Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
Between holidays, an influx of editing projects, and needing catharsis with my post about gun violence, I’ve dropped the ball a bit on the homeschooling series I promised. Each time I’ve started a follow-up, the subject has divided itself into even more parts and perspectives, to the point where I have lists and notes and drafts (some of which were just purged to give me a tabula rasa from which to attempt this again).
At this point, I don’t know many posts it will take for me to cover this topic to satisfaction, but it has to start here, with just a few stories that I believe illustrate how thirteen years of homeschooling was a positive experience. It permitted me to enjoy learning and develop curiosity. At almost every stage of my education, and certainly without a doubt since high school, I have openly acknowledged this experience as one of the major reasons behind any modicum of success I’ve enjoyed in my academic or professional endeavors. I’ve always been willing to talk about being homeschooled, even as an elementary-school student being grilled by family, friends, even parents’ coworkers, and I will be happy to extend whatever conversation begins here into the comments.
In a multitude of ways, the flexibility with which my mother guided our education is a main component to this story. Most often, my sister and I completed our schoolwork at the kitchen table with Mom nearby to supervise or assist; however, often enough that I remember it vividly, I was allowed to work standing at the table so that I could dance to expend energy. As I grew older, I studied in our treehouse or sitting on one of the several walls bordering the property of our hilly Pennsylvania suburb. When I got a driver’s license, I took my English lit. novels with me and wrote papers in the (no longer existent) Borders cafe — and by that point, I was invested in my own education, which I found enriching rather than a burden, so there was little worry that by being left to my own devices I’d goof off and leave all of my work unfinished. This type of flexibility also allowed us to allocate exactly as much time was needed to understand each subject, rather than the uniform periods necessary in the structure of public schools. Dwelling on the imaginative child I was whose boundless energy and inability to sit still or be quiet often got her reprimanded, I wonder how frequently I would have been in time out, in detention, in the principal’s office if I had been in a traditional public school. It seems unlikely that I would have made it through the educational system without either drastically confining and altering myself or being medicated for ADD.
Also, as a young and distractible learner, it was beneficial for me not to be constantly surrounded by peers while attempting to absorb new (and often difficult) material. I bring this up to highlight an important point: Although my sister and I completed our schoolwork almost exclusively together or alone in our house, we had frequent interaction with other people our age. In fact, our mother purposed to avoid the abyss of the “unsocialized” — which is almost always one of the first cries of outrage against homeschooling — and with that in mind we participated in writing clubs, rode horses at the stables where we volunteered, and played the piano. My sister played softball with the local school’s team and I sang with a girls’ city choir. We had friends from our neighborhood, their friends from public and private schools, and friends from the youth group we attended. Once we started high school, there was biology and chemistry at a Catholic school that allowed homeschoolers to take up to three courses, and public speaking and English Comp 101 at the community college, and once we started driving there were also part-time jobs. There’s even more than that, but I’ll stop here. The point is that I was able to develop the tools of communication necessary to function in our world and (another major point of concern for naysayers) in college. Freshman year of undergrad wasn’t my first time experiencing peer pressure, making either wise or poor decisions, having my heart broken, finding and losing friends, or being responsible for myself.
Lastly, although I know that I harp on about literacy and giving children some sense of pleasure from reading, it’s hard to deny that it can either help or hinder a life’s trajectory. Some of my earliest memories of being homeschooled are those that had the most impact on me in this area. Through elementary school, our first activity after breakfast was getting comfortable together somewhere so Mom could read aloud whatever books we were using to learn history or English. My most prominent memories are of the Little House on the Prairie series, which is why it was so special to unwrap a first edition copy of Farmer Boy for Christmas this year. These times being read to were both a smart teaching maneuver and also a way to endear reading to us: We knew that getting to snuggle in bed or sit on the porch to enjoy the beautiful weather was a treat, and having Mom read to us developed our listening skills while we grasped new concepts and built an understanding of our world.
Ultimately, educating your children successfully at home has a multitude of variables, (of which some are negative and will be explored in the next post), but you cannot go forward in this endeavor without balance, without knowing your children and doing your best to create an environment that is conducive to the ways that they learn.