He Who Finds Mercy series

Friday, September 20, 2013

Reflections on 20+ Years of Homeschooling


By the time our oldest son, David, was 18 months old, I knew he wouldn't make it in a regular classroom environment.   He scared me!  He had an insatiable curiosity and a photographic memory coupled with an extremely strong-willed personality.  He learned his alphabet and numbers before he was two years old and taught himself to read at age three, even though he was so active it was hard for him to sit still for more than thirty seconds.  I went back to college to finish my teaching degree so I could open a private school, but my husband lost his job and we had to move.  I never did finish that degree.

David age 18 months
This was 1984 and I had never heard of homeschooling.  Providentially a friend took me to a Gregg Harris convention in Austin.  Wow!  I was hooked!  We began with "preschool" in 1986 while I worked on a homemade kindergarten program, which we started in August 1987 (we couldn’t afford curriculum at that time, and David didn’t need more than thirty minutes each day of “formal instruction” anyway).  He and I went to the library once a week and loaded up on books.  I made math manipulatives out of whatever was handy.  We made craft items almost daily to help with fine motor skills and to use for gift-giving on our extremely limited budget.  And beginning that year we invited other homeschoolers to a weekly music class in our tiny living room.

In 1987 the Leeper case was not yet finalized, so it was still a scary time to be a homeschooler, especially in Waco, where the local superintendent was actively looking for homeschoolers to charge with truancy.  Although we joined the small local group, we all kept a low profile during school hours.  We met twice a month, for park day and roller skating.  Several of us participated in homeschool rallies at the Capitol and became involved in local politics, facing belligerent older people at the precinct and county conventions when we introduced our resolutions on homeschooling to be added to the party platform.  We did what we could to “educate” the skeptics, but most of the time it seemed an uphill battle.

One incident stands out from that time during the Presidential elections of 1988.  I took David with me to vote that Tuesday in November.  The election clerk at the desk frowned when he saw this just-turned-six-year-old roaming around during school hours.

“Why aren’t you in school?” he asked.

“I have school at home,” David answered.

“Hmph,” said the man.  He pointed to the word “READ” on the sign in front of him.  “What does that say?”

David did not know he was being “tested.”  He glanced at the sign and read the whole thing:  “Please read through your entire ballot before you begin marking.”

The man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.  “That’s a fine boy you have there.”

That was the same fall we began using ABeka.  I had saved during our first year so I could buy “real” school books for David’s first grade year.  He read through the social studies and science books the first week and said, “Is this all?”  Until he was in high school we only bought math and language books and I made unit studies for the other subjects.  That was so much fun!  I wish I’d had the “nerve” to keep going with unit studies even through high school, but since those grades “counted” for college, I thought we had to use “real books.”  Big mistake!  David used to love history and science until he had to use boring textbooks.

From the beginning I had to "gird up the loins of my mind" and stand by my convictions to teach David against the opposition of nearly everyone around me:  parents, in-laws, church members, friends, neighbors, total strangers.  I felt like I was constantly defending homeschooling, even to my husband, who wasn't fully convinced but "humored me."

The certified teachers said I wasn't "qualified" to teach my son.  A special ed teacher said my son needed "help" because he was obviously ADHD.  Well-meaning church members said he would be socially inept and educationally deprived because of all the "gaps" in our learning and all the "experiences" he would miss.  Our parents were aghast and convinced that I'd ruin their oldest grandchild for life.

I felt like a salmon swimming upstream but I was so SURE I needed to homeschool this boy in order to keep his spirit pure, his active mind challenged, provide outlets for his creativity, and to keep him from being in constant trouble because it was physically impossible for him to sit still for long periods of time (and I refused to put him on Ritalin).
David age 8 reading to his baby brother Robert
Our impatient society demands instant results; we just have to persevere, pray without ceasing, and let the results speak for themselves.  David graduated from homeschool, went on to college and earned not one but two bachelor's degrees.  He is now a well-adjusted, happily married, productive member of society, and he and his lovely wife have been blessed with our first grandchild.  Robert overcame learning challenges, graduated cum laude last December and is currently working on his master's degree.  He too has a lovely wife.  I believe both my sons would have turned out quite differently had they gone through the public/government school program. 

In making the decision to homeschool, if the decision is a commitment (not unlike marriage), then God will grant us the strength we need to make it through the tough times that are bound to come, either from "outside" criticism or from challenges faced as families learn and grow together.  Homeschooling is not just for the children, after all.  I still can’t believe all the things it has given me the courage to do, including the homeschool band I started from scratch and taught for sixteen years.

I will never regret our homeschooling years.  My only regret is that I wasn’t able to have more children so I wouldn’t have to end this wonderful roller coaster ride.  May your journey be as blessed.

P.S.  After listening Dr. Dobson's radio program on the early days of homeschooling several years ago, my husband came home from work, hugged me and apologized for not supporting me during those years of near-constant harassment from family and others....better late than never.

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