This is a nice read from the ’80s that I stumbled on at our library. It was written when homeschooling was just becoming legal in New Hampshire through a complicated approval process. When it was published, my mom was in Michigan where homeschooling was not yet legal, and she was just beginning to homeschool my older brother. One did not call the local school board and alert them of your plan to keep your kids home, fill out the paperwork, and present your case–as Nancy Wallace, our narrator, did. In Michigan, and many other states at the time, one simply stayed off the grid entirely.
The story follows a very relatable progression: parent proud of their kid’s curiosity and abilities, kid begins school, kid becomes anxious/withdrawn, teacher is too overwhelmed to respond, parent is confused but angry, end school.
Nancy documents her concerns as she eases through the process of deciding to school at home, the mental devil’s advocacy that she plays, the dithering, back and forth-ing. It’s always nice to have a narrator like Nancy who likes research, because they dart around in front of you, the reader, looking things up and solving problems. She relays the small troubles and hurdles of shared life. There’s a bit where she shares from her son’s journal about what he thought he was learning; a refreshing reminder of the small parts of a day that stick out as big in kids’ minds. She shares methods that failed for them, or worked well, and then were dropped anyway, replaced by straightforward ones.One of my favorite parts was towards the end, when they decided to move from rural New Hampshire to a busy university town in New York. She had many expectations of how it might change things for her children–more friends, more activities, different interests. A few of her expectations came to pass, many of them did not. Her children turned out to have the same social interests, no matter if they were in a neighborhood of twelve children, or two.
I always read these things with an eye to spot the mom’s own survival secret. In Nancy’s case, every day she’s able to hand both children off to her freelancing husband at 3pm–at which point she spends a solid three hours to herself, prepping dinner at the end of that time. She luxuriates in this fact, though she doesn’t state outright that it is what is keeping her alive. She has two other influencing factors that help her enjoy homeschooling: she’s intrigued by everything her children study, that is, she wants to learn nearly everything alongside them. And she views her time with her children as a precious, ever-shrinking resource as they age.
Better Than School is a soft, memoir-styled read that anyone toying with educating outside the system would enjoy. It’s available used on Amazon for the price of one dollar!