One of the reasons I started writing this blog is I was afraid to openly speak the truth about what I believed about education and homeschooling. I felt I had a unique perspective that could benefit homeschool parents, but I also knew some parents would think my position was foolish. So I was cautious in my conversations. But, with my writing, well…I’ve always been a rebel with a pen.
There was a series of definable moments in my life that shaped my education worldview and established me as an education “outlier.” Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire book about how one unusual experience, or one group of unusual experiences, can set people on a completely different trajectory for life. They become “outliers,” people who operate outside the norm due to the unique way in which their lives unfold.
There were four “moments” or “circumstances” that formed my view of education and established me as an education outlier. Here they are:
1. At 30 years old, I became a public school teacher.
Teaching was my second career. I was 30 years old and the mother of two children when I first stepped foot in a classroom in the role as teacher. That maturity led me to question the effectiveness of the traditional classroom learning environment from the beginning. I could immediately see that a “one size fits all” approach to education did not fit all and I was troubled that students had to find their place in the system because there was no way the system could find its place in the student.
I also found the parent in me constantly questioning the teacher in me. Much of what I was taught as a teacher, and some of what was required by my school district, did not jive with what I knew to be true and beneficial as a mother. I began to see how schooling was often at odds with parenting and how the school environment inadvertently undermined or ignored the desires of parents. When the choice was between doing what the teacher in me said to do as opposed to what the parent in me said to do, I chose the parent every time. Pretty soon I realized parents made better teachers than trained professionals.
2. School made my oldest son sick.
There’s nothing like a crisis to help a person see circumstances clearly and sort out priorities. Just one month into my oldest son’s kindergarten year, we discovered he had a serious illness that flared with school-related anxiety.
Having a sick kid has a way of completing destroying everything you used to think was important. Who cares if you packed the backpack right or got the homework done, when your child is suffering? Who cares about getting to school on time, or even getting there at all? Even important things, like learning to read and write, seemed unnecessary at the time.
The reality of my son’s illness forced me into homeschooling and it inspired me to set aside what everyone else was telling me about how to do it. Instead, I tried to focus on my children’s needs and giving them the healthiest, happiest, and sweetest childhoods possible.
3. My daughter was not allowed to stand up to eat her lunch in the school cafeteria.
After we pulled our oldest son out of school, our oldest daughter, then in second grade, asked us to homeschool her. We were surprised. We thought she loved school. She had lots of friends, loved her teacher, and did well. But she described for us an atmosphere for learning and living that we didn’t appreciate.
One of the most eye-opening stories involved the cafeteria. Having been a classroom teacher, I had first-hand knowledge of the de-humanizing environment of the school lunchroom. It has always reminded me of a cross between the orphanage dining room depicted in the movie “Oliver” (where the little orphan boy pitifully raises his bowl and asks for just one more spoonful of gruel) and a Nazi-run concentration camp.
In the school cafeteria, children are herded in single file, rushed through a serving line, and given about 15 minutes to eat their food. They sit crowded shoulder-to-shoulder at long tables facing each other while lunchroom monitors patrol, telling the children things like “don’t talk with your mouth full” and “don’t mix your food together.” (Our son once had to sit at the “naughty table” in the school cafeteria because he stirred two foods together.)
School lunchrooms smell bad and the noise is deafening. At the end of their 15-minute lunch, the children line back up single file to march out of the cafeteria in lock-step. Keep in mind that THIS is the time of day that most school children say is their favorite.
My daughter hated the lunch room food, couldn’t finish eating in the 15 minutes provided to her, and was so short that she couldn’t comfortably sit on the bench at her table and also eat the food in front of her. Inexplicably, the lunchroom monitors would not allow my daughter to sit on her knees or stand at the table to eat her lunch, proving to me once-and-for-all that there is nothing so heartless, useless, and ridiculous than an institution.
4. My kids starting beating the system—at the system’s own game.
One of the reasons homeschool parents are hesitant to get too creative in their instruction is that they know, at some point, their children will have to come back into the system if they want to go to college. They will need to take the college entrance exams and they will need to be prepared for the university learning environment. So, while I was sure my homeschool was growing my children’s brains and preparing them well for life, I remained a little nervous about how they would do when they had to return to traditional classrooms, homework, and tests in college.
You know how some people know where they were the moment the Challenger space shuttle exploded? Or the day the World Trade Center fell? I remember where I was when my oldest children told me the scores they got on the college entrance exams. Those scores validated the choices we had made for our children’s education. They meant we could keep on doing what we were doing with our younger children. And they convinced me that untraditional forms of education work as well, if not better, than traditional forms of schooling, even when measured by academia’s own most beloved measuring stick – the test.
By any measure, all three of my oldest children have done well in the university setting. The fact that they didn’t take tests or complete traditional assignments during their homeschooling years caused no issues at all. Instead, it’s likely their independent and creative minds not only helped them pick up these simple tasks without difficulty, but also embrace the other, more complicated, assignments presented to them in college as well.
These four circumstances of my life established me as an education outlier.
Until next time…be fearless.