When I began this home education odyssey, I had read all the requisite inspirational literature regarding the endless possibilities. Examples of exceptional homeschoolers are everywhere — the Colfax family, with their star academic progeny, the national spelling and geography bee winners, the kids who sail the world and live to write about it. And we’ve all seen the lists of famous homeschoolers, from Ben Franklin to Leonardo da Vinci. I was duly inspired. Homeschooling offers the freedom and independence, the creativity and the time to let talents blossom.
Many years later (and still in the trenches), I realize that I may have been under the spell of false advertising — delusions of grandeur, unrealistic expectations — common in American life, really. Akin to the idea that I will be sexier if I drive the right car, and even closer to the myth that life will be better with the right brand of university degree. Please don’t misunderstand — homeschooling has been a wonderfully rich and eye-opening experiment and has provided us all with a surprising amount of experience and education. I count it as a smashing success and would do it all over again.
But — we are undeniably normal.
There, I said it. My kids are all brilliant, accomplished and marvelous individuals (of course), but there isn’t a Mozart or an Einstein among us (both homeschoolers, by the way) — not yet, anyway. This revelation — that success isn’t necessarily defined in superlatives or related to fame and power — would have been a welcome relief to me twenty years ago, early in my tenure. It would have somewhat assuaged the intimidation whipped up by the many accounts of frenzied super-achieving that goes on in some homeschooling quarters. It has, unfortunately, taken me years to realize that my approach — basically just learning to live in the world kindly, responsibly, and with curiousity — is perfect for me and mine.
I have known many homeschoolers who insisted that the project is about rising to the top — the PhD in education whose kids were so tyrannized by her forced march to success that they begged to go to school, the 15-year-old lunching with Hillary Clinton, the 14-year-old performing Bach at the Ivy League school, and the family that does everything better than you. I ran into their 13-year-old daughter at a book sale — she was wearing a stunning, floor-length crocheted dress of many colors. “Emily, that’s gorgeous — where did you get it?” Silly me. She made it, of course. This is the same family whose young daughters arrived at a dance, each topped with a jaunty, one-of-a-kind hat. “Where did you get them?” (You would think that I had learned.) Yes, they sheared the sheep, carded the wool, dyed the wool, felted the wool, and made the hats. On the weekend. Probably before I got out of bed.
I’m sure that some of you see yourselves in this. One of the great things about home education is the lack of limits — go where your curiosity, motivation, and determination take you. High achieving, accomplished homeschoolers are fairly common, I think. I applaud you and am endlessly impressed by your kind. But someone needs to speak up for the rest of us. I tried to keep up with the race-to-the-top pace for awhile and it wasn’t working for me. I learned that we needed less running, less competition, less friction, less pressure. We opted for more open spaces, more time to think — another great thing about home education. Perhaps that is why there are so many high achieving homeschoolers. They’ve had time and space to let their ideas grow.
Here’s what we do: cook, read, write, play, watch movies, argue, paint, draw, garden, noodle on instruments and dabble in life.
And here’s what we haven’t done, yet: write concertos, build barns, chair committees, cure diseases, keep bees, or save the world.
We may, but we haven’t yet. My kids are all bright and capable, each in a perfect quirky way, and are finding their own interesting and promising paths to success. The possibilities of homeschooling are truly endless and that alone creates a broad, open approach to learning and growing.
When the mainstream mentions homeschoolers, we hear about the winners and the losers — the fringe dwellers, the prodigies and the problems. Most of us, however live somewhere in the middle — we live proudly in the middle. We’ve had shining moments of triumph and crashing bouts of failure — just like most of the kids in the schoolhouses. Not every member of the school population can have the lead in “Oklahoma”, or win a national science competition or give the valedictorian speech. And, of course, not every homeschooler will be Einstein.
Speaking from the middle, we are happily toiling away in the world, finding paths to illumination, passion, kindness, and — ultimately — ourselves. This is something to encourage and celebrate.
There really is plenty of room for all of us.