So how did this homeschooling journey first begin?
I wasn’t raised in a homeschooling family. I went to preschool, then on through the public school system without a thought- an unexamined education. There was never any question about how kids were educated. You were born, you went to school and then you went to work. Homeschooling was absolutely unknown in my home. It simply didn’t exist.
My elementary school experiences in school were… well, probably typical for an overweight girl from a poor family. I had my circle of friends, mostly other girls who weren’t intimidating to me because I knew we were on just about the same rung of the social ladder. There were times when I was bullied by the ‘popular kids’, times when someone would make a hurtful comment to which others would laugh hysterically, times when I was never actually picked for a team because I, as the last person not chosen, defaulted to the ‘losing’ team. It hurt. I learned to approach social situations with caution, always evaluating what others might be thinking about me so I could opt out before exposing myself to possible ridicule and humiliation.
Academically, I was a mess. I always scored very high in language abilities, very low in math abilities. I rarely tested well and almost never completed classwork or homework. But it was the cultural environment of school that had the most lasting impact on me. Public schools have a culture- it’s why Kindergarten exists. At 5 years old, most kids go off to Kindergarten to spend a year learning how to raise one’s hand to speak, to walk in a line, to defer to any adult who presents as an authority figure. But I was never quite able to comprehend the reason everything in school was the way it was. I always felt I was just a little out of step. While it did have some fun moments, mostly, I found school an unplesant place…
In second grade, I remember standing in the school lunch line contemplating whether I could afford a Nutty Buddy. Realizing that I was short ten cents, I replaced the icecream where it belonged. Suddenly, my teacher appeared at my shoulder, whispering, “I’m so glad to see you put that back. When the nurse weighed you earlier, we saw you weigh almost a hundred pounds!” I was mortified as I realized she’d been watching and judging my food selections. I was also slower than the other kids in math. I vividly remember on the last day of school, other kids turning in their completed math workbooks while I still had chapters to go. I was behind, would never be able to catch up and I felt shamed.
In fourth grade, I was called to the school nurse and was told I had to bathe more often. My teacher thought I smelled. She then demonstrated how to use deodorant as if I’d never seen the stuff before. This was a crushing humiliation for a girl who was going through precocious puberty. I had greasy hair, pimples, was the only 4th grader who needed to wear a bra and now… I smelled. So much so that I, apparently, needed a ‘talking to’ from a stranger about my hygiene.
Here I was in 5th grade. Weren't those earrings awesome?
In fifth grade, we were given an assignment to write a short story. I was completely enthralled- my story involved cousins who had met for the summer at their families’ beach cottage falling through a hole in a sand dune and entering an alternate world. I scribbled away feverishly, page after lined-yellow-draft-paper page, and watched the action unfold before my eyes. After 45 minutes, and just as things were getting good, the teacher came over and declared it was time for science. After all, I didn’t “need to write a book”. I completely shut down due to this criticism and never returned to finish it.
I have a vague memory of some kind of intervention by my mother (age 24 at the time and totally unable to be an advocate for her daughter), my teacher, the school psychologist, the principal and many other people I didn’t know. We sat there, around a conference table, and they wanted to ‘talk to me’ about my ‘problem’. Problem? I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. I, very simply, wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to perform for strangers (almost every teacher I’d ever had remained a stranger to me). I didn’t want to spend my days avoiding humiliation at the hands of classmates and their ‘kick me’ signs (really? Who does this actually happen to?) I just wanted some mental and emotional space to work out the vast changes that were happening in my body, my emotions and in the psyche of an 11 year old girl… My mother, Lord bless her, declared before my authority figures, “See, Angie? They’re not acting this way to be jerks as you said.” I had never said such a thing and all I could think was ‘Oh my God. What will they do to me because they think I called them ‘jerks’?’
