Hey there, folks! After the positive response to my recent post about growing up homeschooled, my mom had a few corrections and additions to some of my statements. As a six year old, I guess my memory was a little foggy. I invited her to write about her own experience as a homeschooling mom to share on this blog. (While proofreading this piece, I was struck by how similar our writing styles are! And I learned things I had never known before.)
After finishing reading Amanda’s blog about her life as a homeschooler and how it may or may not have helped to mold her into the person she is now, I had an issue with one thing….how Michigan is one of the easiest states to homeschool in. The word “IS” is now true, but it wasn’t at the time. When we started to homeschool it was actually illegal for me to do so.
So let’s go back three decades.
I never planned on homeschooling, but looking back, I guess it wasn’t a surprise that we ended up doing so.
I’m a Registered Nurse and had truly planned on going back to work after having Amanda. I had been working several years already and liked many aspects of my job as a Home Health Care agency supervisor, much of what was patient and employee education.
At nearly 31, I was an “old” first time mom for the ‘80s, as I had been “old” when I got married at nearly 28. I had miserable pregnancies with morning sickness all day and all night through months 6 and 7, so stopped working at month 4 when pregnant with first-born Amanda. But, hey, a little extra cash would help so I went back to work when Amanda was 10 months old. Then she had ear infection after ear infection and was super crabby and not sleeping (hence, neither was I.) I got pregnant with our second daughter, and the doctor preferred that I not work if at all possible due to it being a higher risk pregnancy.
Additionally, my husband Bruce had a stressful job as a buyer/merchandiser for a major Midwest retailer, and would spend 3 weeks in Asia a couple times a year. During the 80’s and early 90’s it could take 8 hours for the overseas operator to put a call through to the US. We would have had far more problems if I had needed to reach him. I hung up on him on more than one occasion during a strategically timed phone call to rescue a daughter from a potential bathtub drowning….there weren’t even portable phones that I could take with me. (I don’t miss that doggone curly cord!)
I also developed some strange disease when little sister Caitlin was a baby. It took several years before the diagnosis of “fibromyalgia” was given, and even more years to find a medication to truly help, so there was a lot of time that I spent trying yet another medication to treat the pain but not put me to sleep during the daytime.
So, I continued to be a stay-at-home mom enjoying (or sometimes not) my time with the girls.
I looked into pre-schools, since that was what “everyone” said you had to do, but I found that between church activities and the normal things I was already doing with Amanda and Caitlin—reading, coloring, drawing, games, music, you know, that stuff—why should I spend extra money to be redundant? Okay, there was gymnastics or dance classes. One or the other. Not both.
I did find out about the “Discovery Toys” company and became a consultant. They are great educational toys! They would get me out of the house so I could earn a little money, and I would have high quality educational books, games and toys for our family.
As they got a little older, books came more into focus, so I discontinued selling the toys, but became a Usborne Books consultant (which you can now buy in stores.) I’ve still got products from both companies around the house.
So I had my own little pair of guinea pigs, testing all these wonderful things. Essentially I was homeschooling them throughout their preschool years, though it wasn’t called that.
We had friends who happened to be homeschooling their oldest daughter (about 2 years older than Amanda) for her first couple years to “give her a good start.” I said, “I guess that’s fine for you, but I could NEVER homeschool my girls. Plus it’s illegal!” I suppose I needed to eat those words later.
Yep, until Amanda was in third grade, it was illegal to homeschool in Michigan unless you were a certified K-12 teacher in the State of Michigan! Since she started to be homeschooled in 2nd grade, her parents were actually committing an illegal act for a full year. You could be a college professor teaching advanced math, but couldn’t legally homeschool your children—even in your subject of expertise. Some homeschooling parents who were bucking that legality were actually thrown in jail. (I happen to know one of those families, who took it to the Michigan Supreme Court, and won the right for the rest of us to homeschool. Those parents were no slackers, and neither are their children who are now in their 40’s and continuing the family tradition.)
Kindergarten. Yep. The time had come for real school. It was the same school district that I grew up in, which is still recognized as a very high quality district. She also happened to go to the school that I spent my 3rd and 4th grade school years in, an aging building, having been redone several times over. (One wing got destroyed in the mid 1960’s by a tornado, in fact, around the time I attended it. [Bet you didn’t know that little tidbit, Amanda!] so that time the upgrades got a little push from Mother Nature.)
