Up until recently, when I thought of homeschooling, I pictured a fundamentalist Mormon commune in Salt Lake City – homemade dresses with white, lacey bibs sewn into the collar, long braided hair, no contact with the outside world.

Homeschool was weird.

My family worked as teachers and administrators in public schools. We were public school people. We believed in that institution.

Then my beliefs changed.

I began a doctoral program in education that introduced me to extensive research about learning environments – research that didn’t match what was happening in our public schools.

For example, the CDC recommends a minimum of 20 minutes of recess every day for students in grades K-8. However, students in public school aren’t getting even close to that. In fact, parents in Florida had to beg for 15 min of recess for their kids. All the while, districts pushed back wanting to replace playtime with test prep.

In addition, an infinite amount of reading research exists that addresses the implications of pushing students to read too much too soon. Yet education reformers continue to push students to read more at an earlier age, all in the name of higher test scores.

In fact, a study conducted by Turner and Paris found that students who were pushed to read or score well on reading tests actually began to withdraw from reading and books. The study stated:

The motivational outcomes of literacy tasks influence how students interpret their roles in learning to read. Those interpretations can affect their desire to persist and to remain involved in literacy.

A lengthy research study isn’t necessary when common sense tells us the kill and drill factory model, currently mandate by non-educators, doesn’t work. Worse, it’s detrimental to learning. 

I read the studies and understood the problems. But when my little girl turned 5, I enrolled her in public school anyway…because that’s what we do; we put our kids in school where we think they belong.

My daughter, with big brown eyes and the voice of a cartoon elf, builds castles with serving spoons and fuzzy blankets. She flies cardboard boxes over clouds made of couch pillows. She plays in the imaginary lands of the stories she has created.

Public school administrators and policy makers have deemed this type of play an unnecessary, waste of time.

A little over a year ago, I left my job in public education to become an education activist, to change the system I knew was completely broken. Seven months later, without even flinching, I enrolled my kid in kindergarten, knowing full well that play would not be permitted, and she would be pushed toward Common Core.

One Friday morning, unusually quiet, with the yellow school bus approaching the stop, my daughter squeezed my hand and said, “Mom, I don’t want to go to school anymore.”

I cast aside her statement as normal and said, “Everyone feels that way sometimes. But school’s really important.” 

“Yeah,” she said desperately, “but all we do is work, work, work. We don’t get to play. I have to do all these papers and I don’t even know what they want me to do. It makes me so nervous.” 

“Well honey, what would you do if you didn’t go to school?” I asked her.

She just looked at me and said, “You don’t go to school anymore. What do you do?” 

Then she walked up the bus steps, took her seat by the window, and waved to me as the bus pulled away.

I stood there for a while. She was right. I had allowed myself to leave the public school prison and venture out on my own to start a new career, a new path. Yet, I was forcing her to get in the machine day after day, because that’s what we do; we send our kids to school. 

And…because homeschool is weird.

The next morning the big, yellow school bus came and went without my daughter on it.

Instead she and I cooked breakfast together. She sat on the counter in her underwear and cracked the eggs, swimming her legs happily.

As we ate our breakfast, she read me her favorite book, Olivia and the Fairy Princess. Then she said, “Can we go for a bike ride, Mommy?”

I thought why not?

Downstairs she stood next to her bike and snapped on her pink, Mohawk helmet. She hopped on and rode off yelling, “Look, Mom! I can go really fast.”

I thought to myself, we should be doing sight words or maybe some math instead of riding bikes. I felt like we were doing something wrong; I felt weird. We might not have left society for a commune in Utah, but we were certainly in uncharted territory.  And I – the education activist, the doctoral student and most importantly, her mother – questioned my ability to to provide her with what I was leaving behind in public school.  

Then I relaxed and knew we would get to all that. But first, we would play.  

6 Responses

  1. Corey Topf

    Beautiful! Have you read “Free to Learn” by Peter Gray? This book might give you some solace as you homeschool your daughter. And I’m fairly convinced that you won’t think it’s so weird after all. :)

  2. Mom of 2

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful, and factual, post. Thank you for being transparent by sharing your concerns and plans. We’re rooting for both of you as you embark on this incredible journey of homeschooling!

  3. Mark

    I’m a fraternity brother of your husband’s and also a high school math teacher of 17 years. I have been losing my mind for they past 8 years or so, as I see the direction math is going. Now seeing what has been going on with reading it terrifies me.

    My oldest is 1.5 years from kindergarten and I am very concerned about sending him based on what they do now.

    Have we forgotten that these are kids? I mean seriously…kids…little kids and all the school system seems to do now is destroy their natural curiosity, creativity, and simply being a….kid.

    You are a breath of fresh air Kathleen, thank you.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Mark! You should call Jeremy. We’ve made major changes in how our daughter is educated. We’d be happy to chat with you. Our daughter is 5 :)

  4. dawn

    I want to thank you for this message….I read it last month and it stuck with me. My daughter is 9, 4th grade, struggling with dyslexia and processing issues, some school bullying and a teacher who is new and has little classroom management skill so turns to screaming….by the end of most days my child was a raw bundle of nerves and anger. It would take the entire ride home for her to vent her day, then leaving ME a raw bundle of nerves and anger.

    We are now today, March 16th, 2015, homeschoolers! I don’t think I would have had the courage to consider it if it weren’t for you. I heard you speak in Delaware when you came about the Common Core….I have alot of respect for a woman who would leave her career in education due to the ethics behind what you were experiencing every day.

    I also realize not everyone has the luxury to do what we are doing…..I do consider it a luxury today as my child is no longer sad and frustrated to go to school. She still has a tough road ahead of her, she is two grade levels behind in her reading and math, something that MUST be remediated as well as possible, she may never be a fluent speed reader but I must ensure her comfort in reading to find enjoyment in it and get her self-confidence back again.

    Thank you Kathleen for sharing your personal story. It has also changed ours.


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