Friday, October 14, 2011

Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington, Part 2: The Homeschooling

About a month and a half ago, I came out of the closet on FB and told everyone who knows, loves, or met me once in a bar and requested to be my friend while still downing a beer that I was going to homeschool my to-be kindergardener, Will.  The response was overwhelming--so many of my friends gave me immediate thumbs-up-you-can-do-it responses, while others sent private messages asking specific questions about why/what/how.  A few others responded with WTF? and the like.
This summer, my MIL, whom I adore probably a bit too much, invited me to a Bible study at her church.  One of my best friends was also attending, so I said yes.  Between going out of town a few weeks and one week when my kids were throwing up, I only made it to three of the meetings, but it was enough to hear one thing I ABSOLUTELY did NOT want to hear.  
The study was about Jonah.  As a child, I learned quickly that the moral of the story was that if you disobey God, a giant fish will eat you.  On a positive note, after three days of lonely sushi-eating, the giant fish will spit you back out.  The adult moral of the story (or at least the one I took away) is that sometimes God calls us to do something that we ABSOLUTELY do NOT want to do.  
The leader of the Bible study laughed about how a woman she had encountered was so excited to finally have all her children in school when she felt called by God to homeschool.  Here was my response: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  That’s ridiculous.  I’m glad God would never ask me to do anything that insane.  In three years, I will be kid-free in the daytime and will finally be able to go back to work full-time.  The perfect plan, the plan I have had from the moment I ever imagined having children at all.
So, fast-forward to our arrival in WA.  I was buried in boxes, borrowing internet from Barnes and Noble when I could, and seriously lacking sleep due to the ten nights of sleeping on a leaking air mattress (it took us that long to figure out how to tighten the plug correctly) when I made the decision to homeschool Will.  (You thought I was going to say God called me to it, didn’t you?  But as you can see, it was delirium.)
I think this is the appropriate juncture to list some things that are NOT related to my reasons for homeschooling.  
First of all, I did not have a burning bush moment with God where he boomed down, “Thou shalt not enroll Will in public school!”  However, I do believe that that moment in that Presbyterian women’s Bible study planted the seed of an idea.  As I made the decision to homeschool based on some very common sense reasons (to be discussed below), I didn’t so much feel “called,” but I certainly prayed about it and “sought wise counsel” to use some Christianese.  My husband and a few other people who love me unconditionally listened to my reasoning and were on board, so I turned the previous homeowner’s business office into a classroom, and in a week’s time, we were ready for school.
There wasn't much to our garage classroom.
But we fixed 'er up right fancy.
I actually can't believe we had all this stuff--I didn't have to buy anything to make  a classroom.
Oh, wait.  We bought these desks.  I couldn't help it.  
Secondly, anyone who has met Will will tell you he is bright, but I don’t think that the public school system would fail him, turning him into a three-foot tall Lloyd Christmas.  Now that I am part of the homeschooling community, I can speak to this issue.  You have no idea how many people I meet who think they have given birth to the 21st century Einstein, a child that has such superhuman abilities that he simply can’t be held down by an institution. Homeschooling is the ONLY way that Little Albert will be able to reach his full potential and cure cancer by the age of 16.  (On a related note, these children wander around in mismatched socks with uncombed hair and can’t have a conversation about Mickey Mouse--this is not representative of the community as a whole, but I'm saying this stereotype exists for a very good reason.)  The homeschool community has a collective chip on its shoulder when it comes to public schools.  
I personally have NOTHING against public schools.  I have always joked that our kids will be in public schools as long as the school doesn’t smell like pee and the metal detectors are functioning properly.  My mother has been teaching at a “tough” school for almost twenty years.  When she started there, a good portion of the students had one or more parents in jail, in gangs, and/or drug dealing.  Most of the kids lived with extended family members who were trying their best but fatigued by raising their second or third generation of children.  

