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Homeschooling as Redemption

Homeschooling as Redemption
By Penny Tuggle

Our family homeschools as a way to redeem years wasted in school, to redeem our children's sense of educational priorities and their childhoods, and much more.

My husband was chatting with some of his co-workers the other day when one of the women commented that while she thought it was a good thing that educated people (like my husband) homeschool for intellectual reasons; she thought it was terrible that people without college degrees tried to homeschool their children because they do it mainly to be isolationists. One of her many underlying assumptions was that “non-college-degreed” meant “uneducated loser.” While my husband relayed this conversation to me, I mentally ran down the list of people she and I knew and respected who both hadn’t graduated from college and homeschool their children. At the top of this list was a well-liked, highly intelligent former colleague of hers who is known for his keen insight. I didn’t know whether to cringe or chuckle.

But, never wanting to waste the flash of insight that can spark from the dull thud of another’s ignorance, I reflected that if you accepted the false premise that non-degreed people are intellectual failures, you could make the argument that these would be some of the very same people who would gain the most from homeschooling. Wouldn’t these parents learn alongside their children, thereby reclaiming their own education? Wouldn’t they be disinclined to deliver up their children to the same system that failed them, and wouldn’t they view homeschooling as a way to redeem 13 or so wasted years of their lives?

In the process of flipping this woman’s argument, it occurred to me that our family doesn’t homeschool for primarily intellectual reasons or for isolationist reasons, but more for the redemptive force that homeschooling can be.

We homeschool to redeem our children’s sense of educational priorities. First of all, I must explain that my intellectual life, as defined by my husband’s colleague, doesn’t need much redemption. I was a Public School Poster Child. I did all of my homework every night. All of it. Okay, I’m exaggerating. I did forego homework twice. One time in third grade I forgot to do my homework and was so humiliated that I swore I’d never commit such an egregious oversight again. Nine years later, as a senior, I skipped one class’s homework on one night, just to see what it was like to be part of the ninety-nine percent. I was, if nothing else, reliable. I wanted to be valedictorian, and I lost huge swaths of my childhood in pursuit of that dubious goal. Our children spend less time doing formal academics in a week than I spent on homework most nights.

We homeschool to redeem our children’s right to engage in the business of childhood. In school, I experienced the double frustration of being too busy, yet bored. I would have preferred spending all of my time reading, crocheting, and dancing, but I had to seriously curtail these activities because school was so time-consuming. At the time, because of my compliant, hardworking nature, I don’t think I was conscious of my boredom. My first clue should have been all of the surreptitious reading, afghan-making, and tap dancing that went on under my desk. My second clue should have been that nobody with my degree of compliancy flips out and yells at a teacher, “Stop! Don’t say it again! I got it already!” without having been driven by repetition to the cliffs of insanity. Our children design and play games, sing, sew, draw, write, build, and read because this is the work they should be doing. They don’t use these activities as an escape from the banality of their curricula.

We homeschool to redeem our children’s relationships with each other. Spending so much time focusing on schoolwork alienated me from myself and my brothers, who also ended up near the top of their classes. I never felt as if I knew them until we all became adults. On the other hand, my children are the best of friends. The girls share a room, and it’s a slumber party every night. They can stay up late discussing the books they are reading and the books they are writing because they are not harassed by a school schedule. Our older son frequently consults with his sister on the games he creates and she shares her cartoon art ideas with him. The oldest three were available every day for the care, training, and loving up of our second son when he lived with us as our foster child. They all are learning to live with each other’s quirks and to encourage each other’s talents.

We homeschool to redeem our children’s friendships. You can imagine that getting a reputation as a frustrated nerd was not great for my social life. I had a few school-based friendships that didn’t last much beyond the end of our school days, but mostly I felt out of place. Because school was so stressful, I often pretended to be too sick to go, especially on gym days. Gym class was a confluence building up to a perfect storm of ick: teachers who judged my worth by how far I could hit a ball, classmates who bullied me because they couldn’t see any value in a person who couldn’t hit a ball, and me, who couldn’t hit a ball. We choose to isolate our children from that mess (gasp! don’t tell the co-worker). Instead, our kids have found great friends, both those who learn at home and not, who share mutual interests. They are not forced to call people “friends” who are merely allies they have found in a hostile place.

We homeschool to redeem our children’s ability to learn what they want in the way they want to learn. I was not introduced to the concept of homeschooling until after I graduated from college. After our second child was born, I started investigating it as an educational option for our family. After five years of reading Holt, Gatto, Llewellyn, et al(bert), I was plagued by the suspicion that even though I had been at the top of my class in high school, perhaps my chief talent was mental regurgitation. So I set up an experiment to test whether I could learn anything on my own without being spoon-fed. I had always wanted to learn to knit, so I bought a how-to book and dove in. The rules I set up were that I couldn’t ask anyone for help, and I could only use YouTube in case of an emergency (like when the book tried to get me to use an impossible purling method). Learning to knit this way was hard. It hurt my brain. And my fingers. I learned several new swear words and, eventually, to knit. After that, having crocheted freestyle for thirty years, I learned how to read a pattern and make toys. After that, I learned how to make pad Thai. After that, I took up Zumba. In the midst of my own learning, our kids learned how to moderate an online gaming forum, ride a bike without training wheels at the age of two, play piano, sew, sing in multiple monthly concerts, perform skits for a large audience, and draw recognizable Harry Potter caricatures, all with little or no instruction from us.

Perhaps some day I will invite my husband’s co-worker over for tea and show her that there may be other reasons to homeschool than what she has in mind. I may tell her how my study of homeschooling has radically changed the way I think children should grow up and has clarified my thoughts on my own education. Do I care that I didn’t get to deliver that valedictory speech? Nope. Do I giggle when I’m paid to tutor the very subject that kept me out of the running? Yep – all the way to the bank. Ah, sweet redemption!

Penny Tuggle and her husband have mostly unschooled their children for more than fourteen years. She hopes that one day her children will turn Star Wars: Episode IV into a fully staged ballet.

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