Jon and I trudged into the dusty parking lot of the mission headquarters in southern Spain in preparation for our week long missionary retreat. We mingled with seasoned missionaries and young families brand new to the field. Jon knew most of them, but I was the newbie... fresh out of college, eager for adventure and already fluent in French. Naturally, the missionary friends Jon had made while in the Peace Corps were eager to meet me, to see if I was "good enough" for Jon.
One of his friends, a good Baptist Reagan-supporter, cornered me before a mid-day meal.
"Julie, will you homeschool—you know, when you get married and have kids?"
I glanced at my left hand. No ring on my finger. I patted my belly. No babies growing inside. I looked up: "What's 'homeschool'?"
He proceeded to tell me about homeschooling which in his vision included pledging allegiance to a flag each morning next to the breakfast nook and filling out PACES (workbooks used by the pioneers of the fundamentalist homeschooling movement whose definition of evolution is "a myth propagated by scientists to disprove the truth of creationism."). By the end of his enthusiastic speech about the benefits of educating kids yourself, I responded: "Sure. I'll do it."
And so began my homeschool commitment, before I'd even said "Sure, I'll do it" to Jon.
We began homeschooling back when most people hadn't heard of it yet. My skeptical pediatrician regularly quizzed our kids during check-ups - random questions like "Spell Mississippi" and "What's 16 + 34 - 12?" After they'd fumble their way through, they'd ask about the posters on the wall showing the ear canal. They regaled him with the names of the various cavities (we studied the ear one year and built our own model) and he'd say, "Well, you're the first kids I've ever treated who even noticed the poster let alone were interested in it. I guess homeschooling must not be all bad." Uh, thanks, doc.
Over the years, more and more homeschoolers have joined the ranks of educational non-conformists. I've honed and refined my philosophy. We never did wear button down shirts nor pledge any allegiance to flags or books or Republican presidents or creationism. The main focus I had was to give my kids a chance to be kids - to explore interests that mattered to them, trusting that as they did, more than sufficient educational opportunities would present themselves. I nurtured those little flames of mania with supplementary materials, I suggested and presented rich, meaty liberal arts curricula and outings, and we spent enough time on math to not tank on the standardized testing.
By high school, we were into a blend of parttime public education, homeschool co-ops, private tutors and moi. Jon joined in to help with literature.
So for me, the real point of home education has been education.
Somehow not everyone got that memo.
There are a surprising number of homeschoolers I know who don't intend to pay for their kids to go to college. They expect them to pay for the whole thing. After all the hard work of educating them K through 12, they abandon them at adulthood expecting these kids to work and study without help. And not surprisingly, many of these smart teens verging on adulthood meander through programs not quite sure how to get it done and then fizzle out. Some of the focused show real tenacity and make it anyway. I have watched kids juggle full time jobs and college having never been to any formal school education! Stunning. I admire those kids a lot. Better people than I might have been in similar circumstances.
There are others for whom college is not even an option. Their parents have discipleship or marriage as an objective for their kids rather than higher education.
Others still, who having been raised in a protected environment away from the dangers of public education and all the teenage temptations of sex, alcohol and drugs, have wound up pregnant anyway, outside of marriage, at far too young ages. I don't know if it's the contaminated water in the Ohio river making it into our taps or what, but I'm surprised by how many homeschooled kids I know who are teen parents (both boys and girls). Early marriages are not atypical in the homeschooling world.
And while it would be tempting to judge these tightly controlled homeschool environments as cause, we know plenty of girls in public school who've become pregnant too. The truth is: teens and young adults are not as easily controlled through our machinations as we hope they will be, no matter where they are educated.
So as I've "rethought" homeschool in the last six months in particular, it occurs to me that it is not only not a panacea for making it through the trenches of teen development, it may also not even be the best educational choice for kids, particularly those who never go on to college. It seems there is merit to the idea of education in classrooms with other adults and teens for the sake of greater exposure to another world beside the coziness of family.
I'm wondering at this end of it if the best reason to homeschool needs to remain: learning and living go hand-in-hand? It doesn't look like (from where I sit) that we can provide the conditions necessary to actually help teens to make good choices even while we try. In the end, a percentage of them will throw off family values for their own experiments with the dangerous adult world. (You'd hope that at least someone would suggest birth control or adoption as a viable option for kids who don't adopt their parents' values...)
I know Jon and I are not exempt from surprises. I find myself daily realizing that my own children hold my future hostage with their choices. If one of them should become pregnant or father a child, I would from that day on be honor-bound to grandparent that child no matter what the conditions of conception are. I don't feel ready, but who's asking me?
And with that sobering thought on a Saturday night, I leave you. Have a great night.