The Flood Gates Open

My birthday is in the middle of September.

In Wisconsin, where I was born, you did not go to Kindergarten unless you were five by September first. No exceptions.

I knew how to read by the time fall rolled around and when it became obvious that the public school system had zero intentions of letting me start in the fall, my parents started looking for other options.

There was, as I understand it, a fairly good private school in the area, but my parents were hesitant to send me there because they already had three children (I am the oldest) and planned to have more. Their fear was that they would like the private school too much and suddenly would end up with four or five children all attending at a seriously high cost. Better not to start at all.

My mom remembered that one of her favorite college professors (an English professor) had mentioned in passing that he and his wife had homeschooled their children. Off to the library she went to see what she could find out about homeschooling (you can see where I get my book-loving tendencies from).

After some research, my parents decided to homeschool me for at least a year. If they didn’t like it, they could send me off to Kindergarten the following September and no one would be the wiser.

But they did like it (and I suppose I did too, although I have really no memories of that first year) and my parents continued homeschooling for the following eight years. Neither of my parents are teachers or have teaching degrees. My mom has a bachelors degree in English and my dad went to dental school.

We moved to Las Vegas when I was in second grade and continued homeschooling. For a few years, Nevada required all homeschoolers to take standardized tests once a year to ensure that we weren’t at home watching cartoons all day, but after a while, the state decided it was too expensive to administer the tests and since then, there has been little control over what actually goes on inside a homeschooling household.

For about four years, we were part of a homeschool group, which consisted of two other families and each mom took all the kids for 3 hours once a week. Two of the days were history days and the other was science. One month, we ordered a bunch of frogs from a science catalog and dissected them in our garage (needless to say, it was my dad supervising that unit, not my mom). This was an absolute blast and some of my favorite homeschooling memories are from this group.

I never felt particularly weird (frankly, I was far more self-conscious about being incredibly short (I was only 4’10 when I started high school) than I was about being homeschooled). I did recognize after a few years that I was one of the few kids my age who didn’t detest school or spend the whole week longing for the weekend.

When I was in ninth grade, I decided I wanted to go to public school. My parents had always told me I was smart, but I wanted to find out if people who didn’t love me with all their hearts thought the same thing. I knew I was going to go to college and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be a massive shock to transition from homeschool to a giant school (my high school, incidentally, was the largest high school in the history of Nevada to date, in terms of students attending – around 4,000 my freshman year). My high school was fed by three junior high schools, so no one knew that I hadn’t actually come from one of those junior highs.

Anyway, I went off to high school and did one semester. And it was pretty excellent. I got straight A’s, and I also fell into a lead role in the high school musical “Annie Get Your Gun” when the drama teacher mentioned to my choir director that she was considering going to the middle school to find someone to play the child’s part in the play (I told you – short!).

But after that semester, I was pretty well sick of going to school full time. I was taking ridiculously stupid classes like “Careers” where we were required to bring in an adult to talk about their career and then the teacher asked out every mom who came in (luckily, I brought my dad). He also gave us extra credit for every business card we brought in since he was attempting to get in the Guinness Book for the largest collection of business cards. I ended the semester with a grade of something like 200%. After a few months, he gave that plan up and decided we should play games and gave extra credit to anyone who brought in a board game and we spent the rest of the semester playing Scrabble, Life, and Monopoly.

I went through five math teachers in the first semester because they kept quitting or getting fired. One of them bragged about how he hadn’t missed one day of gambling since moving to Vegas – oh how impressed I was. He told the parents on Parent Night that we’d do a phonebook worth of homework over the course of the year. He forgot to mention that he would be giving us the answers to the homework every day in class, instead of teaching, so the phonebook thing wasn’t as impressive.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to only go to public school part-time. I met with the principal (a super nice woman) who agreed to let me do so and with her letter of approval and some letters from my teachers saying I wasn’t a delinquent and such, I arranged to speak in front of the school board and they voted to let me go part-time.

For the next two and a half years, I only took three classes (Chemistry, Biology, Choir, Spanish, Anatomy, Honors English, and AP Language) and then would go home and do math, history, and other things on my own. It was great to not be wasting time in meaningless classes and to have some free time again. In the afternoons, I’d go back to school for play practice (I was in a total 10 productions in high school) and also work at Cold Stone.

Another bonus was that my high school had an extremely strict “no teacher picking” policy. You would sign up for the classes you wanted and they would stick you in whatever classes fit. You had no say at all in what particular sections you ended up in or what teacher you got and you couldn’t change.

But since I needed all my classes to fit into the first three periods of the day, I needed to meet with my counselor personally to go over what classes were available then and, while I was there, he would let me pick my teachers. My sophomore year, I discovered within a day or two that one of my teachers was particularly lousy and my counselor let me switch into the exact class I wanted. Brilliant.

