My wife Cheryl is a homeschooling mom of eight children. Which means she can spit out state capitals and change a diaper faster than John Wayne could empty a six-shooter. But if you ask her what the day of the week is, she’ll freeze on you like a deer in headlights. “Amarillo” she might mutter, in hopes of keeping you at bay. Homeschool kids are not much different, with similarly odd gaps in their knowledge base. Just the other day at the dinner table my 9-year-old leaned over to me and whispered, “Daddy … sometimes I forget Thursdays.”
Now I could get all bothered about this and harangue the missus, asking, “Honey, how is it that today is Monday and you don’t have a clue? And our little girl over there is forgetting her Thursdays altogether. Now is that any kind of way to run a school?” But I’ve had these conversations before and they never go quite the way I expect. Cheryl just asks how I like the new compost pit, describing how the kids all worked together in designing and building it. Then she calls everyone over to recite from memory large passages of Scripture and literature, such as Edgar Allen Poe, Roald Dahl, and Shel Silverstein. When that’s over she gently reminds me that what we’re doing here is helping to build human beings and not fact spitter-outers. “There will be plenty of time for Kyra to remember her Thursdays,” Cheryl reasons, “and if an occasional one gets lost in the shuffle every now and then, what harm is there? Some facts can wait, but character is another story.”
Of course, to some folks this is Exhibit A for why kids should be in school and why there should be a Common Core. For if everyone treated the days of the week with such a devil-may-care attitude, no one would know if it was a school day and the kids might miss out on important sex education. And a nation that doesn’t know about sex is at a sore disadvantage.
As for character, apparently they are teaching it in the schools these days. A mother of a public schooled 6-year-old boy told me so at the coffee shop. “How do they teach character?” I asked her. She was ready: “They talk to them about it.” “What do they say?” I pressed. “They tell them, ‘Character Counts,’” she explained. I nodded. “And that’s not all they do,” she continued. “They put it on signs and banners: ‘Character Counts.’” “I see,” I said, even though I wasn’t certain that I did.
I guess the main thing that keeps me calm is this: My kids love learning. On any given day our floor is littered with dozens of books from which they glean odd and disturbing bits of information, such as what was George Washington’s favorite breakfast (answer: hoe cakes) or how many dust mites occupy my nostril at any given time (answer: far too many).
Even my 3-year-old Madelyn gets into the act. Recently she showed me pictures from Ranger Rick and explained how a skunk—in order to fight off his enemies—picks up his tail and pees on them. I suspect she got a few things mixed up along the way. But if Cheryl was overly concerned about “facts” and rehearsed it before talking to me, then I would have been deprived of a highly entertaining image as well as a viable alternative for when a skunk (or a man) finds himself in a pinch.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not waiving a partisan flag here… as far as education goes it might be different strokes for different folks. All I’m saying is I’m proud of my homeschooling wife. And as far as I’m concerned we can call Monday “Amarillo Day” and forget about Thursdays from here to the end of time. Happy Mother’s Day, my dear—for you are amazing.