Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“My Homework Assignment” first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Touchstone.
My Homework Assignment
Annegret Hunter on the Joys of Losing a Career & Gaining a Calling
You did what?” exclaimed Dr. Smith’s impeccably groomed wife, Ms. Something-or-other, herself being a civil servant, and stepped back several paces. “I homeschooled my children.” She retreated further, smiled incredulously, her eyes saying: Wow, what a nutcase, looks harmless enough, though; turned her back, and started to converse with someone else. Since I am a sheltered woman and thankfully rarely go to official gatherings, I find this reaction amusing—it is my husband who must endure a lot more.
A Kept Fake
Homeschooling in these times of self-indulgence is a difficult pursuit, especially for fathers, who bear the brunt of ridicule in the real world: “You mean your wife just sits at home with the kids? Why doesn’t she work?”
But it is true that, as a homeschooling mom, you are in a double whammy: Not only are you a housewife, which means a kept woman, in importance somewhat lower than the kitchen sink, but you also are a fake teacher, pretending to teach, without knowledge and accreditation. And to top it all off, once the kids are out of the house and you want to re-enter real working life, you are told, like that woman out on the prairies, who after bringing up nine children applied for a job making sandwiches: “Sorry, but you have no work experience.”
Even the title wife is taken from you officially, here in Ontario. Here you are a spouse, which, we suspect, is short for “spineless mouse.”
However, more normal responses run the gamut from an awestruck “Oh, you must be so patient!”, through a pleading “Would you please consider homeschooling my child?” and a whispered “Is it legal?”, to a wistful “I wish I had known about it.”
Do not get me wrong, it is undoubtedly the right thing to do. My husband and I have done it for many years and have surfaced back into single-couple-life saner and wiser, or so we like to think. Yet the important question still is: Why would anyone homeschool?
I do not mean to evade the educational -explanation—tomes have been written about the dismal state of public education and the emptiness of secularism, and it is a fact that there are young couples who sit down and think all this out and decide there and then to homeschool their future offspring. I find this totally amazing. These are sensible people. But sense is not what I am talking about.
Nor is it the gut reaction of parents in distress: “My son was badly beaten up and the principal refused to do anything about it”—“I went past the schoolyard one day and was so shocked by the language of the third graders, no adult paying attention, and this was a Christian school!”—“They wanted to put him on pills and said he was dyslexic.”
No, I am talking about average couples, who have thought out life properly at the appropriate time and are following the right path up the hill of success, you know: Career (child) Career. We were such a couple, my husband and I. We were both building up important careers, and, being a respectable Ms. Something-or-other, I pitied my own mother, who was so foolish as to give up hers for the family. Modern woman without a career, ridiculous!
An Easy Bombshell
“ A child easily fits in,” a friend of mine said. “As an infant you just pop him into a basket on your work-table and go on with your work. They sleep practically all the time. Then comes daycare, then school. . . . It is so easy these days.”
I believed her—and the bombshell that exploded in our midst 22 years ago (disguised as a perfect beautiful little baby) is still reverberating. “He won’t stay in the basket and only sleeps when I carry him,” I complained to his father. We rearranged our days and I worked less.
Then came the time for daycare. I spent a pleasant day with my son at a delightful center with lovely kids and caring women. In the evening my precocious -offspring informed me that under no circumstances would he go back there. “But why not?” I was dumbfounded. “They will tie me up,” he announced. What was he talking about, the stubborn little imp! My world started to crumble.
When my husband came home, he found me in shock. “He is not going to daycare,” I whispered. My husband sat heavily down beside me: “What do you mean he’s not going?” The next day we saw the neighbors’ little girl being carried, weeping and fighting, to the daycare center. For well over a month my son quietly watched this spectacle every morning. We rearranged our days and I worked less again.
Then came kindergarten—or to be precise, it didn’t because of a teachers’ strike—then school. My son loved school, especially his teacher, a very decorative, vivacious young woman, who adored my son, as, he happily told and retold us, she assured him daily. When, however, after following up on her invitation to call in the summer holidays, he understood from her contemptuous rebuff that she wanted nothing less than to clap eyes on him outside class time, his ardor abated.
And then occurred the momentous grade four teachers-parents meeting. “Your son is withdrawn and dreamy. Nothing interests him. What does he like at home?” We were stunned. Could this be about our loquacious child, ravenous for any kind of story or word-game? “He loves stories, like Treasure Island.” One teacher turned to the other: “What’s that?” “Archaic language, last century,” was the reply—and this galvanized my husband, who is a literary gentleman, to take a deeper look into the educational system, with the result that, after some wrangling with the school, we received a letter demanding from us either to conform or to homeschool.
“What’s homeschooling?” we wondered, and pulled our wildly ecstatic son out of school the very next day. And that, you see, was when I stopped working altogether.
An Outside Guide
My life turned upside down and control slipped from me to an outside Operator, at first perceived as an absurd, adventitious jokester; but every seemingly chaotic and certainly exhausting day I learned more about him, until the day came when I understood that he had been the Guide all along and I the jokester!
I homeschooled our by then two boys for twelve years, from the elementary beginning to the end of high school, my husband helping out not only with lessons, but also with guidance, encouragement, and an ear to whine into. It was not an easy thing to do, considering the development of boys (I’m afraid I have no experience with girls, although I hear they are all rosy and sweet) from eager little darlings, who can’t sit still for five minutes, to bored, cocky hobbledehoys, who can’t stay awake for five minutes; and without grace and strength from the Lord it is simply not possible.
And this brings us to the answer to my question: Why would anyone homeschool? Because you are chosen to do it. When you hear a small voice whispering: “Your children would be much better off at home,” don’t put up a fight, don’t argue, don’t mourn your lost life, snap into action and figure out how to actually do it.
Homeschooling, you know, is not a pursuit, but a vocation, and it is worth every single grey hair. Another career woman pointed this out to me. “You homeschool?” she asked, somewhat taken aback, and looked at my teenagers, who were in the parish hall helping with older parishioners, talking, laughing, well dressed, friendly, polite. With great sadness in her voice she finally said: “I wish I had homeschooled mine. It must be so beautiful to have a relationship with one’s children. You are so lucky.” I did not know what to say, though “blessed” is the word I would use now.
Annegret Hunter recovered after homeschooling two boys and was pleased to discover she was still a Christian, a wife, and a bookbinder. Her husband Graeme is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
“My Homework Assignment” first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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