My senior year, I decided to go back full-time (five classes). I wasn’t planning to graduate anyway, and so I had pretty much any choice of what classes I wanted to take (I ended up taking Government, AP English, Spanish, Debate, and Computer Programming).

People ask me all the time if it was weird to go to public school after so many years of not, but the truth is the weirdest part was how normal it felt. After reading hundreds of books that took place in public schools and watching movies, etc., it just wasn’t that strange.

I didn’t graduate from high school, which really shocks a lot of people because the idea of being able to get into college without a diploma is so foreign. But it’s no big deal – colleges are used to homeschoolers applying and if they have a few grades on the side, well, all the better. You need an ACT or SAT score, but that’s it.

Occasionally when people find out I was homeschooled, they comment on how normal I seem and how most homeschoolers they know are pretty weird. I have two theories on this.

One, most “normal” homeschooled kids do not broadcast that they were homeschooled. It’s extremely likely that you know plenty of homeschooled kids but they’ve never actually mentioned it. (Hint to other homeschoolers: if you’re telling everyone you meet at the grocery store and post office that you’re homeschooled, you’re probably weird. Just a head’s up). (I’m now questioning if this post is proof that I’m weird and just don’t know it since here I am blabbing all my secrets to the Internet).

Two, I do not think homeschooling makes kids weird. There are a bazillion weird kids out there, the majority of them from public school. Weird kids are weird kids and probably neither homeschool or public school is going to fix that. If you have weird parents, chances are you’ll be a little weird. I’m sure you can all name fifty weird people off the top of your head, most of whom weren’t homeschooled, but are weird for tons of other reasons. And frankly, even if I had weird kids, I wouldn’t send them to public school to “fix” them because chances are they’d just be ostracized or mocked. I’d rather keep them home where they can be weird and happy, rather than in public school where they’d probably be weird and miserable.

Wow, could I have used the word “weird” any more times?

So, yes, I was homeschooled. And I plan on doing the same for my kids, but I’ll leave my thoughts on that for another day. Because this post has already gotten far longer than I intended and I know you all need to go back through and scour it for spelling and grammar errors to see if homeschooling produces illiterate idiots.

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  • Reply Lisa C May 7, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    This is unrelated to whether or not to homeschool children, but how does it work financially? Do your parents get a tax credit? I’ve just always wondered that.

  • Reply Gretchen May 7, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Ah, homeschooling. Such a fabulously controversial topic…

    So the real question is: Do you consider me as corroborating or contradicting proof in the “homeschooled people aren’t necessarily weird” assertion?!?!? (Like you’d ever flat out tell me if the latter were true – you have too good of social skills even for a homeschooled kid!)

  • Reply Jess May 8, 2008 at 12:35 am

    Following on your “if your parents are weird, you will be too” thing–I think part of the reason why homeschooled kids are considered to be weird is that often the reasons that families decide to homeschool have to do with beliefs or styles or family culture that are considered by most people to be “weird.”

  • Reply Packrat May 8, 2008 at 1:26 am

    I didn’t realize that you were home schooled! That would explain a lot of things that you write about (critical thinking!!) Most of the homeschooled children I’ve been around excel way above and beyond public school educated children. We homeschooled for soooooo many reasons. (I still haven’t put these on my blog 🙁 I will try to do this soon.) Some people think we were/are weird for doing so, but our daughter was able to do things all kinds of things that would have not been possible had she been in a school. I do think that one parent or the teacher/tutor/leader should have a college degree – mostly to keep the school district people off your back. And, no we didn’t get a tax credit; we paid more than double. It was worth it.

  • Reply Bart May 8, 2008 at 2:00 am

    You were homeschooled?

  • Reply Kristi May 8, 2008 at 3:54 am

    Janssen, you rock. I love the post. Thanks for saying it like it is! Oh and…you were born in Wisconsin? I never knew!

    P.S. Bart is hilarious

    P.P.S. He is also a year older, please relate our belated birthday wishes!

  • Reply Julie Beck May 8, 2008 at 4:02 am

    This post actually made me consider homeschooling my kid I didn’t know you were planning on doing it with your children (but from your fabulous experience, it makes sense) Would you mentor me? We’ll be doing it around the same time (give a year or two), we could bounce ideas off each other! Your situation, however, seems like the best of both worlds!!!!

    And yes, I agree with the previous post: Bart is hilarious!

  • Reply housewife May 8, 2008 at 4:08 am

    I’ve gone back and forth with whether or not to homeschool my kids. I must say, reading your thoughts on it makes me lean towards doing it. I taught public school for 3 years so I know how much time is wasted in school. You simply cannot accomplish the same educationally with 20-30 students that you can with a small number of kids.

