I once shocked my Rhetoric for Writers class, in junior year of college, when I let slip that I was a homeschooled pastor’s kid. A guy sitting near me paid me what I considered the highest compliment: “Wow, I never would’ve guessed. You’re so…normal.”
In many ways, I was. I was part of a homeschooling family, but not the stereotype: I wore shorts, my brothers all went to public high school, and I could hold a conversation just fine, thank you. When I went to college, I met the stereotype for the first time. I saw girls in ill-fitting jeans and white Keds, always the Keds, looking up from downcast eyes, unsure of anything in the world. Nope, I was keeping my educational background a secret.
My parents started homeschooling me at the beginning of third grade. It was a joint decision; my mom and stepdad were moving, and would now be an hour and a half from my dad and stepmom, instead of half an hour. They shared custody, and there was no way to make a physical school building work. In addition, my dad had just started a church, and the tuition at my brothers’ and my private school was no longer feasible. I loved it. To hear my mom talk, I spent most of second grade in the back row, next to “the other really bright girl,” doing extra worksheets so we wouldn’t be bored—but being bored anyway. My mom got Calvert School’s third grade curriculum, we set off in September, and I was done within about five months.
Calvert School sent a box, with pencils, papers, books, teacher’s manuals, and anything else needed to run a classroom from home. We acquired more boxes of pencils than we’d ever need (both my parents’ houses are still stocked with them), but it was a highly regarded curriculum, and my mother thought it appropriately academic for me. She improvised “fourth grade” for the rest of my third grade year, and I tested into fifth grade that summer.
In addition to the Calvert lessons, I did some gym classes, some art classes, and I’m sure others, but I preferred the academics. Extracurriculars weren’t my strong point; I had my horseback riding lessons every week, but I begged out of art and any sort of PE as soon as I could. My favorite aspect of homeschooling, by far, was the schedule. My mom and I would sleep in until ten some mornings, watch some TV, work in the afternoon, and then make dinner together. Thanksgiving always entailed a week-long vacation to my maternal grandparents. One year, when I was learning about the American Revolution, my mom decided that she and my stepdad and I were going to spend the weekend in Yorktown, Virginia. Another time, we went up to Philadelphia.
My mother constantly challenged me, writing up her own tests for me, and giving me A Tale of Two Cities for my vocabulary reading when I was twelve (I still haven’t entirely forgiven her for that one). My stepmom and I ditched a science lesson once, to go to the nearby park and actually look at science. I avoided dissecting a frog, thereby achieving one of my main high school goals. Of course, I also avoided doing most of my work during my third year of high school; my mom had just had her second baby in as many years, and wasn’t nearly as involved, and I blustered my way through questions about my work.
In the end, that was a positive, though. I spent a year at community college, counting it toward my high school transcript as well as my college one, and ended up back on track to graduate in the same year as my peers. I ended up in college, a bit preppy from years as a church secretary who preferred the company of adults, but never in white Keds. I felt like I had all the advantages of homeschooling—the flexibility, the advanced learning—without many of the disadvantages—lack of social skills, feeling of not fitting in.
The only time I hated homeschooling was when I was thirteen. I wanted to go to high school, the public high school my stepbrothers had attended; it wasn’t an option, due to the custody situation. Now, I’m thankful. I was in no way prepared for that much exposure to other teens. I still have a mentality that public school is pure evil, which my kindergarten-through-senior-year public-schooled wife laughs at, but for me, it wouldn’t have been good.
I certainly had friends who tried homeschooling, and fought with their parents (usually mother) so much that they returned to traditional school within a year or two. It isn’t for everyone. I swore, after college, that I wouldn’t homeschool my kids: I think now that I was still smarting from having missed any sort of dance during my own high school years. Now, it’s very much on the table, which is ironic, given that my wife is currently working toward her Master’s in Montessori education and will be teaching in a classroom.
But, just as with me, it depends on our kid. Maybe he or she will desperately need a break from me (and/or I will), or maybe we’ll have fun learning and discovering together. I don’t really know what the alternative is; I have a concept of being “in school” for middle and high school, but no firsthand experience. I could see myself homeschooling one and putting another on the bus every morning. For me, it ended up being perfect, but our kid(s) won’t be me, so I can’t say anything now. Just don’t mistake my lack of concrete opinion as me being an under-socialized, awkward homeschooler.
Homeschooling has become a very polarized subject. It is my hope that the Homeschool Reflections series, made up of stories of actual homeschool experiences, both positive and some negative, may cut through some of the hyperbole. I have asked the respondents in this series to be analytical and to discuss both the pros and cons of their experiences, but I have not censored what they have written. My posting these stories should not be construed as endorsement the opinions expressed therein. What you read in this series will vary, but it is my hope that each installment will be thought provoking and have something positive to offer to the discussion.