My mom always told me home-schoolers are weird. She’d point to families we knew, families who opted out of public education, and say, “See? That one belongs to some cult. See? That one’s kids can’t read.” And my husband, when I told him I intended to home-school, worried about the same things. Home-schooling, he thought, meant you didn’t believe in evolution and wore a lot of prairie skirts.
They also thought it meant we didn’t respect teachers. But my mother is a teacher, and my mother-in-law was a teacher. My husband himself teaches public high school. So we love teachers. We believe in them. We just think that for our kids, home-schooling will work better than conventional school.
I have a certain way I think children learn best, the pedagogical training to back it up, and that way isn’t facilitated in the current public school system. I don’t believe in things like lionizing Columbus, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and homework, busywork, and seat-work. I’d just drive my kids’ teachers nuts disagreeing with them every day. They don’t have time for that. Hence, we kept the kids home.
That doesn’t mean we think fossils are planted by Satan to deceive believers. In fact, my husband and I are amateur paleontologists with a house full of fossils. Our kids study them as part of school. We listen to podcasts about extinct whales for science class. We also do a lot with dinosaurs because they’re obsessed, including learning the exact names of the bones in question and where they’re found on the body.
We’re also not in a cult or part of some evangelical enclave. In fact, we’re Catholic. That means we do learn about religion, but it’s one that thinks the world is round and revolves around the sun, admits global warming is a problem, and pushes people to care about the plight our overconsumption causes those in developing nations. My son is making his first Communion this year, so we’re a little more heavy on the “body and blood of Jesus” part. Unlike the cults, we don’t teach our sons to hate gays.
And our kids aren’t bad weird, not that there’s anything wrong with weird, which often means offbeat and brilliant and magnificently different. My kids are weird. One is obsessed with Spinosaurus and the other can tell you anything you want to know about extinct sharks. But they have tons of friends and interact with them in age-appropriate manners. Some of those friends are home-schooled, like them. Some of those friends go to public school. All of them play together. My kids aren’t shy. They don’t act out in inappropriate ways or interrupt other people. They don’t go off by themselves or play only with each other.
I also shy away from the wardrobe choices of many home-schooling moms. I see enough denim skirts to stock a Woolworths. I don’t see the prairie skirts that people so often associate with us homeschooling moms though. Personally, I wear ModCloth dresses nearly every day because it’s easier (and more flattering) than stuffing my postpartum tummy in jeans. And I’m not on a religious boycott against pants. It’s a fashion decision. I also cherish an elaborate makeup ritual that involves contouring, like any office worker. Basically, I don’t look like a home-school mom stereotype.
I’m trailed by three children. Many people picture home-schoolers as having somewhere upwards of six kids — six kids who have to teach each other because mom doesn’t have time to. We would love to have more kids. But three is enough right now when I’m teaching beginning reading, the alphabet, and basic numbers. That way, the 6-year-old gets his reading lessons, the 4-year-old gets help with the alphabet, and the baby gets read to. Everyone gets plenty of attention from their mama.
And yes, my son can read. There’s a stereotype that home-schoolers have 10-year-olds who can’t read. I actually know someone who didn’t read until he was 10, and he turned out fine. We think that kids will read when they’re ready, so the fact that my almost-5-year-old has no interest in learning his letters doesn’t disturb me. This isn’t weird; this is what they do in Finland, where kids don’t learn to read until around 7.
I’m also not the consummate homemaker. For some reason, people assume that home schooling moms spend their time barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, stuffing their own sausage and brewing their own kombucha. They think we have gigantic gardens for both dietary and educational purposes. We do none of these things. I spend more of my time driving my kids around than I do in front of the stove, and I kill every plant that comes into the house. That includes cacti.
We’re not bad weird. We’re just people who decided to eschew the public school system and do our learning at home. My kids have friends whom they play with. They have social skills. We don’t have a bizarre religious ideology. I don’t wear denim skirts and brew kombucha. We’re just a normal family, with normal kids, who happen to be home-schooled. And it works for us.