International Ministries

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July 7, 2009 Journal
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This June our oldest son Ian graduated from High School.  Ian has been home-schooled since first grade.  As I look ahead to having a college freshman this fall, I began reflecting on my days as a home-school parent . . .

A HOMESCHOOL MOM
I homeschool my children.  I can almost say this without cringing, slurring, or shifting my eyes.  I have done it long enough now that—on most days—I no longer fear that I am ruining my sons’ education, limiting their choice of which college they might attend, or hampering their brilliant future careers as a nuclear physicist and a neuro-surgeon.  Okay, a family counselor and a mechanical engineer would warm my heart too.

It is difficult to gain confidence as a homeschool parent in the face of years and years of institutionalized public school education.  You can identify with the stay-at-home dad on the playground surrounded by gawking suspicious mothers of the “normal” American family.  Because even though homeschooling has become more of an accepted movement in the U.S. (movement gives it that slightly radical edge that still scares the mainstream), most people still doubt its effectiveness.

“But what about your child’s social development?  Does he have any friends?”  As if I lived in my house, barred the doors, and never let my kids play outside, go to church, or accompany me to the grocery store.  But I try to be kind.  Gracious in my response.  Because, after all, I used to be one of them.

I didn’t grow up planning to become a homeschool parent.  I didn’t wake up one day, run to my mother, and proudly say, “Mom, when I have kids I’m going to homeschool them!”  I don’t even remember hearing about homeschooling until my late 20s.  And even then I thought it was what people in remote areas of the world with no other options chose to do.  I mean, honestly, what intelligent person wants to stay home with their offspring for 18 years and educate them?  Training them how to accurately use the toilet, a napkin instead of their shirt sleeve to wipe their mouth, and how to not bash their sibling over the head when angry is hard enough.  Throw in how to tie your shoes, count from 1 to 10, and picking up dirty socks off the floor and you’re exhausted.

LAURA INGALLS VS. NELLIE OLSON
I met my first homeschool mom when I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska.  I was a working mom.  That is to say, working to keep my sanity most of the time.  I had a three-month-old colicky baby, and found myself standing on my deck every other day at 30 below zero screaming at moose so as to not become one of those women in the news who shook her child to death.  My neighbor Terri lived across the street with four children under the age of five in a three-room unfinished house.  Her husband worked the pipeline and was gone 3-6 months at a time.  So, if something broke, she had to fix it.  If a child was sick, she was the one up all night, and then also handling the regular routine the following day.  She was the one making sure the car was serviced, hauling the garbage, snowblowing the driveway.  And also, homeschooling her kids.  Frankly, I found her intimidating.  Laura Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie all grown up and living across the street from me.  I was the whiney, pampered Nellie Olson in comparison.  I had deep admiration for what she was doing, but just couldn’t imagine me in her shoes.

After Alaska, we moved to MA.  I had my second child, eventually went back to work full-time, and in a twist of role reversal, my husband became the full-time care giver.  He decided to homeschool our oldest son Ian for first grade because he was disillusioned with the school district where we lived.  He net-worked with other homeschool parents, became part of a support group, and embraced a world I still was tentatively sticking one toe in.  

I remember attending our first Christian Homeschool Conference together.  Talk about stereotypes.  Ultra-conservative, evangelical Christian women wearing long skirts and leading tribes of ten children a piece seemed to be everywhere.  Where could a female theologian in jeans even begin to hide?  I found myself ducking behind display cases trying to blend in with the fake hotel foliage, hoping I wouldn’t be noticed.  That first year with Ian sailed by.  My husband successfully taught him to read and compute basic mathematics.  I was impressed but still kept my distance.

VISUAL VS.  KINESTHETIC LEARNERS
But then came our move to Mexico ten years ago.  Our schooling options became limited, and homeschooling looked like the best viable option to educate our kids.  I was terrified.  Why?  Because this time I would be the teacher.  David was the one now working full-time.  Actually, I wasn’t so concerned about teaching Ian.  He is a visual learner like me.  He picks up concepts easily and how I communicate a new idea resonates with him.  Aaron, on the other hand, is a kinesthetic learner.  He likes to be hands-on.  He and I do not communicate on a cosmic level.  I push; he pulls.  He wants to figure out everything by himself, his way.  Even if his way is wrong, and thus his whole math page is wrong.  And when I point out where his path is leading him, he grabs his head, moans, and says, “I’m stupid!  I’m so stupid!”  And nothing I can say convinces him otherwise.  And I start yelling, “I’m stupid too!  For thinking I can teach you!”

And this is the upside of homeschooling.  You learn all these cool terms—like kinesthetic learner—and how they apply to your kids.  It’s supposed to help you understand them better, and how to design the curriculum for each child.  But so far there are no instructions on how to not dwell on how much you can “mess them up.”  I mean, if I was the teacher of 30 kids and didn’t quite connect with one kinesthetic child, no one would be particularly surprised.  What one teacher can relate effectively to all her students?  But when there’s just one kid and just one teacher, what do you do then, especially if it’s your kid!

Who do I blame if my kid grows up and doesn’t know that one train carrying toxic waste and traveling at 40 mph, and another train carrying highly flammable fuel and traveling at 60 mph will always crash at 30 mph in a densely populated area during rush hour killing 157 people and polluting at least one major body of water?  But math is the least of my worries.  First, I had to teach Aaron how to read.  What if I couldn’t?  What if at ten-years-old he still couldn’t read?  My husband kept assuring me, “Just follow the program, honey.  It’s fool-proof.  Practically teaches itself.”  But these are the same instructions I received about the rhythm method of birth control, and look where that got me.  But I was Aaron’s best hope for learning how to read, so I dove off the cliff.  And it worked!  Aaron learned to read.  Is still reading to this day.  Even reads books just for fun.  And God used me to make this happen.  Why people think God doesn’t have a sense of humor is beyond me!

SPELLING!  ISN'T THAT WHY COMPUTERS HAVE SPELL-CHECK?
Today Ian is a high school graduate and Aaron just completed his freshman year of high school.  They still have no idea why they had to do creative writing assignments.  “Writing is so stupid!” they tell me.  “And who needs to spell anyway?  That’s what spell check on the computer was designed for.”  And when I point out that one day they might be a famous journalist and need all these writing skills, they simply roll their eyes and mutter, “Mothers!”  Or, they have very creative answers when I question them about their delay tactics.  “Aaron, we’ve discussed this paper a multitude of times.   You know how to write the outline, we talked about various characters to focus on, you understand the plot.  What else do you need?”  “Someone to write it for me,” he replied, without blinking an eye.  And I couldn’t help myself, I laughed.  How often had I wished for someone to do all my unpleasant tasks?  I didn’t nag him anymore.  Just reminded him the deadline was Friday.  Friday evening at 8 p.m., he placed the finished paper in my hands.  Were there mis-spellings?  Yes.  Were there grammatical errors?  Yes.  Where there even a couple run-on sentences?  Oh my, yes.  But the content was excellent.  And I was getting the honor of reading my son’s creative efforts first.

AGENTS OF CHANGE
Homeschooling is not for everyone.  But I’m glad that it happened to my family, despite all my initial resistance.  It has forged a deeper and stronger relationship with both my sons.  It has given me a new appreciation for all those men and women God calls into the profession of teaching.  And it had taught me that I can do what I once thought was impossible:  educate my sons to become Christ-centered, multi-cultural, bi-lingual radical agents of change in our global community.  Just do me a favor though.  Don’t ask them the capital of Kentucky, or who was the 17th president of the United States. Or, heaven forbid, never ask them to spell chauffeur!