For thousands of years, it was assumed by all artists, purchasers and purveyors of art that sculptures, by definition, stood still. The Venus de Milo does not hitch up her robe (however vulnerable and disarmed she may feel). Michelangelo’s David never slings the stone. Bernini’s Daphne is trapped with her toes half-rooted and fingers half-branched, eternally frozen in her desperate escape from her would-be rapist Apollo who is also frozen mid-pursuit, a dangerous, forever insatiated hunger carved into his eyes. It was always assumed that sculpture was defined by what Arthur Danto later called an artistic predicate. In this case, the artistic predicate was that sculpture is immobile. This “i” (immobility) trait was so taken for granted as a fundamental characteristic that no one imagined that it could ever be any different.
Then along came Marcel Duchamp with his spinning bicycle wheel and Alexander Calder with his revolving "mobiles" and suddenly sculpture moved. In fact, it seemed that it had always been possible for sculpture to move but artists had simply chosen to make it do the opposite. The artistic predicate “non-i” (non-immobility) had existed alongside the predicate “i” which had simply enjoyed a temporary monopoly. Later in his career, when Calder began constructing giant sculptures that filled city squares and did not move, he felt compelled to invent a new term for them to differentiate them from the mobiles. He called them stabiles.
The trouble with having homeschooled my children in the past is that I have introduced the predicate “non-p” (non-public school) into my world. Many parents (and this would be me in a former life) are perfectly content with the belief that school equals “p” (public school). I grew up believing that school was the building down the road, the one with 500 kids of all ages happily learning their math facts from teachers with degrees in teaching math facts who are paid by my tax money to teach math facts. I never imagined I would feel guilty about sending my children to school. The problem is that I have tasted of the fruit and can never go back without knowing that I am not just choosing to send my kids down the road to school, I am choosing to not-homeschool them.
This week I am ruminating over decisions already made and decisions yet to be made about school for McKay. Ken said last night that I don’t ruminate; I agonize. Well, be that as it may, the decisions must be made (and re-made and re-made). And it might as well be a painful process.
McKay has been in a special 4th grade advanced program this year at a district school across town. It has been a tremendous challenge for him—and this is a good thing—but it has also, in his words, “stressed him out.” He has a difficult time writing neatly and producing the kind of teacher-pleasing work that other kids in his class seem well-suited to produce. He spends hours writing and re-writing assignments only to have them returned with low grades because he has failed to meet his teacher’s high standards. Many times over the course of this year, I have lamented the fact that only I know how truly creative and kind-hearted and brilliant he is. I see him struggle and I see the damage to his self-esteem created by the struggle and I know that the best thing for him would be to have a teacher who loves him and knows him as well as I do. But there is only one person who fits that description. And she’s the same person who breathed a several-month-long sigh of relief when she decided that she would not be homeschooling any of her children this year.
Homeschooling was never easy for us. Some years were better than others. Some days were better than others. It took a tremendous amount of self-discipline (something I lack these days) to focus on my kids all day and follow through on even half of my best intentions. I still think it was a good decision. But I’m afraid to take it on again. I’m afraid that I’ll have to completely set aside all my writing plans. I’m afraid that I’ll do less for McKay than he would be getting in another gifted program or even a regular classroom at our neighborhood school where he’d also get to spend the day with friends his own age. I’m afraid I'll do a crappy job.
But I'm also afraid that I'll regret it if I send McKay to school next year. I believe I owe it to McKay to at least try to give him what I know would be the best education for him right now in his life—at home. Isn’t this why I'm a parent: to teach my children and nurture them? Writing can wait. Sanity can be stretched a bit thinner. McKay is the middle child and the least-squeaky of all four wheels. He deserves the same kind of attention to his needs that Ethan got when I homeschooled him at this age (and I suspect Gabriel and Nora will get in a few years). Why am I hesitant to take the plunge again?
Recently, whenever I’m talking to my friends who homeschool, I remember all the reasons why I homeschooled before. I remember the excitement. The sense of purpose. The fun we had. The incredible amount of real learning that went on. I remember why the “non-p” seemed like the best option for us and public school was always a valid back-up plan in case we needed it. On the other hand, also recently, when I can’t seem to make it through a day’s worth of exam-grading and Nora-tending and Gabie-entertaining without feeling overwhelmed, when the house is a total wreck and I haven’t even peeked at my blog for two days, when I can barely find time to help the kids with the hour or two of homework they have in the evenings, I think: HAVE YOU TOTALLY LOST YOUR MIND? What makes you think you could squeeze any more out of your life?
So that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. Just in case you were wondering. I even looked up my old notes from my graduate aesthetics course to find the Arthur Danto stuff because I remembered his artistic predicate philosophy and saw the connection. I doubt Danto (still living) cares much about homeschooling or non-homeschooling. He’s busy writing articles for prestigious journals or curating exhibits of art about the 9/11 attacks. His wife is busy producing her own art and if they ever had children, they are grown and raising kids of their own. Maybe Danto's kids agonize over these decisions. Maybe they don’t. All I know is that once you’ve seen both sides of a coin, you can’t pretend that if you flip it, you’re always going to get the same result.