This article first appeared in “Geez” magazine, Summer 2013. It was the “schooling” issue, which looked at the problems with our education system, as well as alternative options such as homeschooling, unschooling, and deschooling. As a former homeschooler, I wrote this piece describing a typical day of “school” at home.
I was homeschooled for five years — from grade 6 to grade 10 — and there was not a single day I lounged in my pyjamas. If I had ever imagined homeschooling to be a more relaxed style of learning than public school, that idea was quickly destroyed. Mom meant serious business when she committed to educating me.
The day started at 6:30 a.m. My sister and I took turns running out to the schoolhouse (a renovated cabin on our rural property) to light a fire in the wood stove so that we wouldn’t freeze by the time our lessons began. Then we ate breakfast and had to be sitting at our desks in the still-cold schoolhouse by 7:30 sharp. There was hell to pay if we were a minute late.
Tough subjects like math, science, grammar, French, and Latin took up the morning hours when we were the most focused. In between lessons, we had to remember to stoke the wood fire, stir the pot of beans simmering on the stove, and take out the bread when it was done baking.
Afternoons were dedicated to easier subjects, like history, vocabulary, violin practice, reading, and exercise, which usually meant a swim in the lake or a snowshoe through the forest. Often we paddled our books across the lake in the canoe to read on a sunny rock, or snuggled up in the cozy armchairs across from the wood stove. Once a week, we met with our crabby old classical Greek tutor for a painfully dull lesson that was made worse by my sister’s brilliance and my inability to grasp it.
Those rigorous years of homeschooling weren’t easy, but they taught me much more than book knowledge. I learned self-discipline and self-motivation. I learned that education is not confined to the walls of a classroom. I learned the value of an hour’s good work. I learned how to be alone. I learned the importance of having relationships with older people. I learned how to inhale large quantities of books. I definitely learned how to light a great fire. Best of all, though, I learned to love learning, which I think goes to show that my mom truly succeeded at what she set out to do.
Now the big question is how to pass on that love of learning. I have two young children, one of whom is about to start school, and I’m faced with a predicament. I believe in the superior education I received at home, yet I saw what my mom sacrificed in the process — an art career put on hold for 10 years, countless long hours of research, lesson planning and marking, and money spent on curriculum. I’m not sure I want to sign up for that because, frankly, there are other things I want to do. But who knows, it could only be a matter of time before I become sufficiently disgruntled with the public education system that homeschooling becomes a necessity.