Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Growing and Flourishing

It was the eighties.  Ronald Reagan was U.S. President.  The Berlin Wall came tumbling down.   The War on Drugs was declared.   Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF Treaty.

Natural disasters on the increase: droughts, hurricanes, the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s.  

The Tiananmen Square protests and blood baths.

NASA Space Shuttle Challenger explosion before our very eyes. 

Assassination attempts on Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The rise of home computers, video and arcade games, Nintendo, Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers…

The AIDS pandemic; the trend toward political correctness; punk rock and the hip-hop scene; E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; Star Wars and more Star Wars episodes; Indiana Jones; Batman; Rain Man; Back to the Future; Crocodile Dundee; Driving Miss Daisy…  

Leggings; leg warmers; stonewashed jeans; denim jumpers; shoulder pads; scrunched perms…

This was the eighties, when there were only three legal alternatives: public, private, or parochial schools.  My firstborn, Jesse, turned five while the court case Duro v. District Attorney was still underway.  

By the time he turned seven in 1985 – the compulsory school age in NC - Delconte v. State became the landmark court case that would officially grant North Carolina parents the right to homeschool their own children.  

Soon we were in good company.  A French-Canadian family from Montreal moved directly across the street from us into the tan stucco house with the sprawling eucalyptus tree in the front yard. They were all bilinguals; the kids spoke both fluent French and English.

The oldest daughter, Sara, with a head full of raven curls, played with my daughter Hannah and frequented our household. 
She always walked in wearing a homemade cotton dress her mother Louise had sewn.

We soon discovered other families in our neighborhood that had abandoned the great Titanic of public education and rowed off to safety in their separate lifeboats.  There were the Lamns around the corner on Conner Street with the white pit bull who seemed like one of their own family members.  Also among the home school cohorts was the Oates family, two blocks over on Nash Street. 

On bright sunny days we gathered at each other’s homes or met for picnics at the Recreation Park and talked shop. We discussed teaching methods we liked or disliked while the kids ran and played together. 

This was the first home school support group in town.  If someone wanted to organize a field trip, teach French or sign language or art, they were free to do so.  Those who wanted to participate did and those who didn't declined.

The movement soon grew and flourished like a rose garden in the heart of spring, and newcomers joined our ranks.

Year by year our homeschool support group increased in number.   New faces showed up at park days every month. Our motives, methods, and styles may have been as diverse as church denominations, but we all had in common a desire for autonomy and freedom from the regimented mandates of government education.  

And no, we didn’t all wear denim jumpers – though some did.   Neither did all of our children dress in camouflage; most blended right in with society.  

Some wore ankle-length jean skirts with athletic socks and Nikes, while others showed up in stonewashed jeans and artsy jewel-studded tees knotted on the side. 

Then there were the mother-earth types in their Birkenstocks and organic cotton sundresses.           
Some registered with the DNPE as religious schools. These families generally used a set curriculum such as Bob Jones or A Beka and fashioned a school room in their home- complete with flag, maps, and desks. 

One family I knew began their school day at 6:00 a.m. and finished all six subjects by noon.  Their motto was God first, family second, church third, respectively.  They were patriots and political conservatives who cheered Senator Jesse Helms on as he fought government waste and obscene, tax-funded art.  

Then there were the Charlotte Mason followers, purists in every sense of the word.  No curriculum, no dumbed down textbooks, just “living books.”   

One family had five girls, all of whom were well-bred and always picture-perfect in their Sundyish dresses that were reminiscent of girls’ attire during Charlotte Mason’s time.

 I invited them over one Sunday afternoon to play with my daughter.  Apparently they never wore play clothes because they showed up in their Sunday frocks, lace-trimmed socks and polished shoes.  

Could they go out and play on the swings?  They asked.  Sure, but watch out for mud, dirt, or anything that could taint your immaculate appearances.  I was a nervous wreck thinking of sending them home all soiled and tattered. 

Back inside I offered them a snack.  Yes, please, they said, a snack would be lovely.  But when I pulled out a liter of coke and a box of Vanilla Wafers, the oldest girl said, “We can’t have any sugar.”  Oh, okay; then could they have water and an apple?  Yes, thank you. 

