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.