Then And Now: How Being A Public School Kid Turned Me Into A Homeschool Parent


My best friend will tell you that public school cheated her out of a real education. Her husband will say the same x1000 and, in his case especially, I think he may be right. He’s a remarkably bright guy and a quick and eager learner that got marginalized for all the wrong reasons.  As for myself, I never really felt cheated.

Growing up in public school I always felt like I was learning. I still remember specific lessons and when I started college I had the tools I needed to keep up.

I never felt like school was all bad.

On the other hand, I was bored.

So. Very. Bored.

What school looked like for me...

What school looked like for me…

I remember clearly the first moment it hit me. I was in the first grade and we were reading out loud in groups around little round tables that I loved because they were just the right size for me.  I read my paragraph of “Run, Spot, Run,” and then the next kid went and it was just painful. She had to sound out every letter and syllable. She didn’t pronounce the words right. She didn’t do the little inflection thing that the teacher had told us goes on the end of a question. It took FOREVER. When she was done, I breathed a sigh of relief. Then the next kid started and, God help me, he was just as bad!

I couldn’t take it so I started reading ahead. I needed to know where that dog was running to, darn it, and I didn’t have all year to find out!

The sweet grey-haired teacher who actually wore denim jumpers with little apples stitched on the pockets, reached over and put her hand on mine. “Don’t read ahead, dear. Stay with us.”

And that was the beginning. “Don’t move ahead. Stay with us.”

It was a constant battle. If we hit a chapter of the science book that was especially interesting I wanted to read the whole chapter. I wanted to know everything and then learn more but, no, that’s not how it works. The class is ONLY working on page 12 for the next 3 weeks. Just page 12. No other pages. For THREE WEEKS.  I’m not making that up. That actually happened once.

In high school my algebra teacher said some beautiful words. “I’m giving you homework as practice to help you understand how to do the work so you can do well on the test.”

*Just a little sidebar here: Note that, in his wisdom, he did not say, “practice to help you understand these concepts so you can apply them to every day life.”

Then And Now |

AH! Great! I already understood, so I didn’t need to do the homework. I took the test. I got an A. I got an A on EVERY test in that class. And then, when I got my report card I was failing. My mother, who felt anything less than a “B” was completely unacceptable in any circumstance was furious. A meeting was held.

“She hasn’t done any homework,” the teacher said.

“You said I didn’t have to!” I practically screamed.

“I said no such thing!” He said.

I explained my reasoning.

“Well… you still have to do the homework.” He insisted.

“Why?! If I understand well enough to ace every test, why in the name of God do I need to spend an hour of every night IN ADDITION to the hour I spend every day in your classroom practicing? I clearly understand the material!”

He just sat there for a moment, flustered. I thought maybe I’d won. But then he said, “You need to learn sticktoativeness.”


To this day my lip curls when people use that “word.”

Then and Now |

And school was a social nightmare for me.

I’m not terribly shy, but I am an introvert. I don’t make new friends easily and I’ve never been head cheerleader material.

I had a few great, close friends without whom I would have been lost. To this day those people are my great, close friends without whom I would be lost! But God help me if they weren’t there for some reason. Where do you sit at lunch when your friends aren’t there? If you’re me, alone in the bathroom. Better to go hungry than to face the lunchroom without backup.

Being teased, as kids usually are at some point, didn’t teach me to be stronger in a harsh world. It taught me to curl up and become invisible, to keep my voice inside and never ever put myself out in front of people if I could help it.

We all graduated and everyone was weeping over “the end of an era.” I had my bags packed and one foot out the door. I had better things to move on to. I was over it.

It’s been 20 years and I recently skipped my reunion. I’m still over it.  I had no desire to re-live “the good old days.” Those days were sort of a wash, at best, in my book. There was some good. There was some bad. I survived. I’ve never been happier in my life than I am now so I’ll just live right here in 2014. Thanks, anyway, for the invite.

I say all that to say this:

There are a lot of reasons why we homeschool. Handsome Hippie Hubby and I came up with 115 of them this year. (You can read them here.) But I’d be lying if I said that my decision wasn’t shaped, at least in part, by my own experience.

My children are bright and curious (as pretty much every child I’ve ever met is). They are strong readers and quick learners. I don’t want them to ever have to sit on page 3 for an hour while someone else tries to sound out words. I still don’t see the point in doing homework if you clearly have a strong grasp of a subject. You get it? Great! Let’s move on. Life is to short to dilly dally in the world of mediocrity.

What school looks like for my daughter.

What school looks like for my silly daughter.

Conversely, I see that there are certain subjects where my children struggle a little. Homeschooling gives them a pressure-free environment where they can spend as long as they need to finding their way. No teasing. No impatient girls, tapping their foot and sighing because they’ve been stuck on page 3 for an hour.

My daughter is the kind of child that is utterly crushed by harsh words. When she encounters life’s inevitable bullying situations as she plays on various sports teams, attends co-op classes and so forth, she isn’t left all alone to try to figure out how to deal with it.

Public school was not horrible for me. It wasn’t perfect, but I survived. I came out with what I feel was a decent education and a few great friends. I homeschool, in part, because I don’t want “I survived” to be part of how my children feel about their youth. I’m realistic enough to know that, regardless of the choices we make, our children will look back and see some good and some bad. I’m hoping that, by homeschooling, we will be tipping the scales a bit in favor of the good.

I’m curious to know how your own childhood experiences have shaped the choices you’ve made for your children. I’d love for you to share in the comments!

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2 responses »

  1. That’s really too bad that in first grade they didn’t have reading groups with students that were all at the same level. I remember switching classes in those early grades for math and reading so that similar kids could be together. I imagine that with smaller schools that’s not an option. How annoying to have your teacher tell you to skip ahead. You should have just taken a nap for 20 minutes until you got to page 4.
    Three weeks on page 12 alone?! That teacher should have been fired. Something was seriously wrong there.
    And, as per usual, amen to all points.

  2. That is my biggest argument about the quality of my education as well–that I was bored. I often skipped ahead. I wonder if all schools are like that, or just the one we both attended? And I can’t BELIEVE that you would even mention that horrible Algebra teacher! He was THE WORST! He was the one that when everyone failed the test because he hadn’t taught us anything, he would just add 30 points to all their scores. He once spent a whole class period teaching juggling. I took all the way up to Trigonometry in high school, but when I got to college, I could not test out of taking Algebra again. And THAT TEACHER was JUST AS BAD at teaching driver’s ed.
    [End of Rant]

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