Why I Educated My Daughter at Home (long answer)

Back around 1985, well before I even had a child, I some­how came across Mary Pride’s Big Book of Home Learn­ing. It’s out of print now (though she’s expand­ed it to many vol­umes in new­er ver­sions), but it fas­ci­nat­ed me. Here was a whole book list­ing and review­ing resources for par­ents teach­ing their chil­dren at home rather than send­ing them to school —and appar­ent­ly that was legal! I had nev­er heard of home­school­ing before and had to know more. I read every­thing I could find and knew then that when I did have chil­dren, that’s what I want­ed for them.

By the time I did have a child in 1990, my reli­gious views had cer­tain­ly changed a lot, but my opin­ions on home­school­ing had not. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, well before Katie was ready for school, her father and I divorced. For sev­er­al rea­sons, it was­n’t pos­si­ble for me to home­school her. She attend­ed pub­lic school until the 2000–2001 school year when I offi­cial­ly with­drew her.

Her father and I were both very involved in her edu­ca­tion, and nei­ther of us was sat­is­fied with her only meet­ing the stan­dards the school set for her. We want­ed more for Katie. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, that meant she was gen­er­al­ly well ahead of her class and, frankly, bored. While Katie nev­er had any kind of prob­lems at school aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly or social­ly, she was inter­est­ed in learn­ing at home so she could go fur­ther rather than wait­ing for her chrono­log­i­cal peers.

Sev­er­al things changed in our lives in 1999. Katie’s father died after bat­tling leukemia for sev­er­al years. Katie devel­oped fibromyal­gia (not least due to the stress of her father’s ill­ness and death, I believe) and start­ed miss­ing a lot of school. And we for­mal­ly com­bined our lit­tle house­hold with that of Sam (my life part­ner) and his chil­dren Rowan and Genevieve.

Over the sum­mer of 2000, we had a tri­al of home­school­ing as a fam­i­ly. All of us enjoyed it and want­ed to con­tin­ue. Katie did not return to pub­lic school that fall.

My fam­i­ly, espe­cial­ly my moth­er’s fam­i­ly, has a strong tra­di­tion of work­ing in pub­lic schools. (In fact, every female I can think of in my moth­er’s fam­i­ly who has gone to col­lege got a degree in edu­ca­tion or music edu­ca­tion.) From past con­ver­sa­tions, I knew that they would not be hap­py and they weren’t. Katie, how­ev­er, thrived, and that was far more impor­tant to me than the approval of the extend­ed fam­i­ly. I found it iron­ic that some of my strongest moti­va­tions for edu­cat­ing Katie at home came from the war sto­ries I heard from fam­i­ly mem­bers about what goes on in the pub­lic schools—but because putting chil­dren in school is the “nor­mal” thing to do, they still found my deci­sion to home­school Katie surprising.

Sam’s fam­i­ly had a past expe­ri­ence with home­school­ing that was­n’t entire­ly pos­i­tive, so they weren’t too hap­py to hear about this deci­sion either.

Peo­ple kept ask­ing me why I would want to pull Katie out of school. They fig­ured that if I just did­n’t like the pub­lic school sys­tem, I should have put her in a pri­vate school. Every­one asked about social­iza­tion, assum­ing she would some­how be crip­pled social­ly and miss out on being with her arti­fi­cial­ly age-seg­re­gat­ed group in a school. Maybe they thought she’d for­get how to spend her days stand­ing in lines and respond­ing to bells? And how could I pos­si­bly think that I could teach her as well as all those cre­den­tialed teach­ers, or come up with the same kinds of resources she’d be able to access in school? I was asked how it could even be legal for me to teach Katie—I did­n’t have a col­lege degree, have nev­er even con­sid­ered tak­ing an edu­ca­tion course, and cer­tain­ly did­n’t have a teacher’s cer­tifi­cate. Some peo­ple asked why I would want to spend that much time with my child, as if her com­pa­ny was a bur­den to be borne, rather than a joy to be sought out!

The few who had been exposed to the idea of home­school­ing saw it as some­thing done by extreme­ly con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians (like Chris­t­ian Recon­struc­tion­ists) and assumed that I must have decid­ed to shel­ter my child from the sup­posed new age/secular human­ist con­spir­a­cy being car­ried out through the schools by those peo­ple.

I replied to all of those ques­tions and con­cerns but found that those ask­ing sel­dom real­ly lis­ten to the answers. That’s okay, if frus­trat­ing. I had to do what I believed was best for my child, and I hon­est­ly thought that home edu­ca­tion was the best edu­ca­tion for her. Every­thing we did was tai­lored to her and to our fam­i­ly, and she spent most of her hours with the per­son who knew and loved her best, and whose stan­dards of achieve­ment for her are far more demand­ing than the stan­dards set up by the school sys­tem. She was in a safe, nur­tur­ing envi­ron­ment, sur­round­ed by all sorts of things to use or read or play with or lis­ten to at her own pace. We lived life accord­ing to our fam­i­ly’s sched­ules and pri­or­i­ties, and we were able to do things like dance and Span­ish and dra­ma that were either dif­fi­cult or out of the ques­tion when she was in pub­lic school.

Some of my favorite things about hav­ing Katie at home rather than in school:

  • If we decid­ed to go hike up Stone Moun­tain one day with our books in our back­packs on the spur of the moment, that’s what we did.
  • Or we might decide to stay home and read all day, or go swim at the YMCA, or go use our mem­ber­ship at Fern­bank.
  • There were days when Katie did­n’t want to leave the PC because she was writ­ing some­thing and did­n’t want to stop the flow—and I could let her just work unin­ter­rupt­ed and enjoy it.
  • If we decid­ed to stay out look­ing at the stars (that’s “study­ing astron­o­my” if you want to get for­mal about it) we could do so, with­out wor­ry­ing about how late it got, because we don’t need to get up to catch a school bus in the morning.

And it was all okay because we were learn­ing all the time. There’s no way that any school, pub­lic or pri­vate, could ever pro­vide the same sit­u­a­tion for any child. It just isn’t pos­si­ble. But I could do it at home, so I did.

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