Homeschooling Why and How

I, too, Cry in the Night

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I, too, Cry in the Night 1998, rev 2012

I had been homeschooling Thumper for all of his 15 years when I first wrote this. I founded HAPPY (Homeschool Adventures: Program for Parents and Youngsters) as a support group that provided weekly field trips for seven years. I’ve written lots of articles for the local homeschool newsletters and have had some published in the Maui News, the Haleakala Times, Growing Without Schooling and Home Education Magazine. I’ve counseled countless parents regarding problems with their kids and with school officials. I’ve done battle over testing with school officials all the way up to the State Superintendent of Schools. I’ve given homeschool seminars and presentations, including at Kamehameha and Hana schools and to classes at the University of Hawaii. I’ve since written a book: Homeschooling: Why and How. And still sometimes have doubts and fears!

I remember the first time of many times I cried, certain that I was ruining my son’s life with my oddball ideas and non-traditional approach. I think Thumper was two years old at the time and I forget what the issue was — spoiling, probably. Even friends chided me for giving Thumper so much attention, and so much power over his own life.

I had doubts when all Thumper’s friends went off to kindergarten and their mothers went back to work. Thumper and I enjoyed each others company immensely, but I remembered how much I had enjoyed kindergarten. That was when I started HAPPY.

Over the years I’ve faced relatives who were convinced I was doing the wrong thing and who warned me of dire consequences if Thumper didn’t go to school – that he wouldn’t learn, that he’d never have any friends, that he’d never get a job. To my sorrow, the aunties and uncles somehow gave Thumper the impression that they looked down on him. It got so Thumper wasn’t comfortable being around them for fear they would embarrass him with questions about school subjects. The relatives have since come to respect him and even my schoolteacher brother now says it’s the best thing we ever did.

Our approach became especially difficult when Thumper turned out to be a late reader. It’s easy to get all excited about homeschooling when you have a youngster who just dives into his schoolwork with enthusiasm and keeps up or even excels over his peers. When you have a child who wants to be out in the wide world doing things and isn’t into schoolish work at all, it’s not quite so easy. I could see that Thumper was acquiring a huge amount of knowledge and much wisdom and good character but he wasn’t interested in the kind of study the school kids — and maybe even most homeschoolers — were doing. I read lots of homeschool magazines, always looking for the stories about the kids who ended up educated in the end.

My doubts were especially strong at the beginning of the school year when I’d start feeling that this year we should really do some real studying. I’d get a stack of books and projects lined up, but by the time September drew to a close, we’d agree this wasn’t for us and we’d be back to our usual ways. Then in the spring, as the year-end report was coming due, it would seem like we hadn’t accomplished anything worth reporting. I’d be plagued by doubts, but when I got down to writing up my report, I’d find myself impressed with how much we’d actually learned. (And I say “we” because I learned lots of new things, too.)

By the time intermediate school came around, Thumper suddenly decided he wanted to do academic work and in one year, he covered all the basics of reading and math. At the end of the year, he went on a field trip to eighth grade and saw that he could do the work with little preparation. And he also saw how little got done in school, how actually anti-social it was, and how little time was available for pursuing individual talents. He wrote a highly informative and entertaining story of his experience and it is included in my book. So we both saw he was learning plenty from our non-traditional approach and continued on with new confidence.

But now I often fretted when I saw groups of boys doing things together. I’d always abhorred the cliquishness of school and yet here I was feeling like I was depriving my son of the chance to be in a clique. He was content to have friends and groups of friends all over the island and to have his family as his main company. I vacillated between being grateful for the blessing of a close family and being worried that Thumper was missing something important. I had to constantly remind myself that just because something had been a usual experience when I was growing up didn’t mean that it was vital or even valuable for my son to experience. In fact, I could see that most, if not all, of these cliques were actually substitute families and were often at odds with family values.

Meanwhile Thumper and I had decided to get some GED workbooks and Thumper started out on the reading one, which covered literature, science and social studies. The material was so boring and the questions so trite that it was difficult for us both to stay with it. At times we butted heads and got to feeling that he’d be better off in school — at least the drudgery would be surrounded by the entertainment of kids acting up in class. But then we’d have a day bodyboarding or doing something else we loved to do and we’d be grateful for the freedom from the domination of school.

