A Decade Or So In The Life Of A Homeschooler

By Joseph McLean, <joseph@windspirit.com>

"Thank goodness I was never sent to school;
it would have rubbed off some of the originality

~ Beatrix Potter ~

Part One: Life of a Rebel

Not long ago, I was asked (by the ever poetic Sandy Keane, no less) to bring fourth some of my own thoughts, musings, and overall impressions from the life of an avid homeschooler. Fine, I thought, peering over my shoulder at 12 years of "schooling" history... fine, won't be hard to find many qualifying tidbits. Then it hit me -- once you look at it, describing a homeschooling carrier is no easy task. The first thing I learned, way back in 1982, is that everything qualifies. And since there really are no limits to this rule, the task of fitting it all to a single article is neigh impossible. So I will recount instead the highlights, the moments in my life where I was very much removed from the public system, not only in location but in mindset. The times when I was tremendously delighted or deeply ashamed to be one of the exceptions to popular society.

I will start where most do, not at the true beginning, but at the age of 5. This is the age when learning becomes much more complex, not something perfected merely by imitating others -- this is also when society begins to notice you're different, when the nice people come up and ask, "why aren't you in school, dearest?" and you must learn the difficult art of convincing the unconvincible.

It began, then, in Victoria, at a smallish school called Sundance. The Kindergarten there had been recommended to my Mother, who already harboured concerns about the public system. For good reason; five years earlier she'd taught in several inner-city Toronto schools, where the every child wore the expression of a condemned prisoner. Hoping fervently that the west could provide a happier atmosphere to learn upon, she crossed her fingers and let me go.

I remember very little of the week I spent there, only that it felt strange, though not so strange that an intuitive five year old couldn't eventually adapt (so went my ego). My mother, however, disagreed in a typically adult fashion. She didn't like the tales I brought home, the way our teacher treated us like we were a single entity to be taught in one big sweep, the stories of something she termed "Playground Politics". Although the school wasn't at all strict, it wasn't at all good either. She said as much to me, and (being the agreeable little five year old that I was) I was able to grasp most of these unwanted evils. But if she'd just pulled me from the "best" school in Victoria, where else could I go?

Relying on her experience as a part time teacher, my mother decided that the first few years of schooling could be easily handled until I reached a less impressionable age -- at which point I'd make an informed decision as to where & how I wanted to learn.

And so we rebelled.

My strongest memory from that year was the dreaded yellow school bus. Since so many people assured me I just had to be in school, there seemed no reason the driver wouldn't feel the same... and despite anything my mother'd say, I had to resist the temptation to drive into the nearest shrubbery whenever I sighted one of the sinister things. Other then that, my life was a breeze, having been introduced to Peter and Jane and Dog and Ball, who seemed to be stuck in a sort of one dimensional fantasy world but entertained me none the less. In the hopes that they'd eventually develop personality, I'd read myself into a Grade 2 level by the end of the year, and was progressing on to the very mature world of Dr Suess. At the same time I began to write epic tales of adventure and valour, which for some reason struck everyone as cute, when they were in fact harrowing clashes with the Cat in the Hat and Big Bad Wolf. As if that wasn't enough, I was also a budding poet....

I looked out the window
As the wind poured past
I looked out the window
As the grass went fast!

....And continued to exercise my creativity in odd but educational ways, with my mother always evident in the background, offering advice or planing educational expeditions up a mountain or down to the zoo.

When spring arrived, we transformed my room into a zoo of it's own, stocked with everything from caterpillars to frogs, and proceeded to name, draw, study, feed , and eventually set free our personal menagerie. I remember one morning, standing in the early dawn, a newly born butterfly perched trembling on the lip of a jar I'd just opened. "G'bye butterfly" I whispered, and it flew away... then back, to land quite daintily on my head. That was the first time I laughed at the rows of school children, inside under fluorescent lights. I bet they never had butterflies land on their heads. I was so proud...

I had human friends too, and for this I must credit the nifty block I lived on. Over twice normal size, the block was ringed with houses, while the center remained a park, and in the very middle, a playground. Hence every house shared their back yard, and each day the children would gather on this common ground. I was the only 5 year old to visit during the day, but no one cared, since most of the four year olds stood taller then little Joe.

Meanwhile my mother was still displaying signs of adulthood -- she was not yet satisfied. Although we lived in the gentlest part of the Victoria, it was still very much a city, and the thought of my growing up street-smart didn't agree with her. So on my 6th birthday we sold our house, bought a small camper van, and set out on the longest and most educational expedition yet, a four month tour of the west coast and interior, in search of the perfect home.

I'm not sure where we went, but my 6-year-old memory assures me it was most everywhere. We did camp in just about every campground we passed, looked up and found long lost friends, examined property from one end of the west to the other. It was the height of summer, and everywhere we stopped there were fairs, festivals, and ice cream -- in other words, heaven. We brought along great heaps of Adison-Wesly schoolbooks to keep me roughly pointed in the "proper" direction, but I think I learned more from the numerous villages we visited, from sampling each distinct culture. The wonders that continued to unfold before my eyes vastly increased my curiosity, and I spent those days on the edge of my seat, the van my classroom, the open window my only blackboard. I don't remember feeling particularly educated, only very happy... little did I know I was accidentally learning things that would serve me well for the rest of my life.
The copyright to this article is owned exclusively by Second Flux Information Services, June 1995, but may be freely distributed as long as my name & address remain attached and no profit is made.

This was my last published article, and by far my most acclaimed. Curiously, it was interrupted my the launch of my business and stands half complete...