My blog friend E. started a conversation about homeschooling over at her blog. She shared what happened to her, setting the bar pretty low and opening up the discussion, but then confessed she still thinks about homeschooling her new baby. It’s resulting in a great conversation in the comments, and if you’re interested in the topic at all, I think you’d enjoy it.
Many of the commenters are public school teachers who are disturbed by the current system and don’t want their own future kids subjected to what they’re seeing. That always reassures you, doesn’t it?
My fearlessly pioneering mother homeschooled all seven of us, back when it was officially illegal in Michigan, sending us in to the system when we felt ready. For my sister, that was sixth grade, for my older brother, it was ninth, for me, it was eighth. I consider myself a success story. I learned to read really late–like age 10. I wanted desperately to read, I was absolutely greedy to read books, but I could not get it. My mom wasn’t worried—she had read and believed that some kids just needed more time to grasp certain concepts. But I know if I had been at school, I would have finished out that year feeling like a hopeless idiot; and possibly even been transferred to a special school for the “problem.”
Then one day, I just got it. I started to blow through the early readers. Then the series books. Within three months, I tested at my grade level. Within six, I had far surpassed it. I started reading and never stopped. I still remember the joy of being able to pick up any book and devour the story, a type of freedom I experienced again when I got my driver’s license. Devour stacks of library books, any ones that I chose. Instead of becoming something I was self conscious about, reading was my signature activity. When I finally got to school in eighth grade, I was stunned to meet kids who didn’t like to read. They perplexed me. Didn’t they need companionship on long car rides? What did they do during the endless summer afternoons?
On top of that, I was stunned by the sheer incuriosity of my peers. Sounds cliche, but these kids just did not care to learn about something they didn’t need to know about for the test. I was considered weird for bringing up “conversation topics” at the lunch table. I wanted to hear what people thought about things. Nobody else did. I felt many of the kids acted like drones in the classroom. They waited to be told what to do. A certain downside of homeschooling is that once you enter the system you will be bored by the many wasted minutes that litter the structured schedule.
But Joe is skeptical. He loved his public school education (which was in, admittedly, a wealth suburb school rich with resources). I’m sometimes jealous when I hear about the field trips he took with his class, or the experiments he did in science class. We both think Montessori schools sound like a blast, even if they do cost as much as our college tuition did. And we all know, so let’s not even go there, what stereotype everyone imagines when they think of the “homeschooled kid.”
I was lucky. I had six siblings to teach me to share, socialize, be quick with my jokes and fast on the uptake, get over myself and be open about my flaws. (speaking of, my handwriting isn’t great. I’m a pretty terrible speller. And yet: I love to write.) I had wonderfully imaginative friends who were also homeschooled, and we spent afternoons creating get-rich quick schemes like ice cream stands instead of ol’ lemonade stands, and finding out what happens if you fill a trampoline with water balloons and start jumping. Because we were the only students, “classes” only took up the morning hours, and we had the rest of the day to spend as we liked. We explored the woods behind our house, naming the gulches and building communities of forts. We went for long bike rides, or spent the rest of the day sledding. Most of all: we read, picking up knowledge we never realized we’d find useful later in life.
As someone pointed out on E.’s blog: there’s a big difference between when a parent homeschools for the kids’ sake, and homeschools for their sake (I think the latter type, usually control freaks, are responsible for most of the stereotyping).
For now (she’s an infant for pete’s sake!) I plan to see what our options are when the time comes. Finger’s crossed for a free Montessori style school taught by volunteers from the community.
all images from the amazing illustrator Amy Jean Porter.