My son turned five this summer, and so the need to act on the issue of schooling is now upon us. Not that I had been avoiding the issue. Far from it.
From the moment he was born, in fact, since before I was ever pregnant, my project was to find a gentle, loving and progressive way of allowing him to develop and unfold. I have shared this dream with many others who unwittingly cross my evangelical path, filled notebooks with plans, scoured the internet for resources and filled bookshelves with a wide range of guerilla education ideas. Steiner, free schools, home ed, alternatives of every colour and creed have been considered. I have helped establish a playgroup, visited home ed meetings, we went to the Steiner school parent's evening when he was just three weeks old. We even threw ourselves into helping to establish a local Educate Together primary school in our nearest town, Midleton.
And yet here we find ourselves about to take our child to the gates of the local village school, a state Catholic school to boot. We are, I feel abandoning him to the 'system'. There is just nothing like the alternative small schools of America here, nor the interest to support one. Though I was delighted to see today that the local home schooling community also dream this dream, but the result of their dream is visioned to be in Cork City 45 minutes from here.
Whilst I have a strong desire to home school, I also have my reservations and anyway, it does not fit with my reality as the mum of three kids under five, who strongly desires to be involved in her own projects, especially editing and writing for Juno, and also desires to retain a little sanity. For me a possible middle ground is flexi schooling, but not unfortunately a possibility on this rather conservative minded island on which I live.
What I want to do seems so natural to me, so right. But I don't want to do it alone. I don't want it to be a choice between my children's or my own best interests. Both my husband and I dream of commmunity education, where we live and share education of our children with our community, allowing us both to be deeply involved in their education, rather than asking a school's permission to educate our own children, and at the same time being able to follow our our work paths and dreams, rather than choose one over the other.
So for us, our "next best thing" as Pam England calls it, is a little village school, a hundred yards down the road from us, with chickens, a herb garden and a hedgehog heap, a caring head teacher. Through it we are rooted in our local community. Not our "community as we would wish it to be full of lots of alternative thinking types", but our community as it is which we inhabit. Though Timmy is fourth generation Pearce in this village, we are still blow-ins! I speak no Irish and hardly know one end of a hurley from another, I have never labeled a uniform or covered a copy book, so for me this is a journey to a foreign land, in the land of my birth. A journey I was not even planning to take. A bit like parenthood I guess!
It feels right for me, that although he is out of my grasp, it is only just: my Madonna's cloak (in Steiner parlance) does not have to open too wide to let him go, as his school is so close. I feel if Armageddon came down to Shanagarry one Tuesday afternoon, he is close enough for this mother hen to swoop in and tuck him under her wing again, under the safe mantle of this multi-coloured Madonna's cloak, and away we go!
So whilst he will go to school come tomorrow, with much trepidation, tears and misgivings on my behalf, I keep reassuring myself that it is not a final decision. We can and no doubt will choose and choose again, whilst we strive to make our vision of inclusive, creative, alternative community education a reality here in East Cork.