Two-and-a-half years ago my son Wes was starting seventh grade, and things weren’t going well for him. Sixth grade had been tough: small for his age, he was on the receiving end of a great deal of bullying that the school had no intention of controlling; plus, his teachers, with one wonderful exception, were indifferent or incompetent or both. In seventh grade things were still worse: all of his teachers did their jobs poorly — he was learning almost literally nothing — and the bullies’ aggressiveness was escalating. After a great deal of soul-searching, my wife and I decided to take him out of school and teach him at home for a period, just until we could figure out a long-term strategy. We had never thought about anything other than public schools for him; we were both public-school kids ourselves (all the way through university), and though we are Christians, the Christian schools we knew of didn’t appeal to us in any way. We figured we would work out a strategy and then get him back into public school soon. We had the flexibility most people don’t have because the relief and development agency my wife had worked for for many years had moved to another part of the country, leaving her jobless but with enough free time to supervise Wes’s education.
In the meantime we connected with some home-schooling parents who had formed a kind of educational co-op, so that Wes could have contact with other kids and get taught by some folks who were (a) smart and (b) not us. Some of these parents probably fit the stereotype of homeschoolers — rigid, doctrinaire, fearful of contamination — but not many, I think. And the high intellectual expectations they had for their children meant that their curriculum was far more rigorous than anything Wes had ever seen in public school. So we felt that we had found a decent stop-gap solution.
Wes is in the ninth grade now and we’re still teaching him at home and working with the co-op. We never imagined that this would happen — we simply knew that he would be in the local public high school this year. But when the time came to make that decision we just couldn’t pull the trigger. He’s in his third year of Latin now — taught by an extremely gifted woman, a superb Latinist with a doctorate in French from Vanderbilt — and the local high school doesn’t offer Latin. Nor do they offer anything resembling the course he’s taking in logic, or one that he’s just picked up: a comparative study of Plato’s Republic and the political philosophy of the American Founders. When we looked at the ninth-grade curriculum at the local high school and compared that with what he’s getting in this makeshift home-made system . . . Well, as I said, we just couldn’t pull the trigger.
Maybe we’re making a mistake; maybe he will be socially limited for life. But I look at him and I see a happy, well-adjusted guy, which was not exactly what I saw two-and-a-half years ago. He’s got plenty of friends and he’s learning a great deal. There’s a lot to like about this arrangement. Maybe we’ll even stick with it for another year.
As I say, we all know the stereotype of the Christian homeschooling parent, and of course stereotypes arise for a reason; but I wonder how many people there are out there like us, people who got into homeschooling through unexpected contingency, not because they have some kind of principled objection to secularists corrupting their children. Maybe there are more such people than we suspect.