  • Reply Science Teacher Mommy May 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Let me preface my (lengthy) remarks by saying that I am a huge believer in public education. I had a series of incredible teachers and awesome experiences that probably wouldn’t have been available to me had my family gone another route. Because of my great school experiences I became a teacher. I love the classroom experience and have always tried to make my classroom a dynamic place with lots of varied experiences presented to a range of learning styles. (Science really lends itself to this: labs a couple of days each week, etc.) I love the American vision of education–we are the only country in the world who makes such an effort to educate our kids until the age of 18. I believe that a free education available to every citizen is the foundation of democracy.

    On the other hand, I seem to know and become friends with a whole lot of people who home-school. I used to be really against this, but time and more objective observation has shown me that there are times when it really does work, and may even be for the best. You seem to be an excellent example of this.

    My general impressions are that the best home-schooling parents will approach each child as a seperate case when making this decision–some kids thrive under it, others don’t, even with the best-intentioned parents. Kids who are great readers tend to do amazingly well at being homeschooled because they are very good at pacing themselves. Weaker (or later or slower) readers may do better in a more formal setting. Parents who homeschool need to be very careful to make sure that, along with English and history topics, they are introducing math and science as well. I knew one family of home-schoolers who could read and write off the charts, but every one of the kids needed remedial math before they could even enroll at the community college. There are just so many good careers with a strong basis in science and/or math, that it cannot be neglected.

    And yes, as a teacher I have seen some “weird” things–parents who claim to be homeschooling because attendance is so bad, but there is suspicion that older kids are merely babysitting younger ones. Parents who home school because EVERY SINGLE TEACHER (and the principal) is out to get their kid. A child with learning disabilities yanked because parents don’t see the school bend over backwards and immediately for their child, or they don’t see results in just a few weeks. Home-schooled kids returning to school with parents who tell you they were pulled in the first place because they were just so much smarter than everyone else, even if the child’s performance is lackluster and uninspired . . . .

    You are probably right, however, that such situations are the exception and not the rule.

    I also agree with jess about the culture thing. I was asking a friend about cloth diapering who was seeing the same midwife I was for my baby #1. She told me that with twins, she’d found cloth diapers to be a step she couldn’t take, but that she had a friend she could refer me to because “she homeschooled and everything.” ??????? How did cloth diapering get co-opted with homeschooling? But truthfully, over the years, a lot of the home-birth women I have known also home-school their kids. And cloth diaper. And sleep with their children.

    For me, I guess, I’ve always been a bit of a loner and liked being on my own. It is hard for me to imagine wanting to spend that kind of time with my parents and I’ve kind of projected that attitude onto my own children probably. Many people have asked me if I would ever consider home schooling my own kids. I suppose if I believed my child (children) were unsafe at school, or the school was just rotten, I would have to seriously consider it, but there is already so much you have to teach your children! Besides, I don’t think I have the discipline for regular, day-to-day formal interaction.

    The irony is that I love classroom teaching and when my kids (I have three) get a little bit bigger, I really hope to go back. That sounds awful, almost? I want to teach other children, but not my own? Hm . . . . I’ll have to think about that one.

    Sorry for the comment/post: this is just such an interesting topic.

  • Reply Heather May 8, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    how many times did you go back and check to make sure no mistakes lurked in this particular post? Great insights on homeschooling, thanks for the info.

  • Reply ambrosia ananas May 8, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    If you have weird parents, chances are you’ll be a little weird.

    Heh. That totally explains all the weird home schooled kids I knew. They were all weird in ways that, well, the parents should have been able to help them with. Like, you know, telling them to wear deodorant, wait their turn, say please. Or refraining from telling them to eat only salad for breakfast or else they’d surely be fat and no man would love them.

    At any rate, you’re a great argument for homeschooling. I’d love to hear your ideas on how to do it well.

  • Reply Jen May 8, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Wow. You just made me consider homeschooling as a viable option for the first time. We live in DC, and the public schools are just awful. That leaves private school, which is ridiculously expensive. Nice to know there’s another option…

  • Reply LONICA May 9, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Interesting post. I was always against homeschooling, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve considered it more than before. I have questions though. How is it possible for the parent to meet all the varrying levels of student’s needs to the same extent that teacher’s can? How do the parents still have time to do all the things that parents need to? I can see a lot of wasted school time in the day, especially for students who are pretty self-sufficient, so home schooling could be a big advantage. Teachers at public schools can be crap, but they can also be amazing. Can a parent compare with an amazing teacher? There are just so many questions. I appreciate your opinion and insight–thanks!

  • Reply David & Sammy May 9, 2008 at 3:16 am

    Loved that post! You know I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Just tell me to leave the subject alone for the next few years!

  • Reply monica and brad May 9, 2008 at 5:33 am

    I’ve actually been looking into this a lot more myself–intersting stuff and I’d like to hear more some day when you’ve got the time.