Throughout my formative years, I lived in quiet terror every day I went to school. It was a constant, grating, grinding stress that lead me to missing days upon days of school. I was terrified of being attacked- by other kids or by those in authority over me- for not meeting some incomprehensiable expectation that was being held up for me. I was terrified of being humiliated by my peers. I was confused about what the teachers wanted from me (I remember being given an IQ test in Kindergarten and being confused as to WHY I needed to take this test. What was its purpose? It’s value? It made me nervous because I didn’t know what they expected from me, what was being measured). I clearly remember thinking “Only seven more years of school,” as I graduated up into junior high.
Surprisingly, things were easier after I entered middle school. My cognitive abilities began catching up with my physical adolescence- the other kids also began catching up. In fifth grade, I was one of the three tallest kids in my grade; in seventh grade, I was one of the shorter. I was granted some autonomy by the powers that be and was able to choose some classes and clubs to attend during the school day. I remember VERY fondly one called “SSR- Sustained Silent Reading”. While many of the kids in the class got stuck there because their first choices had filled up, it was a joy to me in seventh grade. As I entered highschool, I was able to tailor my schedules even further to allow me to be with friends in classes I enjoyed. I began enjoying some of my teachers- even became very fond of several of them. I ‘got through’ school socially by avoiding situations in which I might be eviscerated and academically by taking as many singing classes as possible.
The strange thing is, until I began considering this blog post, I’ve never considered my school experiences to be out of the ordinary. I didn’t like school, but I don’t have a deep hatred of my school days. Looking back now, I can’t believe some of what happened (and the above is only the tip of the iceberg), but I’ve never been reactionary toward public education because of my difficult time in public school…
But back to homeschooling. When I came to faith at age 16 my world expanded. I started attending church and began running into peers who did have experience with homeschooling- either themselves or someone they knew had homeschooled.
The idea of homeschooling intrigued me. Education without the continuous oppression of the ‘system’? Learning without having to worry about a peer humiliating you as you try to walk across the cafeteria? What would that be like? Could it be possible that I could actually get out of here?!?
I was a junior in highschool and I wanted to be homeschooled. I imagined myself reading through textbooks, filling in workbooks, writing papers and sending them ‘off’ to be graded by someone. In truth, I was imagining a correspondence course handled by the public school system- public school at home- they would supply the work, I would do it, they would grade it. Ultimately, the Lord called me to remain in public school. I was a believer and there were few of us in my school. I was ‘leading’ a school-based bible club (could a 17 year old who knew almost nothing lead anything?) and I didn’t want to miss opportunities to tell others about my faith in the 18 months or so I had left…
Following the Lord would take me on an academic journey I couldn’t fathom at 17. I was eventually called to go to college (we just didn’t do that in my family) and while there, I realized I’m smart. In college, my thoughts, my ideas mattered, they had value and weight- every professor I had asked me to think about the material being presented and to give an opinion of it. Support my opinion with the material. Present my opinion in a rational, organized and persuasive way. I flourished in college- I wound up being invited to join honors English and history classes, was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa (an academic honors society) and even managed to get As in two math classes. I loved everything about college. I loved being given permission to consume the best of human thought, to digest it and to render a judgement about how well the thought accurately represented or expressed the actual thing.
Was Othello a believable character? Are children in high quality daycare centers better off than children with low quality home environments? How has the ideology of Eugenics influenced the 20th century and where does it continue to influence society today? Is it possible that God created the world through evolution? Does the dot on that James Joyce manuscript have any meaning? What did Jesus mean when He said “Ego Emi” in John? Is justice possible in our society? What is civilization? How will Deconstructionism influence the church in the 21st century? Can science exist without faith? What kind of president would Bugs Bunny be?
And as I left college (with a BA in English Literature), I began looking forward to marriage and having a family of my own someday. When I thought about what my life would look like as a mother, I just knew I wanted my children to love learning the way I’d grown to love it. I wanted them to have the empowering, liberating kind of education I’d been so blessed to receive in college. I knew that if I could offer my children the kind of education that would enliven them the way my college education had done for me, I would be giving them a deep blessing indeed.
Before I was married, before I was ever pregnant, before I held my oldest child in my arms for the first time, I knew I’d be a homeschooler.