On Monday, something extraordinary happened. My eldest son, Michael, was named to Forbes' 30 Under 30 list. Quite an honor. For Michael.
I did what most moms do these days when our children do something interesting or exceptional. I posted it to Facebook. And then, I clicked it closed and went off to call my dad. And my mom. And to text with Michael's wife. When I returned to Facebook, I saw all the happy comments of congratulations. I also saw that homeschoolers were particularly thrilled. What sort of surprised me was the flood of congratulations for me and the steady undercurrent of "homeschooling must work." When the private notes asking for homeschooling details began, I was better able to understand why the congratulations were making me squirm a little.
Claiming that Michael's award means homeschooling works makes me a little nervous. I mean, if one of my kids messes up (and they do), does that mean homeschooling doesn't work? And I really, really squirmed under the spotlight of it all. It's his honor, his hard work, his moment in the sun. Do I think I had a role to play in it? Well, sort of. What about homeschooling? Did that play a role? Well, yes. But..
Honestly, I am giddy with relief. With this child at least, I know that I will never hear how homeschooling ruined his life and wrecked his future. Safe to say, we've dodged that bullet. His life is lovely and the future looks pretty darn bright.
This is not my award, though.
On the one hand, he is my baby and I did manage to keep him alive long enough to do big things in the world. I also did that odd, and at the time, completely counter-cultural thing of educating him at home all the way through high school, no doubt contributing to the body of knowledge and experience he brings to the job he does now.
(I also sent him a grammatical Twitter edit the day after the award was announced. Some habits die hard;-)
People want to know what the "secret to success" was. What curriculum to use? How much freedom to offer? Where to go to college?
Y'all, I have no idea!
Every child is different. We tailor every education differently.
I wrote a book on home education. My whole heart is poured into that book. I wrote it about 14 years ago, so, clearly, "The High School Education of Michael" is not a part of it. Remember? He's under thirty. He's well under thirty; he's twenty-six. Still, in the last four days, I have considered all the pieces that played into his success. They are too numerous to list and I'm sure I will miss something important, but I share with you my in-the-shower how-in-the-world-did-THAT-happen ponderings.
First, the easy, tangible "curriculum" question. We cobbled together Michael's curriculum every year. We had a beautiful co-op and he learned classics like Dante at someone else's house. His favorite subject was art--again at someone else's house. Studio Art and Art History and the most formative friendships of his childhood all happened in the bright studio of my friend Kate Kampa. It's kind of extraordinary the exceptional talent and skill that has burst forth from that group of kids. They still influence each other and they celebrate one another's successes.
At home, we struggled together to make it all work. He read voraciously and was a willing consumer of all things printed. It was his passion. He liked to write and was fairly happy to comply with whatever writing assignment he was given. When he was about fourteen (the year of hell with boys), he had a memorable meltdown and declared that I was ruining his life and he couldn't get anything done at home. Let's see. Fourteen. That means the other people in the house were 10, 8, 6, 4, and 2. And I was pregnant.
That was the year of Starbucks. We had no library in town, no real place to escape the commotion at home. So I let Michael fill his backpack and go to Starbucks to work on school things. I talked with the manager, explained the situation, and she warmly welcomed him a few hours a day. He's young, but he's old enough that this coffee shop educational venue was without a laptop or a smartphone. He got a lot done. And apparently, he absorbed a lot of cool, hipster vibes that would serve him well later.
It was kind of natural for Michael to grow up and think outside the box. He's lived his whole life outside the box. He "did high school at Starbucks," for goodness' sake! Homeschoolers are weird. But we'd like to think it's weird in an "in the world, not of the world" kind of way.
The other thing of note in terms of "school," is that Michael was passionate about sportswriting. He inhaled it. Our primary writing textbook his last year two years of high school was The Best American Sportswriting of the Century. (Amazon tells me I purchased it on November 23, 2005. Christmas when Michael had just turned 17. For some reason this brings tears to my eyes this morning.) He told me that one day, he would be listed among the best. Not even a decade later, there was this list. (Oh, but the pain that birthed that piece. I know we'd all gladly trade Michael's place on that list to have not lived the pain.)
Read good writing. Write good writing. We emphasized reading and writing and art. Please don't ask me about math.
Michael developed a website. Michael has a ridiculously huge Twitter following. Michael traveled to Brazil and covered the World Cup.(And we haven't even begun to talk about the hours and hours of youth soccer.) Michael runs a non-profit foundation.
Michael learned his most important lessons at the dinner table. All I really did was cook the meal. His daily repartee on Twitter? Totally sounds like banter among my boys. His brothers are as much behind that award as I am. At least one of them is even funnier than he is. Iron sharpens iron.
His intensity? His work ethic? His inside track on the world of sports? His almost innate sense of how this all works out there? That's all his Daddy. That's being a tagalong at countless sporting events while his father worked hard. That's being a sponge in the environment of sports media since he was a toddler. That's having the best mentor in his father that a boy could hope to have. (Ahem--I'd even go so far as to say that that is the effect of having been nursed in nearly every college sports venue up and down the east coast.) We hung together. The lot of us. Every day. All the time. That's being educated by his real life.
And then, it's taking every opportunity, every learning experience, every chance and working his tail off to make something of it. That's Michael. That's quality.
But there's something far more important to note if we want to discuss home education and kids who rock the real world. If you ask Michael his proudest moment of the last year, he'd say it was this one, when he and his wife welcomed his first baby into the world. This moment is the one that says the most about Michael, about who he was, about what he learned, and about why he does what he does. His girls are his light. He's a husband. A father. A provider.
He's only just begun to answer God's call on his life.
*Please note: There will likely be a lively debate today amongst my boys about which child it is whom I think is funnier than Michael.
He knows who he is;-).