The fact that we were living in a school bus while homeschooling was a source of amusement for us, as though we stepped onto the bus one day to head off to school and forgot to get off, like, ever. Instead of classrooms, we had the living room, occasionally the kitchen table, or outside when the weather was fine. Instead of classmates, we had our siblings. Instead of old lady teachers, we had Mom and Dad. Lunch would have probably been the same either way.
There were a lot of misconceptions about homeschooling back when we were doing it, probably stemming from the fact that it was relatively rare and that there were multiple ways to do it and each family had their own approach. It would be difficult for an outsider to intuit the details for any given circumstance. Some people used a mail-away curriculum, some “unschooled,” some worked in groups with other families, others taught only from the bible. And us? We were part of the “wing it and see what works” category, which is a real and absolutely legitimate category.
A typical day, if there was such a thing, would have us sitting for a group lesson wherein my mom would read from a thick history book, my head on her knee, my sister leaning on her shoulder, my older brothers sitting nearby, staring out a window, before opening things up for discussion, and then she would assign us our independent work -our math pages, grammar, civics reading, writing assignments- and then we would disperse to do our individual work. We rarely went past one or two in the afternoon. We might be directed to write letters to far flung relatives or to devise an opinion about something we’d read. I was usually pretty into it, the little suck-up that I was. My oldest brother didn’t care for it as much and my parents had to get creative with him, assigning him Haynes car repair manuals to read or anything with a motorcycle on the cover. An early grammar game we played employed a board game my parents made out of poster board and we had to take turns drawing cards and matching root words and suffixes. They bribed us with trail mix. That would never work for me today because somewhere along the line I decided to hate raisins with a burning passion, but when I was five it was a dandy treat.
This might sound idyllic, and it often was, because my mother is the picture of patience and other top-five virtues as well. And then there was my dad. I vividly remember being taught geometry when I was ten, huddled near the potbelly stove in the living room, my head swimming with confusion and a healthy dose of concern, due to the veins in my father’s neck starting to protrude. We were in Pennsylvania, parked near an old mill that looked like a set for a Dickens novel. In my memory, it was dark and storming. “There’s a Snickers bar in it for the first one to get this right,” he said irritably, which was a high-value bribe, but it was of no use to me, and I don’t think any of my siblings earned the prize either. I believe I am correctly recalling that when my dad dropped the chalk back into its place, it left his hand with more than a little velocity. I hope that he was able to keep the candy bar for himself offered him some small consolation.
So, mostly it was my mom, often we worked independently, and sometimes my dad would step in to help with math and grammar. We rarely worked on Fridays, but not for any reason other than my parents felt the school-week was attached to the work-week a little unfairly and really, four days ought to cut it. That was what it was like for us, more or less, for ten years. Lots of work books, lots of discussions, plenty of practice, and of course all the incidental learning that takes place when you live on the road and both your parents are intelligent, attentive people.
The biggest thing we had to get used to was how other people treated us depending on where we lived. When we were in California and Arizona for example, and someone called a truancy officer, a cop would come out to the bus, talk with my parents, talk with us, and report back to whoever he reported back to that we were not a neglected bunch of hooligans. Different story back east. In Maryland it was illegal to homeschool, not sure why, and the officials took it pretty seriously. “Someone called the county,” Mom would say. “Pack your stuff up. We have to move.” And she meant it! We had to move because the checkout lady at the grocery store didn’t believe our excellent cover story of having missed school to go to the dentist. Busybodies. My parents did have to take a teacher test while we were in Arizona. They raced through it, having wagered who could do it faster. Loser had to buy the victor dinner in town. They both aced it. But how cool of the people of Arizona to trust the parents like that.
By the time my youngest siblings were of school age we had settled into a house, my parents worked a lot more, and our education became much less formal. I read a lot. I immersed myself in novels, trolling the aisles of the local library like it was my job. I never did master high school geometry. It wasn’t until college that math really interested me and as it turns out, you can learn stuff in college. Go figure. Chris took up the guitar and music became his passion. None of us turned out particularly strange or socially awkward, though people often expected us to be when they found out we were homeschooled. I have met that sort of homeschool kid, but honestly, they usually grow out of it. No, we didn’t have a prom. We didn’t have tests. And it wasn’t until college that I had that awful dream, the one where you have a final exam but you forgot to go to class all semester. I hate that dream.
I have considered homeschooling my own child. Public school was strange and mysterious to me and at first, I couldn’t fathom sending my precious progeny into the unknown like that, but she digs it and so far it’s been kind of amazing. Her teachers are nice and they care about her well-being and she has plenty of friends. She’ll probably go to a prom and when she has to skip school for a dentist appointment she actually has a dentist appointment, which is good because she’s terrible at lying. I have no regrets regarding how I was schooled, but I don’t have regrets about my child’s education either, at least so far.