But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.
– Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
While he said this in the midst of a rather arrogant proposal, the sentiment of Mr. Darcy’s words resonates with me (as does just about everything else about him). The honest truth has value, especially when we fear acknowledging it. This is why I feel so passionately about homeschooling. It enables me to teach, an act I feel called to do, in an honest manner. If I try something, and it feels like a perfect fit, great! If, on the other hand, it doesn’t align with my own truth, I am free to change my method without fear of repercussion.
I once worked at a school where my superiors told me that my science department had to achieve a “B average” that year (meaning the average of all students’ final grades had to average out to a B). The previous year’s average had been a C, and that was insufficient apparently. (The pressure came to us from the administration. But, whether the administration was feeling pressure from parents or the District/State for funding reasons, I’m not sure). One of the teachers, a fantastic teacher by all accounts, told me that he planned to use the regular curriculum for his honors students this year and “dumb it down for the rest.” By all outward appearances, this was one of the best schools in the state. As I was now discovering, this was a disguise. How could I pass those students who were clearly checked out (didn’t complete homework…ever, showed up high, were disrespectful toward the other students and me)? I had direct orders to pass them. But, what would I be teaching them, and all the students who did try their best, by doing so?
I left that teaching position soon after the school year started. I knew I was failing by leaving early, but I also knew I couldn’t teach under those constraints (inflated grades is just one example). The teaching practices there were too far from my honest truth. I avoided teaching for about five years after that, feeling that I had no right to teach and nothing to offer my students. Eventually, however, my mentor convinced me that I should try it again. I accepted a part-time position at another school, and I loved it! This healing experience lasted briefly, because we soon moved to New York for an amazing opportunity in Mike’s career. He left California at the end of March, and two-year-old Ashby and I said our goodbyes to family and friends and flew to New York the day after school let out for summer. I missed Mike during our months apart, but I had to redeem myself in my own eyes by finishing what I had started this time.
This journey began almost fifteen years ago, and only in the past year have I come to believe that I wasn’t the only reason I failed in my former position. Yes, I failed my students by leaving them and not fighting for them. But, the school failed me, too. I expected honesty, not disguise.
Thus awoke my curiosity toward alternatives to standard schooling. I discovered some works by John Taylor Gatto and realized I was not alone in my curiosity. Had I not experienced this personally devastating introduction to teaching, I might never have considered homeschooling. So, ultimately, it wasn’t a failure, just an experience. It taught me to value my honest truth, and for that I am grateful. My hope now is that other parents, for whom homeschooling might be a good fit, will find it naturally. It shouldn’t take a life-altering experience to learn about homeschooling. It should be right out there in the open with public schooling and private schooling. I am optimistic, because the number of families who homeschool seems to be growing exponentially. But, I believe there are still many families who would benefit from and appreciate it if only they knew it were an option.