Be careful what you don’t wish for. When my wife was pregnant with our first son, she began searching Seattle for a good midwife. Having thought little about this, I started from a default idea of how babies are brought into the world - namely, in a hospital surrounded by nurses, a doctor with a stethoscope around his or her neck, and as many beeping machines as possible. Given that the baby was growing in her body, I acquiesced. “But no home birth,” I said.
Three months later, after our midwife had run into some complications with the hospital where she had privileges, and having been thoroughly schooled in the natural process that is childbirth, I heard myself tell my wife, “‘Screw it. We should just do it at home.” Which we did. And all was well.
Once both our boys were old enough for school, it was to school they went. Meaning, as I told my wife early on, “I don’t care how rough it gets, no way on God’s green and spinning earth am I home schooling.” Several years later, when things got exceptionally rough for Sawyer in school, I heard myself ask him, “Do you want to just stay home from now on?” He said he did. And all was well.
Except sometimes all does not seem to be well. I was not home schooled. I went to a series of very traditional public schools where teachers asked questions and I did my best to give correct answers. The teachers always gave you the answers first, and all you had to do was remember them. Since I could usually remember them, school was all right.
Now I am the teacher. I know most of the stuff I believe Sawyer needs to learn, and so I believed I would explain it to him, he would remember it, and that would be that. Only this model did not work for Sawyer in public school, and it does not work for him at home. He does not want anyone telling him what to do, or what to think, or what to read, or what to write, or what to care about. In fact, he does not really want to do anything unless the idea for doing this thing came directly from him.
Which would be fine if my student wanted to write something, or read something, or make something, but often my student claims he does not. So what’s a teacher to do? The answer is perhaps the real reason I did not want to home school: The heart of learning and creativity and life itself is always trust. The worst thing I can do is believe Sawyer when he tells me he isn’t interested in anything. Humans are built to be interested, the same as a woman is built to bring life into the world. The greatest pain of life is always to doubt what we are, to doubt the contraction is meant to help prepare the body for delivery, to doubt that curiosity’s ceaseless creative impulse will be answered.
In this way, all my most useful teaching occurs when I am done doubting and have begun waiting and listening. It is hard for him to hear his own answers if I am jabbering in his ear about how important it is for him to be interested in life, and it is hard for me perceive his curiosity at work if I am busy trying to give it to him. So I get quiet and wait--wait through my fear that nothing will happen, wait through my fear that some people just aren’t smart enough or good enough or curious enough, wait and wait until I hear that first sound of life, a quiet question in search of answer, and I remember that all is well.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.