by Elise Seyfried
For someone who loved learning as much as I did, I wasn’t a very happy camper in school. Part of the problem was that we moved around so much; I was ALWAYS the new kid in town, with all the attendant social issues. Part of it surely was my gnat-like attention span, even when I was young. My grades were always good; my spirits, not so much. I remember the all-nighters when I would, start to finish, create my term papers, banging away on the old Royal typewriter.
I would long for the halcyon time ahead when there would be no more chapter tests, no more SATs. As a high school junior, I got my one and only low grade ever, a (gasp!) “D” in an exquisite form of torture known as “Finite Math.” Mrs. Carter may as well have been teaching the class in Swahili for all I comprehended. (Note: I am 57. I have never once needed to use finite math. Whatever it was exactly, I forget).
Amazingly, I graduated from St. Pius High School with honors (a National Merit Finalist, no less). I went to college at Georgia State University as an engaged, then married, woman. The newlywed/commuter student combo didn’t pan out that well for me. I stuck it out for almost three years, then left the hallowed halls of academe to make my fame and fortune (hah!) in the theater.
Umpty-ump years later, I periodically wonder if I should go back and finish my degree. But clearly, if I wanted to that badly, I would have done it by now. My life is fine. (Don’t cry for me, Argentina!) Still, I sometimes think: would I have fared better if I had been home-schooled? It wasn’t an option I was aware of back in the day. Imagine my surprise when the option presented itself to my own children! And several of them said “Yes!”
Now there have been three. Three home-schooled teens out of five total offspring.
Our sons Evan and PJ LOVED traditional school and thrived there. Indeed, had they chosen to home-school, I cannot say if they — or I — would have survived the experience. Both boys were wont to procrastinate about assignments until zero hour (or beyond). When Evan was in fifth grade, he completely blew off a book report, a diorama affair involving shoeboxes, construction paper and glue.
Not only did he not make his diorama, he didn’t even bother to read the book. To teach him a lesson, I marched him into class, empty-handed. His golden-hearted teacher, Mrs. Ulrich: “Now, Evan, you didn’t do the assignment, so I can’t give you an A. But if you get it done sometime, you can certainly get a B+!” Yay! Lesson learned! Don’t bother following directions; you’ll always get a second chance! PJ was not much better, skating by with the bare minimum most of the time. It was tough enough mothering these two without attempting to teach them as well.
Our other children, Sheridan, Rosie and Julie, were different. For a variety of reasons, when they were high school juniors, they flew the Upper Dublin coop. Sheridan had music conservatory on his radar screen; to that end he was spending six hours a day composing and practicing — on top of a regular school schedule. Rosie was in Thailand as a junior, and returned to the States a different person — or at least, not a person thrilled by pep rallies and locker decorating. Julie was restless, dreaming of travel and work and more of an independent life. In each case, we agreed to pull them out of school for home education.
It’s been quite a ride. All three youngsters had a plan, and it really fell to my husband, Steve, and me to get out of their way and let them go for it. Sheridan wrote some terrific papers and aced Algebra II. Rose took Astronomy at community college. Julie used her trips to London, Guatemala and Hawaii as inspiration for essays, photo journal and poetry. I feel silly accepting praise for teaching them; they really taught themselves. In addition, it was a total joy to have them around during the day. Julie and I got some great walks in; Rose and I enjoyed many coffee dates; I loved my sneak peek at Sheridan’s new compositions.
Last year I accompanied my youngest, Julie, for her final portfolio review. Her home-school evaluator looked over all of her senior year’s paperwork and pronounced it complete. After that, it went to the school district for another examination — and then she was a graduate at last. Julie’s “gap” year before college has been everything she dreamed of (including a three-month backpacking trip through Europe), and in two weeks she will be off to New York City to begin a new chapter as a freshman at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights.
However they’ve been schooled, my kids are on their way. Responding to learning in their own styles. One by one on the launch pad, eager to jump into the rest of their lives.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children as well as of her self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” a collection of essays, humorous but with a spiritual focus, based on her life as a mom and church worker. The book can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through www.eliseseyfried.com. (Also from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble bn.com, although they add an extra charge.)