My mother and I have not always gotten along. But one thing I have always been grateful to her for was homeschooling me. In the last year or so, after I’d re-started college as what they euphemistically term a non-traditional student, I had a professor ask me, ‘are you an autodidact?’
Why yes, yes I am. And I believe I owe that to my parents in large part. I am of the first generation of homeschoolers, and I decided I wanted to write this to say that it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Look, I’m not normal. Don’t expect every kid to come out like me (poor kids) but the principle remains the same. Homeschooling just gives a better foundation if done correctly.
Yes, we’ve all heard the horror stories of just how wrong homeschooling can go. I’m willing to bet you can find one to match every one of those of how badly a public-schooled kid’s life can go (or private, there is no panacea). Once upon a time, homeschooling was blasted on an academic level. Rules were put in place in some states for standardized tests to be administered every year to homeschoolers. This was long before anything of the sort was done in a public school, and in traditional schools if a kid doesn’t make grade level, all they do is bring the district scores down. For a homeschooling parent, that failure could mean jail time. Homeschoolers consistently passed these tests with flying colors. I remember the incredulous reaction of one lady who proctored a test for me in Oregon. At a nominal 4th grade age (Mom didn’t use grades for us, for reasons that will become clear) I was reading at what the test categorized as a college level. Oh… and Mom did no special prep for this test as I recall, it was just where we were.
With no data to show that homeschooling kids were falling behind the more traditionally educated, critics were left with only one leg to stand on. Socialization! Became the cry of the public schooler. However, looking back at my childhood, and into my own children’s education, I see that the public schools they grew up in (I was not able to home school, and settled for them being in an excellent small elementary school) encouraged them to only socialize with their own narrow peer group, largely. On the other hand, I made friends without thinking to ask ages, something I continue to do to this day. I like someone for who they are, not how close to me in age they happen to fall. Also, a homeschooled child has more time than a public schooled child.
This is something I know I reaped the benefits of. Structured lessons at home took up between two to four hours a day. We usually had school year-round, eliminating the weeks of catch-up review that a traditional school must go through every fall. Which left me, after chores (we lived on small farms while I was growing up, even when Dad was in the military), free to do… whatever. I read, a lot, but there were ponies, goats, and dogs to take care of, and woods to explore. There were friends to hang out with, like my sister, and the homeschooled kids down the road in Alaska. There were weekly trips to the library to look forward to. I still have vivid memories of trips to a certain used book store in either Portland or Salem (Oregon) where I found and bought all the copies of Euell Gibbons’ books over the period of a few months.
We didn’t have a television. We’d get to watch at someone else’s house from time to time, and I never did acquire the habit. After my divorce in 2009 the cable went away, and although I have Netflix, it’s rare for me to sit and watch TV. I like to have it for doing mindless hand-chores like washing dishes or peeling apples.
Which is another thing that was a big part of my education. Cooking, from scratch, with attendant growing of vegetables in the garden, foraging berries… Might not seem connected, but it is. We went camping a lot. I learned how to cook over an open fire, how to pan for gold, and how to swim underwater at one of my parent’s favorite spots in Oregon. We spent weeks wilderness camping in Alaska, with the school books in milk crates, and school happened while Mom made lingonberry jam on the Yukon stove and Dad was in the river running the dredge – we usually got enough gold to pay for the trips, which was enough.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? In many ways it was. Later, when I was a teen, Mom put us in a tiny Christian school (I was the only graduating senior in 1995), and that led to problems. But she didn’t feel up to my math at that point. Looking back, I wish she hadn’t put me in a school. However, at the time there weren’t the resources we have now, like Khan Academy and the MIT open-source classrooms. Also, there were very few colleges that would accept a homeschooler. So the diploma could have opened more doors (which I chose not to try, for other reasons). Now, that’s not a consideration. When I took the SAT and later, the ACT, I walked into the tests with no special prep, and walked out with very high scores. I’m not trying to boast, I’m merely pointing out that a homeschooled kid can grow up and out to be more than a traditionally schooled kid can conceive of.
I suspect the reason I’ve been able to adapt to becoming an entrepreneur when I was dropped into it with no warning and no other choice than to make money or watch my babies starve is that homeschooled background. I could accept that I didn’t need a business degree or any formal training to do what I was doing. If I needed to pick up a new skill, I grabbed some books, read, practiced, and hit the ground running. That’s what home school taught me. Education never ends, and it is not only limited to the classroom.