Enforced Home Schooling Can Be a Genuine Education
Of Mooses and Men
By Ed Goldman
I home-schooled my daughter Jessica for two days when she was eight or nine years old and had strep or something. I don’t recall the particular malady because there’s a certain age when children aren’t just children: they’re carriers. (And you can believe that if this pandemic had hit when I had a kid in school, she’d have stayed home. Why endanger teachers, parents and other children? Discussion over.)
What we did during her days off was make a moose mask and popcorn. We also read two math homework problems, which made me uncomfortable because I’d never been able to balance my checkbook on the first try. So I “helped” by reading the problems aloud. All of a sudden Jessica jumped up and said, “Oh, now I get it! Thanks, Da (her nickname for me)!” She told her mom that night at dinner how I’d helped her solve the two math problems. Her mom looked at me with wonderment, subtly smirking to suppress a laugh while congratulating me.
That subtle smirking almost finished off the reverie I’d been enjoying in my poor, fevered head since my kid complimented me. I envisioned my installing a floor-to-ceiling/wall-to-wall blackboard in my office. I’d then use one of those incredibly thick chunks of chalk they show mathematicians using in movies as they fill the board, from one end to the other, with so many algebra, calculus and geometry signs and symbols that the board ends up looking either like the top row of your keyboard (right over the numbers) or like a stream of obscenities censored for a reader’s presumed delicate sensibilities.
Had I not been cut off in mid-fantasy, I’d have started writing shopping lists (and corresponding cost estimates) up there. I might even have used it to balance the checkbook while pacing the length of the board in a cap and gown and possibly adapting a German accent. (“Yoh, vhat ve are seeing here, mein familie, is dot ve are spending too many deutsche marks on something called der Pop Tarts. Dis vill not stand!”)
In truth, I’d have enjoyed seriously home-schooling my daughter had it proved necessary but I’d have needed to do some serious training. For while I’ve done my fair share of teaching—at three California State University campuses and two community colleges—it was always part-time and, regardless of gender, the students were old enough to shave. Teaching little ones, as my beloved Kim did for more than 30 years, would seem to require the fortitude of a warrior, the patience of a saint and the memory of a pachyderm. I only have the latter trait—but since it’s an enormous help to me as a writer I affectionately call it the elephant in the plume.
In the past several months, I’ve read volumes of home-schooling mommy laments on Facebook. They’re alternately plaintive and frustrated but most of them determinedly suggest that it’s a bump in the road the lamenters will simply find a way to deal with.
For me, that kind of can-do-it-ness has always defined momhood at its best. In a different time and a different kind of test, my own mom managed to deal with three sons in a two-bedroom apartment for long days and longer nights when my dad was out fighting fires in Harlem. One of us was usually ill in the winter, and occasionally schools were closed because of snow storms, so she was often our ex officio teacher. Through it all, she was able to blink past her constant anxiety about her husband’s safety; she told me many years later that every time he kissed her goodbye when leaving for work, “We kissed as though it could be the last time.”
I’ve noticed that no home-schooling daddies have weighed in on the subject and because, frequently, both parents have jobs, it’s led me to the disappointing conclusion that guys aren’t home-schooling their kids. I don’t know if they consider K-12 education better suited to a woman’s temperament and skills (spoiler alert: it is) or if they think there’s a division of labor going on here: “Honey, you do all of the home-schooling, cooking and cleaning. I’ll shop if you tell me what to buy and make sure there’s air in the tires to get me to the store and back. Kind of a hunter-gatherer kind of thing.”
That’s a shame. Guys, you don’t know what you’re missing. I’ll outline it for you if you’ll step into my blackboard room. Just put on one of those moose masks by the door.