How I Became a Homeschool Believer: Part I of III
My first career aspiration as a child — before archaeologist, before lawyer, before tour guide at Buckingham Palace – was teaching. I was one of those annoying kids who was made for school — Hermione Granger if Hogwarts had been in the American South. My hand was the first one up in the air when the teacher asked a question. If the teacher had to leave the room, I was tasked with making sure my classmates behaved and taking names if they didn’t. (I was probably insufferable.) When first grade arrived (kindergarten was optional in those days and not even available in my school), there was a half-day orientation that I mistakenly thought was a regular school day; I was crushed to find out that I would not be going back to school after lunch. So my love of the classroom naturally led to dreams of being a teacher. I used to joke that this was because I excelled at bossiness, but there was really more to it — a love of knowledge and learning, and a flair for being able to illustrate concepts to others. “Playing school” in the garage, complete with a chalkboard for me and chairs for my sisters and our neighborhood friends, was one of my favorite games.
As the years went on, however, other fields captured my interest; I also became acutely aware as I grew older that teaching was viewed with a jaundiced eye by many people. Guys in college mocked female education majors as too daft to major in anything else, attending college to get their MRS degrees. But I had the good fortune to take several education courses in college — including classes in reading instruction and curriculum design — and found that my interest in teaching was not only alive and well but more informed.
When my husband and I had our first child, we looked forward eagerly to introducing her to so many things — books, nature, music, art, faraway places. And we did! But I never thought of it as “teaching” her. Nor did I ever have any doubt that when the time came, she would attend school. What else was there?
One day, in the kitchen of our duplex apartment in New Jersey, the light dawned. It was a blinding light that made me cower and shriek, but it was the start of a transformation in my thinking on the education of children. I had put my daughter, now 2, down for her afternoon nap and was cleaning up the lunch dishes and listening to a radio show. A man was talking about the ways in which parents could teach their children math skills through everyday activities. “Well,” I thought, “we’ve been doing that.” But this man (whom I later learned was Raymond Moore, an educational theorist and friend of educational theorist John Holt — but I’m getting ahead of myself), wasn’t talking about little children; he was talking about children of school age learning school things at home. And the thought that went through my head was, “Good Lord, man! Why do you think God created schools?!” It was inconceivable to me that any mother wouldn’t avail herself of the free education offered to her children by the local public school — an institution that I just knew was run by lovers of knowledge and learning like me. Surely this man and the parents who actually did this strange thing called “homeschooling” were modern-day hippies who lived in the woods and sold macrame crafts out of a Volkswagen bus.
Me? Well, I loved my daughter and treasured the activities we enjoyed together. But I was feeling terribly guilty about her social development. We lived in a town that had no preschools or other early-childhood programs; we also had one car, and there was no public transportation, so finding a program in another town was problematic. And we were a single-income family, which made paying for any program a challenge. The local library, close enough that we could walk to it in even the worst weather, had a free weekly program that my daughter happily attended for 2 years. But, as before, there was never a doubt in my mind that she would attend school when the time came. What else was there?
Providentially, we moved to another town just a few months before our daughter was to start kindergarten. We all fell in love with the local school, which was within walking distance and located in the middle of our residential community. At orientation I suspected that I might know more about grammar and spelling than my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, but she was otherwise a delightful and enthusiastic person who cared about children, and my daughter loved her. It was a wonderful year. My daughter made friends, participated in activities, and displayed a zest for learning that remains to this day. In kindergarten, and then first grade, and then second grade, the school felt like a partner with our family. Class sizes were small; parents were respected and included; and I envisioned a long-term relationship with the public school if everything stayed the same.
Next week, find out how one two-letter word — “If” — overpowered another two-letter word: “No.”