Before we get to today’s awesome guest-post by Commander Logic, I have questions for local Chicago people:
1) Do you live in or near Chicago?
2) Have you ever wondered about what it would be like to have sex with a trans man?
If you don’t know Early To Bed, it’s the friendly, feminist, LBGT-friendly, clean, totally-laid-back sex shop in Edgewater. I recommend it to everyone for those times when you’ll be in your bunk.
Now I’ll turn you over to today’s question and the wisdom of Commander Logic.
O Captain my captain!
I need advice from the wise Captain and readers. I’ll skip the tedious explanation of my non-standard family structure (divorces, remarriages, siblings & stepsiblings rotating in and out of various parent-run homes, etc) and just say that this question involves one of my siblings–let’s call him Joe Boxwine–and his family. Joe has a wife, Jane Boxwine, whom I absolutely cannot stand (but who seems to think we’re pals), and two pre-teen kids. Joe and I get along but aren’t close; he’s a rather unprepossessing man who mostly keeps quiet and passive. The whole crew moved back in with my stepdad, Daddy Warbucks, because they were struggling financially, and he, as an empty nester and a widower, had a big house with a bunch of unused rooms. The rent arrangement/long-term moving plans/house rules were never firmly established, as Jane and Joe asked to move in while Daddy Warbucks was still in deep mourning a couple months after my mom’s death. At the time, I was angry because I thought they were taking advantage of his grief, but I also didn’t want them to be evicted and potentially homeless if they stayed in their previous situation, so I mostly bit my tongue.
So that’s the backstory. Here’s the main story: Jane homeschools the two boys, and she is awful at it.
Both the boys seem to have undiagnosed/untreated learning disabilities (I suspect ADHD, at the minimum–the younger one seems to have some autistic behaviors as well), but they are creative and good-natured. Daddy Warbucks and I both think she is doing them a terrible disservice; she’s not remotely qualified, academically, to teach children, and worse, she doesn’t seem to have any knack for it. I recently spent some time at the family home, and because of an injury I spent a lot of time in the living room observing a few typical homeschooled days, RICE-ing my damn ankle. Captain, I was appalled by what I saw. There was no schedule, no designated “school time,” no goal-setting, no desks, no formal lessons–in short, no structure of any sort. The extent of the “teaching,” as far as I could see, was Jane setting out a folder for each boy that contained the homework they were supposed to do that day. Sometimes they would ask her for help on a task, and she said “Ask your aunt, she’s the expert” and made them consult me instead. Sometimes, the boys would just wander off and start playing video games. Many times, they tried to get me to play with them while still carrying unfinished schoolwork (to which I’d say “I’d love to play when you’re done with your math!”). They seem to be way behind their grade-level in terms of what they were studying. What’s more, they are both socially awkward, and they don’t seem to hang out with anyone except their mom.
So, here’s the question: what the hell can I do to help these kids, short of kidnapping them and enrolling them in real school? Daddy Warbucks and I are really worried that they are going to end up as poorly educated misfits who don’t get into college and who resent the hell out of their parents. I have tried to get Daddy Warbucks to lay down the law (his house, his rules), but he has a hard time doing that for two reasons: 1) he’s affable and conflict-avoidant nearly to the point of absurdity; 2) Jane Boxwine is passive-aggressive and manipulative, and he’s afraid if he kicks them out or even threatens to by establishing more rules, she’ll take the kids away and never let them visit their grandpa again. I have no authority over Jane Boxwine, but I’m willing to be a bitch if necessary; he has authority in that he owns the house, but he’s not willing to act authoritatively. But we both care about these sweet boys and want to work together to save them from unwise parenting and devastating “teaching.” Help!
Educationally Concerned Auntie
Okay, we may be opening up a BIG OL’ can of worms in the homeschooling community, so I want to say right here and now that I have no beef with homeschooling as a phenomenon, and it doesn’t sound like you do either, Auntie. Done well, it can be amazing! But in this specific case, it seems like there are capital “I” Issues.
Wow, do I sympathize with you. Reading is fundamental, right? How could it NOT make your blood boil that your nephews aren’t getting the best education the universe can provide them? But they aren’t your kids, so what to do?
I’m going to take you down some interesting paths in a sec, but before you do anything, I want you to become an EXPERT (ok, an afternoon-of-internet-browsing style expert) on homeschooling in the state and county where they live. There’s a lot to know, but for the paths I’m going to suggest, you need the following information:
1 – What is the local definition of appropriate homeschooling?
