Editor’s note: Because so many new home educators are concerned about how this “radical” decision to take responsibility for their own children’s education will affect them in later years, it is sometimes helpful to look at what has happened to kids who have been through the experience already. I asked Brenda Shaw, a home-educated young woman living in Kingston, to talk to some older kids and report back to us. Brenda herself is an accomplished writer, who was chosen as an editorial writer for the Kingston Whig-Standard, and who plans to pursue university studies in astrophysics. The following is taken from her interviews with three older Ontario home scholars.
Steacy Clarke is 16 years old, and after one year of public schooling, at age 6, she had had enough. Formerly a resident of Tamworth, Ontario, she and her family now make their home in (balmy) Victoria, B.C. (Hey, it’s February. I’m in Ontario. I could feel the ten degrees Centrigrade breezes over the phone). Her father, Alan Dolan, is a public relations consultant, and her mother, Susan Clarke, is “a mom.” Her brother Adrian is 13.
Brian Mumper was in fourth grade when his parents, Randy and Ellen Mumper, made the decision to teach their kids at home. Brian was born in Greenville, South Carolina, and his family’s missionary work carried them to Antigua, then to New York, and finally to Kingston, Ontario. At 15, Brian is the president of his own company–Family Outreach Studios. He writes, produces, directs and acts in his own radio dramas for children (with a little help from friends and family). He also has a sister Jessica who is 13 and a brother Terry who is 11.
Andrew Hackett is 19 years old, and lives in North Gower, Ontario. His sister Leah, 16, is also homeschooled. Their parents Arthur and Ellen, are respectively a government research scientist and a homemaker. They started homeschooling twelve years ago when Andrew was six, Leah was four, and older sister Julie was ten. (Sisters Lisa and Ruth, and brother A.J. were already out on their own).
Q: Describe briefly your homeschooling experience. Why did you start?
Steacy: I don’t think my mom was ever happy with the school system at all… we were always looking at alternatives. When (I was) about kindergarten age, she met someone who was homeschooling, so that is how we started. I went to school for one year, and we came out of school… and started out with some curriculum and basically worked up to being deschoolers with absolutely no curriculum whatsoever.
Brian: We did not like the schools. When we moved up to the U.S., we did not like all the drugs and all the stuff that went along with it. Also, we moved a lot, and we did not want to keep switching. That was the main issue.
Andrew: Mom was actually going to give my older sister (Julie) and me just a year at home, just to help us out with our school work, and then we were going to go back, but we ended up both not going back, and just doing it right on through high school at home… Because we live out in North Gower — we went to a Christian school in Ottawa and that would mean we would have to be up early… it was very long for a six-year-old kid, to have to do that, to not get home until supper time.
Q: What kind of curriculum, if any, did you use?
Steacy: We had curriculum to begin with, the Workshop Way program, and then over the years we just got rid of all our curriculum and now we are deschoolers.
Brian: I was taught by textbooks that the school (Bob Jones University, a Christian-based curriculum provider) sent us. We learned by the book.
Andrew: When we first started out, we had curriculum from the Christian school, that they lent us… growing up, it was pretty much unstructured, except for math… we learned as we went along — we’d go to museums, and the art gallery, and outings a lot. We were out every Friday on some sort of trip.
Q: If you were attending high school, you would have access to “extra-curricular activities” like science fairs, marching bands, various clubs and teams, dances, etc. Do you think you have missed out on these sorts of things?
Steacy: I don’t think I missed out on anything there. I felt when I was in school — most of the time I was just confused, there was just a lot of confusion. Way too many people. And what I see happening in school is you get to taste little bits of things but you do not get to pursue anything you really love. You get to do lots of test, but most people do not love tests! So I don’t think it would really be serving my needs to be there at all. My interests are in the arts, so it really does not serve me at all.
Brian: We don’t really participate in anything because we did not know about anything… the only thing we have been doing is assisting, like at libraries, and going to museums. That’s really all. You could say that (karate) lessons are like gym.
Andrew: No, I don’t think so.
Q: Are there activities that you do participate in that you wouldn’t be able to if you were attending school?
Steacy: Figure skating is something that takes a lot of my time and I don’t think I could be as dedicated to it if I was in school. And writing is something that takes up the rest of my time, and I want to write a book this year, a compilation of my short stories about skating. And I don’t think I could do that if I was in school either.
Brian: If it weren’t for (homeschooling) I wouldn’t have very good attendance (at karate).
Andrew: Not really, no.
Q: Do you think that you “stand out” from other people your own age because you haven’t been to school? What is the biggest difference between you and them?
Steacy: I think the biggest difference is the things I have to talk about. I don’t talk about the kind of things they talk about, you know, “he said, she said.” I don’t get into that at all. I don’t really have a lot of friends who are really shallow like that. I tend to hang out with people who are older. People who are not in school… are like comrades. There aren’t any really differences that stand in our way. With people in school, I am a little different than them, but they totally accept me now. It’s a little harder when you are about twelve, I think, because everybody is so insecure.
Brian: I can’t say I am as athletic as a lot of people my age. But really that is all I feel I am missing out on… because I am getting the same (curriculum) that other people are getting at school. So really it’s only athletics. Since I have joined karate I don’t think I miss that social thing anymore.
Andrew: Not really. I have been to night school courses, and I didn’t really stand out there. I go along with people just fine.
Q: Basically, then, are you happy with your social life? Do you think it would be any better if you were in school?
Steacy: I don’t think it would be better in school, in fact. I don’t think I would be happy with my social life if I was in school. I don’t think I would have the exposure to different kinds of people that I have when I am outside the schools — the adults I talk to, the young children I talk to — you don’t get the wide range in ages, and people from different places and different social groups.
Brian: I think I could get better because you don’t have much social life in homeschooling. So far it is getting better, but I still think I could do better. But I am working up to that.
Andrew: No, I am happy with it. Where I go to the day school — I’m just taking a course there in the mornings — I would say ninety percent of the teenagers smoke, and it is not really (as if I am) missing out on anything. I think there is a lot of peer pressure in school, and you don’t get that at home. You can do your own thing, and not be the wacko because you don’t smoke or something.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
Steacy: I have a lot of things I want to do in the future. I go by Grace Llewellyn’s thing, “live a big life,” so I just want to do everything! Writing would definitely be a big one. And skating, if I could possibly get into competitive ice dance, that would be like my number one thing. Journalism would be a good thing… although it is hard to find work in this region. The peace-environmental movement, that sort of thing. But I keep finding new things every day that I want to do, so ask me tomorrow and it will be different!
Brian: The college that’s providing our textbooks–I’m enrolled with them, and I’ll get their diploma. They have a college there, and I’m planning to go to that college down in Greenville… I could take acting and writing.
Andrew: I’m going to go to a college called Augustine, in the fall if I’m accepted, and after that I’m either going to go into the work force or I’m going to go into another university and get a degree in biology.
Q: Are you happy with the overall homeschooling experience?
Steacy: I don’t think I’d be better off going to school. I’m quite satisfied.
Brian: I do feel like I miss making new friends and getting to know the people. Homeschooling’s okay. I guess I could say I’d like to try regular school. But (homeschooling) does have a lot of advantages. I still would like to make new friends, and meet other people and try the things they do. So I can’t say I am totally happy with homeschooling.
Andrew: No, I’m satisfied with it.