Curricula are for uninspired parents

Kate Keyhoe is a professor of American literature and creative writing. With her husband, she homeschools her daughter.

I’m supposed to be writing right now – not this, some bloggy letter to Penelope Trunk but really writing, as in poems or lyric essays or a think piece on the last avant garde art installation I saw.

I’m supposed to be writing right now because I just spent the past 1.5 hours of my scheduled quiet work time making an individualized scope and sequence for my kindergarten daughter. (OK, die-hard long-time homeschoolers, simmer down, I know we haven’t even begun to homeschool yet, but tell that to every single person in my family who started asking when she turned 2 why she wasn’t in preschool yet.)

You should see this scope and sequence – it’s got columns for grade levels and rows for subjects, a masterpiece of classification. And of course it’s also deeply depressing. I move the document to the file I have for these things – I make them about four times a year, around the week in each season when I start writing hypothetical guest blogs for Penelope Trunk. It’s a symptom of writer’s block for me and I try to remember what it means.

First, it means the poems and essays I’ve been writing, if I’ve managed to write at all, are complete shit. Second, it means that every morning when my two hours of quiet time ding shut, I am a boring, listless, distracted parent clicking around on mommy blogs while I tell my daughter to draw something. Or whatever. Yeah sure, make me some fake coffee, kid. I’ll fake drink it. Meh.

And sometimes she can shake me out of this mood with the sheer force of a five-year-old’s boundless curiosity about the world around her. We have to read The Magic School Bus Goes to the Power Plant six times today. It is essential! I have to dance like a spastic electron for you. Why would a person do anything else?

Other times, because she’s my kid, she mopes next to me on the couch. Mommy, let’s play. What do you want to play? I don’t know, Mommy. Think of something.

But when I make these lists of themes and unit plans and benchmarks, I know the end of my block is coming. Sometimes I forget I know this and become paranoid that myself-the-writer has been hopelessly subsumed by myself-the-mother, but it hasn’t happened so far.

So go ahead, Self, order a continent puzzle of Asia and book about Peach Boy and another about the Water Dragon. They’ll look like they are for the kid but they are for you. They are for you to share your curiosity with her. I don’t know, Mommy. Think of something. Well kid, let’s play school, because I love school. Because school has always been my favorite thing, not because of the overwhelmed and irritable intellectual despot of a teacher, not because of lines to the water fountain for a timed 5-second sip before being forced to endure 35 minutes of kickball on the blacktop, but because there’s so much to know you can hardly even keep the possibilities straight on your beautiful, useless spreadsheet of future learning.

Because I don’t want to be selfish, I throw a set of Snap Circuits in the shopping cart for her. And then I write this, because the epistle is an ancient and worthy literary form that warrants deeper investigation. And because our distractions and preoccupations are never just shit, they are also the beginning of some idea you didn’t plan on having. And often those are the best ones.

25 replies
  1. Courtney Smith
    Courtney Smith says:

    This may be my favorite guest post ever. I was ready to be super defensive after the title, not because we use a home school curricula, but because I often feel like a boring and uninspired parent and worry that that means we can’t be free learners. Instead it was comforting and helpful to hear that other (interesting, obviously excellent) parents have the same anxieties and struggles that I do.

  2. lisa
    lisa says:

    most home-schooled children miss out on social skills development. I don’t know why this woman is intent on home-schooling her child except for egotistical reasons. If she thinks she can compete with the state then more power to her…..but she’s wrong. Not being a certified teacher and trying to teacher your own child is like not being a certified surgeon and removing your own appendix. It won’t work. Trust me. From a certified Ontario Canada teacher with 18 years in the field, this won’t last.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Why is it egotistical to homeschool your own children?

      You don’t need to be a certified teacher to homeschool in the US. All the certification means for teachers in the US, is that one has completed the necessary hours of classroom management (babysitting).

      My husband is a mechanical engineer and I am a college graduate with plenty of education under my belt to provide a more than adequate education to my own children. I have three girls under the age of 8 who more than one time have rejected the option of going to school.

      We are unschoolers. No curricula here. We follow our passions and are self-directed autodidacts.

    • Tina
      Tina says:

      I can only imagine your disdain for homeschooling stems from the fact that we make you life’s work unnecessary. Most homeschooled kids I know have better social skills than kids who attend traditional school. Why? Because they have better role models in their parents at home rather than their peers at school.

      This post is reflective of the fact that homeschooling is hard and there are plenty of days when I feel uninspired. But then you have those days when your kid does something amazing like start reading on his own. My oldest who is 5 is starting to program video games. It’s amazing what they can do when they can chart their own path.

      And they can learn to be “socialized” without the confine of traditional school. Just because you are locked into the traditional way of doing things, some of us are really doing what is best for our kids and escaping an obsolete system built to teach kids things they don’t need to know and don’t care about.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Lisa, I disagree with your comments about homeschool. I know your perspective has been formed through the lens of the credentialed education bureaucracy, but I would hope not even 18 years of paid conformity to edu-think would have completely stifled your curiosity.

      I hope you’ll reconsider after reading more from the always-thoughtful and -tactful commenters here at this site.


    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Don’t try this at home, people. One slip of the curriculum and you could rupture the self-esteem, causing potentially fatal thought poisoning.

    • Sophie
      Sophie says:

      Hi Lisa,
      you seem to “miss out on social skills development” yourself. Have you been homeschooled?

