My Life As a Homeschooler
by Isabel Lyman
The American schoolmarm of yesteryear with her long skirts, prim bun, and
gumption to manage a multi-grade, one-room schoolhouse -- is often invoked as
a symbol of academic excellence.
She is my inspiration as I labor in the vineyards of the alternative
education movement -- both, as a homeschooling parent and as a teacher in the
private school on our small four-acre farm. Because I chose to homeschool my
sons, Dan and Wid have never ridden a yellow school bus, didn't learn their
ABC's on a classroom blackboard, and won't be graduating from an accredited
And I harbor no regrets.
I first encountered home-schooling in the Pacific Northwest. On a
honeymoon/sabbatical in Washington state, my husband and I befriended our
hospitable apartment managers who welcomed us into their lives. Over dinner
and Uno games, we discovered that underneath their middle-American veneers
they were counter cultural radicals. One night they revealed to us that their
adorable three-year-old son would not be attending kindergarten, first grade,
or any other grade for that matter. They planned to educate him at home.
Since we were marginal iconoclasts, our curiosity was piqued.
Once I had been introduced to the teach-thine-own concept, my investigative
juices began flowing, and I read all the homeschooling literature I could
find. (My favorite is Home-spun Schools by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.)
I discovered that the homeschooling movement was not new at all, but a return
to the way things were before the innovations of common schools and
compulsory attendance laws. Indeed, the way the Founding Fathers were
educated. Homeschooling's rebirth stems from many sources, but mainly from
parents' discontent with the academic and/or moral training their children
receive (or don't receive) in traditional schools.
Some parents choose to homeschool because they desire a tailor-made, not a
factory-made approach to learning. Others prefer to include religious
instruction (be it the Bible, Torah, or Koran) with reading, writing, and
arithmetic. Still others utilize a back-to-nature approach which allows
children to understand their world through experience and apprenticeship.
We made our decision to homeschool our sons for these reasons and more. After
asking ourselves, why homeschool for a while, we began wondering, Why not
homeschool? We both had bachelor's degrees and felt we could teach
elementary school subjects. By the time our first son was born, we had become
converts to the modern-day homeschooling movement.
As I prepared for the time that school would begin, I realized that there
is more to homeschooling than teaching a little kid the capital of Florida. I
needed to answer the following questions in the affirmative. Was I willing to
stay at home instead of pursuing a lucrative career? Was I ling to be the art
teacher, phys. ed. instructor, dean of students, principal, cafeteria worker
and custodian, too? Was I willing to seek out friends for my son? For some
moms and dads, especially those with a large brood, this lifestyle is a real
Still, my desire to be with my children and play a daily role in training
their minds and influencing their hearts was overwhelming. We began to
informally teach our firstborn (the guinea pig) phonics by using Scrabble
game blocks. We were thrilled when he read simple stories at age five. The
homeschooling marathon had officially begun!
As the years have passed, and our curriculum has advanced from colorful math
flash cards to complex physics problems, we have faced the typical struggles
of most homeschoolers. Grandparents question the wisdom of making ends meet
on one salary. Grocery clerks wonder aloud why your child isn't in school
this morning. Friends muse that you may be a tad overprotective of your
For our little red schoolhouse, we have made use of traditional curricula,
borrowed books and books-on tape from the library (from David Copperfield to
Pippi Longstocking), surfed the Internet, conducted hands-on science projects
(including hatching baby chicks and dissecting a Carolina grasshopper),
viewed umpteen videos about World War II, and ad-libbed whenever the need
arose. Our eclectic method seems to yield results: both our sons score above
the 80th percentile - the norm for home schooled students - on their Stanford
Socially, we've never lacked opportunities for our boys. We've been involved
with sports, craft classes, day camps, and other homeschoolers. For several
summers, we hosted boys from inner-city New York in our home. We've
entertained Nelson Mandela's grandson at a Halloween party, chatted with Pat
Buchanan at Lexington Green, traveled to Costa Rica to meet then-President
Rafael Calderon Fournier, dined with homeless men, and been interviewed by
reporters about our life-style.
Academic studies (like the one done by Dr. Larry Shyers of the University of
Florida) have concluded that homeschooled youngsters mature just as rapidly
as conventionally-schooled students. I'm not surprised. Homeschoolers are
less likely to have self-esteem problems, since they can pick and choose
their contacts. Conventionally-schooled students are often stuck in
classrooms with miscreants who can make a well-behaved student's life
During the ten years we've been teaching our sons, we have been schooling
ourselves. By taking turns, mom and dad have received their PhD's and are
teaching other parents' teenagers. We call our extended homeschool Harkness
Road High School, a private, co-ed, day school with back-to-basics courses
and a vocational component. Our curriculum is challenging, a B is required to
pass a course, and our instruction is quite personal, since we've chosen to
limit enrollment to twenty students. Our diplomas are real: 13 of our 16
grads have gone on to college, and this year we will graduate our second
National Merit Scholarship finalist. Both members of the class of '98 will
enter the computer Science department at a large state university.
To date, all indications are that our efforts (though not without trial and
error) are paying off. Our family is intact and closely-knit, and our sons
have developed a can-do attitude that will serve them for a lifetime. My
husband and I feel that we are contributing positively to society by giving
our children and others the skills and discipline to be thoughtful,
upstanding, patriotic, and responsible young adults... something our country
What began as the seed of an idea in the Northwest has bloomed into a
life-style in the Northeast. But the finish line in our alternative education
marathon may not yet be in sight. Given the trend toward obtaining a degree
via on-line campuses, it is possible that our children may decide to utilize
a laptop, modem, and their bedrooms to attend college. As Dorothy noted in
The Wizard of Oz, there's no place like home.
This article appeared in the May 1999 issue of The Link, Home School News Online.
Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
Click here for an index of other Isabel Lyman columns.