Continued from July 12:
Long before I had children of my own I was telling people that mine weren’t ever going to school. People would smile condescendingly and let me explain why, and then they’d explain in return why not sending my someday-kids to school would be a very bad idea. Most experienced homeschoolers are familiar with the so-called reasons, such as stunted socialization skills, poor testing abilities, and a general inability to get along like other kids would be taught to get along. Somewhat naively, I was okay with that. I figured the benefits of not being tied to schoolish expectations would somehow outweight the negatives. Of course, at that time I also fully expected to raise my kids in the Alaskan bush country, where being able to load and fire a rifle, handle a riverboat, or build a log cabin were quite valuable skills.
As often happens, life had other plans for me – and for my children. When my two oldest sons, John and Jim, reached school age we found ourselves living a few miles from an Alaskan town called Palmer, which, while not exactly out in the bush, wasn’t exactly middle-American suburbia, either. Moose and bears frequented the neighborhood, and I decided my young sons didn’t need to run into them on the mile-long walk to the school bus stop. Sub-zero temperatures were the norm in winter, and I didn’t want my children exposed to that either. So I asked around and discovered that the State of Alaska ran a correspondence program which was open to any Alaskan child who lived more than two miles from a school – so we signed up for kindergarten and first grade, respectively.
The entire family, which by then included a baby girl, Jody, thoroughly enjoyed the programs, administered through the local Palmer Elementary School. We were assigned a teacher who oversaw the process via monthly meetings, but otherwise we were on our own. We received big boxes of books, pens, papers, crayons, storytapes, arts and crafts materials – it was almost like Christmas! The story and song tapes became great family favorites, and our kids still remember the words to many of them. As a special project we built a paper mache globe by pasting strips of newspaper around an inflated balloon and painting it to look like the planet Earth. The teacher overseer was so impressed she asked to hang it in her office – and the boys just beamed!
Both boys passed their respective grades with glowing reports, and we figured the next year we’d repeat the process, moving each up a grade. But again, life had other plans for our family. In late August of that year my dad suffered a debilitating heart attack and we suddenly found our young family moving to Washington state to help with my parent’s ranch. We spent the rest of that summer learning about horses and chickens and hauling hay and firewood – and when fall rolled around again I blithely headed down to the local school office and asked how I could enroll my boys in their state correspondence course. They just gave me a blank look and said they didn’t know what I was talking about.
To be continued…