Tomorrow ds1 takes his first ever exam.
This morning I woke up feeling like I'd been booked to give a poetry reading to a group of 20 Hells Angels.
The two are not unconnected.
Since September, ds1 (age 14), has been studying Chemistry with a group of home ed teens in another county. Each week we've driven over an hour for his 2 hour class.
Before joining the group we'd done quite a bit of basic chemistry. Mostly we'd used the Ellen McHenry chemistry downloads (which, incidentally, are fab). When we moved on to IGCSE-level work at home we found out that doing stuff from a textbook with your mother is darn tedious.
If I'd had the energy to make it interesting and hands-on, I would've, but I didn't. And with the best will in the world I'm not going to. So the chemistry group has been a godsend. Ds1 has had plenty of larfs with kids his age, and along the way he's learned heaps too.
It's been a steep learning curve. Less than 3 years ago he was still writing his letters backwards, putting capitals in the middle of words, and had to concentrate just to spell his own name. He'd had some help with his 'dylexic' symptoms, but when we started chemistry he'd never written more than a short sentence. And very rarely ;)
When we started I knew ds1 would have to work harder to prove himself on
paper than many other teens. If reading text is hard...and writing is
hard...and spelling, punctuation, grammar - and just remembering what
you were writing when you're halfway through your sentence - is
hard...then however bright you are, exams are going to be hard.
When we started IGCSEs he didn't know how to title a page, where to put the question number, how to mark points on a graph, how to label a diagram or even how to draw a straight line with a ruler. Sure, he had lots of knowledge and skills, but unlike in school, where you have to do the tedious stuff every day until it is engraved on your brain forever, he'd found no need to learn this particular skill set.
And then there was content. CONTENT. (There was so much of it I have to write it in capitals.)
And learning how to apply that content.
And then, towards the end, there have been exam skills to learn - jumping the hurdles of the mark schemes...the art of educated guessing...how to tick those exact boxes. It's been a long hard slog for him, and exhausting for me.
And the worst thing is that it feels as if everything we have done - everything we have ever done in our home education - has been leading up to this moment.
Ridiculous, of course, because there is so much more to life than exams. Exams are hoop-jumping. Box-ticking. They are not truly representative of the worth of a human being and they do not demonstrate the extensive skills a person may have.
But exam results are visible proof that we (I) have done a good job. They are something the rest of society looks at and judges.
They are tangible things we can hold up and say 'There! See! I told all along we were doing fine!'
They are the equivalent of blowing a large fat raspberry at all the doubters who ever questioned our decision to home educate our children.
The pressure on home educators to do a good job - that responsibility not to screw up our children's lives through choosing an alternate route - is immense. Even when we don't think about it, we think about it. It becomes an integral part of us. The need to prove, to demonstrate, to defend our choice. However wonderful our home ed day is, however much we or our child achieves, however happy we are with our education choices and beliefs, there is no getting away from the fact that THE BUCK STOPS HERE.
And that's a biggie.
Since we started GCSEs I've had lots of doubts along the way. I loathe the box-ticking world of GCSEs. I know it doesn't *mean* anything. I have enough certificates to paper a wall, but I'm far from a "natural" in the workplace. And, last time I looked, no job description requires you to pass exams for a living.
I ummed and ahhhed for a long time. I swung this way and that. But in the end I wanted - I want - to give him choices. Doing a few exams gives him those choices. He may never use those bits of paper, but at least when he's 16 or 18 or whenever, he will have the chance to take some different paths. Along the way I've developed a nice thick skin ;) to the criticism and judgements of our more autonomous HE friends as we've moved towards more structure and parental direction in our HE style. It's not all been plain sailing and when this exam is over we will need to restore some balance :)
Tomorrow ds1 is taking his first exam.
Hopefully I wont be reading poetry to a group of Hells Angels.