One of my favorite quotes comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson: In Self Reliance he states, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” I can remember the inspiration I gleaned from those words as a young college student. As an offbeat, formerly homeschooled person who preferred spending time with her husband and cats to keg parties, I found a lot of comfort in them.
In twenty-first century language, I might restate Emerson’s gist as “Whoever wants to become a full person and live an authentic life must possess the courage to be different.” In no other area of my life does this hold more true than in homeschooling. And yet, it is in this very area that I find summoning the courage to be different and also confident so very difficult.
Homeschooling is radically different from the way the majority of the world lives and pursues educating children. It requires that the homeschooling parent spend a great deal of time alone with her children, parenting, teaching, and constantly making important decisions with minimal or no input from other adults. For these reasons, homeschooling can easily become lonely and stressful.
Sure, I can look to homeschooling friends and blogs for support and inspiration, but we homeschoolers are a mixed bag of free spirits with wildly varying styles, philosophies, and schedules. We’re like scattered islands that all belong to the same country but may have stark differences in culture. We all stand under the “flag” of homeschooling, but that might be where our similarities end. Largely, we’re on our own, trying to figure it out as we go.
When things go well in our homeschool, I’m just fine. “Look how great this homeschooling thing is going!” I say to myself. But the minute we struggle or someone criticizes the way we educate, I get a little philosophically wobbly. “What if the system could do this better? What if I’m not doing enough? All the other homeschoolers are doing it this way, but we’re the only people I know who do x,y,z.”
The public school system’s flaws and failings are no secret, but saying what I don’t like about traditional, institutional education doesn’t take a lot of courage. We all know that finding fault is easy, but finding solutions is damn hard work. We homeschoolers can’t just reject public schools; we have to create a viable alternative that can nourish our children’s minds and hearts in the absence of institutional structure. Moving toward a new vision of education and life is what takes real courage.
Many days I’m just shaking in my boots over this whole homeschooling thing. However, when I come out on the other side of those fears and peel away each insecurity, each nagging worry, I see that conviction is still there. Certainty, no. Conviction, definitely.
My heart and soul want to do this. This is the path that entices, that frightens, that challenges me to question every thing I thought I knew about learning and life. This is the gift I want to give my children–the gift of something unique and uncharted. I want them to view learning as a lifelong process, not as a grade or a standardized test score.
I want them to grow up and think for themselves about what is worthwhile and true in a world fraught with consumerism, competition, and egotism. I want them to have the time and space to learn who they really are before peers and the media can tell them what they should pretend to be. Maybe they will be so accustomed to being themselves that it won’t be so difficult for them to resist laying down their beautifully unique selves at the false alter of “fitting in.”
My children will see me mess up plenty in the coming years as their mother and teacher, but I hope they will also see me trying to bless them with a life outside of the walls of institutional learning and prepackaged lifestyles. I hope they will see me trying to be brave enough to be a nonconformist.