• Simone Penn

We are never ever ever Getting Back Together.

This is a break-up song (letter).

After 6 schools and 4 years of my family’s life, I am officially breaking up with formal schooling.

It’s not you, school, it’s me.

No, wait. That’s not right. IT IS YOU!

For the longest time I thought that if I could just find the right place, the right school, with the right people and the right teachers; my kids would be happy. I would be happy. But I’ve finally realized it’s not the school, it’s just school in general. It doesn’t serve us.

Before I indulge you all with the inner workings of my convoluted mind I want to say this: I loved school. Particularly high school. I was little miss blonde King David and I loved it. I loved the attention and the socializing and the “Co-edness”. I loved it all. But I’m not entirely sure it loved me.

I really didn’t focus academically at school (which, I’ve been told, is kind of the point). I’m lucky to have a few intellectual talents which allowed me to coast through and get a decent matric result card but I never felt any real sense of achievement - because I hadn’t actually achieved anything. (That did change, to an extent, at university but only because I had a modicum of interest in the subject matter).

I can’t say that I learnt decent social skills. Certainly not by the standards I hold today.

But school was a sanctuary for me. It was a great time in my life. A beautiful escape. I’m just trying to create a life for my children that they don’t require escape from...

When we sold our Adult McMansion (“The Pennsion”) in 2018 it was for many good reasons, but ultimately it was because it didn’t serve us. We had lived there for two whole years, and added a daughter to our family, waiting for the penny to drop. It never did.

We downsized drastically in accordance with our needs and our life improved substantially.

As I learnt when I first got married: need fulfillment is infinitely, infinitely more satisfying than want fulfillment.

I want to do the same with educating my kids.

I don’t have all the answers but I do have some very decent answers that work for me.

In terms of actual educational content - I am

not worried. There is literally Ivy League level resources available to me (and everyone else) at the click of a button. There are university bridging programs and homeschool certificates and and and and. I have no doubt my children will be educated and that they will be educated well.

The argument that I struggled with was the one about socializing. “Kids need to socialize” is what I heard time and time again; I just could never find the link between this sentiment and ‘the only way kids can socialize is at school’.

I also have a major theory brewing, post lockdown, about how our society’s level of, and obsession with, socializing is just an extension of our empty, consumerist, materialistic, outward-seeking lifestyle. I don’t believe the level of social frivolity that takes place in my community is necessary or constructive. I believe we are searching for something that can’t be found externally. We are trying to escape. This applies in many areas of life but Corona has highlighted, for me, that socializing to the extent we do falls into this category as well.

The truth is I want my children to be best friends with each other (and maybe, even, one day with me) so I don’t want to create so much distraction from building those relationships here at home.

I’m probably a bit pathological about this because I grew up as an only child in a single-parent household but I’m fine with that. I’m going in with my eyes open on this one and I still think being friends with your family is a worthy goal.

Plus I feel like no matter how selective we are with private schools, we are still leaving our children at the mercy of external influences for the bulk of their day. And lives! I’m way too much of a control freak for that.

And then there is the cost.

In the past I’ve been pretty vocal about the privilege that is a private Jewish education. And I still feel it’s a privilege and honour second to none. However, I’m not sure I can justify the costs any longer. Especially because I think it might just be something I can provide to my children, for cheaper (or free), in the comfort and security of our own home, to the same (or higher) standard.

My children are five and two and this year we have paid an average of R11 000 a month to send them both to pre-primary school. My husband and I keep laughing: we could hire an entire human being for that amount of money to come to our house every single day and teach them quantum physics.

I want all of my children, (KAH there should be more), learning together, around a table, at their own pace. I want literate, critical thinkers who can identify their interests and pursue them with focus and determination.

I don’t really want all rounders.

I’m hoping their life is imbued with Torah on a constant basis because they live with my husband and I but we will, of course, invest in this area as deeply as possible.

I suspect that once my children are literate the educational world will be their oyster. I intend to help them identify areas of focus and interest and then help to educate themselves in that vein. My son already seems to show a massive proclivity towards building and mechanics. So perhaps engineering?

My daughter loves Barbie. Go figure.

But in any event I’m finally comfortable with my decision. I have no doubt it’s going to be insanely difficult but isn’t everything worthwhile?

(Ok, for the sake of transparency my husband says I should also clarify that this is how I feel today... It could very well change after a month).

I genuinely want to educate my kids at home. I hope I can go the distance.

I’m grateful for the opportunity lockdown has given me to trial run having my kids at home all day and I’m so relived that it doesn’t suck.

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