School: Our Multi-Generational Struggle


“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” -Margaret Mead

Margaret Mead’s wise words have come up again and again in my life. They define the way I try to parent. I am told pretty regularly that I am a good mother, even a great one. Sometimes the words are delivered in bemused or surprised tones since I was 18 when I had my first. It will come as no surprise to any parent that I do not often feel like a great mom. Average, sure. Good, sometimes. Crappy, a lot. I do my best in the moment. I try and I have improved. There is one thing that has haunted me since I had my daughter, Boots (as she’s known here).

The decision that has drifted ghost-like in my mind for nearly eight years is school. If you asked me on a day when I wasn’t thinking about it, I’d tell you that I loved school. I got great grades, was self-motivated, teachers adored me, and I had friends. But as I reflect on my time in public school, I realize that doing well in school does not equal loving school.

In elementary, I spent a few years in a magnet school. I came home exhausted and weary. My mom put on Mozart and let me unwind on our couch. After 2nd grade, she decided the pressure was too much and put me in the regular elementary school around the corner. Third grade was spent with an overbearing teacher. 4th brought me a lovely teacher that read me Shiloh and restored my confidence. Then she moved. It broke me a bit. My mom took me out, ordered the Jehovah’s Witness-approved homeschool curriculum and gave it a go. I think I stopped altogether after a few months. 5th grade I was back in school with another wonderful teacher. But her husband was sick and she left after only a few months, leaving my class in the hands of the sub everyone hated.

My last year of 6th grade I was friends with the popular girls. For about a minute. When I rejected their friendship, the bullying began. General rudeness and name calling. Bra popping. Gum in hair. But the end of the year was in sight. I could deal with it, right? A bra strap snap during the last week of school broke me a little more. I turned around and scratched my jagged, tooth-chewed nails down the arm of the blond minion at fault and walked out to the playground. Later that day, the science teacher who adored me took me aside and said I needed to visit the principal with the minion. I was so done with it, I didn’t even care. The two of us sat silently in front of the old white man with white hair. He said I was a good kid. He suggested that I was jealous of the popular girls. He said not to let it happen again. Pat on the head, on your way now, girls. I was fuming at the injustice of his assumptions, but I wasn’t in trouble, so whatever. Middle school took the minion away from the main Mean Girl. I saw her one day. She showed me the scar my nails had left. I felt only a little remorse.


7th grade brought on the acne I still have and uniforms that made me frumpy. 8th grade brought a divorce, a move, and family drama I still haven’t fully worked through. 9th grade brought me friends and comfort and the man I would marry. 10th grade took him away for a while. My junior year was another move, an extended period of Awkward-New-Kid Syndrome, and no friends. I decided to graduate early. I did, with honors. I had friends by then, but I was done with school. I had made my way back to Irish. I was contemplating a fully bank funded college experience grimly. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go.

I got birth control for my acne. Before I took the first dose, a pregnancy test told me another life was growing inside.

I realize that this is all probably TMI. So, here’s my point.

I took my daughter out of school this week. She has come home exhausted and irritable and unhappy since Kindergarten. The severity of it increased so slowly, our family was frogs on the stovetop. Holiday breaks were the only times we really noticed the temperature change. A few days in, Boots would be less stressed and smiling more. First day back – grumpy and angry and sad.

I liked the idea of homeschool. I considered it whimsically before she was even two. But it always seemed like an impossible utopia that little me couldn’t reach successfully. But seeing the severe snap of my daughter’s personality after Spring Break this year was too much. She was breaking. All four of us were breaking with her. Irish and I basically just looked at each other and knew. We have to try. We have to give it a shot.

So, I did what I do. I hit the books my own way. I researched. I made a plan. I wrote a letter. We start on Monday. Boots is thrilled and enthusiastic.

I’ve worried about standardized testing and bullying and Texas-sized alterations of history and science. I’ve worried about underpaid teachers and too much homework and not enough playing and almost no art or music. I’ve worried a lot. I told myself that I could fill in the gaps and correct the misinformation. I told myself I loved school. When everyone praises you for something, it is easy to think you love it. But now I wonder if I ever really did.

I loved learning. I still do. I want my children to love learning, too. Teaching them how to think is more than my philosophy now, it’s my full-time job. And I haven’t felt this relieved or excited in a long time.

This is brand new. I don’t know for sure what my every day will look like. I don’t know exactly where blogging will fit in. I’ve already missed a ton of posts from my favorite people because of all the researching and planning. I’m still here, but I need to concentrate on this for a while. I’ll lurk and post as often as I can.

Any words of advice or encouragement? Any ideas for a name for our little school?


34 thoughts on “School: Our Multi-Generational Struggle

  1. I think you will be a great teacher for Boots. You love learning, and from you, she will learn that. I admire you for what you are doing, and your daughter will be the better for it. Keep us up to date on how things are going. I’m interested to know how things develop. 🙂

  2. Goodness, you have been busy. I was just talking with someone this evening about homeschooling. You may or may not know it, but I home-schooled my way through high school. Anyway, it is a big commitment, but something tells me you’re up to the challenge. Best of luck, my friend!

