I always wanted to be a teacher. When I was a little, I used to line up my stuffed animals in front of my little chalkboard and give them lessons in reading and arithmetic. I loved school and everything that went with it.
And so I became a teacher. I majored in English and Secondary Education, hoping to follow in the footsteps of my favorite high school English teacher, Mr. Rieken. I taught English in Japan. I taught study skills to high schoolers in Washington state. I enjoyed teaching. I loved being in the classroom and believing that I was helping kids.
Then we had our first child, a precocious little bugger who would turn everything I knew about education upside down. She had a memory like a steel trap. She could point out and name all the letters of the alphabet at 15 months (and no, I wasn’t drilling her with flashcards). She started reading at 3, and could write the word “chrysanthemum” without looking at it at age 5. She was freakish.
And it wasn’t just her abilities that caught my attention. She had such a true passion for learning. And I noticed the same thing about other toddlers and preschoolers we hung out with. They loved learning. They were fascinated with the world and anxious to explore and learn more about every part of it. The contrast between these little learners and the teens I taught was astounding. At what point, I wondered, did they lose that spark?
So I started researching various educational philosophies and came across some books about homeschooling. I’d never really considered it, and had some common prejudices and preconceived notions about homeschoolers. But one author in particular, John Taylor Gatto, really got to me. He’d been a high school teacher in New York City for thirty years – and an award-winning one at that. He writes about how schools kill our kids’ love of learning with things like coercion and homework and bells and grades. His essay, “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher” hit me so hard I almost began crying when I read it in the bookstore. There had always been something that just didn’t seem right when I’d been teaching, and he smacked that nail right on its head: More often than not, our system of education kills the love of learning.
I knew this deep down. I knew it from a teaching perspective, and I knew it from my own experience. I didn’t feel a true passion for learning until about halfway through college. I was an A-student in high school, fully active in all sorts of school activities, I took advantage of leadership opportunities, and in every way led the life of a model high schooler. But did I love learning? No. I loved getting good grades, I wrote well, and I was an excellent test-taker. But I didn’t fully engage in what I was learning about. There was no passion there. Not until I was away from the public school system for a couple of years and free to choose my own education did I feel that spark, that feeling like the world was a fascinating place to explore and learn about. I became like a toddler again, following things that piqued my interest and figuring out the hows and whys of things.
So, with this daughter who didn’t fit the standard kindergarten model and a newfound passion for educational philosophy, we set out on our homeschooling journey. I’ve learned SO much more about learning and education during these years than I ever did in school or in my teaching experiences. One homeschool author, who also happens to be a high school English teacher (what is it with us?), wrote that we learn all this great educational philosophy and educational psychology in college – and then go work in schools where most of that wisdom is completely ignored. That was so true, in my experience. Generally speaking, the public education system is not set up to educate kids in the ways they learn best. And I think the biggest reason that’s true is that all kids learn so differently. I know between my three kids I have three totally different sets of interests, learning styles, natural abilities, inclinations, and ways of interacting with the world. Plato said, “All learning is in the learner, not in the teacher.” I try to remember that as I play the role of facilitator in their individual explorations of the world.
Homeschooling, while wonderful in many ways, is actually not my first choice of education. I’ve read about some amazing schools in various places that I’d send my kids to in a heartbeat if 1) we lived near them, and 2) we could afford them. But it’s the most desirable choice for us right now.
So I’ll be documenting our homeschooling journey here, and subjecting you all to my educational rants on occasion. Please feel free to share in the discussion – I truly believe we all have a lot we can learn from each other.