CAITLIN'S HOMESCHOOL STORY
By Joel Turtel
April 25, 2009
Parents, do you have young children or teenagers who can’t read or write, are scared of math, and are falling behind and miserable in public school? Do you want your children to go to college and have a good life, or end up in low-paying dead-end jobs, courtesy of a public-school education? Do you want the best for your children, or is "good enough," good enough for your children?
The following letter to College Admission boards by Caitlin Guthrie Freeman describes her experiences as a homeschooled student. Her letter will give you an idea of what homeschooling (or low-cost Internet private schools) can be like for your children. This is just one homeschooling student’s experience, but it reveals the typical enthusiasm and passion for learning that your child can get from homeschooling:
“I am writing this letter in the hope of answering the two questions that you might have for any homeschooler: Why do I homeschool, and How do I do it?
After graduating from the Antioch School, a private alternative school connected with Antioch College, I decided to spend my seventh grade year at Ridgewood, a private prep school. This was instead of going on to Yellow Springs Junior High like most of my friends. I chose Ridgewood primarily for one reason: the students. They were happy, lively, accepting, and seemed very interested in their work.
Although I received very good grades, and did very well academically at Ridgewood, I found that my learning was very controlled and prescribed. At the Antioch School I had always been encouraged to take charge of my own learning. But at Ridgewood everyone was expected to move along with everyone else, plodding at a universal pace that was too fast for some and infinitely too slow for others. It was expected that we would accommodate our learning for the good of the class; no one was allowed to move out of the mundane rhythm and learn for themselves. Our minds were not our property, they belonged to a communal brain bank and no one could make a withdrawal without their other classmates taking out the exact same amount. For example, although grammar had always been very easy for me, and though I had always received "A"s, I was still often expected to complete four grammar assignments per night along with everyone else in the class, whether or not I needed them. I often found I did not have the time for my own interests or my own learning.
I left Ridgewood for the last time in June of 1993 with a firm idea in my head: I was not going back the next year; I was going to homeschool. My parents and I had discussed this at length during the second half of my seventh grade year. There was so much I wanted to do, so many things I wanted to accomplish that I knew would not be possible if I remained at Ridgewood. So, that last day, after saying farewell to my friends and telling them I would not be returning the next year, I finally started to live my life.
That first year of homeschool was filled with such an incredible sense of elation. I had the sense of limitless time, and the feeling I could learn everything and accomplish anything. Each day I had hundreds of little grab bags set before me, each filled with something new to experience, new to learn. I was free and encouraged to plunge my eager hands into as many of these grab bags of knowledge as I could. I became enamored of archaeology and paleontology, and poured at length over my many references and fact finders.
I read Isaac Asimov’s The Realm of Algebra as part of my math course. I discovered a love of Shakespeare and that I had a knack for learning and comprehending his rich language after being cast in Twelfth Night. I worked on a public access television show and got to conduct a special television interview with children’s author, Virginia Hamilton. I began singing with the Dayton Choral Academy. I also discovered opera that year, and found that I could not get enough of Le Nozze di Figaro, Faust, and Die Zauberflote. I became a member of the Yellow Springs High School Drama Club, and acted in my first pre-professional musical, Jesus Christ, Superstar, under the superb direction of Marcia C. Nowik. It was an amazing year, filled with freedom, learning, field trips, theatre performances, and all sorts of other experiences.
Today, as I look back on that first homeschool year, I realize that, although I have matured and changed, my love and drive for acquiring knowledge is still as strong — I am still as elated by the process of learning as I was in eighth grade. I am still just as busy; my days are still as packed with activity as when I was fourteen.
This I hope, gives a sense of why I home school. Now let me explain how I do it. In between the intense bursts of driven energy that make up all my classes, I relax, or read, or work with my friends. Some are homeschoolers, some are not, some live in Yellow Springs, and some live hundreds or even thousands of miles away and keep in touch with me over the Internet. My life is far from being socially empty as some believe homeschoolers’ lives must be. I converse on-line each day with people I met while at Interlochen Arts Camp, and consider them to be some of my best friends. Really good friends are hard to come by, and it really doesn’t matter whether they are across the country or right next door.
