Why we will not be Homeschooling this Fall

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Change happens slowly, and then all at once. The last couple of weeks for our family has been emblematic of this adage. We sold our house (an hour north of Toronto) bought a property in rural Kingston and enrolled our children into a small private Waldorf School starting in the Fall. Over the coming weeks, the realities of these life-changing decisions will begin to unfold.

For now, it still feels illusory and perhaps too optimistic. These are changes we have been contemplating for a long time, but the timing feels nothing short of revolutionary.

Has there ever been a more tumultuous and surreal time than 2020? Our social and emotional lives are in upheaval. Beneath the veneer of apparent normalcy the short lease of summer offers, a palpable and acute awareness of the precarious unknown lingers.

But there is perhaps some comfort to be had in the dispassionate and indiscriminate nature of this virus. We are in this together. Young, old, White or Black, we are all susceptible and vulnerable to its harrowing effects.

The likely truth of the matter is that whatever course or trajectory your life was on, it will never be the same. It is a loss so far-reaching, we are collectively reeling from its implications. We need to come to terms with the grief that accompanies loss. Like a breakup, the most devastating emotional impact is the loss of what could be. A loss of a shared dream, and finality to a path not taken.

The noun crisis comes from the Latinized form of the Greek word krisis, meaning "turning point in a disease." At such a moment, the person with the disease could get better or worse: it's a critical moment.

We are in such a critical moment in history. And for once, there are no bystanders. This battle is not fought on far off lands or behind closed doors. While our healthcare workers are fighting this devastating virus in hospitals around the world, make no mistake: WE are their frontline of defence. We have an ethical and moral obligation to do all we can to protect each other by taking all reasonable precautions.

But in crisis, there is also opportunity. Crisis lays bare the fundamental flaws in our systems and beliefs and disrupts our regular modes of operating enough to show alternative ways of moving forward.

For our family, this crisis has given us the impetus to make drastic changes. Particularly, the decision to not homeschool any longer did not come lightly. In many ways, it seems counter-intuitive. If there was ever a rational time to educate ones' children in the safety of one's own home, a global pandemic would be it.

But within the context of this pandemic and its physical and emotional effects on children, sending our children to Waldorf school makes the most sense for us.

Let me explain why.

As someone who has homeschooled for the last 3 years, I am well familiar with the benefits, drawbacks and everyday realities of homeschooling. We have loved the flexibility, the inherent social isolation and the "bubble" homeschooling creates. Prior to COVID, this bubble we created was one where our children were sheltered from the effects of mass media and consumerism. We have done our best to create social outings and community for our children, and for a while, it did feel like enough.

Then the pandemic and lockdown changed everything.

Our home, which was once our playground and classroom became a cage. And although we were physically safe because of our isolation, it took a heavy toll on our emotional and mental well-being. Despite being homeschoolers, we had never felt more isolated and alone than during this pandemic, and this is not a place we ever want to return to.

What I have come to realize is this: in Crisis, there is a real opportunity for growth and social renewal. But it cannot be done in fear and isolation.

There is a lot of turmoil right now regarding the Ontario government's back to school plan. You have parents who think the precautions are not enough, and some parents who think it is too much. Safety is everyone's top priority, so why is it so hard for everyone to agree?

There is a difference, of course, between being safe and feeling safe. Actual safety is a fantasy. We can take every precaution and still sometimes find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. When we talk about being safe, what we really mean is taking reasonable precautions. Deciding what’s reasonable is where values and interests often clash, and where political polarization and moral judgment can make sane conversation impossible.
Feeling safe is another matter. It has little to do with risk assessment. We feel safe when we belong to a community, a group of people invested in our well-being and the well-being of our children

- Kim Brooks (author of “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.”)

As a family, we will be taking every reasonable precaution (handwashing, mask-wearing in public, social distancing) but for our feeling of safety, we NEED community. And I don't mean the kind we interact with a couple of times a week. We need to be an active part of a larger social organism, and we cannot let fear keep us from living or our children from having healthy in-person social interactions with other children.

We are fortunate that the small Waldorf school we are choosing to send our children to is in an area with no active cases (as of August 16), has dedicated and conscientious teachers (including my sister-in-law), spacious classrooms, large windows and very small class sizes. These are all further precautions that alleviate our anxieties and reservations for schooling in the time of COVID. Furthermore, the school community will serve as a cohort of its own. Whether this is as lovely practically as it sounds theoretically still remains to be seen. But nothing is certain nor definitive regardless of what path we choose to take.

We are fully prepared to keep our children at home and homeschool if and when the need arises. But in the meantime, we are making the move and sacrifice to do whatever it takes so they can have this kind of educational experience on campus at a small Waldorf school.

For families who are choosing to homeschool, my biggest piece of advice is to focus on rhythm, connection and community. We are social creatures and need each other to feel safe, even during a paradoxical age when we need to stay apart to keep each other safe. Form your bubbles or cohorts, interact safely and responsibly within your bubbles and commit to following public health guidelines.

There are no right or wrong answers, no easy decisions or solutions moving forward. No matter what we do, there is a seemingly endless stream of criticism or judgement. We may all end up having to homeschool again anyway if the government mandates further lockdowns once school resumes. But in the meantime, given the bevy of options - every family needs to decide for themselves what is best for their families, and no matter what you decide - the best thing we can do for each other is to be kind, compassionate and empathetic.