After the snack I put in a video: The Aristocats, I believe it was.  Again the oldest girl spoke up.  “We’re boycotting Disney.”  I began to wonder if all they were allowed to do was sit around and read classic literature in their sweet dresses.                    
Still others favored and practiced the philosophy of John Holt, author of ten books, including How Children Fail and How Children Learn.  He believed that learning should be a self-directed, purposeful, and meaningful process instead of a coercive and compulsory condition. 

Those with a propensity towards deschooling gravitated toward his views.  Broken-winged birds like me flocked toward his books for fresh advice as to a birdbath in the stifling heat of summer, for his views offered the more natural and relaxed approach many had been intuitively seeking. 

We took the Holt self-directed learning style when the kids were older.   Jesse taught himself Japanese when he decided he wanted to create Nintendo games.  He walked down to the Barton College library, checked out as many books on the Japanese language as he could find, spread them across the dining room table, and proceeded to study.     
Some joined our ranks to free their children from the stigma of failure and labels and to avoid damaging their self esteem for life.  John Taylor Gatto, named New York City’s teacher of the year in 1990, and State teacher of the year in 1991, says in his book The Underground History of American Education,

 “David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all.  But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. 

“For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop.  He won’t outgrow that dependency.  I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder.  She’ll be locked in her place forever… 
“In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either.  Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination.  They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.” 

There was a young boy, Jerry (I’ll call him), who learned in our home for the last six weeks or so of his 7th school year.  The public school he’d attended had labeled him as “dyslexic,” and because his handwriting didn’t measure up they tagged him with “dysgraphia.” 

We threw away the labels and he began to thrive in the absence of pressure.  The following year, and for the duration of his school years, his mother kept him at home with her and allowed him to pursue his interests.  Today, Jerry has a Master’s in Marine Biology.     

Many parents felt that their children were too immature for institutional life. They weren’t willing to conform to a system that pushes too hard and too fast, and in the process cripples the child’s natural love of learning.

They weren’t ready to compromise their child’s individuality for the sake of the collective.  Since no two children are alike and each learns at his or her own pace, homeschooling allowed the freedom to grow and thrive without government limitations. 

Families who traveled the path of independence avoided bureaucratic straightjackets and offered their kids a more stress-free environment.  Time spent on classroom busywork could be avoided and valuable time invested in more motivating and rewarding activities. 

Our kids were permitted a childhood, space to run, play, explore, and physically release the abundance of energy intrinsic in young children.  

We knew that to force-feed them too soon was tantamount to overwatering plants in an effort to speed their growth.  Drown or overfeed and the plants begin to droop, then wither on the vine and eventually die.  But add just the right amount of water to quench their thirst, proper food to nourish, ample sunlight to spur growth, and the plants will flourish.  

 See how we’ve grown in just the past decade.


  1. I have so much respect for the "pioneers" of homeschooling. I am passionate about it now, but I wonder if I'd be as confident and brave about it if I had been in your fabric paint adorned keds back in the day! :)

  2. Jessica, you would have been, just as you are now. It looks like your children are having a blast. I love the pet shop guards.

  3. Totally agree with Jessica! Love all the information that's out there now!

  4. wow! this was such a cool post. you are definitely inspiring. i haven't quite completely broken away from govt schooling as i do use a charter, but i am seeing how in the next few years w/my oldest that is probably where i'm heading (jr & senior high just has too many things required that i find either offensive or unnecessary). so cool how one of your children taught themselves japanese. my mother (she is japanese, but has been stateside for well over 30 years now)would love that.

  5. Hi Debra, following you back from the Friday blog hop:)
    LOVE your post - I am also a homeschooler, a unschooler by leaning though we do at times some "book" work LOL. You said it all though - my kids eat sugar, watch a bit of TV, get dirty LOL, they basically live a well rounded life so they can function in society (no they do not live under the stairs) I do love the "how do you socialize them" question that we are asked daily - while we are OUT in society LOL,never quiet sure what to say to that. My oldest has taken to telling people she is ferral which helps alot ;) (she is ten this week).

  6. Have to agree with all the other comments. This is such a great post. Love your sense of humor re the diversity of the homeschool community.Think we are kindred spirits in this!Looking forward to visiting your blog often.

