How We Became Homeschoolers

Column by Paul Bonneau.

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I thought I might chronicle the steps taken to end up where we are now, with respect to education. This may help those considering homeschooling, a bit.

When my wife first became pregnant, I started researching education alternatives for children. I thought that was simply one of the duties of being a parent-- however, rarely it happens! I generally don’t imagine “everybody else does it”--that is, almost everybody defaults to using the government schools--is much of an excuse for skipping this duty.

I read, and read, and read. I discovered the authors were, almost without exception, former teachers in the government schools who had finally given up beating their heads against the wall, who finally could no longer stomach a job that required hurting kids to make a living, as Gatto put it. They were very informed about their subject matter. I found it impossible to read without a growing feeling of alarm, disgust, and sadness for the fates of the children stuck in these schools.

I went to seminars. In one of these, I met Marshall Fritz, who founded the Alliance for the Separation of School & State. If angels walk the Earth, I am convinced Marshall was one of them. I was happy to join his forum and read more there.

I got on one of the statewide homeschooler email lists, of about a thousand people (mostly Moms), just to get information on that option.

Well, it did not take much time before I decided that there was NO WAY IN HELL my son was going to a government school. I informed my wife; and strangely, she did not question this much. We were left with two options, private schools or homeschooling. The prime candidate for private schools were the parochial schools, as both she and I had spent time in them ourselves. So, she got on the waiting list for the local St. Mary’s school, where she had gone. I’m no longer a Catholic, and she never was, by the way.

About this time we were getting into more difficulty in shuffling jobs, so that one of us were home at all times. I had cut my work week as an engineer down to 32 hours, and we both juggled shifts. At one point we tried dropping him at the company daycare twice a week. That was an unmitigated disaster--he hated it--despite their kudos from government as being one of the best daycares in the state (for what that’s worth). We also got him into a Montessori school near our home. That was pretty OK, at least for a while. Finally when IBM bought the small company I worked for, and it started feeling like working at a government bureaucracy, I threw in the towel. I was burned out anyway, while my wife was still on the professional upswing, and enjoyed work to boot, so I became a stay-at-home Dad. This essentially eliminated the tiresome shift juggling, and meant we weren’t sending so many tax dollars to Uncle Sam to bomb Iraqi women and children with.

Anyway, I did what any Mom did, just taught him this and that, or to be more accurate, let him learn on his own, while waiting for him to get old enough for school. I got more and more interested in how learning works.

One example might be instructive. At one point, his new laptop started having problems with the screen, flickering and blanking out. We found an older monitor and attached it, so he could still work with it. I told him it was still on warranty and could be fixed for free, but at his age he didn’t see the point of sending it away, and I didn’t nag too much about it. He would just fold the screen most of the way down so he could see the monitor, but he could still get his hands in underneath the screen to type. About a year later we noticed that he was a touch typist with high speed and accuracy, all due to his stubbornness. Learning happens even when you don’t expect it to.

Funny thing though, as he got closer and closer to school age, I got more and more enthusiastic about homeschooling. My wife was initially not supportive, as she is familiar with my tendency to go off on flights of fancy about this or that new fad. Guess I can’t blame her. But as he got older, she wanted him at home more and more, and not wanting to deal with driving and picking up, and other such irritations. By the time he was six, we just forgot about our reservation at St. Mary’s, and kept doing what we had been doing already. As he learned more and more things, she became more comfortable that homeschooling could deliver. I suppose my contention to her (that I had done the research and she hadn’t), meant that her opinion about the question was less valid than mine, didn’t help much!

One interesting point is that we were (almost) never officially registered with the state as homeschoolers, thus avoiding the testing requirements and educrats looking over our shoulder. As I stated on the email list, he was our child, not the state’s. Now, one can make the case that abused children should be “cared for” by government (not a very good case, but the argument can be made, at least); but letting those bastards dick around with functional families? No way. None of their damn business. I would make that point every time some newbie came on the email list--almost invariably part of their first post was, “How do I get right with the authorities?” My response was always, “Why bother?” It was an old saying there on the list, that “those who registered, frequently wished they hadn’t; but those who hadn’t registered, never ended up wishing they had.” For those wondering about the grand old tradition of breaking the law, I also usually mentioned on the list that I would not tolerate any bastard messing with my family. For some strange reason, none ever did. Self preservation, maybe?

I said “almost”, above. Oregon has this funny statute that says children not in school nor “officially” homeschooled cannot get a driver’s license until age 18 (who knows how the two are connected). So when he turned 16, I finally decided to become an official homeschooler, just to get that stupid piece of paper the DMV would require to issue a learning permit. After all, the educrat testing requirements were over by then, anyway. But the educrats got the last laugh on that one; they simply refrained from sending that magic piece of paper to us. I suppose they relished that little bit of revenge for all the rants I had posted against them, that they read on the homeschool email list. So he only got his learner’s permit at 18. He didn’t care, not being much for driving anyway.

He’s in college now. Not that I think college makes sense any more, but he’s got his own mind about such things. No, homeschooling, even “noncompliant” homeschooling like we did, was not a problem. He just tested and got a GED to please the college bureaucrats. Who needs a diploma? Colleges now seek out homeschoolers. The pickings are pretty slim for college material, when you are stuck with what passes for high school graduates these days.

Recommended reading for prospective homeschoolers--note, some may be a bit dated by now, but they worked for me:

How Children Fail - John Holt
How Children Learn - John Holt
The Underground History of American Education - John Taylor Gatto
Market Education, The Unknown History - Andrew Coulson
Strengths of Their Own - Brian Ray
Punished by Rewards - Alfie Kohn
Family Matters - David Guterson
Teenage Liberation Handbook - Grace Llewellyn

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Alex R. Knight III's picture

Outstanding, Paul.  A great success story well told.  :-)

D. Saul Weiner's picture

Well done. I greatly regret not homeschooling my daughters.