Ode to Hippies and Organic Gardeners
By Judith Jolma
Vicki didn’t know what to do. Frustration consumed her as her children climbed into the school bus every day. Children go to school. All children go to school. But why did it feel so wrong? Vicki had great clarity about her objective as a mother. She knew her mission was to teach them to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and soul. But the school systematically undermined her faith creating a competition about which authority the children would respect.
Vicki’s oldest daughter Sharon, plagued by bullies and peer pressure, was entering 5th grade. Class assignments consistently questioned or outright mocked the family's core values, and the school regularly overstepped its authority.
Her son Daniel, who was entering the 3rd grade, had a talent for choosing mischievous playmates. He was becoming a bully and refused to apply himself to homework.
Life was a battle.
The final straw came when her 5-year-old, who had just entered kindergarten, fell into depression and stopped eating. This shy, introverted baby, still sucking her thumb and very much attached to her mother’s apron strings, sat on the school bus each morning watching her mommy wave goodbye. Hot tears pooled in her eyes as her home disappeared behind the corner and everything that seemed safe was out of sight. It was 1983. I was that 5-year-old.
I remember overhearing my mother talking to friends as she wrestled through her frustration. There was an angst in her conscience she couldn’t reconcile. Children must go to school; parents must protect their children. What if the school is causing my children harm? At last she found clarity about her most vital role as the protector of the little souls in her care:
"If my children never learn to read but love the Lord, I have been a successful mother," Vicki said. "If they have successful careers and are wealthy but leave their faith, I have failed."
That was the desire of her heart. Vicki’s delight in the Lord allowed her to have a powerful perspective on this situation and put first things first.
Although she could not articulate it then, she knew that education is about human formation. Academics is a part of that, but not the whole and not the first part. She knew education is more than reading and math facts. Those responsible for forming children must jealously guard their sense of wonder, joy of learning, and confidence. Children must learn emotional control and social graces. Most of all, they must establish deep roots in their faith. These are the ingredients that allow children to mature into successful and happy adults.
The local public school had become toxic causing damage to the children’s healthy internal development. Vicki simply could not continue to send her children to the local public school, but private school was not in the budget.
When a friend suggested homeschooling, Vicki laughed.
“That is for hippies and organic gardeners,” she said. Besides, she felt entirely unqualified to homeschool.
Vicki had a parochial education in the 1950s and learned from the ugly behavior of the nuns at the time to hate school. She did not have a college education and never wanted to open another text book in her life. Converting to an evangelical faith as a teen, she retained her great love for the Good Shepherd and wanted to pass that love on to her children.
She had a clear grasp of her duty as a parent -- to lead her children to Heaven. She knew that all other options available to her stood as obstacles to that duty and so she had to choose the only option left -- no matter how difficult or how much she didn’t want to — she chose to homeschool.
She had everything against her. Little education, dislike for academics and teaching, few resources. Remember, it was 1983, homeschool co-ops didn’t exist. The whole business was quasi illegal. Since so few people homeschooled, there were no laws about it -- only truancy laws. There were a few groups of homeschoolers but they were often cults. My paternal grandfather had been a math professor at Maryland University and had authored several textbooks. He (and everyone else on that side of the family) thought Vicki was crazy -- foolish — to consider homeschooling.
We were a one-car family and my dad took the car to work, so we could not even go to the library. To make matters worse, my father had recently filed bankruptcy leaving us financially strapped.
Despite how profoundly unqualified Vicki felt, she was better qualified than any teacher ever could be. No teacher, coach, priest or mentor will ever know, love or want what is best for a child more than the parent.
St. Pope John Paul, II expressed it so well when he said, “Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children….and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area…They are educators because they are parents.”
So my mother stepped out in faith — not because she believed in homeschooling but because she wanted to give her children the very best thing — their faith. She trusted the Lord with all her being. Obediently, she applied herself to the task.
She made a LOT of mistakes.
On our first day of homeschooling, a fever swept through the family. I’ll never forget that our first school lesson was how to shuffle a deck of playing cards. In that first year, Vicki’s mother passed away and my mother was devastated.
Most of the time my mother believed that despite her best efforts, her children truly would never learn to read or write. But whatever the case, they would love the Lord. And for the academics, the Lord kept his promise.
So what happened to those poor, under-educated, socially deprived children?
We are all educated with productive and happy lives, and we all love the Lord as our mother taught us. After we began homeschooling, more children were added to the family -- seven in total. No one ever entered a school environment after that.
In fact, we all valued our upbringing so much that all of my mother’s grandchildren are homeschooled. My sister Sharon, that once 5th-grade little girl harassed by bullies and teachers, has a law degree, is an author, and a law professor.
My brother, Daniel, is a successful business owner in the tech industry. I am a journalist, and entrepreneur. My baby sisters are freakishly successful as musicians. One speaks five languages and travels several times a year to the Middle East and is studying medicine.
But you see, this academic success was not the goal of our education -- it was the byproduct of putting the first things first.
Parents are the primary educators of their children — while free to hire out, so to speak, by sending children to school, faith must be the starting point of education or their capacity to become happy adults will suffer.
When considering your child’s school, start with their faith. What is the best environment that will nurture these children’s true design and purpose, which is to love the Lord with all their heart, mind and soul? Any education which is antagonistic or even neutral to this end should not be considered a good education or a safe environment.
Besides, what is so bad about hippies and organic gardeners anyhow?
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