  7. I had no idea how "young" homeschooling was.
    The history in your blog is awesome! Bless you!

  8. What a story. I am so thankful for all those who paved the way and made it possible for me to homeschool. I love the over watering analogy.

  9. There are so many homeschoolers in our county, I'd nearly forgotten how it once was when parents weren't allowed to teach their own children.

    Thanks to all who bravely stepped out and did what they knew they must.

  10. Debra what a great blog. So glad I stopped in to have a look.

    Many blessings.

  11. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)


  12. thanks for the love!

    I look forward to reading your blog!

  13. here in our country there is no such thing as such for kids. people here when they say home schooling they think its just for rich kids.. it was a total wrong impression and idea about homeschooling. I just wish there will be people who will educate them first with what is homeschooling.
    anyway nice post...

  14. Debra, your writing is fascinating. I remember those events you mentioned. This statement is powerful: "We knew that to force-feed them too soon was tantamount to overwatering plants in an effort to speed their growth."

    Looking forward to reading more.

  15. That was a fun post. :-) I had denim jumpers, but mostly loved a couple of pairs of denim maternity coveralls, in the good-old 80's, when my boys were babies and I didn't have a girl yet.

  16. I'm laughing out loud. My husband actually bought me--out of fun--a denim jumper so I could be "in uniform." I was a little concerned at first, because I didn't grind my own flour or even bake my own bread. But it's all good in the homeschool community! We each feel free to do as our particular families need. Great post!

  17. Well written. I was 10 in 1980 and remember the following decade well. I was a teenager who was absolutely miserable and miserably treated at my public school. I'm so grateful to these pioneer homeschoolers for making it easy for our generation to keep our children home where they flourish.

  18. Great post. And yes the parts of the over watering and force feeding are great, which lol you already knew. I too am home schooling, though didn't start out as hs-ers, but now we are, yay!. anyways we are new followers of your blog, would be great for email subscribe,(hint-hint) lol. anyways hopping from new years hop, come check us out over at Mari's Fun!

  19. This was an awesome post. You are a beautiful writer - I love your style. I enjoyed reading your homeschooling journey.


  20. Oh my goodness, How did I ever miss this one? I can truly say that your writing almost makes me want to go back and start all over again. I regret that I let my children be taught by someone who did not treat them as an individual. The results are lifelong.....They all can recall being treated unfairly and not having their gifts acknowledged. Thank you for blogging and opening the eyes of young parents that can follow in your footsteps!

  21. I didn't know you lived near the Oates! Cool! :)

  22. Aww the 80's I remember them well. I was in public school and graduated from one. By the time I got in 7th grade my life took a turn and although I was passing most of my classes I spent every day in tears. I didn't "fit in" anymore and had to constantly defend myself alone to teachers and my peers. It was the worst years of my entire life 7th- 12th. When I had my kids I enrolled them into public school, I never once thought about homeschooling or unschooling. Then my kids were labeled disabled and fell "behind" I did everything a mom does for her kids; I sat up and studied with them, enrolled them in "special" classes and spent more time in the school with them then in my own home. When we moved to Missouri I again enrolled them in public school and then I became annoyed as I was threatened by the Principal with child protective services.
    We had just found out my daughter was blind in one eye and had Hashimoto's she was 7 yrs old and my son who was 5 was severely hearing impaired needing hearing aids. So while I was dealing with weekly doctor's appointments at specialists they were missing school. I know that kids need to be healthy to learn and thrive apparently the school didn't feel the same way.
    I was frustrated when I picked my kids up and drove straight to the library where I met a homeschool mom who had published a book. Right then and there I made up my mind I couldn't send them back to public school where they were being bullied and yelled at for not understanding. I have been an unschool mom for 8 years now and my kids are better off now then they could have ever been in public school. To this day Missouri is still one of the states with the most homeschoolers, that's how bad the public education system is here. And the school they were going to was shut down for having the worst scores in the state.

    I applaud you on your decision and pioneering the way. It takes a true mom to realize that kids are first and should be uplifted not degraded.

  23. Jen, I’d advise you to write and publish these sad experiences. You could help lots of people with your stories. Remember this saying: “Without the story there is no glory.” But you’ve overcome the system and have something to sing about - yeah! Bravo!


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