or video game privileges. They can do work from a workbook, or study something new on Khan Academy, or practice coding on websites like Scratch or Code.org.
I realize that there are many critics out there who may see Afterschooling as excessive or silly, especially since my kids already attend great schools. Perhaps I should just relax and let my kids be kids, without having to spend so much time studying. But I see it differently. I want to raise my kids to be thinkers and lifelong learners, with a curiosity about the world. And, well, call me silly, but I also would like very much for them to know that New Hampshire is not a southern state, and that Canada is a completely different country, you know?
And so, instead of banging my head against the steering wheel, I took a deep breath and gave my kids a hurried, ten-minute lesson in American history before dropping them off at school. And probably, after school today, we’ll take a look at a map and see exactly where the southern states are located. And maybe, just maybe, my kids will learn something new and useful – like the name of that mysterious state which begins with a V. (Now banging my head against the keyboard).