I love the Crayola displays in Wal-Mart, reading the lists of required supplies and the commercials on television for dormitory bedding. I love the rising energy that many of my teacher friends come alive with as they show up at church with fresh haircuts and chatter away with new ideas for their classroom decorations. And for some weird, sensory and thoroughly Jungian sort of reason, I love the daily, comforting, rumbling idle of yellow school buses in my neighborhood even though as a child, I was, as they say now, a, “car-rider.”
Public education, in particular, has a muscular hold within my own family. My parents are retired, public school educators. My sister is a public school educator. My husband is, as I write this, matching his socks, looking for his name-tag, and will shortly be running out the door with a thermos full of coffee to his job as a public school educator. At family gatherings on my mother’s side, few remain of all the cousins, uncles and aunts, who are not public school educators. If we could add up all the years of combined, public education service, we’d probably break a record, somewhere.
Believe me, I believe in the system. I believe in learning. I believe education should be available to everyone and I believe in the steady, servant-hearts of those men and women who spend their lives trying to nurture the minds of the children in our community, which makes family gatherings a little awkward because someone will usually pointedly ask, “When are you going to put your kids back in school?”
There it is, folks. The dirty, little, not-so-secret. My kids are homeschooled.
We didn’t start out that way. My oldest children were faithful, t-shirt-wearing “noble knights of Ethel Kight,” and a picture of them with their principal, the lovely, competent, Anne Cook, has a proud, permanent corner in the sill of my kitchen window. When people ask me why we decided to go in this direction, the answer has never been that we were unhappy with what public school provided. It was about our family. We had friends who homeschooled and we noticed their families seemed to have strong bonds; their children seemed to stand out as mature, intelligent, trustworthy and self-motivated.
After some discussion -my side of the family was appalled- and prayer, we enrolled in a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accredited home study program and decided to try it for one year. I had visions of producing a national spelling bee champ and my husband had fantasies of building a house like those homeschooled Duggar kids on TLC. Both of us have master’s degrees. How hard could this be?
“Get ready,” an experienced, homeschooling friend said, “The first year will be awful. But give it time, and don’t give up.”
Actually, the first year wasn’t awful. It was the second half of the second year through the second half of the the third year, that was awful. We moved, I gave birth to our fifth child, I’m not a box-checker mom and no one thought we could or should, keep this up. Everyone cried. Everyone begged for, “real school, Mom, like what we had at Ethel Kight!”
Sometimes intuition is a tough friend to follow. It’s the sole dissenter when important decisions must be made. It would be much easier for us, me especially, to put everyone back in school and return to life of permission slips, and PTO meetings. But my gut said to follow my friend’s advice and give it more time.
And so begins our fourth year of home education. It’s hard work and nothing like I imagined. Nobody is a spelling bee champion and we haven’t built a house like the Duggars, but I’m so proud of my children. My 13-year-old is reading Shakespeare’s plays, and has written over 100 pages of a coherent, historical novel. My 11-year-old is a math whiz and cooks entire dinners for our family. The first grader is learning to read, the 4-year-old is writing her letters, and even number five has a spot at the school table for his emergent scribbling. They are active in 4H, sports, a local youth symphony and church but more importantly, I am proud of the way they are all learning to help each other and the way it has strengthened us. The world, our home and our family have become the classroom.