Recognizing the home field advantage

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Every now and then a reader approaches me with a column suggestion, and recently one came my way regarding homeschooling.

“People need to know more about its positive aspects,” a willowy grandmother urged me courtside. “Most parents just don’t understand.”

Later that week I attended a graduation ceremony sponsored by Brookhaven Home Educators where nine students were wearing mortar boards, my own son included. That’s the largest group of seniors the Christian support group has graduated since its inception nearly 30 years ago, signaling that this educational option is no longer a cultural oddity, even if my reader/friend is right about the public’s lack of awareness concerning its benefits. In fact, homeschooling has become somewhat mainstream, with roughly three percent of American children being educated by their parents.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Even the commencement speech provided further proof of the shift in attitudes. Local banker and former BHE president Jack Rutland told the audience that when his family first arrived in Brookhaven in the late ‘80s, his daughter was the only homeschooled child they were aware of in the area. “We had to coach her in how to respond to questions about what we were doing,” he shared.

After the ceremony, I asked Rutland what it felt like to address current members of the group he helped found so many years ago. He just shook his head in disbelief at the crowd of 250-plus and answered, “Surreal, very surreal.”

The event’s program highlighted some of the positive aspects of homeschooling my reader/friend probably had in mind when she made her request, things like a senior’s a cappella solo from a Broadway musical and another’s gospel music offering. A prayer from an involved and invested dad. A video showing well-rounded students playing team sports. A piano-vocal number that brought the house down.

So while it’s clear that homeschooling doesn’t need my help to make its case, I would like to point out one advantage that has taken me some 20 years of teaching to really appreciate — and that’s the time I got to spend with my children. National homeschooling expert Michael Ferris summed up the feelings of many homeschooling parents when he wrote this in WORLD Magazine: “While my wife and I have been far from perfect parents, we have been totally spared the guilt that comes from feeling that your child is grown and you barely know them.”

This relational aspect of homeschooling was underscored for me in a big way during a parent/senior brunch right in my own backyard. One of the moms said she had something important to acknowledge, and there beneath the wisteria vines she told about the day she was diagnosed with the stuff those pink ribbons are for.

“The plan was for my mother and sister to be by my side when I got the biopsy report,” Connie shared, “but something happened, and they weren’t.”  Instead, it was her oldest son, Wesley, who heard the call and saw her crumble.

“You grew man-sized shoulders that day,” Connie managed to say, locking eyes with her senior.

She went on to describe the effect of her illness on what should have been Wesley’s final semesters as chemistry got put on the side burner, and another branch of science – chemotherapy — became the focus. That, and coping.

“All our lives changed, but it may have been Wesley’s plans that were most altered,” Connie admitted, referring to his delayed graduation.

Happily, her cancer is now in remission, and his sights are set on a degree in exercise science. And it’s their story (and a hundred like it) that I believe provides the best answer to my reader/friend’s request. That’s because it’s this blended pursuit – the pursuit of both academic excellence and family done right — that represents homeschooling’s loftiest goals, whether those of us in the thick of it reach them or not.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at