When we went over our year-end report, we both agreed that the schoolish approach just didn’t work for us and we decided to go back to our serendipitous ways again next year.

Then came high school and a few of Thumper’s school friends from different parts of the island were now seeing each other at school daily. He was still confident in what we were doing, but he was wistful about his friends’ socializing at school. We set up another field trip to our local high school so he could again see for himself what he was missing and decide whether it was worth giving up his freedom. As it turned out, he and the friend who escorted him to school were both surprised at how many kids Thumper knew. It definitely dispelled the myth that you have to be in school to get to know large quantities of people. Beside, getting to talk to friends a few minutes between classes didn’t seem that much of a social life to Thumper. As in intermediate school, the academic part didn’t seem to present a problem.

He decided to attend school, with our blessings, so he could get the real experience of school. After all, our homeschooling had always been about experiencing things for himself. He had to take placement tests in English and math so he studied for about 3 months and we were delighted when he scored grade twelve plus!

We didn’t know what to expect from his attending high school. I told him I would support him in whatever he chose to make of it. If he wanted to be the rebel or the good student, it was ok with us. He chose to be the good student for two and a half semesters and got a 3.8 during that time. But he found it was just like intermediate school – a lot of time wasted trying to establish order and very little time spent learning.

So he left and decided to study for his GED, mostly just to prove he could get a score that would put him in the top tier of high school graduates (the scores are norm-referenced by giving the test to a cross section of graduating high school seniors). He eventually did score in the top 1% in reading and literature and top 13% in math, his lowest score but for now he was studying for the test, knowing he had experienced all he wanted of school. It seemed that we were in the homestretch and my doubts and fears could be laid to rest.

Not so. The worst was yet to come. The graduation ceremony of Seabury Academy, perhaps the most elite private school in the state, threw me in my worst depression yet. Their graduates go on to the best universities, usually on scholarships and travel abroad as part of their requirements. I found myself despairing the road not taken and feeling that I had denied Thumper a very important option. I had told others that I was confident that if Thumper decided he wanted to go to a good university, he would be motivated to do whatever it took. Now I had a son who wasn’t interested in doing that and listening to the faculty speak of their students’ accomplishments, I began to feel that the obstacles for us were insurmountable. A dear friend and fellow homeschooler, in his wonderfully outspoken way, gave me a pep talk on our kids and their very special character and abilities. (His daughter has gone on to graduate from college and his son, now in his mid-twenties, has never been to school). I was confident once again.

In Hawaii, the GED is a high school diploma and ceremonies were held, including the march down the aisle to Pomp and Circumstance, were subjected to long speeches, given diplomas, had an exit march, were greeted by family and friends and had parties.

Then Baldwin High School’s graduation came for the class Thumper would have been in and for a bit, I was again taken in by the apparent camaraderie of the graduating class. As the ceremony droned on, however, I began remembering bits and pieces of gossip I’d heard — about bathrooms you dare not go in unless you were of the proper race, of the poor teachers and disruptive kids. I thought of the stress of doing meaningless work for arbitrary grades and of the friendships that don’t hold up beyond school walls. I thought of the days those kids spent in box-like rooms under fluorescent lights and of the freedom and dignity they sacrificed to be there. It was even mentioned at one of the graduations that graduating meant never again having to get a hall pass to use the bathroom.

Once again, I was confident that we had chosen the best path for us. But I have come to accept that doubts are an integral part of homeschooling, parenting and indeed all of life. Only the arrogant have the luxury of being certain that their way is the only true way. The rest of us will all, to some degree, question our choices and for that we can be grateful. Painful though it may seem at times, it is by questioning our beliefs that we can open doors to growth. Even our most cherished beliefs — indeed, especially our cherished beliefs — warrant regular examination to see if we have been indoctrinated into false beliefs that we’re ready to outgrow. And when we lose our way, there are friends and family who understand and can support us. There are books and magazine articles chronicling those who have been through the same trials that we are experiencing. And in the quiet of prayer or meditation, Truth expresses itself.

Thumper now is a successful entrepreneur, has traveled throughout the US and to six European countries as a professional athlete. We continue to march to our own drummer, and sometimes, yet, we will have doubts and fears and I will cry in the night.

 

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