Home Education Magazine
November-December 1999 - Articles
Reflections of a Homeschooled Homeschooler - Rebecca Bangs Amos
My daughter Ashley, while reading Little House on the Prairie, described a "pioneer" as someone willing to take chances in an effort to improve upon his or her present life. For the pioneers who left civilization behind and set out to tame an unknown wilderness, being pioneers meant risking their lives.
I now find myself being labeled "pioneer" - a pioneer of homeschooling. Although my parents were not the first to follow this less traveled road (Thomas Edison, Robert Frost, and Sandra Day O'Connor are three from a long list of famous people who were taught at home), homeschooling was far from commonplace in 1970. Our lives were not threatened as were those of the Ingalls family, but there were many questions about the long-term effects of being isolated from our peers and of learning from our parents.
When my parents shared their plans of moving to a 500-acre farm in Northern Vermont where they would educate their children themselves, their friends responded with, "Are you crazy?" My friends wondered how I could even consider having my mother and father for teachers. "I couldn't stand it," they would say. Even our grandparents were strongly opposed to the arrangement.
The Vermont Department of Education was no more prepared for my parents' proposal than were their friends and family. They had no guidelines for handling what my parents wanted to do. To the state's credit, rather than deny my parents the right to home educate based on a lack of guidelines, members of the education department created a situation which allowed us to proceed. My parents were granted permission to offer "an equal education" at home.
I guess that is part of what makes pioneers: a willingness to take chances despite the doubts of others.
I can't imagine a more fulfilling education than the one I had. We painted in the style of Impressionist painters, cooked Austrian meals, and celebrated a Norwegian Christmas. We even learned how to parse sentences, an art which seems to have been lost and one we would benefit greatly from by reviving. We gained, over a long period of time and many and varied events, a confidence in ourselves that comes from having such a breadth of knowledge. We felt confident entertaining Gov. George Aiken at a school luncheon, and we felt confident setting out from Oregon, just two young ladies on two bicycles with panniers and a map, headed for the Atlantic Ocean. Six-and-a-half weeks and 3000 miles after starting with our rear wheels in the Pacific Ocean, my sister Sarah and I stood with our front wheels in the Atlantic Ocean.
My siblings and I all went on to college: Williams, UVM, Bowdoin, and Dartmouth. I struggled in college - not academically, but socially. I was shy by nature, but what made my college years so difficult was I couldn't stand the facade behind which many of my peers hid. College students struck me as terribly self-centered and concerned more with acting on what would impress their peers than on acting upon what was right and genuine. They also seemed to have great disdain for their parents. I was dumbfounded by what I heard them say to and about their mothers and fathers. There was no one I held in higher regard than my parents and I looked forward to vacations when I could go home. If I had a problem on a history paper, I called 1-800-DAD-HELP. I used the same number for calculus and astronomy.
At the time I was in college I did not credit my regard for my parents to having been taught at home, but I now perceive it as The great advantages of my education.
I married a man whose education was as mainstream as could be. He graduated valedictorian of his public high school class and went on to graduate from Yale University. I try not to hold any of that against him. He was content with his education although he is the first to admit there are serious gaps, and to this day has wonderful memories of his years on a championship high school football team. He has dreamt of the day his son and daughters could experience the same thrill he felt being a member of a winning team.
I knew that when we had children, our greatest challenge would be to agree on how best to educate them. We tried the public school route. Our two older children entered kindergarten and first grade at the local school. Ashley had spent a year in a private kindergarten. We were told repeatedly that our children were fortunate to be attending The best elementary schools in the area. We all started with great anticipation and high expectations. My expectations were dashed when I went to drop off my son and walked into an antiseptic kindergarten classroom that looked as though bacteria were not the only thing that would not be allowed to grow. Then I took Ashley into her chaotic classroom where the teacher appeared overwhelmed and school had not even started.
Though the children were content, I was miserable. I felt as though every day I left my children at school I was abusing them. They were doing nothing and I could not accept it. I knew how quickly they would lose their love of learning and curiosity, attributes I believe are innate in children. My husband became increasingly convinced that whether or not the children were doing well he could live with my misery no longer, so he agreed we should look at alternatives.
Our area of Vermont just doesn't offer much in the way of academic alternatives. We decided on a parochial school for Ashley though our religious beliefs were different from those of the school. Eventually, we agreed we would take Douglas out of school and teach him at home. Technically, he did not have to be in school for two more years. I believed if he did nothing at home, he would be better off than he would if he left kindergarten with a bad attitude toward learning.
We had a great year. Our only regret was that Ashley was not with us. We felt, though, that for continuity's sake she should finish the year at St. Mary's.
Now I am teaching all three children. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have a husband who could see the light. He could not be more supportive. Unlike when my parents became pioneers in home education, the support for what we are doing is tremendous. From conventions, to the educational materials prepared exclusively for homeschool learning, to backing from parents and friends, we have found support at every turn. Our children's friends for the most part are far more apt to say, "I wish I could be homeschooled," than, "No thanks." We in particular have the benefit of being in the second generation of homeschooling. I have my parents' expertise and experience to draw upon. I am pleased that at a time most people settle in for a quiet retirement, my parents, Lawrence and Joan Bangs, who own Wildridge Software, Inc., have chosen to write educational software that allows their experience to benefit others.
The Vermont Department of Education now has an office that handles nothing but homeschool situations. I had to submit my curriculum for approval and must have my children's portfolios reviewed by a certified teacher before my children are credited with the school year. The state has fairly specific ideas on what should be included in the curriculum. My original submission was rejected because they felt my health education program was lacking. By state standards, it was. I was required to teach my six and seven year old health issues I don't believe should be addressed in school, period. I wrote and told the state they were infringing upon my rights as a parent. I guaranteed them our children would enter society as responsible and informed adults, but I would do this particular teaching when I saw fit and not at the behest of the state. My curriculum was soon approved without change.
I applaud those who have undertaken the rewarding, but challenging, job of educating their children at home. A friend whose children were in the classes my children left in public school, commented that I had taken tremendous responsibility for educating our children. I wanted to respond that she had equal responsibility for her children's education; she had just chosen not to take it.
©1999, Rebecca Bangs Amos
....(articles list) | columns list)....
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM