Gabe goes to school

My youngest brother decided to go to school. He was fifteen. He said he needed more structure. He wanted a teacher to tell him what to do. When Mom told him what to do, it made him angry.

It was a little shocking, that he’d even think to go to school. I hadn’t gone. My middle brother hadn’t gone. We stared at Gabe uncomprehendingly for a moment. Mom wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she heard him out, and my parents talked it over a lot, and then they signed him up at an arts and musicĀ  charter school in Trenton.

Off he went. I was already in college, so I wasn’t there to witness the day-to-day transition.

It was a little shocking, and then it wasn’t. Then it was just normal. After all, school had always been a option for all of us. To me, school seemed like giving up. Like giving in. When homeschooling parents got really scared, they sent their kids to school. When they didn’t believe in themselves, and they started to listen when their friends’ whispered skeptical little questions about science lab. When kids got scared, they went to school. When they didn’t trust themselves enough. When they’d met too many school kids who looked at them funny, and they felt left out.

But then Gabe went, and it wasn’t the same. No one had given up. He had made his own choice, and he chose school. He defected so smoothly, that I had to remind myself that he was a school kid now. That when people asked, “So you were all homeschooled?” I had to say, “Well, my brother is in high school now.”


He transferred to a private school in Princeton when the charter school began to fold. He had to submit a lengthy application. He had to meet with the headmaster. His high school was nicer by far than my college. There was even a chandelier and a massive stone fireplace. I felt like I should be wearing pearls every time I walked through the grand, wooden doors.

Suddenly, his school friends were in the house. They were coming over for the concerts my parents put on every few months. They were performing. They were polite and funny and confident. They were singing duets with him, and he was charming everyone.

At school, he became more confident. He walked confidently. He was fashionable. His outfits were coordinated and cute and cutting edge. You could tell from looking at him that other people were copying his style. He was witty and cool and sarcastic, but bright-smiled and friendly. Girls were always in love with him. He knew so many of them now. There was drama welling up around his edges. There were romantic entanglements and gossip and tiny fights that broke out among members of whichever group he felt was his family that week. He loved it.

(he even wore plaid shorts for a bit. I couldn’t believe that he pulled it off. source)

Just as now, he loves college, and everyone at college loves him.

The world we lived in was always intertwined with the world of school. Sometimes it felt like school was waiting, sitting on its giant haunches, watching us with smug, half-closed eyes. It might flick its tremendous tongue and lap one of us up at any moment.

I knew I would never be taken. I was too quick and too wary.

And Gabe wasn’t lazy; he walked right into the mouth, without looking back. And became so much more himself, somehow. When I ask myself why he was so successful in school, I don’t have a great answer, but I’m inclined to give unschooling some credit. He already knew he was talented, when he started school. He was comfortable being different and standing out. He knew how to talk with adults. We had always laughed at his jokes, and he expected other people to laugh, too. He went in swaggering. He went in proud. He is a boy, and he was rewarded for his cockiness. I never imagined it would be the same for me, had I gone. I would have been weird, where he was inspiring.

Which all goes to say, I guess, that nothing is so simple. Or black and white. I’m glad he went. I’m glad I didn’t.

Most of all, I think, I’m glad there was always a choice, either way. And that when I chose, and continued to choose, it was respected and possible. And when he chose, it was also respected and also possible. It’s an incredible thing, owning your education. I consider us both enormously lucky.

(Strangely, though he had never sung before, he starred in a musical at school. He’s been singing ever since!)

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