My homeschooling friends have taught me that there are about as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. I have one friend whose work is completely unstructured. She learns by employing only hands on techniques (creating a budget or measuring ingredients to bake a cake is her math program; her English and grammar come from reading and writing). There are many homeschoolers who employ this unschooling approach to learning, and for many it is very successful.
I have another friend, however, whose entire life is structure. She works completely out of text books and school curricula, reading only to write book reports, studying and learning only for the next homework assignment. She studied at home with an extremely accelerated curriculum for two years, and then graduated to go to college at the age of fifteen.
Although I chose to homeschool to free my schedule, to open up new possibilities for learning, and to allow myself more time to accomplish my own work, being busy creates its own schedule. I have to have a definite routine to accomplish what I want to. It is a routine I set for myself — or that is often set for me by my many outside classes: French, Italian, voice lessons, Shakespeare, Theatre, and Horseback.
If I do have a free space that has not been scheduled with a class or my homework, I always seem to find something to fill it. I keep to a regular practice schedule for voice, and always do math and French each weekday morning. I read, write, do science or history, and often do more French in the afternoon. In addition, I have my lessons.
It is a bit of a paradox. I both have what seems like unlimited time to complete projects, and extreme time constraints brought on by my homework, lessons, and classes. However, I do have a flexibility which allows me to prioritize and alter my schedule when some opportunity comes up. This January, for instance, I may be traveling to New York City to attend the 10th Anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. But there is always daily practice and the responsibilities of classes, homework, rehearsals and performances. I am always busy.
Many of my classes are basically self taught in that I am both the teacher and the student, although they are supported by my parents or by weekly lessons with a teacher or tutor. But I have to find a way to use and build on what we’ve done together between my lessons.
An example of how I organize my homeschool is the way in which my writing course is done. My parents assign me essay topics or research projects, and help provide some of the information or books I might need to get started. I am currently researching the English translations of Le Fantome de l’Opera (The Phantom of the Opera) by Gaston Leroux. Over eighty pages were omitted in the Alexander Teixeiros de Mattos translation, and I am trying to find out why. In addition, in the different translations that I have read, each translator seems to have a different style and a different understanding of the French language which colors the way the story is perceived by the reader.
I am also working on translating part of the original text into English. I would like to be able to find the time to translate the entire book and create my own definitive translation of Le Fantome. This is something that I am really looking forward to.
I believe choosing to homeschool has been one of the most positive decisions I have made in my life. It has given me freedom of time and choice, the freedom with which to explore my interests, to follow tangents and delve into a subject. Because of homeschooling I have been able to focus on the theatre and music and language in a way that is denied to most people my age. I have learned early to appreciate the wisdom of Shakespeare, the beauty of opera, and the heart and soul of theatre. I know I would not have been able to do this without the vehicle of homeschool supporting and carrying me along the way.”
Caitlin’s letter should give you some idea of the options and flexibility you have in designing a homeschooling program for your kids, as well as how exiting, rewarding, and effective homeschooling can be for your children. Every child’s interests will be different, but that is the beauty of homeschooling. After learning to read and write, each child can study whatever subjects excite them. Learning by homeschooling can become a joyful and rewarding experience, instead of 12 years of mindless drudgery in public schools.
Also, low-cost Internet private schools can give your kids the same, great homeschooling education, yet do 90 percent of the homeschooling work for you. These quality, accredited, internet private schools are therefore great for working parents who have less free time for homeschooling than a stay-at-home parent. Best of all, many of these internet private schools cost less than $1000 a year tuition (that's only about $85 a month, or $22 a week!).
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Many of the homeschooling, general information, and parent-organization websites listed in the Resource section of my book, “Public Schools, Public Menace,” can also give you an idea of what homeschooling can be like. These websites have many true stories by parents who describe their homeschooling experiences, and offer homeschooling tips. Also, two wonderful books I can recommend will also give you an idea of what homeschooling can be like for you and your children. They are: Homeschooling For Excellence, by David and Micki Colfax (Warner Books), and The Unschooling Handbook, by Mary Griffith (Prima Publishing).
© 2009 Joel Turtel - All Rights Reserved