  • Reply Lindsay May 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Wow, I had no idea! Homeschooling is definitely a controversial topic. It’s something that I have thought about, especially since Cohen will be ready to go to Kindergarten next year. I’m still undecided, though. I have a year to read more about homeschooling, and if I like it, I’d have to convince Lewis too.

  • Reply Amy May 10, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Hi, Janssen! I just want to say that I was reading through your paragraph about the “weirdness” issue thinking, “I’m going to praise her for using the word ‘weird’ so many times…” and then you beat me to the punch pointing it out. Am I a nut-job because the frequent repetition of that word makes me laugh? It’s somehow so evocative, where the repetition of any other word would just be redundant…

    I’d also like to respond to another comment–I think one of the great benefits of homeschooling is that flexibility to treat each child as their own case and learner. And I think the fact that Janssen was able to work out a compromise between homeschooling and public school that worked well for her says to me that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing deal, either way. Which is both exciting and kind of scary in that it makes the parent’s (and child’s) choice so much more complex.

  • Reply LeAnne May 10, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Great post! You brought up lots of great positive points that many people do not realize about homeschooling.

    I love how you brought up the “weird” issue. It is amazing how often weird and homeschooling are used in the same sentence. Most people are shocked when they find out I was homeschooled because I am not “weird”. I was home taught in middle school and probably would have through high school if not for the untimely death of my father. My mom had to go back to work and we were off to public school.

    I have gone back and forth about homeschooling my own children. I’ve taught in the public schools and see the strengths that they can have. (and also the weaknesses) However, I think it is a decision that is left up to the family because it is a family effort to homeschool. My mom had toyed with the idea of homeschooling but ultimately left it up to us. My brother and I eventually asked my mom and dad to home teach us and we loved every minute.

  • Reply Becca May 12, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I REMEMBER YOU in Annie Get Your Gun. I kid you not. That is insane.

  • Reply Alicia May 14, 2008 at 3:27 am

    Well, this comment is a little anti-climactic at this point, but I still had to put my two cents in, as I was also homeschooled. My birthday is in December, so my parents faced the same dilemma yours did–I wasn’t old enough to start public school, but I was already reading. And, incidentally, when my mom called the local elementary to ask them about their enrollment, they proudly told her that their kindergartners would spend the first semester learning “A through L” and the second semester “M through Z.” Yeah, my mom wasn’t too impressed. Anyway, I went to a private school in Orem, UT for kindergarten through 2nd grade, then we moved to Gilbert, AZ. I went to public school the first year we were there, and was leaps and bounds ahead of my classmates. It’s really unfortunate when the system encourages kids to make fun of the achievers as well as the laggers–I still remember having to go to a different classroom for multiplication timed tests because my teacher had only addition and subtraction, and the other kids looked at me funny. So, after 3rd grade, my mom reluctantly agreed with my dad to homeschool me and my younger siblings (I’m also the oldest). At first, she set up our home school like a mini public school, because that’s all she knew. But over the years, my mom transformed into a fabulous, innovative teacher. We did co-ops with other families (similar to your experience), including spelling bees, science fairs, and even a state-wide science camp! When I hit high school, I attended the public high school for choir and seminary (release time) and did the rest of my studies at home and at a local community college (on scholarship…because I wasn’t a homeschooled moron :] ). I also did not offically graduate from high school, unless you count the diploma I received for my correspondence courses. Then I went to BYU on a full scholarship.

    When I was about 13 (that woefully sensitive age), one of my friends cynically asked, “How are you going to go to college?” I was grateful to prove myself in later years! Thank you SOOOO much for pointing out the truth of the weirdness issue: yeah, we all know TONS of people who are weird that went to public school. Frankly, the comment that “homeschoolers are weird” just doesn’t faze me. I agree with science teacher mommy that homeschoolers need to make sure and sover math and science as well as they do English and history. Luckily, my dad was a math minor in college, so that was covered, but science is by far my weakest area. There are so many homeschoolers now that there is no good excuse for not having outlets for “socialization” (I despise that term).

    I’ll admit, those first few months that I went to high school, even for just two hours, I was wiped out! I’d come home to tackle my other subjects, and fall asleep on the floor on top of my books. But I loved going to the high school, and I fit in just fine.

    I agree with those who have commented that education should be a child-by-child decision, HOWEVER, there are many ways to homeschool. I truly think there is a homeschooling method compatible with nearly every child. And hey, why not take advantage of the resources provided by the local school district too? You’re paying good taxes just like everyone else!

    I am planning to homeschool my children, for academic and social reasons, and thankfully, I have a supportive husband! I did have a serious boyfriend break up with me on account of homeschooling. I was heart-broken, but I couldn’t conceive of why he would dismiss even the possibility of homeschooling.

    So, apparently this ridiculously long comment doesn’t have a coherent thesis, but basically, I think homeschooling is great! And I’m glad you do too!

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