home education series: when a scholar marries a hunk of reality

For the past month and a half, I have been living and breathing homeschool ideas, myths, theories, and practices. I get so caught up in thinking and writing that sometime I can’t sleep. This is exciting stuff, people.

It all started when one of our church’s issue-based adult Sunday school classes decided to do a series on the three different educational methods: homeschool, public, and private. Last Sunday I presented to the class about homeschooling, and this next Sunday I will moderate a panel of homeschooling parents (there are at least six families that are currently homeschooling). What follows will be a series on Home Education based on excerpts from my presentation.

Never before have I written so straight-forwardly about homeschooling. It’s going to take me a few posts to peel back all the layers, so hang tight. I welcome questions, additions, rebuttals, and confessions. Let’s have fun with this!



My philosophy about education is the same as my philosophy about child birth. All too often, judgement gets passed on a particular practice—home, hospital, midwife center, whatever—without actually understanding it or why someone might choose it.

I don’t care what birthing (or educational) method people pick, but I do want them to be informed. Know the facts. Consider who is handing out the glossy brochures and why. Talk to the little people. Listen and ask questions. Be gracious.

When they do all that (or at least give it an honest shot), then it’s fine to draw lines and pick sides. However, after all that mind-stretching pondering, my hunch (and hope) is that the lines will be lightly dotted instead of heavy and solid.


I always thought I’d marry an academic. A seminary student, perhaps, or a philosopher with a scraggly beard. Instead, I fell in love with a carpenter.

John was not an academic. As a child, he had struggled to learn to read. He did poorly in school, even—gasp—failing a couple classes. He took one year of college before dropping out and meeting me (not because he met me).

At first, I was caught off-guard by his razor-sharp mind. How was it that this non-scholar could be my straight-A-self equal? He couldn’t read words he hadn’t already memorized, writing was an agony, and he spelled like a caveman. And yet he loved to read, knew all sorts of random information, and was extremely gifted with his hands. Clearly, intelligence was not the issue.

I would never have admitted that I thought blue-collar workers were Less Than because that wouldn’t be politically correct or cool, but I did. Engaging in class lectures, whipping out essays, and acing tests was a high-level skill! Not everybody could navigate the academic pressures so smartly! My beliefs were reinforced by the greater culture. Good students got the grades, the smiles, and the awards. I could hardly be faulted for confusing “good student” with “good person.”

But John, despite being smart, didn’t have that same sense of school-induced self worth that I did. I shouldn’t have been surprised. A dozen years of struggling in a system that highlighted his inadequacies, labeled him learning disabled, and frowned at his efforts couldn’t help but leave a lasting mark.

Bit by bit, my culturally-taught assumptions began to crumble. Perhaps good grades weren’t the best indicator of intelligence? Perhaps “learning disabled” was simply “learning different”? Maybe schools didn’t have such a good handle on education after all?


  • Anonymous

    Already, I can tell I'm going to like this series of posts and I'm willing to learn something different. Great beginning, Jennifer! Angela Muller

  • Becky

    My incredibly intelligent husband with an engineering degree can fix almost anything – but he struggles and always has struggled with reading comprehension. As he told me, 'smart kids aren't supposed to have learning disabilities', so he every time he asked for help as a kid, he didn't get it and instead just learned to work around it. When our daughter started school and had no issues with reading comprehension, he was quite relieved. To this day, he avoids reading though.

  • Anonymous

    But you see, that husband of yours could get by on his handsome good looks alone–another highly-valued attribute that not all possess!

  • Laura J.

    As the daughter of a carpenter, wife of a public school teacher, mommy of a pre-school aged To Be Determined learner, I can't wait to hear more!

  • Eldon

    Quoting Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

  • Michelle @ Give a Girl a Fig

    "Learning different". YES. Exactly. Today's school system is messed up..and I am sad to say I kept my kids in it, rather than home-schooling like my instincts told me to.

  • Mama Pea

    John's experience points out what I feel is a HUGE shortcoming of all forms of education, although most likely (at least I hope that's the case) less so in homeschooling . . . which is that the aim is to ensure ALL children go to college. Bah. Our society needs (really, really needs) the encouragement and support of crafts(wo)men like John. I could go on and on regarding this topic, but won't 'cause I'm not nearly as effective writing about a subject as you are. Looking forward to more on this topic!

  • Margo

    I agree wholeheartedly about making an informed choice. That's what we're doing right now and that's why our children are in a public school and we are as involved as possible.

    I saw the effects of traditional education on students like John when I was studying to be a teacher and then was a high school English teacher. I would like to know why it's usually boys who are labeled as problems in our system. I wish we could use portfolio assessment instead of just numbers and letters to make sweeping judgments about the quality of our students.

    However (and you're probably getting to this soon), it is not in my children's best interest to smooth away all the obstacles and remove them from a system that is fraught with problems. It's one of the ways we're introducing them to life and preparing them to be resilient adults.

  • Rebecca

    Oooo, can't wait for more. We were the sole homeschoolers when our S.S. class did a similar series. There were passionate defenders of public school, passionate defenders of Menno education and polite silence for homeschooling.

  • Second Sister

    Dang, you guys were young. Those days seem ages past, eh?- a different life-time. But I'm supposed to be responding to your post. Right. The only thing to say is that I would add more kinds of education methods than just private, public, or home… there's service learning… and there's experiential (my favorite;)… there's project based, etc… But, I knew what you meant.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Those were the three types of education that the Sunday school leaders decided to use for the class. It confused me, at first, because I see learning as something much broader than a singular institution. But yes, I'm getting to that (wink-wink).

  • Zoë

    Yeeesss to all of this.

    There has got to be a better way to "grade" students in the traditional school setting. Or perhaps don't grade at all? Maybe children would enjoy learning more if that pressure wasn't there?

    There are so many people like John! Probably more people than there are like you and I. I married one like him, too.

    I don't know. I certainly don't have answers but something has to change!

  • Sarah

    Homeschooling falls about 1,045th on my list of things that interest me, but I read anyway and I'm hooked! More! More! And more old photos please.

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