When the school was approached to become a charter school, my mom and other staff members insisted that during the transition, the school would continue to accept kids from the area--not just cherry pick the smart kids from around the district to falsely pad their test scores over time.  With the added resources from a corporate sponsor, they felt the existing community of learners could succeed. The demographics haven’t changed, but the energy has created an atmosphere in which fifth grade daughters who may have otherwise been pregnant are now receiving academic scholarships to some of the area’s private schools.  Over time, the community has metamorphosed into one in which education is encouraged rather than looked down upon.
How does this relate to my white-bread upper-middle-class smart kid?  The public elementary school Will would attend here in WA gets a 10 out of 10 on  The average income of households that feed into the school is well above local and national averages.  Test scores are high and student/teacher ratio is low.  The community--everyone from the grocery stores to the public libraries--supports the school monetarily and through programs.  My point?  I am confident this public school system would be more than sufficient in offering my children the education they need--partnered with the fact that I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to parenting, of course.  If kids in a school with minimal resources can succeed, Will will be fine.  (I’m sorry...I didn’t actually intend on going there.  It just sort of happened.)
Thirdly, I am not worried that evil heathen public school children are going to brainwash the Jesus out of my children.  This is another thing I’ve run into in the homeschool community.  I just don’t get it.  The same people who would argue that everything “starts at home” seem to lose confidence with the idea that their children could be “exposed” to the “things of the world.”  What?  That doesn’t make sense to me at all.  I’ve spent a lot of time “in the world,” and you know what the effect has been?  I am a more understanding, compassionate, open-minded, and reasonable person (I have run across some people who aren't really impressed by these qualities, but whatever). 

Christians who build little spiritual cocoons around themselves and their children are missing the point completely.  This is all coming out a bit judgy, and that's not really my intent.  I don't judge people for keeping their kids at home with them because they feel their home ("Christian" or otherwise) is the best learning environment for their kids--I do, however, get irritated when they act like public schools are the ultimate evil.
That said, I have several friends who homeschool their kids because they feel called by God to do it, think public schools are inferior and will not serve their children, and/or they want to shelter their kids from sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll as long as they can.  And you know what?  More power to them.  Those just aren’t my reasons.
We decided to homeschool for a couple of really common sense reasons.  First of all, kindergarden in WA is 2 hours and 40 minutes long, and by the time I’d found a house, the only spot open was in the afternoon.  I started stressing about an entire school year of having somewhere to be right smackdab in the middle of the day.  That’s not just annoying--it would mean I would never be able to put Ben down for a nap.  If you’re not a mom, this may sound completely stupid, but if you are, you totally get this.  
Secondly, Scott is deploying in the middle of the school year.  I wanted the freedom to head home to OK for the holidays without having to limit our time.  On a related note, when he is in town, I like the idea of having the freedom to head to Canada for the weekend or India if he ever has time to take that much leave.  

Lastly, I found a homeschool co-op at Olympia Regional Learning Academy.  Will takes five classes in a traditional classroom setting throughout the week.  Each class has 7-18 students and follows a Montessori model, so he’s grouped with K-2 grade kids.  The classes range in subjects from Hands-On Math to Spanish to “Twist Like a Pretzel,” which is just about the cutest little yoga class you can imagine--it just happens to be all boys, so they are having a great time learning all their superhero poses.

With a background in education, I feel confident and competent enough to be able to structure a wide range of curriculum to supplement his co-op classes.  I am also really curious/excited to watch firsthand Will’s daily discoveries.  Two months in, this is really, really working for us.  I am nothing short of honored and blessed to have Will home with me for an extra year.  Will is the ultimate student, which makes me a better teacher, and THAT is pretty freaking awesome.
And just for the record, for those of you who are worried that (as one friend put it in a text) Will will “turn out knowing how to spell cymotrichous but not how to talk to a girl,” we’ve got that covered.  I will not fail at passing down a legacy of cool.

Stay tuned for the third installment of "Mrs. Johnson Goes to Washington" in which I will detail my therapy sessions, which is way more exciting than reading my rants about homeschooling.

P. S. One other cool thing about our classroom is that there is a ramp up one side that leads to what is now our "fort."  See:

That's pretty cool, right?


  1. WOW! You are the best mom EVER to make a FORT like that!

    I think that your reasons for homeschooling are good. Will is getting the traditional interacting-with-kids-in-a-class experience from the co-op, and you are teaching him kindergarden-y lessons at home. With kids that young, it would be nice to not have to adhere to the rigidity of a formal school schedule, too.

  2. I think it is great when parents homeschool their children. I do get the "nap" thing!