Confessions of an (ex-) homeschooler
Posted by DAVID BC TAN under: Homeschooler Profile on 14 Aug 2014.
Joshua is an eighteen-year-old history buff, amateur writer, and a massive Regina Spektor fanboy. He’s a Christian -albeit a surly, often skeptical one: suspicious of churches but increasingly in love with Christ. He’ll be studying at Hope College, MI. come the fall. When he’s not writing/procrastinating, he enjoys Doctor Who marathons, good cheese, and Simon and Garfunkel. He can’t drive yet, but desperately wants a license to drive a sleigh dragged by a resurrected woolly mammoth through subarctic Siberia someday.
Here’s his story.
THOUGHTS OF AN (ALMOST) GRADUATED HOMESCHOOLER
By Joshua Kam
Huzzah! I’ve almost graduated. The pre-exam-cramming has been crammed, the awful tests have been sat, and the gor-awful after-exam anticlimax has wadded awkwardly in my gut like a black hole. I stand mere inches from completing Marine Bio – yay – to the last class of the year. It’s strange -half of me kept thinking that I still had so much time, and the other couldn’t believe it’s already gone. I felt vaguely like someone who’s misread a map and almost stepped off El Gran Canyon.
To be frank though, that was pretty much the same feeling Mom and I harbored in our throats when we began. I was seven, more than a little traumatized from kindergarten, and determined to be a chef and a Wycliffe Bible translator and a paleontologist all at once. Needless to say I’d always found it hard to fit in. Not because I was particularly smarter than the folk in class -I was just eccentric, I suppose.
But on that first day in homeschool, I plonked myself down with Mom for three pages of science and a bite of arithmetic. The problems were neatly encased in colorful ostriches; I had a vague sense that we were on an adventure of some kind – but to where and to what end I had no clue.
The answer to that came years later as we slowly ironed out the kinks of learning at home. The lovely thing about homeschool is that everything is porous -real life glides into academic work. Class times seep in and out of everything else we have on our plate. You could be playing checkers when your Mom calls you out to study a mantis, sketch its mandibles clumsily on a notepad.
You might be in the middle of science when annoyingly you’re called out to deal with laundry. Was nothing sacred? Couldn’t we do something in its own box in its own time? Now, glancing back into those years, I’m glad Mom imparted something different to me: you don’t box up real life.
This porosity, of course, also creates challenges of its own. Time management was always an issue for me. I did occasionally zone out of my long division problems when chapters of Tolkien called my name. And I do harbor an awkward habit of humming the LOTR soundtrack when I’m working on science. Ask my brother. But I don’t know where I’d be without learning from the integrative approach Mom took to Life, the Universe, and Everything Else.
Homeschooling, the idea of doing school at home -occasionally in my PJs- has all but ended for me. But Home Schooling -the practice of bringing what you learn into every other pocket of your lifestyle, of knocking down the walls between intellectual notions and ‘Real Life'; of weaving everything you know into everything you believe: that stays. And I hope it always stays. I can think of a lot of brilliant folks with PhDs and more achievements on their resumes, but I really can’t imagine anyone more equipped to impart this to me than my mother.
I must add -I did actually find friends. No, not always the loudest friends, or the most facetiously confident. I found people with quiet souls and still hands, but with deep, fierce compassions and minds like sharpened blades. This is just my clause/charm to ward off awkward questions of my societal maladjustment. Heh.
The rest – the flurry of college searching, SAT-sitting, online-classes – all of that was tricky. For a while we were wringing our hands over transcripts, and course descriptions. How would we create a resume? And what on earth would I do for those college admission essays?
In the end, I decided to write about being an estuary -a place where the river and the sea meets. Because my entire education and life had been just that kind of negotiation: adjusting from my hometown to KL, adjusting to homeschooling over the years. I wrote about the eclectic mix of things I studied – Russian lit with Chinese poetry, Japanese tankas with the Great American Novels. I also described things I’d done outside of actual school -acting troupes we’d joined/directed, clubs we participated in.
It took two years of premature balding and dandruff before we finally landed on a quiet, welcoming campus that was more than willing to accept homeschoolers. We did have to jump a couple more hoops -partially in describing my courses. But I think that for a lot of colleges/unis (mine was abroad) they want to see what a homeschooler can do outside of his/her study room. Frankly, that’s the sort of thing that homeschoolers seem to excel.
To parents who are just starting to homeschool their kids -the ones forever peppered by relatives asking, “Are your kids socialized?”- I hope I’m not too presumptuous in saying you’re doing the right thing. It takes chutzpah to tell people you teach your children: that you have your own way of seeing the world and want to impart it to your kids.
It takes chutzpah for a kid to explain to grown-ups that s/he really does have friends, and that they go for movies and fieldtrips, and, scandalously, the occasional chaste date, just like regular Malaysians do. It takes chutzpah doing something new, when in your head (and your parents’ heads) you sometimes just don’t know where this is going, if all these were a stepping stone to something better.
Some months my family was just hoarse with “discussing” whether homeschooling was viable for us. Some months we were just so ready to burn our math books the day I graduated. Our little road to Damascus was rarely lit with bolts of heaven’s shine. Or pillars of fire. The inspiration – and the gratitude- came very slowly, and rather prosaically, like brewed tea. But hot dang, I am glad we made the trip.