Once upon a Time there lived a little girl who had it all figured out.
She lived in a land where everyone had a spot, from birth to the grave. Without a shadow of a doubt, she knew that she was guaranteed a spot in school – somewhere, university – somewhere, and a job – somewhere, when it would be time for her to get a job. The university and the job may be someplace she may not necessarily choose, but they were there, waiting for her. She also knew that if she had good grades, that university would be paying her a small stipend to study, and that everything was going to work out just fine.
That, dear reader, was my life and my future, except that it did not work out quite the way I thought it would. My country and everything I knew and loved crumbled to dust, sending my family fleeing to the U.S.
I was almost 16, having to adjust to an entirely different way of life and school. Unfortunately what I found was that the school I attended had very little to offer me. I had to repeat classes in math, social studies, and science, reviewing material I studied two to three years earlier because there would not be enough classes for me to take otherwise. When I asked my European History teacher when we would study the War of the Roses or the Battle of Hastings, she had no idea what I was talking about.
I was lucky to find a group of students who were more like me, and several teachers who were willing to work with us instead of holding us back. Some of us went to night school while others doubled up on core subjects so we could graduate sooner and move on to college.
Fast forward quite a few years. I was looking for school options for my own children, and I ended up choosing to keep them home and homeschool. Please don’t get me wrong. There are many excellent public and private schools, and there are many excellent teachers. They all do the best they can, and many kids end up with a great education. I believe that each family should have freedom to do what is best for their own children that would result in the best possible education.
I have great memories of school back home, in the now non-existent country. My math teacher taught math from kindergarten through multi-variable calculus with just a blackboard and a piece of chalk. She did not need an iPad, or even a manual or an answer key. My history, geography, literature, chemistry, and physics teachers were the same. My technical drawing teacher was a perfectionist and did not allow us to submit work with even one eraser mark. We had one biology teacher who tried to just follow the textbook. She did not last long.
I want my children to have the depth and breadth of education that I received back home. Homeschooling gives us great freedom, and we take full advantage of it. When my oldest studied the American Revolution, we read through primary documents – letters, advertisements, newspaper articles, and political cartoons created at the time. Then we worked through a U.S. public school textbook, followed by a current British private school text and a British history book from the turn of the 20th century. Seeing the same events through such different lenses was amazing. It gave me an opportunity to teach not only history but lessons on authority, bias, and credibility – the elusive critical thinking skills.
The choice to homeschool is not a common one for immigrants from the former U.S.S.R. We were taught to trust the state in the matters of education, and it is difficult to break the old mindset and habits. Homeschooling is not legal in Russia, and the only kids studying at home are on homebound service due to disability or illness. A teacher visits them and covers the same material he or she delivers at school. When I talk to my old classmates who are living in Russia, they have some difficulty understanding what I do and how I can teach my children.
Does my life look like a Pinterest board? Not at all. Sure, we have good days when everything just flows, but we also have plenty of days when a 30 minute lesson can drag out for several hours. Homeschooling is not an easy path, and I definitely feel the weight of the responsibility to educate my children. I immerse myself in curriculum, education methods, and study so that I can teach my kids and do it well. We do annual testing to make sure that we cover all required areas, and then we go on our rabbit trails, wherever they may lead us.
This is not the life I expected to have when I was a child, but it suits me very well. This story does have a happy ending after all.