"Isn't the important thing that I enjoy the material and am interested in it? Isn't that more important than being able to write out the information on a test?"
This is the question that got uttered in frustration, after getting a not-so-good grade on a history test. History happens to be Brady's favorite class. He enjoys history, always has. He read lots of historical fiction as an unschooler, took an interest in genealogy, and enjoyed his National Geographic Kids magazine for many years. But now, he's expected to regurgitate what he learns onto a 5-page test, in the form of multiple-choice, matching, short answer, essays, and map labels.
He feared algebra with a vengeance. How much did he fear it? So much that this always-radically-unschooled child asked to do it during the run-up to school days. He's getting an A.
He feared Biology. He doesn't enjoy biology. "It's not interesting," he'll say. He does very well in biology. He's getting an A in biology.
So how could it be that the class he enjoys most, in which he engages in discussions, asks questions afterward, and comes home with stories to share, is the one he gets the worst grade in? I wondered if I came across as antagonistic when I said as much in the first 13 seconds of the parent-teacher conference with the history instructor. I spoke of the irony, which for a co-dependent soul could be misread as a veiled criticism. It honestly wasn't meant to be.
"That's an unschooling perspective," I replied to his lament. "You're in school now. It's different there."
It's not about what he likes, is good at, desires or seeks out. It's about what the school deems as necessary to meet their criteria, which is in turn deemed necessary to meet the criteria for acceptance to college. I guess.
During a particularly bad weekend, when he was feeling particularly low, I had to remind him that he is far - FAR - more than his history test grade. He is SO much more. That is one tiny little inconsequential thing and by no means does it define him. But I was angry that one tiny little inconsequential thing has that sort of power, to make him feel so badly about himself.
There are so many amazing things that his school may never know about him.
He builds computers from scratch, but they don't have a class for that. He plays guitar, but they don't have any opportunities for guitar players. He can fix all sorts of things, but they don't have shop class. He knows how to design video games, but online gaming is forbidden on their school-required laptops. He can create computer-programmed robots from legos, but no one plays with toys in school. He knows how to program computers, but that doesn't count toward his grade.
I could go on. It's a bit frustrating.
However, he did come home quite chipper with some news on Friday. His history teacher has his own website and uses it to create study games and tool his students can access from home. One tool was a Jeopardy-like game, a template he used from a website. Brady saw how it could be better, could be programmed from scratch so it would play music and tally the scores and be adapted to the teacher's needs. So he offered to create it for him.
He said the teacher seemed a little skeptical at first, skeptical as in, "Well, it's not necessary, but if you really want to...." and Brady came home and had it almost completely finished within a couple hours. He was excited about it. He was focused. He worked steadily, sought support when needed, worked by trial-and-error and networked with online friends who share similar abilities. He smiled a lot. He called me in again and again to view his progress. He asked his best friend's opinion, his best friend who sat by his side and watched him program for a long time, just happy to offer input and be together.
And when he was finished, Brady said, "I'm hoping he likes it so much, the other teachers let me do programming projects for them, too!" and I got to see that spark of joy that has been so markedly absent lately. I miss it, desperately.
I support him in his choice to be at school. I support him in his choice to do anything he wants to do. I just hope he continues to find ways to incorporate who-he-is into this school journey so it can be the best possible experience. And I hope the teachers get to see this enthusiastic, engaged, 'whole' side of him. So they see what's been missing.