2 – Is there anywhere they have to/are encouraged to register with the school board?
3 – Are there tests to determine grade level competency? How do homeschoolers take those?
4 – Is there a local chapter of homeschoolers nearby and who runs it?
Now that you’re armed with information, I’m going to provide three paths:
PATH #1 – LEAST RESISTANCE
These are not your kids. The best you can do without getting into a confrontation is to be Awesome Educational Gifts Auntie. Send them books. Send them educational games that you loved as a kid. Send them chemistry sets. Get them subscriptions to Make Magazine (http://makezine.com/). Invite them to stay with you and take them to museums. Set up a Skype date with them weekly to show them cool things you found on the internet. Ask them to send you art projects.
Accept in your soul that it is not your job to teach them the fundamentals of reading and communicating, and hope that exposure to the internet will force them to read prompts and write responses.
The goal here is not to show Jane Boxwine how it’s done, but to broaden their horizons as much as you can from afar. The phrase for this is “I thought this was so cool, and I thought of Nephew A or B!”
PATH #2 – UP IN THIS BUSINESS
This is going to involve a confrontation of sorts, sorry. I sense that dealing with Jane Boxwine is going to set your teeth on edge, but I’m giving you two mantras to deal with this:
“She really, truly wants what’s best for her children.”
“I want to help her get what’s best for her children.”
And then you’re going to have to listen. A LOT. Because neither of those mantras is “I know what’s best.”
So here’s how this is going to go down: You’re going to ask Jane and Joe to dinner without the kids, and you’re going to tell them upfront – as part of the invitation – that you want to talk about the Nephews Boxwine. “They’re getting to an age where I’d like to be more involved in their lives, and I loved the time I had with them when I was laid up. I want to help with their educations (for examples of how see Path #1), and I want to know what you think would be appropriate. Also, have some great dinner with you guys!”
Then you ask questions, always keeping the mantras in mind. Listen to the answers and prompt for more information, but provide NO ADVICE:
– How did you decide on the homeschooling program you chose?
– What do you think about socializing kids to their peers? If yay, then when should that start? (Mention that NYT article you read about homeschool groups who fieldtrip together)
– What grade level are the kids at now? (So you can send them appropriately aged books and games, of course)
– I know it’s early, but do you think the nephews will try for college? Does your program have a grade-equivalency set up for transcripts?
– Do you know anyone else in the area who’s homeschooling? (They might be able to help Jane out, trade off classes and whatnot.)
They might get suspicious of you. What’s your agenda? Come back to the mantras. “I want to help you educate the nephews. Daddy Warbucks does, too. What would that help look like for you?” You already know what it looks like for you, Auntie, but you won’t know what it looks like to Jane and Joe until you ask in depth.
They may also get defensive because they haven’t thought about this stuff and you’re just springing it on them all of a sudden. “It’s cool if you haven’t thought about it! I certainly hadn’t before I thought about getting closer with the nephews. I know you’re doing all you can for Nephews and that’s what’s important.”
What you want out of this meeting is to deliver the message: “What do the Wineboxes need from Team Winebox-Warbucks-Auntie to educate the Nephews? Also yes, we are all on the same team.” The answer doesn’t have to come over dinner, but dinner is the opportunity to tell Jane that she’s not alone, and someone is listening to her and wants what she wants: The Very Best For Her Kids.
The result may be that the kids go to public school. Daddy Warbucks may help finance them into private school. Maybe they will still be homeschooled, but they can be EFFECTIVELY homeschooled with some help. But you won’t know what the ideal outcome is for Jane and Joe until you ask.
PATH #3 – NUCLEAR (not recommended)
Depending on how homeschooling is regulated in the state in question, you may need to call the local school board, the department of children’s services, or the state’s department of education. Explain the situation, and that the nephews may be considered truant. Did you know? In Illinois, homeschooling that doesn’t meet state standards can earn the teacher a Class C misdemeanor charge.
If they live in a state that involves criminal charges like that, the nuclear option should be preceded by asking Jane and Joe if they knew about that possibility. Dropped casually into a conversation, that may be enough to scare them to public/private school. If it doesn’t, and you drop that bomb on them, be prepared for massive fallout.
So what do you say, commentariat? What have I missed? Also! Do you have great ideas for Awesome Auntie educational contributions? I’m the auntie to two nephews myself, but they aren’t quite at the age yet where I can get them the COOLEST THINGS. I’m impatiently awaiting their Make years.