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      This comment [by lisa] is funny. First of all, I seriously disagree that the state knows better. But I’m not going to try to argue my perspective. It’s just such a 180 (look around for 60 seconds) from this blog that it is humorous. Sometimes it is nice to read a clean statement in the opposite direction for traction and getting bearings by remembering a starting point of disagreement.

      The author of this post will be a wonderful home school parent. Not only is she a great writer, but her writing reveals an inner depth that will provide a good marinative milieu for learning and for developing intellectually as well as personally.

    • Constance
      Constance says:

      As a homeschooling parent in the same province, I find your comment laughable. My children are regularly complimented on their behaviour while some of their friends who attend public school shock everyone with their behaviour. I have known a number of teachers and the majority of them became teachers so that they could have the summers off and could count on a pension while the rest of us fend for ourselves. It is acceptable here for teachers to feed their union propaganda to the students while the elementary and high school teachers take turns going on strike making life difficult for parents and using the children as bargaining chips. I would like to read an honest essay/blog post from a “certified teacher” for once. The majority of them are not there because they love other people’s children or because they are better at educating young people.

    • Betsy
      Betsy says:

      I am a certified teacher with five certifications and 20 years of public school experience. The great lie that the system tells is that parents can’t do it themselves, and do it better. Not all of them can, but a lot of them can. Most reasonably educated, motivated parents can do a superior job of providing their children with a specialized education that simply outshines what the public schools can do. Most of the teachers with whom I have worked are fantastic, but there is only so much they can do with a 20:1 ratio and a relatively inflexible curriculum.

      As for “most” homeschooling kids being poorly socialized? There is no way that you can know “most” homeschoolers so your generalization is poorly based. There are poorly socialized people everywhere; public schools aren’t a panacea for bad manners, sociopathy, or being “weird.”

      I am not a homeschooling parent, but I wanted to respond.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      wow…intense comment
      I would love to homeschool and I admit it’s a little egotistical…I know I would do a better job than the teachers…the teachers, who, for example, called Jacques Cartier “carry-air”…who think Junie B Jones is good literature, etc etc etc…alas, my strategy is to teach the child how to deal in the world of middling people because that’s what she’s going to have to do in life…but the magic is at home and comes from her…her job is to bring the magic to others…

  3. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I misread the title and thought it said Curricula for Uninspired Parents and thought Wow, Penelope really knows her audience – that’s me, and I started to look for the lesson plans. How sad! Wake up call to me.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      I had misread it at first in the same way. Either way would be interesting to me. Not because I am uninspired (at all) but because I’m always open to new inspiration no matter zealously inspired I am (which I am). I loved the scope and sequence chart description. Especially the phrase “masterpiece of classification”.

  4. mh
    mh says:

    I’m requesting help from my favorite commenters. The child’s question was, “why were the Russians our enemies?” I’m looking for a good cold war overview, preferably video or online, but book ok. I have good material for events of the cold war, but no good overview.

    If I can’t find one, then the project will be for the child to make one, eh? If you have a suggestion, I’m all ears. And one finger to type with.

    • Rayne of Terror
      Rayne of Terror says:

      The National Geographic website has a unit called From Ally to Enemy: 1920 to 1950

    • Caroline
      Caroline says:

      How neat that I can share my documentary film on my favorite and only blog site. See the link to the website to watch the 53 minutes. Here’s the synopsis: The documentary film ‘Forgive Me, Sergei’ is a story of love, betrayal and forgiveness between two people who never met. It is an example of how the ideological war between the Soviet Union and the United States dramatically affected the fates of those living in the Twentieth Century, how a 20-year-old Soviet sailor Sergei Kourdakov, on the third of September 1971, jumped from his ship in the Pacific Ocean and barely made it alive to the Canadian shore. As a political immigrant, Sergei turned over a completely new leaf . . . for his tragic life.

      Before his death in 1973, he wrote his autobiography, which sold millions worldwide in 14 different languages, including Russian. In Europe, Canada and Africa, the book was sold under the title ‘Forgive Me Natasha’. The US English version and Spanish version was entitled ‘The Persecutor’. Thirty years after Sergei’s death, a young American woman, Caroline Walker, inspired by this book and a vision from God, finds herself in Russia. It is an upsetting journey not only regarding this modern day ‘Apostle Paul’ but even more powerful – Caroline’s own fate.

    • Liza
      Liza says:

      What a beautiful piece of writing!
      Kate, where else can we find your works?

      Maybe you could write poems about homeschooling?

  5. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    For this parent, curriculum is for the insecure. I am comforted that someone else has defined the scope and sequence, so that I can feel less like my simple rural background is limiting our learning journey.

  6. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    “order a continent puzzle of Asia and book about Peach Boy and another about the Water Dragon. They’ll look like they are for the kid but they are for you. ”

    I totally did this all the time when I was home with my preschooler…so many educational toys and books and things to help ME make it through the days and give us new stuff to do together…she was mostly fine with contraction paper, scissors and various marking media…

  7. Sarah L Hendricks
    Sarah L Hendricks says:

    How much do you want to bet that Lisa either has no children or missed out on most her children’s childhood and is living vicariously through her deluded, artificial societal construct? I know it’s harsh to say so… But true. My parents public schooled me and regret it so much that they will never admit it to themselves, and vehemently and defensively attack my decision to homeschool (notice how homeschooling parents are not out attacking public school parents in quite the same vehement, defensive way.) As for me, a homeschooling parent who was herself public schooled, I can see in retrospect how stunted I was, how my individuality was stifled, how I was patronized and infantilized to the point of desperate rebellion. Based on my experience, I will never be able to see public school as anything besides toxic, and a denial of true human potential.

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