If you want to be enthusiastic, hang around enthusiastic, people. And there is scarcely a more enthusiastic group than homeschooling parents. I had a wonderful time this week as a keynote speaker for the 4th annual Torah home education conference. Homeschooling has grown rapidly in the United States, and there are churches I know where a majority of parents educate their children at home. However, it is only in recent years that the number of Jewish homeschooling families has grown significantly. There are reasons why Jews lagged behind in this American trend, including ongoing loyalty and well-deserved respect and affection for the system of religious Jewish private schools which has burgeoned in America since the end of World War II. Nonetheless, each year, more parents are assessing their individual children’s academic, psychological and spiritual needs as well as their family’s overall circumstances and declaring themselves homeschoolers. This year’s conference in Baltimore attracted parents from Denver and British Columbia; from Florida and upstate NY. It was a privilege to be there.
While fathers were well in evidence at the Torah Home Education Conference and homeschooling is almost always a joint decision, the bulk of the job usually falls on mom. Why would a Harvard graduate, a successful corporate lawyer, or an entrepreneur whose business is showing signs of exploding, walk away from the possibilities the world offers them? Why would they make a decision that nothing is more important than nurturing their children? How did we become a generation that can even ask that question?
In my sixteen years as a homeschooling mom, one or two days stand out when I hid from the kids in my closet crying that I just couldn’t do this anymore. I remember many more days when I was filled with gratitude for being present when I saw my child’s face beam as squiggles on a page turned into words or when I was able to facilitate a discussion of a current event or book, raising ethical and moral issues. I loved hearing my children answer that question beloved of pediatricians and random people in check-out lines, “What is your favorite subject?” with “history,” “chumash (Bible)” or “poetry” instead of “recess.” The fact that they never even considered reading or critical thinking or hashkafa (Jewish worldview) as a school subject was the hot fudge on the sundae. In the dark days of September 11th or when a personal family loss occurred, I appreciated hurting together rather than apart. I cherished hours of reading aloud with children ranging from pre-schoolers to teenagers and giving those young adults hours to explore their own interests and transition safely to adulthood. I love that trips and experiences were shared with siblings and parents rather than only peers.
I miss my homeschooling days though I live it vicariously as one of my daughters continues on the adventure with her children. Thankfully, the overwhelming majority of mothers love their children including those who work out of the home and those who focus on the home; those who work for pay and those who volunteer; those who have one child and those who have many; those who homeschool and those who send their children to schools. Nonetheless, in a country filled with intelligent, creative, powerful women who buck the establishment by declaring that encouraging, mentoring and cultivating one’s own child is a worthwhile career choice, not only the children but the nation should say, “thank-you.”