As Amanda has already stated, she had a wonderful kindergarten teacher, but a truly awful first grade one. Miss T had been tenured forrrrevvverrrrrrr and probably was one of those people who should never have been an educator, much less an elementary school teacher. She probably got her teaching certificate when schools were literally begging for teachers in the 1960s. We found out later that as time progressed she was moved from elementary school to elementary school (there were 6 or 7) in the school district every 3 or so years, or whenever there were enough parents who would NOT, under any circumstances, allow their child to have her as their teacher. So Miss T would get moved. Again. She got moved to teach first graders at Belmont the year Amanda was entering that grade. Little did we know….
So this is the part that Amanda has already described.
Amanda was a skirt hugger (when teachers usually wore skirts.) Miss T was NOT the type who would welcome that. Amanda would come home every day from school crying, something new for her. The more I investigated This Person, the more I realized my daughter was telling the truth. Miss T did not like the little girls. She definitely preferred the little boys. If you were good in math, you were also a favored child. Amanda was only average in math, but a voracious reader and already starting to be a good little writer. Miss T was more about being The Dictator, so when I approached her about maybe having something a little more challenging for Amanda in that area, the answer was no. If it wasn’t her idea, then the answer was always no.
By this time it was only October, but I could tell that it was not going to be a good year. After one more “issue” at school, when Bruce called from Hong Kong, or Korea, or Taiwan, or wherever he happened to be that particular day, I said “I’m going to take her out of public school and home school her.”
What could he say at that point? “Just wait until I get home in a couple weeks…let’s talk about this more…please.”
And then there was Amanda’s famous frequent phrase, shouted at the top of her lungs, with her fingers in her ears, “I DON’T WANT TO HEAR THE WORDS HOME SCHOOL!!!!!”
So I held off taking her out of school, but started reading everything I could on the topic (pre-Google searches, mind you.) I found grocery-store materials to supplement with, sent away for educational catalogs, and haunted teacher stores. The whole she-bang.
Another option could have been the Christian School. And while we both grew up in Reformed tradition churches, and were attending a Christian Reformed Church, that was not an option. The nearest was a 2 hour bus ride away, or about 25 miles each way—way longer than anyone should have to go to an elementary school. Bruce, having participated in many sports through his schooling, had also always said that students he had met from THOSE schools were The Worst Behaved of All.
So Amanda stayed in Public School. Every day I slowly brain washed her (I’m not ashamed to admit it) with “If you were homeschooled….” when she came home crying about the Awful Teacher.
So I went over Miss T’s head. To The Principal. I’m sure that won me a few brownie points from the Evil Witch .
The principal worked with me (and Miss T) to have Amanda work one-on-one with a selected 5th grader (the oldest students in the school) while other students were toughing out simple reading and writing.
I continued to read about, question, and find out more about the semi-underground homeschooling community in Michigan. Then I asked the principal, since I found him to be a reasonable person, “What is this school district’s position on parents who illegally homeschool their children?”
His response was, “We’re to pretend you don’t exist. We aren’t to harass you if we believe you are indeed educating your children.” And the confirming statement, “And I’m sure you can do as good of a job educating your daughters as we can…if not better.”
Yes! The answer—and affirmation—I needed.
In the meantime our youngest daughter, who was four at the time, had been having weekly one-on-one speech therapy with a school speech pathologist at a different location. We weren’t sure if she would be needing more therapy as a kindergartener, but she had made significant progress in the few months she had been in the program. If she needed therapy as a 5 year old, it would be at the school Amanda currently attended. The principal indicated we’d be more than welcome to join gym class or music class if that happened. I preferred to make a clean cut with the school, and thankfully, the therapist said “no more speech therapy needed”.
By the time springtime came, Amanda agreed to homeschool. For a month.
“No, it has to be a year. We can’t just do it for a month”.
Okay. A year.
And every year we asked the girls if they wanted to continue to be homeschooled or not.
They always said they would continue for another year.
Grandma S was quite relieved when homeschooling in Michigan became legalized for all. Up to that time she was sure we would be thrown in the hoosegow. AKA Jail. Even though we said that the school district wouldn’t prosecute us. Grandma, bless her, was the ultimate worry wart.
The first year was interesting. We started homeschooling Amanda’s second grade as soon as she finished with first grade. Like the next week.
That fall I would be able to travel with my husband “on the company” to Asia, so I knew I would be either not home or in a vegetative jet-lagged state for a month. The girls would be staying with a set of grandparents during that time, able to continue on with as much basic schooling as the grandparents wanted to tackle.
