Tales of 90's-era Homeschooling!
As a mom of three young children in the early 1990s, I was thrilled to discover the concept of homeschooling. We had tried both public and private schooling, with equally unimpressive results. We had also just returned from a year in Japan, where our kids attended public schools and became pretty fluent in Japanese. The idea of tailoring the education to the child was exciting and very liberating. However, at that time, it was a very lonely course. I think I knew 4 or 5 other families, total, that were homeschooling. Although we did make informal efforts to share and exchange our various strengths, we had to more or less figure everything out on our own.
Suspicion and doubt about homeschooling was the norm. Many people tried to undermine our confidence and when that didn’t work, to work on our kids directly, suggesting they really wanted to be in schools. When we did put our kids back in a private school a few years later—for about 6 months—the school insisted on testing our kids, to see where they ranked, only to find they were above grade (significantly) in every subject area. Still, I found I was even less tolerant of the pointless and petty power games of the administration and faculty this time around, and was happy to go back to homeschooling a short while later. At that time, my husband and I sort of shared the “breadwinner” role; one year, he would have the main job, and I’d be a freelancer, and the next year, I’d work outside the home and he’d be the homeschooling parent.
Part of my freelance work was writing a column in The Washington Times (shared with two other homeschool contributors) called Home Schooling Today. This was a blessing as I got to interview successful home educators and research educational methods and resources that I could share about in my columns—as well as practice at home. Like most homeschoolers, I dabbled in different curricula and approaches, but fairly quickly, found out that the student is the best guide of what does and doesn’t work. All three of my kids had completely different learning styles, so I had to pioneer new strategies with each one. However, what was constant was (get ready to gasp) FUN!
I found that all of us learned more, and were more excited and intrigued, when the project was enjoyable to us. For that reason, I would give them math lessons that involved creating funny pictures using X,Y coordinates—or science lessons involving navigation in outer space—or geography lessons that involved them creating board games to play. We also turned grocery shopping trips into math lessons, and room painting into geometry lessons. We beat Lin-Miranda Manuel to the punch with songs about the American Revolution in rap, and had a lot of fun with Shakespeare as well. As the kids got older, I searched around for opportunities for them to gain training in areas of specific interest to them: Mie already loved video and editing, so she apprenticed and became a producer at the local Public Access cable channel. Lan enjoyed biology, so she joined some community college classes with laboratory skills, took martial arts and dance, and entered speaking contests. Kensei liked electronics, so he took apart a lot of gadgets, and eventually self-taught himself a ton of IT and audio engineering material.
As a family, we were very interested in the issue of HIV/AIDS and the “best prevention” of abstinence—hardly a popular message at the time. We decided to create a nonprofit teen performing arts educational initiative called WAIT, which let our kids and others create songs, dances, breakdance, skits and game shows to convey the science—and the choices—of HIV prevention. From 12 kids in a single team, WAIT ended up spreading all over the US and to 27 other countries. Our homeschoolers—far from being isolated loners unaware of how to create good relationships—were visiting hundreds of schools and classes, as well as community centers, churches and even prisons—to share a life-affirming, uplifting message through their talents. This led to overseas trips, training teams in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean. In each place, they shared not only the HIV awareness, but the far more essential values of the preciousness of every person, every life, and that we can all choose to be heroes, to love others proactively, and to make choices for that love. Eventually, we began to make videos, then films, and built companies and many amazing partnerships. We learned that nothing can stop you, when you honor God and yourself and your family and others. We performed in huge venues and tiny ones, and we learned that in every place, there was a blessing waiting for us. Each of our kids graduated at age 16, which let them spend two years doing service learning, mostly through WAIT. They became excellent self-educators (or autodidacts) and have avoided a lot of the pitfalls that some of their friends experienced. Yet, what makes me most proud is to see them highly engaged with their own children’s education—active in their community—consciously living their faith and values—and having great marriages. From the beginning, that was my hope as a parent, and I feel very grateful to see them as powerful, self-initiating adults, good parents and great citizens.
One of the things I’m extremely grateful for is that they have what I didn’t have—a caring community of families who are passionate and practical and spiritual companions to them. It means so much to see that they can call a friend, pray together, laugh or groan together, and know that there are other people who have their backs. I look back on all the decisions I made in my life, and how they played out over time, and I have to say that homeschooling was one of the best investments we made as parents—and now as grandparents. We didn’t really notice it until, when we’d go out somewhere, people would look at us and sigh and even cry, saying “you’re so lucky, your kids really love each other, you’re family is so together.” We lived in this very solid place, where our hopes and values and dreams could all be realized, and where we genuinely helped and supported each other’s goals.
One thing you realize after you’ve gone through it all is that money is very low priority. Of course, we all need food, shelter, warmth, clothing. But kids grow quite well without the luxuries and fads that their peers may have—and may even do better because they are not conditioned to “need” all those things.
Homeschooling is still a rare thing—I recently read that about 2.8 million were homeschooling before COVID, which of course meant that nearly 56 million others had to learn at home, through remote video classes. The big difference, I would say, is not where you learn, but that you see the family as the primary learning unit. Homeschoolers don’t give authority to a teacher, administrator or system—they retain the authority endowed by God to seek knowledge and gain skills in all circumstances. I encourage each family to move forward with confidence, knowing that all the resources you need are freely available to you, and knowing that family is the absolute best learning environment. Have fun, enjoy the challenges, stretch the limits, and carve your own paths. Refer internally to your own faith, your own innermost values, your instincts. And stay away from the fearful, negative or unproductive companions, because they don’t fill up your battery. Excelsior!