An Ordinary Family Making a Not So Ordinary Choice About School

This is me on my first day of school. Yes, there is a note pinned to my dress. It's an old version of email.

Did I ever mention I am a homeschooler?

I am a homeschooler.
I homeschool my kids.
I homeschool my kids by choice.
I homeschool my kids knowing there is a building around the corner that would take them off my hands for free.
And, no, I’m not crazy.

When our first child was four years old I started researching schools. We were lucky enough to live in a big city where we had a myriad of school options from which to choose: public, parochial, private, Montessori, Waldorf, progressive Quaker, STEM, arts magnet, language immersion, GT, and every kind of charter you can imagine. Information junkie and control freak that I was (am), I began a mission, a mission to find the best education for my son.

It was then that I stumbled on a quirky yet simple homeschooling website calledLearn in Freedom™: School is Dead (I have since become friends with the website author and his family). Learn in Freedom? Hell yeah. I was hooked. This fed my inner anarchist completely and our family jumped in with both feet.

We don’t need no education from the man!

While the idea of homeschooling was certainly not new—people have been homeschooling their children since the beginning of time—legal homeschooling in the United States was not well understood even fifteen years ago. Jumping into that world required a bit of maneuvering. It was challenging to find our place. We weren’t homeschooling for religious reasons. We weren’t consciously trying to be radical. We were just an ordinary family making a not so ordinary choice in the best interest of our family and child.

Eventually we found some like-minded families and homeschooling became a way of life. We’re the ones you see gathered in the parks in the middle of the day with “school aged” kids. We picnic. We play. We chat. We teach co-op classes. We share curriculum. We debate politics. We almost always have someone else’s kid in our car. We take the entire month of September to celebrate the smaller crowds in the museums. We never take a snow day but we take an awful lot ofit’s-too-darn-nice-outside days.

It’s a community like no other and I am so glad to have been a part of it.

Past tense, Kelly?

Yes, past tense. This year, for the first time in fourteen years, I will not be a homeschooler. My oldest has been off in college for a few years. My middle son has chosen to attend a high school that specializes in an area that interests him. My youngest is joining the ranks of the Kindergartners. He has his new backpack and a pair of new school shoes and is eager to meet his new school friends.

It is a bittersweet time for our family–saying goodbye to a life we love but looking forward to all the new opportunities.

Years ago when we started down this homeschooling path a friend loaned me a book that was designed to help a family articulate why they were homeschooling. Fourteen years ago I wrote this:

“Education is more than a series of tasks that get you from point A to point B. A child’s education should lead to a life of integrity where a sense of justice, compassion, and respect for others guides his choices. The formative years in a child’s life should begin with the laying of a strong academic foundation on which he, with the guidance of caring teachers and mentors, can build a tower of understanding: understanding his place in the world, understanding the inherent connection between all things, and understanding the importance of making his life meaningful for himself while adding value to the world around him. Learning is not a separate task in life. Learning is life.

I want my children to learn (in no particular order of importance):

  1. To appreciate the importance of family and friends.
  2. To understand their place in history.
  3. To understand and respect their relationship with nature.
  4. To respect other people and cultures.
  5. To communicate well.
  6. To be self-motivated.
  7. To be creative.
  8. To understand math and its importance as an abstract language.
  9. To appreciate music, art, and literature as both art forms and historical sources.
  10. To read for understanding and pleasure.
  11. To prepare for future learning.
  12. To accept mistakes as part of learning.”

K.M. O’Sullivan, 2000

I thought I might have to tweak it for our new non-homeschooling life but there is nothing I wrote then that I don’t still believe. The idea that living and learning are inextricably connected is empowering. It doesn’t matter where our children learn as long as they stay open to every learning opportunity that presents itself. The only thing that stops learning is a closed door, or a closed mind.

So, this year, school is just around my corner, both figuratively and literally, and I am sending my kids there. We are now the not so ordinary family making the ordinary choice. A school is not necessarily a magical place and it doesn’t hold a monopoly on learning, but it is a new experience and we’re excited to see where this opportunity leads us.

Learning is life. Bring it on.

K.M. (Kelly) O’Sullivan is a writer and blogger living in the Midwest with her husband, their three boys, and the cats. She isn’t afraid of the feminist label but could do without the phrase “real women”.  Kelly writes about feminism, politics, parenting, and more. Read more from Kelly at http://kmosullivan.com and connect with her on Facebook (K.M. O'Sullivan - Mildly Askew) and on Twitter (https://twitter.com/KellyMOSullivan).

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