Our Education Journey

Spending time recently listening to Young Heretics, combined with the wonderful education our younger children are getting in their classical Christian school, has inspired me to discuss, very briefly, our family’s educational journey.

We have a rather low regard for government schools now, but that has not always been the case. We have three children who spent their entire elementary and secondary school careers in the government system. When our youngest two children were born, we made the decision that they would not ever attend government school, for reasons that have actually become more acute as the years have gone by.

When our first child was born, I was in my early 20s. I was a year older when the next two were born (twins). We were young, inexperienced parents, and we’d received what we thought was a perfectly adequate public school education. So when each of our children turned 5, I dutifully enrolled them into our local government school. It was a very good school, as schools go. The teachers were welcoming, the parent community was vibrant and engaging, and I volunteered a lot of time at their school. We were quite happy there.

After a move, we enrolled them in another local school, and the experience was equally rewarding, perhaps even more than in the first school. I was spending so many volunteer hours at school that I was considering becoming a substitute to receive remuneration for some of my efforts. Again, we were happy with the education our children were receiving.

As they rounded out their elementary education, there was a sudden shift in the atmosphere of the schools. It seemed as if simultaneously, several more family-centered principals began to retire and were replaced by younger, more bureaucratic minded administrators. They were nice enough, but they were sticklers for rules, quickly reining in the long rope of access and influence that parents had enjoyed.

Our children remained in school, but we were more vigilant than ever about what they were taught, and the ways they were being taught. We decided it was best to let them finish out their remaining 4 or 5 years rather than starting over with a new system. As it turned out, high school was markedly better. Parents and students have a lot more control over the classes their children take, and with that, the caliber of their classmates.

Around the time that those children graduated to middle school, our 4th child was born, followed quickly by the 5th. We were older and wiser then. Our growing dissatisfaction with the change in public school atmosphere and policy, combined with a few other variables, sent us on a search for alternatives for those two children. There was no way we were going to start the government school journey again. One of the things we explored was homeschooling.

When it was time for those kids to start school, armed with all my curriculum and research, I began homeschooling. The first two or three years went well. I taught them to read and count and we had fun science experiences, mostly nature based. Around the 4th year, I started feeling a real need to connect with other, more experienced homeschooling families. We needed community, so we joined a co-op which we loved, for 3 years.

The kids made friends, thrived, and took rewarding classes. The only problem was that the sense of community that I’d experienced growing up, that our older children experienced through their school experience, was missing. I was ill-prepared to deal with one of the bedrock, foundational characteristics of homeschooling families; a fierce sense of independence and a willingness to quickly change course in order to meet their specific goals and needs. It’s actually admirable and understandable. It just makes it hard for kids and families to put down roots and build relationships in the ways that the geographical commonality of a neighborhood school provides. Nevertheless, we refused to go back to government schools. They’d only grown worse in the years since our first “set” of kids had graduated from them.

In God’s Providence, a dear friend of mine had joined a community of like-minded homeschooling families with a passion for classical education. These were families who had not only committed to the true purpose of education, they had committed to each other, and they were taking steps to move from being just a co-op to an actual school. We joined them the next year, and we’ve been there ever since. The kids attend school two days a week, and it’s the perfect blend of time in school and time homeschooling.

Not only are our kids studying classic literature, art, and music, but they are learning history that reflects a positive message about our country. The painful realities are not omitted, they are just not held out as the defining characteristic of America. They study logic, read and perform Shakespeare, and have made real, lasting friendships.

The past four years have truly solidified my belief in the power and promise of a classical education. Education is about more than memorizing random facts and passing standardized tests. Education is about becoming a well-rounded, critically thinking, fully formed individual who can contribute to the world rather that expecting the world to give you everything.

This experience has inspired in me a desire to educate myself more deeply, reading classics, and at the very least learning about classics that to date, I haven’t yet read. Hence my promotion of Spencer Klavan’s Young Heretics. In addition, I strongly suggest Michael Knowles book club, courtesy of Prager U. You may not have time to read lots of classic literature, but you can be exposed to a lot of it as you decide which ones are worthy of spending the time to read.

Well, that’s our educational journey. I’d love to hear about yours (or your family’s!)

3 thoughts on “Our Education Journey

  1. Elspeth says:

    A part of our journey I left out has been that I have had the wonderful opportunity to teach over the years in our co-ops/schools. Sometimes I taught for free, other times I taught fr the tuition break, but I love it.

    I will be teaching next year, and I’m also doing some freelance editing work, but all of those things have to fit in around our classical community and homeschooling. Juggling this is its own form of education!

    Like

  2. hearthie says:

    I had fond fluffy dreams of homeschooling, but my husband thought they were pretty silly, and that our public schools were perfectly adequate – it was the same PS he’d gone to, and walking distance from our home.

    Until in 5th grade, my son was correcting his teacher’s math… and not receiving instruction on a required research assignment. I was disgusted, and horrified at what I heard was coming in middle school, so we started charter/HSing him. I did a great deal of the curriculum that first year – poor child was chucked headfirst into fairly difficult reading! We gradually let the charter school do more and more of the curricula and then when they offered in-class high school, he attended there. The educational quality was higher than the local PS.

    Meanwhile our daughter stayed in PS one more year… until I got a look at the spring testing results for the school as a whole. When not just 2/3 of her 3rd grade class got lower scores on their tests in spring than in fall, but 1/2 of the school as a whole joined them? It was time to ditch. She was never very happy homeschooling, she used to do her schoolwork under my sewing desk for company. When HS was avail, she went there (4 days/wk) as well.

    COVID has been miserable, as charter schools are considered part of the public school system, and we’ve been on Zoom classes for the past year. Now we’re sort-of-kind-of back to class, but not really… and much in the way of too little, too late. It’s better than the public school system, but it’s not GOOD. It’s better than HS for my extroverted younger child, but … no, it’s not ideal. What would be ideal for her? The superb public education my father got in this town… 60 years ago.

    One does the best one can.

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  3. Elspeth says:

    My husband was willing to see where homeschooling would take us when I first broached the subject. He recognized that the Public schools were NOT the same as when we attended.

    As the years have gone by, he’s become much more in tune with what were doing, but I think he does like the fact that they are in school twice a week. Even though it’s not free, of course.

    The fact that you had an excellent charter school to utilize is great.

    Liked by 1 person

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