Because of her 20 plus years of home education experience, strong involvement in the local homeschool network, and intimate acquaintance with the Ohio home education laws, Glenna Amiralian is viewed by many in the local homeschool community as a matriarch and wealth of home ed. information.
With her last child having just recently graduated from high school, I thought it would be good to hear some of her reflections on her tenure in home education.
Why did you initially get into home schooling?
Our motives for beginning were both for academics and values. As for academics: Year after year, my expressed concerns were ignored or downplayed by school personnel. In particular, I wanted to know when my daughter would learn to "sound out" words, and I wanted her penmanship to improve. The school seemed to pride itself on its "whole language" approach to reading (i.e., word guessing). But that meant systematic phonics instruction, which helps both reading and spelling, was never going to happen.
The last straw came when I argued that penmanship was an important life skill because one must have legible penmanship even to fill out a McDonald's application. One school official actually said this to me, "The application can be scanned onto a computer and filled out electronically." These, of course, were the days before most job applications were done online and almost nobody had a scanner. I brought my daughter home the next month, in the middle of her fourth-grade year, and we began concentrating on phonics and penmanship.
As for values: When my kids were in school I felt they were constantly being pulled away from me. Things I tried to enforce at home were being un-done during the long separations at school. I found myself spending great amounts of time and energy at home trying to "un-do" things that had happened at school.
For instance, one project in the early grades included an entire booklet about "families." The children were to write or draw things about their own individual families, but also included in the booklet were some "general" items about families. I was shocked and offended to see that the "general" poem about fathers said this: "My father doesn't live with me, He moved away when I was three, He's got another family. I miss him." I thought, how dare they undermine my child's security!
On a different occasion my daughter came home sobbing, asking "Mommy, what is going to happen to us when you and Daddy get a divorce?" I was offended that she heard something at school to make her believe divorce is normal. This is not the value I wanted my children absorbing into their lives.
Over the years I have realized that family integrity and security really are much more important than academics.
What were some of the joys?
One of my joys, and it's somewhat humorous, was when my two younger children went to a week-long overnight camp with a church group. They were about 10 and 12 years old, I think, and the only home-educated children in the group. The humorous part is that my two were the only children not crying for home during that week! It made me wonder why people always seem to ask the home-educating families, "What about socialization?"
A really big joy to my heart is that my kids have developed a desire to learn. If they have interest or curiosity, they look things up. At age 10 my son wanted to learn to program computers. He checked out stacks of books from the library on different computer languages, and practiced on our old Gateway. Certainly he did high-school-level work, so I granted him high-school credit!
Contrast this attitude with the public-school kids who were in my Youth Sunday School class. One of them once began a sentence with, "I wonder..." When I responded, "What a great idea! Why don't you look that up and tell us about it next week," the curiosity was suddenly and completely gone; that was very sad to me.
What has been the big payoff in your eyes?
For our family, a big payoff has been the flexibility of our schedule. Education happens, whether books are opened or not. We fit our book-work around our life schedule, instead of working our life activities around a school schedule. One year we suspended book-work while we took a family trip to Brazil for a month over Christmas. Another year we were consumed with emotions and turmoil over a family illness and death from September through December. We didn't begin any book-work until January, but nobody was worse off for it.
Home educators have frequently experienced antagonism from those outside the homeschool community, particularly in the early days of the homeschool movement. Have you experienced any of this?
In our area, the community's entire identity is tied to the school system. So, if you're not in the school system, you're often not considered part of the community (there are exceptions). However, sometimes you'll sense a "what's wrong with you" attitude from some people. When I withdrew my eldest from school, a mother told her daughter, "there must be something wrong with your friend," when she explained why my kid was now being home-schooled. We must constantly be polite and be willing to educate those around us about how home education works for us and why it is our choice.
Anyone will tell you that, while the rewards of home education are virtually infinite in measure, it isn't by any means easy. What were some of the trials you faced?
Something I would consider a "trial" over the years has less to do with the actual education of my children and more to do with my own bewilderment at other parents who don't know Ohio's home education regulations. If we want to obey the law and not have our kids be considered truant, we must know what these laws say! Yet year after year I meet home-educating parents who seem surprised when I mention some aspect of the law, as if it were the first time they ever heard it. As responsible parents, citizens, and home educators, we need to read, know, and understand the 3301-34 laws.
Why is it important to know these laws?
[One reason is] so that school officials can't intimidate or demand what is not required. The concept of minimal compliance is critical too. If school officials become accustomed to receiving everything they ask for, simply because they asked, we set a bad precedent and open the possibility for future trouble. The biggest reason school officials ask for things not required by law is because they themselves do not know Ohio's home education laws. So, do not ask school personnel for information regarding home education!
Since most [public school officials] have never read the regulations they will only tell you what they "think" you should do, not what the law requires. Sometimes they give incorrect information, which leaves you as the person out of compliance with the law and open for trouble. Sometimes it seems they purposely want to make home education sound complicated and difficult because they want you to give up and put your kid in their system.
What in your eyes is the bottom line when it comes to educating one's children?
We each must do the right thing for our own kids. We can't assume anyone else will do so. The Bible constantly admonishes fathers to teach their children, and you, not others, are ultimately responsible for the education of your child. God directs each family in different ways at different times. I cannot judge any other family or tell them what to do. I can only walk in the path where I believe God is leading me at this time. I must do the right thing for my family and for my kids, no matter what others might think.
In the same way, it would not be right for me to twist anyone's arm toward home education. I'm not sure we should necessarily "grow our numbers" as much as we should ensure that people can find us when they need to. When parents are dissatisfied with their options for whatever reason, and are willing to take on full responsibility for the education of their children, they need to be able to find a real flesh-and-blood person to help them get started or to point them in the right direction.
All of us should understand Ohio's home education laws and understand the difference between the 3301-34 rules and the electronic community schools so that when we are asked we can give correct information. When parents have adequate accurate information, they can make informed, proper decisions for their kids and for their families.