My youngest daughters are best friends.
The eldest doesn't admit that they are, but they are.
When the eldest isn't at school they spend their time playing and talking together, or at least near each other, their imaginations take them on wonderful journeys together. They share toys and clothes, fall asleep next to each other and wake up next to each other most mornings. They squabble (constantly) but they work it out. Watching them play and learn together is one of my greatest joys. Reading to them, watching them draw and paint, listening to their wild and fantastical stories is a constant delight.
I took these photos on a recent weekend at the beach, when they were drawing together on the back verandah of the beach house. And I remember that happy, quiet, involved state of play, with the sound of the sea in the background, with goannas close by and birds trilling, darting and gliding.
I remembered it particularly during a school meeting this week, discussing how to help the future schooling of one of my other, more challenging, children.
And one of the liaison teachers said that it was important for my child's socialisation that they attend a physical school. (As opposed to the distance education one I've been looking into for one of the kids.)
And I tilted my head and considered. I didn't say anything at the time (although I expect my expression might have said it for me) but I thought that was rubbish.
And, what's more, it was very hard not to withhold my respect for her as an educator. Which is somewhat unfair, as I'm sure she works hard in a very difficult area.
However. Like my kid, I'm neurodiverse person and I vividly remember what torture much of my school years were - despite the fact I adore learning. (The rush of discovery and research, the thrill of a new book. I'm presently doing a Masters of Ancient History for the joy of it, and I hanker to get to do a phd. Not because I think it'll end in a job - quite the reverse - but for the sheer exhilaration of the knowledge unearthed and stretching my brain.)
However. Much as I try I can't separate the history obsessive within me from the everyday person. I just can't. It's itching to get out and correct her.
And historically, the idea of corralling hundreds of children away from their families and educating them on a government set curriculum is, to say the least, exceptionally new, with many, many examples to be found of its massive flaws.
The very last thing it teaches is socialisation. At least for kids who already come from a settled family where learning is honoured.
In general, I have a lot of respect for teachers. Especially at the moment. They care, teach, guide, protect, spark the imagination, harness potential... but...
They are hampered by a system and a framework that's too big and unwieldy. Too many of them are suffering from burnout, overloaded with paperwork and classes that are unrelenting and challenging.
And not every child will be able to cope with the size and stresses of a school, of being forcibly detained in crowded rooms with a hoard of loud peers, many of whom will try to bait them.
The present schooling system is one of the best we can come up with, within the constraints of parents working outside the home, budget, lack of community and family supports and governments that don't take educational research on board.
But 'one of the best we can come up with' isn't going to work with every kid, and it particularly isn't going to work well with neurodiverse or traumatised kids who spend the entire time at school in flight or fight mode.
I should know. I was one of those kids. I chose flight. And flew into my own imagination and the world of stories and books. I had some brilliant, dedicated teachers. But being around my peers?
To be honest, kids, and particularly tweens and teenagers need some diluting. Lumping hundreds of them together when they're hormonal, irrational, intense and angsty, doesn't make much sense. (And yes, I remember thinking that back in school, trying to navigate crowded hallways full of loud and screaming girls. Each of whom was fine as an individual, but as part of a group was like a barrage of sound and fury.)
Unless you go into teaching, precisely what workplace does a school prepare you for?
(I admit it, my kids going to school has brought back a LOT of PTSD. I greatly disliked it the first time around, and I'm not liking it any better going through it with my kids.)
The school system as we know it today was largely started to keep kids off the streets so their parents could do factory work. And so kids could read the bible. While I'm glad my kids don't need to work in mills or down the mine, and have the opportunity for schooling (I'm making one of my girls read I am Malala so she has a better understanding of the importance of education, and how hard some people must, and do, fight for it,) my kids also have options to learn at home. And I never forget how lucky we are that they do.
And while there are many reasons I'd like my kids to attend a physical school - their socialisation isn't one of them.