Don’t Sweat The Homeschooling

My laid back attitude paid off.

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I could not believe how easy it was to open a homeschool.

I filled out the form, mailed it in, and within a week I was the principal, secretary, teacher, aide, nurse and janitor of my very own institute of learning.

No imposing red brick building involved. No climbing ivy. Not even a brass plaque.

All I had was a student, a sticky kitchen table and a small postcard — see above — from the North Carolina Department of Non-Public Education acknowledging receipt of a notice of intent to operate a home school.

The most difficult part of the process was coming up with a name. I considered going lighthearted — and alliterative. Something like The Ambivalent Academy, Slothful Scholastics or The Indifferent Institute. The names reflected my attitude at the time which was one part horrified to two parts extremely reluctant.

Because I was educated in Ireland, I wasn’t aware that for most Americans middle school is the lowest point of the human life cycle.

Under pressure to complete the form I jotted down the first thing that came to mind: Roznik Academy. My choice was uninspired, boring and utilitarian. We hadn’t even thrown open the doors of learning and an air of mediocrity hung over the whole enterprise.

You’re probably wondering why someone with such a bad attitude decided to homeschool. As a last resort, that’s why.

My son — the oldest of my three children — was in sixth grade. Because I was educated in Ireland, I wasn’t aware that for most Americans middle school is the lowest point of the human life cycle. Once the novelty of a new school wore off — took about a week— my son informed me he hated the place. Truth be told, he’d shared a similar relationship with elementary school.

Ever the researcher, my firstborn told me he’d been looking into other educational options. Homeschooling, he decided, was the perfect answer to his school day misery.

I was a stay-at-home mother at the time but, with my 3 kids in school, I was on the lookout for a position that would spring me from the bosom of my family, not bury me deeper.

So — I talked toughing it out. Switching schools. I told him things get better, that they get more interesting — along with every other cliche and lie in the parenting book.

Nothing worked. My son is nothing if not persuasive. After a few months of PAC-level lobbying I capitulated, completed the form, and dropped it in the mail.

And thus we found ourselves at the kitchen table wondering where to start. The technological world was a lot different back in 2001. Google was only 3 years old. The iPad hadn’t been invented. There were no smart phones or Skype or Zoom. No Khan Academy. No Alexa at which to lob questions.

In an effort to meet some local homeschoolers I attended a meeting at a nearby Borders bookstore (yeah, they were still around). Early one Sunday afternoon I joined a group of about 20 people on the main level. I listened intently as the speaker described blinking lights in the night sky over the Nevada desert. Next up was a guy who talked about a tic tac shaped object spotted over O’Hare airport. Puzzled, I turned to the man beside me:

“Is this for homeschoolers?”

“No ma’am,” he responded, “this is a UFO study group.”

I found the homeschoolers upstairs.

School work certainly didn’t take all day.

In time, with the help of a few online forums and a few homeschooling parents I got to know, I put together a curriculum, of sorts.

Online resources were limited but thankfully I could afford some tutoring help. After a few sessions dredging up quadratic equations from the recesses of my brain folds I jumped at my brother’s offer to take over math instruction. Another parent connected me to an excellent French tutor.

At home we bickered our way through English literature and writing. For science we worked out of some old textbooks. For history I made my son watch all the History Channel tapes I could borrow from the library. For geography… I honestly can’t remember.

Looking back, my homeschooling philosophy could probably be summed up as Muddling Through. School work certainly didn’t take all day. Occasionally I worried I wasn’t covering enough material, but I had 2 other children in regular school and sometimes I ran out of educational vigor.

For two and a half years we worked our way through our version of middle school. At that point, for a number of reasons, my son and I decided he’d attend a conventional high school. He enrolled at a highly ranked local school and I crossed my fingers as the academic year started. Would he be hopelessly behind? Beyond educational salvation?

Would we find, as one New York Times columnist was warned — https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/opinion/coronavirus-home-school.html — that her laid back approach to her eight-year-old twin’s education during these stay-at-home times would result in them never attending college?

The answer is No. We soon discovered that my son was about a semester ahead in most subjects and his return to conventional academics was pretty seamless.

Embrace this time of non-busyness. Keep your students on track — as much as you can — but don’t sweat it.

That’s not to say my son’s school journey ended happily ever after. He switched high schools twice more before graduating. When I located him in the milling crowd of students and parents after his graduation ceremony I asked to see his diploma, turning it over in my hands to make sure it was real.

The interesting thing is that my son has forged ahead educationally ever since. He has an undergraduate and a master’s degree in mathematics, speaks fluent french, remembers a lot more history than I do, loves touring art museums in London where he now lives, and scored in the top percentile in verbal reasoning when he took the GRE.

My takeaway is that the conventional educational path, crammed with classes and extra curriculars, doesn’t necessarily translate into a meaningful or healthy education.

Jumping through all the hoops in order to come off the high school conveyor belt with high GPA and SAT scores can be a soul crushing experience.

What I enjoyed about homeschooling was the flexibility and the lack of pressure. Embrace this time of non-busyness. Keep your students on track — as much as you can — but don’t sweat it.

We feel like we’re in control when we enroll our kids in good schools where they follow prescribed course work. But control, as we’re learning, is an illusory thing.

Covid-19 has schooled on us that.

Tri-citizen: Ireland, Canada, US. Mother, physical therapist, environmentalist, contrarian. Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Charlotte Observer, NPR.

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