Essays From a Family of Four
I DIG traps for myself. When I forget where I dug them and fall into them, I have the opportunity to remember the process of digging, to decide if the reason for digging was valid, and to examine the quality of my own workmanship as I attempt to find a way out of the trap or decide to accept that particular trap as part of my existence.
In addition to writing the essays that have been published in this newspaper and, so far, five other publications, I write short stories and poetry, and I have written several books. I have been at this with varying degrees of intensity since before our daughters were born. I have attempted to sell my writing, most seriously in the last five or six years. Twelve short stories have been published in four magazines. I have sent many other stories to many magazines, without good results. Sometimes, I say wh at I think about attempting to market essays and stories, that it uses up a lot of time that could better be used writing more stories or essays.
When our daughters first started public high school, Amanda as a sophomore and Juniper as a junior, they came home with the information that career counseling was a part of their schooling. They were already being tested and advised to direct their education and talents into channels aimed toward particular jobs.
I said, "This culture is far too oriented toward jobs. It's too early to be thinking about career choices in anything but very general terms."
The ensuing family discussion brought out several interesting points. During the process of selecting classes at the beginning of the semester, the importance of math and science classes was emphasized, and art, voice, drama, and literature de-emphasized. To meet requirements for graduation in three years, Amanda went without an art class and a drama class, where her interests actually lie, so that she could have a biology class and an algebra class, where her interests are not.
The solution to the nation's difficulties with low scores in science and math among high school students does not lie in insisting that all students gain advanced knowledge in the subjects. Not all students can make a career in fields that rely heavily on math and science. Someone has forgotten that we also need singers, authors, painters, actors, and musicians. One who intends to concentrate in one of those disciplines needn't spend undue time with science and math, assuming a basic acquaintance with bo th, which Amanda has.
I told the girls that a broad educational base should be laid down during high school, and decisions about how to earn a living should come in college or after high school if one decided not to go to college, an idea Amanda was entertaining, after what became a somewhat sour experience for her in public school. A focus on earning money should not begin at this early an age. Education should be first, with the freedom to still be a child also having considerable importance.
Everyone in this family writes. Laura has published three essays in this newspaper, and Amanda one. Amanda has fiction scheduled to publish soon in Creative Kids and in Brilliant Star. Juniper has published letters in this paper and in The Atlantic Monthly. With two other students, based on one essay written at leisure and another written against the clock, she was chosen to represent her school in an international writing competition this spring.
Impressed by all these achievements and realizing that four people trying for publication might increase the income from writing, I attempted to get four to produce and send out many essays. I made almost no headway. Juniper and Amanda are not interested in writing for money. "I want to write what I want to write. I don't want to design anything to fit an editor's standards," Amanda said. Amanda and Juniper both said they had seen how much of my time I put into attempting to market the products of my wri ting, and they had no desire to use up their time doing that when they could be writing. Besides, they said, if high school students are too young to be directing their energy and attention toward careers, then they are too young to be concerned about publication for financial gain.
As I said in the beginning, when one finds oneself in a hole of one's own digging, it is a good time to examine the history, the motivation, and the quality of workmanship.
I asked myself again, "What are children for?" and the answer still seems to be, to learn, to love, and to be children. I asked, "How long are they children?" and the answer seems to be, "Until they are adults, by their decision and by ours, working together." I'm as unconcerned as ever about what the rest of the culture might think of our answers and methods. It has all worked well for us and continues to work well for us.
It surprises me that some of this entrapment I have fallen into pleases me. The history makes good sense to me, as does the motivation, and a careful examination of the workmanship shows it to be not perfect, but far from shoddy.
They are right in what they are saying. We have helped them learn self-motivation and accurate and critical thinking, and they are putting what they have learned to work. Before she withdrew from public school to return to home schooling, Amanda said we would need to give her regular assignments, because she had some fear about letting go of all the structure of public school. I think that fear was stimulated by all the alarm around her of everyone who feared the change, as if education were held captive
by public schools.
Now that she is out of public school, she remembers that she can trust herself for motivation and direction, so she wants to back away from assignments.
Before she remembered that she could trust her own motivation and sense of direction, I did get one essay from her, on why she withdrew from public school. Just this evening, I got a commitment from her to revise it so that it might be publishable, because I think what has taken place and her view of it could be important to people who are concerned about education and because I want her to pay for her own piano tuning next time it's done.
Juniper is still in public school. She said that the educational experience, including the opportunity for some social education, is important to her but that she will not be molded to anyone's concepts of careers or how she is to make her way in the world. She is not interested enough in money to attempt to write essays to sell. She does hope to work next summer as a wrangler or a ranch hand at the camp she went to last year, for the love of the experience and for money, with money far secondary.
So, the fact that I can't get essays written by anyone but, occasionally, Laura (we adults value money more than our daughters do), is in part my own doing. I might be able to talk Amanda and Juniper into more essays, but I would have to back up and disown a large part of what I've said, that reexamination tells me is valid; I don't want to disown it. So, most of the essays will continue to be what I've written. We will have to settle for that.