“So, what’s it going to be,” I asked my 4-year-old daughter. “Me or a normal education?”
It was August, l995, and the two of us were sitting in the parking lot of the nearby elementary school where my daughter, Nova, was scheduled to begin her tenure as a student that fall.
“Homeschool,” replied a confident voice from the back seat. I looked back at the angelic face of my one and only. I wasn’t so sure. My life was so chaotic – her father and I had separated, my part-time job as a college instructor was about to end unless I agreed to go full time, and I had an elderly mother in poor health. Little did I know those would later be fondly remembered as the “good old days.”
Sensing my hesitation, or maybe because she was simply wise beyond her years, Nova smiled sweetly and repeated, “Homeschool,” adding, “because I really want to learn, and you’re the bestest teacher ever.”
We recently wrapped up our long home-school journey after 13 years, three states, six relocations, a mid-life career change, three marriages (her dad and I did divorce and eventually remarried others) and taking care of a now very elderly and incapacitated mother.
Those years also included 368 field trips to everywhere from the routine (police station, bread factory, zoo) to the exotic (the Northwest Trek, the Viking trail in Newfoundland, a Dragon Museum) to the esoteric (operas, musicals, stage plays, lectures by creative intellectuals).
Homeschooling is a Lifestyle
Years ago, a veteran home-school mom offered me some sage advice that I have often passed along to the next generation of wannabe home educators: Homeschooling is not a job. Nor is it a career. It is nothing short of a lifestyle. So if you’re ready to adapt a lifestyle, best of luck. If not, walk away.
Homeschooling in the early years is mostly about fun, friendship and field trips. High school, on the other hand, is all business. The business of both running a school competently (because that’s what you are – an independent, private school that receives zero funding from any sources other than your own pocketbook) and being knowledgeable in multiple disciplines including math, science, language, the fine arts and social studies. Special talents and expertise are also the responsibility of the home educator when it comes to required course electives.
Homeschooling throughout high school also means functioning as both pragmatic principal (curriculum planning and development, field trips, recordkeeping, miscellaneous administrative duties) and empathic guidance counselor (transcripts, financial aid forms, academic advisement and setting up ACT/SAT tests).
Most of all, homeschooling means going against everything society says matters. Just recently, for the first time I wondered whether I’d committed career suicide. My career skills are so last century. If understanding why Andrew Jackson became our seventh president or debating the finer points of the human genome project counted for anything monetarily, I’d be rich. But, as it stands, I’m just a well-read has been.
On the other hand, my daughter is a very well-read (rising English major with a perfect 36 on the ACT reading test), well-adjusted young adult who has never given anyone a day of grief (well, there was seventh grade … but then, all ‘tweens are miserable).
So, would I do it all again? Of course – if it were August, l995, and that same 4-year-old gave the same sales pitch. Because it turns out she was right – we made a great team. And the stories we have …
Shalynn Ford is a freelance writer who lives in suburban Nashville.
Nova has been awarded a presidential scholarship to attend the same university where her mother once taught. The two plan to co-write a book on their home-school experience.