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Homeschooling an Olympian

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The Winter Olympics are over now, and I have to confess my family didn't watch them. Except for the Red Sox, sports isn't our thing. It is the thing for 23-year-old Jamie Anderson, the first woman to win a gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding.

I don't even know what that is. But I was beyond delighted when I read this article about Jamie and her mom, Lauren Anderson. The first thing that caught my eye when it showed up in my Facebook feed was the headline, which said in part, "I didn't push my kids 'to read and write'."

So I clicked on the link, and learned that Jamie and her siblings were all homeschooled. Not that homeschooling an Olympic athlete is weird, right? Aren't they groomed from toddlerhood, spending all their days in intensive training, pushed by ambitious parents and high level coaches?

Some, maybe, but Jamie didn't even start snowboarding until she was nine, and it was all her idea. The whole scenario of a confident, happy child latching onto a passion seemingly out of the blue is familiar to me. My son, for instance, became obsessed with mustelidae as a child. I had no idea what a mustelid was until then (animals in the weasel family, by the way), and still have no idea what turned him on to the creatures, but he pursued his interest in them with zeal. Then there is my daughter, who at the age of 11 embarked on a serious study of jazz after hearing an Ella Fitzgerald record for the first time. I have another child who made it her business to know Shakespearean texts inside out. She mounts productions of the Bard's plays that have been well received in the community.

Like Jamie Anderson's pursuit of snowboarding, none of these activities were initiated by the homeschooling teacher (that would be me). I would say that Jamie's mom and I share a similar philosophy about kids, and a similar approach to homeschooling. When she says of her kids, "I wanted them to be like children, playing outside, running and jumping and not sitting inside at a desk," I nod my head in enthusiastic agreement. I also applaud her clarity of vision, and her courage, because I think it takes guts for a homeschooling parent to say that the three R's weren't top priority.

We live in a competitive culture, and a judgmental one when it comes to parenting and kids. Parents want their kids to excel, to get into good colleges, to "succeed" in the world. The pressure is so great that sometimes it's easy to forget what's more important than academics and prizes. Yes, Jamie Anderson won a gold medal, but I'm willing to bet that isn't what feeds her soul.

Who knows where life will take her next, but she knows from experience that if she's interested in something, she can make it happen. That's worth more than book learning, any day.

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