Spring 2022/Cheryl Carter
Over the years, my opinions about home education have evolved. I used to think I did it as an alternative to school; now, I see home education as a lifestyle of learning. I was obsessed with finding just the right textbook or method. Yet, I was subtly competing with traditional schools, both private and public. This mindset left me looking for curriculum and spending crazy money to get that academic edge. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with pursuing educational excellence because we want the best for our children, but we have to force ourselves to stop and ask some difficult questions.
Questions force us to think. The children in my homeschool co-op know one of my pet peeves is that you are not allowed to say, “I don’t know,” because when you say that, you stop thinking and unconsciously give yourself permission to be ignorant. Does that sound harsh? I did not mean to be so hard, but as my former pastor used to say, “You should work harder on yourself than anyone else.” I often ask myself, “Why am I homeschooling?” Spelling bee winners, Ivy League graduates, and science fair finalists don’t necessarily motivate me on days when my daughter complains about the boring book she has to read or mornings when I cannot explain to my son how to multiply binomials four different ways. Those winners do not help me on afternoons when the Battle of Bunker Hill is in full-swing at my house just because someone exceeded his computer time.
I ask myself this question not just when I have bad days with the kids or have challenging topics to teach but also when my working friends call and tell me about their great vacations, holiday bonuses or new home additions. I wrestle not with my decision to homeschool but with my determination to be so resolute in that decision, such that I will consider no other alternative. Now that my son is in high school, the relatives have started asking again why I am homeschooling him. I think they hoped this stay-at-home mom phase would pass, but since it has lingered for fifteen years, I guess they grasped at the straw that perhaps—just maybe—the kids would go to an institutional high school.
I homeschool because, for us, it has become a lifestyle. My kids want to learn French not to pass a test but to converse with friends, visit foreign countries, and do missionary work. My son is growing more adept at web design, not to fulfill some vague credit so he can be released from high school but because he really wants to use it in real life. I homeschool because my nine-year-old can read so much, and she can distinguish a boring book from a worthy read. I homeschool because my son can determine how he would multiply binomials and which method works best for him and even discover a combination of the methods that work for him. When I look at my kids, I know they are who they are because Derek and I have given them the freedom to say no to stifled textbook learning. That is not to say that we do not use textbooks, but we work hard to personalize our children’s education no matter what method we are using.
How can you explain the gleam in your son’s eye when he says “Mom, I got it after working through some difficult geometry proofs.”? How do you explain the joy you feel when your nine-year-old daughter observes, “Mom, that was a red herring,” while watching a presidential debate. Those are the reasons why I homeschool, and it is hard to articulate. The benefits of homeschooling are so experiential that often-times, in desperation to be understood, we cling to spelling bee winners, college graduates, and successful businesspeople, but this is not the issue.
Homeschooling makes us happy in the present. It serves us in the now, and that is a difficult concept for most people. The now is where children live. They want love now. They need our attention now. Now is not necessarily understood in our western terms because we are always setting goals, moving faster, climbing ladders, and conquering new territory. Some of us barely enjoy today because we are thinking about tomorrow. One of my favorite plays is Our Town by Thornton Wilder. There is a scene when Becky, the main character, has died and is granted her wish to go back to relive a birthday. She observes that the adults in her life were so consumed with the party that they did not relate to her. How many of us get so consumed in doing things for our kids that we miss opportunities to enjoy them?
I am not suggesting that homeschool parents are immune to this sin, but I do think we are more aware of the dangers of being physically there but not being present. When I am helping most people with organizing their lives, and they are asked to give goals, those goals generally relate to things they want to do in the future, but homeschool moms always want to organize and manage their time for the now. Thus, I have surmised a very simple summary when people ask us why we homeschool. I smile as I muse about all the benefits, but they are not necessarily looking for understanding, so I just say that it is the right thing for us now. And it will be the right thing for us tomorrow and the day after and ten years from now.