  3. Congratulations!!! 😀

    Okay, I’ve been home schooling Grace for 4 years, so I’ll offer up my best advice:
    1. The library is your best friend. The juvenile nonfiction section is a beautiful thing!
    2. Kids remember tons of stuff they learn on field trips…you can put more history in a brain with a two-hour field trip than you can with a semester of reading.
    3. Netflix and YouTube are awesome…so many documentaries and educational videos!
    4. If something isn’t working, throw it in the garbage and don’t look back. Grace and I have walked away from more than one boring/pointless book or activity.
    5. It will take time to figure out your schedule/curriculum/goals. Don’t beat yourself up if it isn’t perfect at first. It will get there…and even when it gets there, you’ll probably be tweaking it almost constantly.
    6. You absolutely don’t need to spend a fortune on a fancy, pre-made curriculum…unless you want to.
    7. Home school is like a never-ending dance party where you can stop to make cupcakes whenever you feel like it. 😉
    8. Haters gonna hate. Ignore ’em. 😀

    Okay, that’s probably more than you wanted, but I get pretty excited and swirly about home school. 😀

    1. I know we just talked about this last week. A bit of a turn around, eh? I think I’ve been swirling the public school drain for a while. I just needed that last push. After really looking into it, I don’t feel scared or incapable. I feel nervous, but in a good way. Thank you for your advice. I’ll take all you can give. 🙂

  4. You can do it! Each of our 3 has been homeschooled for part of their education. It has it’s pros and cons but for many the pros win out. Best wishes as you start a new adventure!

  5. I imagine that it will be quite a challenge, but from what you’ve described, it is the best thing for Boots — and for you. So go for it and you will both likely do very well.

  6. I’m so impressed! I am considering homeschooling my son when he is old enough. We have a lot of time to decide, but I have no idea whether or not I’ll do it. Please keep us updated on how it’s going! So far, everyone I’ve ever met who was homeschooled or homeschools their kids has had only positive things to say about it. I’m sure it’ll go amazingly for you and your daughter!

  7. Madalyn, I’m psyched for you and Boots. You’re going to do great and so will Boots. From what I’ve been able to glean from your approach to learning/teaching, it seems to be inline with the #1 ranked school system in the world. Finland. Their approach is vastly different than ours school systems. If you haven’t already seen the Finland Phenomena, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s in four 15 minute segments. There’s a very short intro at the beginning so you will get a little idea of just how different their teaching methodologies are from ours. Dang it woman, we were simply born in the wrong country. 😉

    1. Did you hear the latest news about Finland? They are reworking their whole education system, dropping subjects for topics. I will definitely watch those videos. I’m tempted to base our curriculum more on foreign standards.

      Thanks, V. 😀

      1. Good morning Madalyn. Yes, I did read about that. The concept is brilliant. Kids are bored in American schools because the current system being used was designed, conceived, and structured for a different age — the 18th and 19th Centuries. Schools in America are primarily about memorizing to pass tests, not learning, much less learning to think. “Sit, shut up and listen.” Kids need to interact.

  8. You have chosen a difficult but noble task. Teach her to be a great person. It is not important at the beginning that she can regurgitate loads of information. Teach her only what she needs to know, that is what she can understand at her age. Don’t teach her useless things.
    Be a good friend to her, she will reciprocate the good gesture. Allow her to be a child.
    All the best with this

  9. Noble. Courageous. Happy moments , loving arms and a wonderful attitude. Iam so proud…Maybe more trips to Nani’s house too.🌻

  10. I think you’ve answered your own question with the research! If the school system is anything like Great Britain then it was probably in dire need of reformation a long time ago! Hey who better to teach the future generations than the parents!? Good luck…

  11. That you are worried about the entire process is a good indicator that you will do a great job. Boots is lucky to have an awesome mom like you!

    If I could make a humble suggestion, at some point early on you might want her to get involved in learning a foreign language. I’ll need to dig to find the info, but I have heard that children are better able to learn languages while they are young. The other upside is that foreign language study reinforces rules of grammar that she learns about English.

  12. Well Madalyn, as you can imagine I could have something to contribute, assess, or suggest being a Texas Certified 4-8 Generalist teacher with SpecEd background working in C-FB and Coppell ISD’s.

    I need to take a little time to contemplate my real/full comment. LOL 😉 😛

  13. I’ve never heard of “magnet schools” before. Reading up on them was interesting.

    I… uh… have a lot of thoughts about the education system, as someone who was put through state school (as I’d call it; public school means something else to Brits). Very few of them are positive, so I can hardly offer an unbiased opinion. I had a very bad time of it at school, and my parents did briefly half-consider homeschooling me, but it simply wasn’t feasible – also, homeschooling is much more severely restricted/regulated in the UK. I spent a long time being ahead of other kids due to what I’d learned from my parents (though that was partly due to sub-standard teaching at my schools), so it does make sense that kids who learn from their parents learn better.

    As someone who has only relatively recently got out of the school system: I was exactly the same as Boots. And later, in secondary high school? The “school = bad” mentality was so deeply ingrained that it led to a lot of truanting. (And I was a “nerdy”, well-behaved kid, I just got pushed further by stress.) These things tend to start early. Are you thinking of this as a long-term thing, or are you planning on putting her back into the system later?

    Well, I can’t offer any parenting advice from experience, but good luck! It sounds to me like you’re doing the right thing. Hopefully she’ll be happier, healthier and more productive for it.

    1. Bad experiences in school don’t seem to have any trouble travelling over borders. 😦

      It has been a few weeks now and I already know that we have made the right decision and I think it will be long-term. It is astounding to see her level of retention and enthusiasm when she is interested in a subject and sees the point versus when she feels like it is something she is being made to do. There has been a lot of trial and error already, but at least now her education can morph to fit her needs and interests.

      1. Never mind my earlier question. Now I know. 🙂

        (Don’t see a separate space for a comment, so I’m making it a ‘reply’ to your old one here.)

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