There was another tough time during homeschooling—a time when people asked if we would be able to continue to homeschool.
In June 1995 we were in a car accident on our way home from church (stupid old dude pulled out in front of us….wait, I’m an old dude now.) Both the girls and myself were taken to the hospital on stretchers. Bruce was able to get out of the car under his own steam, but ended up having some issues later on. While waiting in x-ray, the girls and I were lined up on stretchers in a row, with me in the middle. I had c-spine immobilization, and I think they did too, but I couldn’t see them. [Amanda’s note: Yes, my sister and I were both on extremely hard back-boards with our necks immobilized.] I told them to make sure they remembered everything that was happening, because they would be writing a paper about it! (Cruel mom, I know!)
I ended up spending two weeks in the hospital, first in ICU, then in a step down unit, being immobilized with a Hangman’s fracture of C2 (same neck fracture that Christopher Reeve had suffered from just 4 weeks before) and a burst fracture of T12 (fracture in the middle of the back). They said the neck fracture should have made me a quadriplegic, like Chris Reeve, whereas the back fracture should have caused me to be a paraplegic. I went home with round the clock nursing care for the rest of the summer, sporting a halo and plastic body cast, sometimes dubbed my “turtle shell”.
For the first month I was flat on my back in the hospital bed in the “classroom”. It was a terrible place for me to be stashed…for the girls. The walls were lined with book shelves and I could point to where a specific book should be. They would get it and then we would read it aloud and do schoolwork. (Yes, I cannot tell a lie. Everything we did was potentially going to turn into a learning experience, summer vacations included!)
After the first month I was allowed to stand and hobble with my sporty old-folks walker. Then they discovered I had developed a blood clot in my right leg from toes into the lower abdomen, so, back to the hospital. By ambulance. Again. (Warning, if things hurt, ambulances don’t make them feel better. Remember they are a basic, unsprung truck with a fancy exterior. Nothing more.)
This kind of blood clot, I was informed, often breaks off and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolus (and then you can die,) so I got to spend another 4 or 5 days in the hospital, receiving blood thinners, which I would need to stay on for at least 6 months.
Grandparents again stepped in during the days of hospitalization, and while I was home, the home nurse helped wrangle the kids.
The girls also did some teaching at this time! Because they were well versed in comparative pricing at the grocery store, “Dad” would come home from work, going an additional 15 miles out of the way (each way,) to pick up the girls who would help him grocery shop. It was probably miles and time well spent. Mind you, they were 7 and 9.
I was out of that halo and turtle shell by mid-September, which was just in time for me to start my official teaching gig for a homeschool association. I have taught there since the Fall of 1995, except for two years when we lived in NW Wisconsin (and that is another homeschooling story for the younger sis.) Most of my students are high schoolers, though I have had a few classes over the years with upper elementary and middle schoolers. I live to torture high schoolers! My normal subjects are Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Health, Basic Dissection, Creation Science, then occasionally I’ve taught Physical Science…
The girls started there the previous year to take Spanish. I took a lot of French in high school, but they wanted to learn Spanish, and I only speak Spanish with a very French accent… They continued to take many classes there, including a (not so) rousing government class, exciting higher math (do I hear sobs?), choir, flute, drawing, oil painting, literature, writing, drama, and all important “socialization”.
Both girls learned, and more importantly, while they tackled the required topics, they also got to spend more time on their favorite topics and areas of interests. Both are currently working in the general field they grew to love while in middle or high school.
Both learned to work for their specialty interests as teens, whether it be helping teach little kids dance lessons, or mucking stalls and helping the riding instructor in exchange for lessons.
And they learned what they didn’t want to do.
Both girls were accepted into and graduated with excellent grades from colleges in spite of being homeschooled.
Life is tough. Life isn’t fair. The nice person doesn’t usually get ahead in this world, unfortunately.
My husband has been “downsized” after 35 years with a company, “outsourced” after 7 years from a job that he was excelling at and hoping to retire from, and, between the two, quit a job that we moved 500 miles for, that was sucking his soul dry. We saw similar things happen to both of our dads during the approximate same ages in our lives. All that was happening during our daughters’ high school and college years.
As parents, we can only hope and pray we didn’t really mess up our kids. However, we do know we’re very proud of how our daughters are coping with what life throws at them, what great young adults they have become, and like to think maybe, just maybe, we’ve had a little something to do with it.