The Upside of the Downside of My Homeschooling

by Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

I.

Growing up, I had very little concept of “school” in the traditional sense.

While we were not unschoolers or a family who did child-directed learning, we did not even try to bring school home. We were our own breed. In my elementary years we just did the ATI wisdom booklets, checked out tons of random books at the library, and did unit studies that centered on the scripture of the month. For example, if our verse that month was “blessed are the meek,” we studied stories of meekness in history, science, missions, and life. We did not even open up textbooks, other than in math and grammar, until I got older.

Essentially we learned conservative Christianity.

We had little to no testing. But if I made less than 100 on any assignment or test, I simply took it again. Answer keys were our substitute teacher. If I did not understand something, I would open up the teacher’s book and study it. The teachers books stayed in my school box, and I graded all of my own work.

Essentially I learned by cheating.

I taught myself to write towards the end of high school. I printed articles off the internet and copied their styles, their forms, and even rewrote their content.

Essentially I learned to write by plagiarizing.

I learned “culture” by reading the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy for 30 minutes a day. An outsider of the family suggested this because I was so culturally and socially out of touch with anything outside Christianity and homeschooling.

Essentially I learned cultural and social cues by reading, alone.

My mom said that Saxon was too watered down. Saxon is used in “public school.” Therefore, it was inferior and “too easy.” (Remember, when I was 14, my mom had me in 4th grade spelling. But in math, they wanted it difficult.)

The problem was all the “more advance” curriculum had poor explanations. (My idea of fun is not for teachers to read me problems. *cough* ACE et. al.) So often we spent 3-4 hours a day studying the word problems on our own, trying to figure them out.

Essentially I learned algebra without a teacher.

II.

In college I was shocked at how other students approached learning.

In my math course, when I did not understand how to do an advanced word problem, I just read the chapters on my own, over and over, for two, three, even five hours until it clicked. Then one of my classmates laughed at me and said, “the teacher could have shown you how to do that in two minutes.”

I learned how to write literary research papers by reading the university journal. When I did not understand the critical theory references, I looked it up. I quickly was studying upper-level ideas in the beginning of my college education.

My dorm room was quickly full of library books. Anytime I had to read a work of literature, I’d go and check out all the literary critics and read all their ideas. I was not checking these out to write essays. I was checking them to be my teacher, because I was used to teaching myself everything, and had no concept of discussing ideas with (or listening to) a teacher and other students. Once my teacher said I had plagiarized an idea; I explained the piles of books, and he laughed and said, “Maybe you should quit checking out books and just learn in class.” I was frustrated because I still was not connecting that I could learn by discussing ideas with people. (Even though never did NCFCA debate, this post resonated with me.)

I never let school get in the way of my education.  The classroom never stopped feeling like I was paying someone to tell me what to read. As much as I loved philosophy and literature, the process of school never felt natural.

III.

When I moved to SE Asia, I found people a little bit like me.

I was teaching in an intercity middle school as part of my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) program, and I was given two hints. 1) Don’t expect kids to take tests alone. There is no such thing. Kids take tests in groups of three or more. 2) Play games, games, games. Stay out of the books, and force them to speak English as a game.

Basically what we called cheating and playing, they called education.

School also started when the students got there and cleaned the classrooms, which varied day by day. It almost felt like we were at home.

I taught in a mountain village school one summer. The kids would often beg me to take them swimming in the creek. So we would. Then they would go home and change before going back to school.

On another occasion, I had spent the night with a school teacher. She insisted she take my bags back to my house before school. That turned into an hour sitting around on tree stumps with my friends. I kept shaking my head saying, “but school started at 8:30,” and she said, “the kids are in no hurry for us to get there.” And I thought, man, this lady sounds like my mother when she’d answer the phone first thing in the morning.

IV.

It’s tempting to only focus on the downside of these education techniques. 

It’s tempting to judge people who do not fit into society’s box. I remain frustrated with the education system in SE Asia (at least, the country where I lived) because it is largely anti-intellectual, at least from my white-American-western perspective. However I also learned from the laid back culture, too.

I built relationships with kids, broke down the private-public life dichotomy that we celebrate in America, and learned that life is more than careers and books. Similarly, throughout my homeschool I developed deep perseverance and ownership of my education. If I had not taught myself to write, no one would have, and so I became my own lifesaver.

For all the downsides, there’s an upside, too.

Comments open below

Read everything by Lana Hope!

Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules indisguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog www.wideopenground.com.

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  • Sandra

    I went to 13yrs of public school, have a BA, and several more years of institutionalized studying for degrees I didn’t finish. And the best education I got was what I looked up on my own. School isn’t learning. At its best, school is the inspiration to learn, and some facilitation by others on how to find what you want to know. I still am annoyed by all the hours (a freaking lot of them over all those years) that I spent memorizing what some curriculum committee had decided I needed to regurgitate on some test when I could have been reading and researching and pondering my own questions.

    You have described everything I wanted for my kids when we began our homeschooling: learning to think, to question, to remain curious, to form opinions and conclusions and test them against other people’s and against life itself. And remembering that the whole point of it all is just to enjoy being alive together.

  • flapdog

    My own experience with public school and 4 years of college was wonderful. I could probably have been a professional student had the opportunity been feasible. So unfortunately I disagree that school isn’t learning. For me, school opened up my mind to all kinds of learning. I continued to learn on my own through reading, but I would never say any of those years were a waste.

  • Sandra

    My daughter would definitely agree with you. After homeschooling until then, she went to our local public high school for their biomedical program. She’s now a junior and hasn’t regretted it for a second.

    I really wish there were more of a middle-ground option. Something less rigidly structured than school curriculum but more availability for talking ideas over with colleagues than most homeschoolers have.

  • SJ Reidhead

    As I read about the problems with home-schooling today, I must constantly remark about the job my sister did with my two nieces an my nephew. She used home-schooling as a real way to provide a superior education, which she did. My oldest niece was in junior college by the time she was 15. She graduated from Rhodes, did a stint as a US Senate intern, did work in Africa, and came home to work in my sister’s growing business. My youngest niece has graduated from FIT in New York. My nephew has just finished his first courses in EMT training (with the highest grades ever – for his school). She made learning an adventure, taking them all over the country. They traveled in England and Scotland. They spent six weeks in Paris learning French and the culture there. Both of my nieces are fluent in French. All three write exceptionally well. They were raised in museums and art galleries. Their grasp of science is excellent. My nephew and youngest niece chose to finish their final high school years in school – where they both graduated with honors. They were both fast-tracked up a grade because of their education.

    I thought all home-schooling was like this. Then, a friend told me about her neighbors. Their parents’ idea of home-schooling is cutting the grass, and reading the Bible. It is truly tragic. If I had a kid, I would be home-schooling them – and they would end up hating me because of the demands I would make as far as learning. I would be the idiot who would require a child to learn Latin while they were learning basic English.

    My sister taught that the greatest part of education was teaching yourself how to learn. Our grandfather Froehlich always said the hallmark of an educated person was the fact that they knew where to go to learn something. This should apply to anyone. What I do know, is where I live, the public school system is putting out kids who are so woefully behind the rest of the state, it is tragic. I don’t know if local home-schooling families are doing any better. I just know, if I were to choose to remain here with kids, I would have no choice but to keep my kids at home.


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