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Dad's on Deadline: Talk of school at home sounds familiar

She asked me what I thought about it, and I said, “I think it’s kind of crazy,” or something like that.

Sorry, but it’s been about 11 years, so it’s hard to remember exactly what I told my wife. I can tell you exactly how I felt, though, because I still feel it: it’s kind of crazy.

I’m talking about home-schooling and how it was sold to us by a close friend a long time ago, back when we were young and naïve enough to believe we could pull it off. Just stay one chapter ahead of the kids, we figured. OK, maybe one page. You can’t even believe how naïve we were.

That memory came back to me Monday when, ascending the steps to the Jackson County Jail to grab the daily court register, I noticed a large crowd in front of the Jackson County Courthouse chanting something. Cars honked, people cheered. Better check it out, I thought. Could be news, and besides, just one more protest story and my stamp card’s full. Freebie!

I arrived, court register in hand, to a sea of bleary-eyed parents toting signs like “Schools Not Screens” and “Open Oregon Schools.” I managed to track down the person who organized the whole thing, Julie Brooksby, who did a much better job arguing for reopening schools than have most politicians. Her reasoning was sensible and measured, but she also spoke from the heart.

“We are not here saying COVID’s not real,” she said. “We believe in masks, we believe in social distancing, we believe in Plexiglas. But we really believe in mental health. We believe that kids need the social services that they receive when they go to school, and we think that those things outweigh the risks of getting COVID.”

I talked to three more women at the demonstration, and they all shared horror stories about their comprehensive distance-learning experiences. They somehow made it sound even worse than the name implies, and in case you forgot, we’re still calling it “comprehensive distance learning.”

I can’t relate to parking my kids in front of a laptop for hours on end, but I most definitely felt like holding hands and circling up when the parents talked of going directly from day jobs to teaching jobs. Been there. Still there, actually, and looking at another eight years.

My theory regarding the exhaustion: it’s not just the physical and mental lifting, it’s the emotional work that goes into it, because once you’re the one responsible for your child’s education you begin to feel the weight of their entire future. And boy, it’s heavy.

Sally wants to be a nurse? Fine, better snag those scholarships. So keep those grades way, way up. Which means she had better learn the Pythagorean theorem inside and out, and I don’t care if it’s 11 p.m. and your eyeballs are as dry-cracked as the Bonneville Salt Flats, you WILL accurately state the mathematical relationship between the three sides of a right triangle. Now GO TO BED AND I LOVE YOU!

Listening to some of the accounts and sensing at least a tinge of desperation, I was reminded of the time my wife, following a series of failed math assignments, decided to abandon my son’s entire math program and adopt some newfangled curriculum that seemed to take a “Dick and Jane” approach to the subject. “Um, OK,” I said as I flipped through the book. “You sure about this?”

She wasn’t. The experiment lasted a few days, then it was back to the old book. It worked out fine. The boy’s a civil engineer now, and the parents still have no idea what his math problems are even asking.

My contributions to this whole endeavor stand somewhere between insignificant and philosophical. I give spelling tests, drive kids to piano and guitar lessons, holler random instructions, usually from the bathroom. I’ve taken a few turns teaching language arts, on request.

“You’re a reporter, so hey,” says the wife, probably throwing air quotes around the word reporter.

“Yes, reporter, not writer.”

I relent. Teaching writing is like peeking your head into the kitchen at your favorite fast-food joint. Good gosh, what is that? And that? I’d rather figure out what I like through consumption then reverse engineer it, but instead it’s underline the nouns, circle the verbs, and so on. Leave it up to text books to take the joy out of reading.

“Hey, dad, what’s an abstract noun again?”

If it takes you more than five seconds to answer that question you probably shouldn’t be teaching it. But I’m all they’ve got, and I make up for my random memory gaffes with fantastic lectures.

“Dad adverb?

“It’s bad, don’t use them?”

“Every single adverb is bad?”

“Pretty much. Look.”

I grab the nearest Hardy Boys book, which never fails me. Here’s an experiment. Grab a Hardy Boys book and throw it against the wall. Pick it up by the pages and look down. Chances are, at least one of your fingers is pointing at a completely unnecessary adverb. Those all go bye-bye when I read to the kids, as do the weak descriptions of Frank and Joe Hardy’s bosom friend, Chet.

He’s not plump, husky, stout or heavy-set during story time in the Zavala household. Sorry, Chet, you’re fat.

Mail Tribune education reporter Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Last week's rally to reopen schools struck a chord with Mail Tribune education reporter Joe Zavala