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It is the first day of school. I am awake early this morning. Through my bedroom window, I see the first spears, splinters of sunlight, spill through the trees, and dance in the garden. I watch the chilly hands of this cool September dawn pull heat from the swimming pool, appearing as an eerie mist of steam that rises from the water like a white taffy ghost. I climb down the stairs into the kitchen, clean the coffee pot, grind some coffee beans, pour water into the pot, brew the coffee, grab a fresh cup, place ten books and a dental magazine on my kitchen table and read for an hour. I pour another java, go down into my basement office, turn on the computer, pick up my e-mails, check the weather, major league baseball scores, stats and standings and begin to write this piece.

I hear the patter of footsteps, go upstairs into the living room, walk across an obstacle course of toys, games and books lying on the floor, and open the front Dutch doors. My black miniature poodle, Fuzzy Mouse, bounces outside, into the fenced-in gravel and slate area, which is her six foot by fifteen foot toilet. The unmistakable, cooled scents of autumn's emergence slap me in my psyche and slip another summer recess into the rear-view mirror of my life.

Two neighborhood kids, Joseph, with his blonde hair and Howdy Doody smile and Laura, a tall, pretty girl, walk past my house on their way to the school bus stop. I think, since it is 7AM, they must be starting Junior High today. They both wave and giggle, "Good morning! How are you?" "Good", I say, "have a great first day." "Thanks," is the simultaneous, bubbly reply. Though the scene and the feeling are familiar, that combination of apprehension and celebration, there is definitely something different about this morning.

The difference is that today, on this first day of school, my wife Abby and I will begin a new chapter in the education of our eight year-old son, Justin. At 9:00 AM, the lights will be switched on, the calendar will be marked off, second and third grade level writing and reading materials will be placed on the desk, the laptop computer will be turned on, and our newly decorated den will be converted into a classroom. I will become his teacher and my wife will become the principal in the ivy-covered halls of our home-based school.

I have fathered four children, whom I have prepared for the first day of school, for almost thirty years. The routine has been repeated more times than I can remember. Generally, the typical scene began with a 6:30 or 7 AM wake-up, followed by a bath or a shower, breakfast, brushing and flossing their teeth, combing their hair, and dressing them in the latest style designer clothing, including jeans, T-shirts, and the all-important new shoes or sneakers. My wife and I filled their backpacks to the brim with Tupperware containers of nutritious vegetarian lunches that varied between canned soups, pastas, veggies, fruits, PBJ sandwiches, fruit drinks, snacks and the necessary armamentarium of pens, pencils, paper, erasers, notebooks, folders, glue, crayons, rulers, calculators, money, etc. etc. Then, after what always seemed to be less than adequately allotted time, they were out the door, passed either into our car or the car of a carpooling neighbor, or onto the school bus, and driven to a private or public institution.

Once there, my children were taught a system-created curriculum, which consisted of information that we may or may not have wanted them to learn. The method often disregarded the child's abilities, and what the child needed or the parents wanted. These factors had very little to do with our decision to teach Justin at home. In fact, we actually had a good relationship with the local elementary school. Our reasons are far less complicated. We are simply thrilled with the idea of spending more time with our son and teaching him things we all want to learn.

Not surprisingly, fear rears its ugly pockmarked face. For an instant, it invades and clouds my thought process. It causes some doubt about our current endeavor, and produces several questions. Are we capable of teaching him? Can he learn in a more open environment? Should we employ a theme, textbook or interest-driven instructional approach? Will he be able to keep up with the public school curriculum? And finally, my most dreaded concern, will he be able to attain the academic accomplishments necessary for him to succeed in life?

Hold on, I tell myself, just hold on! This is only second grade. We have always taught him, supplemented his education, if you will. I jog my memory; reminisce about the three-month family sabbatical we took last winter, and some of those wonderful home schooling moments in the car or in motel rooms. I smile. I recall the conversations with our friends, who home-school two children. She said, " commit to one year at a time, so that you will not feel overwhelmed." Her husband said something brilliant like, "we don't have to stuff the caterpillar with knowledge. It will become a butterfly in its own time." Then, I remember that my wife and I have earned college and graduate school degrees, (she in psychology, me in dentistry), and between us, we have more than one hundred years of life experience. We have accumulated a lot of information, which we are delighted to share with our eight year-old. In other words, I think we still know more than he does. Again, I smile.

I believe that we are prepared. We have both read the New York State second grade curriculum. The principal of the elementary school was kind enough to loan us student and teacher copies of second grade books and workbooks. I also purchased workbooks and educational computer CD's for all the subjects at a local Parent-Teacher Store, as well as a microscope and a chemistry set. I will be teaching him language arts, reading, mathematics, history, science, etc. Abby will be teaching him life skills. Besides making his Halloween costume, finishing the memory book begun during our winter 2001 three-month cross-country sabbatical and categorizing old photographs into albums, they will spend one day a week with his Nana, doing chores for her and visiting his Papa in the nursing home.

Friends and family often ask us, "what about socialization with other kids and participation in physical education, music, art, etc.?" This is not a problem for our son. In our town, we are blessed with some amazing, talented and unique individuals, who run various programs in which he can participate. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 11am to 4pm, he will attend a local hands-on nature-based learning center, which is grounded in the concept of divergent education. Activities will include hiking, canoeing, spring exploration, painting, sculpting, map work, study of local history, communing with nature and journaling. On Wednesdays, he will participate in an hour-and-a-half group music class. Using a similar non-linear approach in her music education, the teacher, who credits the work of Joseph Campbell and music therapists as her inspiration, teaches music as an integrated part of life. On Sundays, he will attend Hebrew School, where he will learn Hebrew, learn about his Jewish heritage and prepare for his Bar Mitzvah. Our little all-sport superstar will play hockey, soccer, basketball and baseball with his gym teacher (me) and local leagues during their respective seasons. If we need to fill more time, he can also take art classes and join the local children's drama group and so on and so on and so on. And this does not include the variety of play dates and sleepovers that Justin will have with his friends.

Whew, I feel exhausted just writing about his schedule. My wife thinks that this article sounds very anal. She says that I will be trying to teach him the same regurgitated gobbledy-gook, in a school-like setting in our den, using their methods and materials, in an equally inflexible, ironclad schedule, and that they are trained professionals, and can do it better. She reminds me that we have chosen independent home learning for the potential diversity of curriculum and schedule, and that we can teach him more efficiently and in less time than required in a class of twenty or more students. Since she is the principal and administrator, I think that maybe she's got a point or two. I guess that I am going to have to compromise my academic single mindedness, my obsession with doing it the only way I know, the way that I did it, and listen to her, or I'll be out of a job. As I see it, the advantage we have is that we can create a loving, learning environment that is a composite of our philosophies, and a combination of the three aforementioned instructional approaches. If something doesn't work for any one of the three of us, we can always try something different.

Now that's beautiful! I feel much better. I think that I have had an epiphany, arriving at a place where love and trust has replaced fear and doubt. I believe that the infinite wisdom inherent in the world all around us will be Justin's educational highway. Abby and I will merely be vehicles on that road. What a magnificent opportunity we have as a family! What wonderful mysteries lie ahead! The possibilities are endless.

It's 8:34 AM. I am anxious to begin. I am finished with the first draft of this article, and I am going upstairs to wake up my son and get him ready for the first day of school. Or, maybe, I'll let him sleep a little later today. I don't even have to write a note to the principal.

Dennis Wayne Bressack
September 6, 2001
Woodstock, New York