I met Rebecca and Patrick through my blog years ago. They left a few comments, and then one thing led to another — an overnight stay at our place, a weekend breakfast at theirs, oodles of chatty emails, and so on — and now we’re friends!
Cast of Characters:
Rebecca: all things home — I garden, sew, preserve food, knit, mend, cook.
Patrick: radiologist and beef cattle farmer and enthusiastic, amateur wood worker.
Clara: 22 yrs., working in environmental advocacy and policy in Washington, D.C.
Aden: 20 yrs., sophomore in college, studying biochemistry
Why did you decide to homeschool?
I had Clara’s first-day-of-Kindergarten dress sewn, pressed, and hanging in the closet. All of a sudden, the thought of having her, and then her little brother, gone all day was just too sad to contemplate. I checked out the two books the Ann Arbor library had on homeschooling. One of them was John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down. I read it and was immediately converted. I made my doubtful husband read it: same conversion experience. Both of us have a strong anti-establishment bent so it was basically a match to dry kindling.
Describe your homeschool routines when the kids were little.
We were lucky to begin homeschooling in Michigan. The laws were super relaxed. No reporting. No compulsory curriculum. No oversight. So I tried a little bit of everything. Waldorf-inspired, Charlotte Mason, super-traditional reading, writing, ‘rithmetic; I always included things that mattered to me and the culture I was trying to build/pass on. My kids know a lot of archaic hymns and Pete Seeger labor anthems and could iron a shirt (properly!) by age 10. I considered all of that curricular. As they got older, the kids found educational styles that fit them individually.
How did you keep from feeling over-run by the children?
I’m not sure why but I always had a pretty old-fashioned understanding of the parent/child roles in the family structure. I did the work I found meaningful and important, made the kids help me for the good of their little souls and Executive Function (which we were discovering in the early 2000’s), and then ordered them to “take that noise outside!” I mean, I supervised school work until I couldn’t stand it any more; I read and sang to them, snuggled and talked to them every day, but every day also included activities that were solely mine. We were together all the time but also in our own, clearly-defined, parent and child worlds. I think that preserved a balance for me that mitigated against burn out.
What was the transition to college like?
Both kids were pretty homesick their freshman years but so are plenty of schooled kids, so maybe that’s the result of increasing attachment in families and a willingness to question white, Western notions of “independence” and authoritarian parent/child relationships? Or is that another topic, LOL?
Was it hard for them to get in because they’d been homeschooled?
Homeschoolers going to college is no longer a novelty. Atypical high school diplomas or no diplomas at all are accepted at many college. Clara and Aden found a template online and filled it in with their course work: some appropriately official and graded and some “here’s a cool thing I did/read.” Both kids took the PSAT and the SAT at a local high school, looking up scheduling and requirements online.
Looking back, what was most challenging aspect of homeschooling?
That’s an easy one: my own anxiety and other psychological baggage. I hadn’t done the inner work that maybe you can’t do when you have little kids, but that definitely put stress on our homeschooling that didn’t need to be there. I was also dragging along my own very-schooled brain which made me worry about time tables and grade levels in a way I certainly wouldn’t today.
If you had so much self-doubt (is that even the right word?), what made you stick with it?
Hmmm. My anxiety (more than self-doubt itself) made me a pain to live with at times (sorry, guys!) and caused the self-doubt that made me do dumb stuff like try to cram phonics down the kids’ throats because they weren’t learning to read On Time. But I never doubted the wisdom of homeschooling. Like, never. Because schools are such a recent phenomenon with such a shady founding agenda. The family/clan/community is ancient.
Did people around you express doubt in your choices?
Oh, sure. Pat’s mom and mine were professional educators. They were both polite but there was definitely some surreptitious quizzing and heavy-handed “educational” gifts at Christmas. We generally let it go without comment but I did ditch the stupid starter “computers” that played songs and flashed lights. Sorry, kids.
I fielded the usual “what about socialization” and “you must be sooooo patient” b.s. from all and sundry. I either smiled weakly and changed the subject or launched into a philosophical rebuttal that made them sorry they asked. A critical life skill is knowing when people really want to hear what you think and when they can’t muster the courage to say what they’re really thinking which is, “You’re weird.”
Avoid the haters.
What did homeschooling teach you about yourself? About your kids?
Homeschooling taught me that while I love to parent, I don’t love to teach academics. The culture says, “Uh-HUH! That’s why we have the division of labor!” I disagree with the culture. In my opinion as a graduated homeschool mom, a half-ass homeschool “diploma” from a happy, functioning home beats a diploma from the fanciest of institutions.
Do my kids agree with me? Enough to homeschool their own someday-kids? Jury’s still out. They have both had times of wishing they’d had a more standard education, and we’ve have more than one heated, post-game-analysis.
I will say this: no matter how iconoclastic your leanings, your kids definitely need a functioning community beyond the nuclear family. Your voice is the most important one in their heads (and while we’re on that subject, get yourself some therapy sooner rather than later!), but make sure its not the only one.
I also learned that I really, really like my kids.
Where did you get your inspiration?
First, I got my inspiration from my Anabaptist culture, then John Taylor Gatto, and after that, all the dreamers, idealist, rebels, and radicals whose books I read.
My husband was my strongest supporter. After a reluctant start, he became more evangelical about homeschooling than I. I didn’t have a lot of support from other homeschoolers because I was too no-nonsense for the hippy co-ops and too heathenish for the fundamentalist ones. In fairness to both, I was too introverted and jealous of my time for either group.
Again, my kids might have an addendum about how they did or did not experience inspiration and support. I’ll tell them they can P.S. in the comments.
Do you have a homeschool philosophy?
Surround your kids with the healthiest, most loving culture you can find and create. Learning will almost inevitably follow. If you as homeschooling (or non-homeschooling!) parent strive for anything, make it your own healing and wholeness; that matters way more than nailing down an educational philosophy.
Thank you so much, Rebecca (and check out those lovely Thanksgiving pies, people)!
This same time, years previous: Clymer and Kurtz, my sweet beast, the quotidian (12.4.17), writing: behind the scenes, oatmeal sandwich bread, the college conundrum, sushi, baked ziti, red lentil coconut curry, wild.