Why I Chose Homeschooling – Part 6 of 6 – Believing in My Children

I didn’t come to the decision to homeschool lightly. In fact, it took me far longer than many to actually step forward and commit to the decision. In many ways, I think it took far too long. My eldest, Danielle, was a teenager before I finally decided enough was enough and took back control of something I should have had a say in long before.

For many, homeschool is not an easy choice or one they first arrive at. It is found at the end of a dark road, after so much heartache, resentment and stress.

If you have missed a previous entry on Why I Chose Homeschooling, click here for a complete list of entries.

Believing in My Children

By mid-2003 I had finally come to a place where I believed that:

  • My daughter was supplementing her own education even while being actively discouraged by the very people who should have been encouraging it.
  • She was being pigeon-holed, labeled and demeaned by teachers, counselors, and even school administration.
  • She was losing faith and turning away from a love of learning. She was falling into the very traps that ridiculous excuse for a school counselor had predicted.
  • I could no longer stand by and question my own abilities or hers.
  • Anything, ANYTHING, was better than what we were currently enduring.

Taking a Break to Decompress

It was hard for me to take any time to decompress after Danielle’s removal from public school. I felt as if the past ten years had been an almost complete waste and I was determined to make up for the nightmare we had just removed ourselves from by jumping headlong into learning.

In retrospect, we both needed a break. And it would have been better for us to take far longer of a break than we did, to decompress, to heal from the damage that the most recent years of school officials had done to both of us. It felt as if they had done their best to crush my child’s spirit, to parse away any of the love of learning she had had and replace it with mindless obedience.

Grace Llewelyn talks about taking a period of time to decompress in her book, The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education. It is worth your time to read it, even if you don’t have a teenager or aren’t a teenager yourself.

Choosing A Curriculum

We sat down and read The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education
and together decided on a curriculum that fit Danielle’s interests and fulfilled some of my practical concerns. Her first year looked something like this:

  • Women’s History – Through a mix of books and videos she studied women’s contributions through the past few centuries, including their roles in time of war and peace, politics, voting rights, reproductive rights and more. After all we had both been through, I wanted her to read about strong women who made a difference. She would often choose a woman to focus on and write a report on her.
  • College Algebra – Having just graduated and still possessing the book, we chose a college-level algebra class for her math curriculum. It was mainly the first half of the book, which was considered remedial on a college level and naturally geared towards students who needed a “re-do” from high school.
  • Science – At that time we had cable and used it extensively to watch The Discovery Channel and even some Nova videos. There was also the garden to work in. I figured we could get more technical in a year or two with some Biology classes on the junior college level when the need arose. In most cases, she was required to write a report of some kind on a video she watched. This helped encourage the writing she wanted to do, and cement the ideas.
  • American Government – By the end of 9th grade, she had been exposed to some pretty boring stuff. Textbooks are often mind-numbingly dull, so we went a different direction, and I bought some interesting books to get her started. We purchased The Savage Nation, Jesse Ventura’s I Ain’t Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom up, and a book by one of the Bush wives. I wanted her to get a sense of differing party lines, the big names of the time, and find something to agree with and disagree with in each book. I wanted her to understand what the arguments were, and how they affected her and the rest of the country. She also got a chance to write plenty of essays in this class as well.
  • Art – I bought a series of books that covered everyone from Manet to Monet, Gaugin to Picasso, and encouraged her to learn theory. I also replenished her art supplies, adding in charcoals, oil paints and more – encouraging her to experiment more with them. She also attended several classes at Mattie Rhodes Art Center in midtown Kansas City and learned silkscreening and met with other local artists. We increased our visits to the Nelson Atkins where she had the opportunity to study the art collection and practice her own sketching skills.

I knew that Language Arts was being accomplished through her extensive writing – essays, book reports and more – but I also encouraged her to journal (which I did not read), write poetry and dedicate herself to her fiction writing more.

And except for a few hiccups, this worked well until we began supplementing with the local community college.

Where Danielle is Now

Danielle lives in California at present. As of fall 2012, she is nearly 24 years old and has dabbled in several different degree options while attending junior colleges on Pell Grants. She has not had to obtain any student loans at this point, which is great, since if she had, she would be under the gun to figure out what her next step is instead of stepping into it naturally. She has spent the last year in a serious relationship and is now in a mother role to her boyfriend’s young son who is just a few months younger than Emily.

Currently she is questioning whether a college degree is what she needs as an educational goal. Self-taught and a natural auto-didact, she has two very important focuses in her life – fiction writing and art. As you have seen in a previous post, she is quite talented and is learning more each day. She also provided the artwork for my first fiction book, War’S End and is busy working on a fantasy series of her own.

Where Emily and I Are Now

When I say that I have learned more from my children than they have learned from me – it doesn’t sound quite right. But believe me, this is not some admission of failure. It is the realization that, in our journey, first Danielle and now Emily, have become their own teachers. I am merely the learning facilitator.

I am no teacher.

Nor do I wish to be one.

As John Holt once said to Pat Firenga (homeschooling advocate and former editor of Growing Without Schooling magazine, “[As a teacher] you won’t be working with children, you will be working on children.”

The other day, as I cleaned a client’s house (I run a cleaning biz), Emily came to me and asked me to tie her shoe. We had recently lost the last pair of velcro tennis shoes to a shoe-mauling puppy and Emily was down to just one pair of shoes – the lace-up ones. I tied the shoe for her and got back to work. A half hour later she returned and asked again to have it tied. We have been reviewing how to do it, but she had been pretty challenged by it.

I was on my knees, scrubbing a shower, with gunk all over my hands, “I can get to that shoe in a minute,” I said, “but meanwhile, why don’t you try to tie it on your own. Just practice, I’ll be done in a sec.”

A moment later Emily said, “Um…Mama? I think I tied my shoe.” I looked over and sure enough she had. Not just kind of tied it, but really TIED IT. A little loose, but after tightening it was perfect. Not an hour before I had thought about this newest shoe-tying challenge, and smiled because I knew, absolutely KNEW, that Emily could and would figure it out.

We have been talking a lot recently about how one learns new things. I’ve told her that often the most effective way to learn is by repeating tasks over and over until you get them right.

How many times have I said to her, “I absolutely believe in you Emily. You can and will figure this out.” It’s been far too many to count.

Children don’t learn inside of a vacuum, however. The reality is that I answer a LOT of questions, every day, and I’m kept busy looking up more to answer later.

After she shared her news with anyone she could find, smiling proudly as she announced to anyone who would listen that she had learned how to tie her own shoes, I asked her, “You know what’s next, right?”

“What Mama?”

“Learning how to read. You are doing so well sounding out words and remembering sounds. Soon you will know how to read and the universe will open up to you. You’ll be a rock star.”

Emily laughed, “Mama, I won’t be a rock star!”

“Okay, not a rock star. What will you be then?”

“I’ll be just an Emily.”

“Well okay ‘just an Emily.’ But you are a rock star to me.”

It’s Been A Long Road Getting Here

When I look back at where I started and where we are now – it is hard to believe how much has changed. I believe in myself more than I ever did. More importantly, I believe in my children. They can and will chart a course for success. They have within them vast stores of curiosity, love of learning, and tenacity.

They love learning, reach for new learning goals with each day that passes, and challenge every assumption I ever had about traditional education. Our days are filled with interesting discussions, odd experiments, laughter and curiosity.

And that is why I have chosen to homeschool.

*Note – I started this series last year and realized the other day that I had never finished it. Here is the last installment. To see the previous entries, click here.

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