Sometimes I wish I had kept my mouth shut about our intention to homeschool Amelie. After all, our girl is only two - which means that I have to listen to people's objections to this scheme for a good 3 or 4 years longer than necessary. Not everyone is unsupportive, of course, but some friends and relatives take every opportunity to tell me why they think homeschooling will turn my kid into a weirdo or a misfit with no friends and no chance of getting into a good university, blah blah blah.
It's always reassuring to learn that people with these ideas usually know very little about the reality of homeschooling.
Of course there's always the chance that a homeschooled kid will turn out to be socially awkward. Yet schooled kids can be pretty weird too. I remember some strange characters from my school days (a boy who ate a piece of the innards of a dissected frog comes to mind) - and in retrospect I believe that the contrived world of compulsory schooling made some kids this way.
But the pushback that I'm receiving from a few friends and family members is nothing compared to the tremendous pressure that trailblazing homeschoolers faced in the 1970s and 80s, when a homeschooling movement quietly started to unfold in this country. Nancy Wallace tells it like it was in her excellent 1983 book Better Than School. Wallace's seven-year-old son was miserable in school, but when his parents inquired into teaching him at home they had to face an unsympathetic and all-too-powerful school board. After a few tense meetings and a lot of paperwork the board reluctantly allowed the Wallaces to homeschool Ishmael. Yet the school officials plagued this poor family with disdain and intrusive surveillance along the way.
Wallace has a slice-of-homeschool-life style that I really enjoyed. We get to see Ishmael and his sister Vita find and explore their passions, from writing stories to working out Bach minuets on the piano. In the chapters on reading and music, Wallace looks so closely, so lovingly, at the way her children learn. She honors her kids' unique learning styles in a way that simply isn't possible for even the most well-meaning schoolteacher, who has 29 other pupils to look after. And when Wallace discovers that her kids have a gift for music she makes piano and violin a centerpiece of their education, creating a conservatory-like environment and filling their lives with musical opportunities.
These kids are lucky. Are they weird? Hell, yes. Who wouldn't call a nine-year-old who writes operettas weird? But what's wrong with that? Seems pretty great to me.
Better Than School