Jacques: Confession: I was home-schooled, and it worked

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Growing up, I used to dread going to the grocery store with my mom. That’s because we’d usually go during the day, when it wasn’t so busy. During “school” hours. 

Inevitably, my younger brother and I would get stares and concerned looks from fellow shoppers. I’d feel my mom tense up. 

“Why aren’t you in school?” would usually follow. 

The answer to that is we were home-schooled. 

At the time, in the late 1980s, home schooling was pretty rare in the country, and still illegal in some states. It was a new concept to people, and many didn’t understand why in the world my parents would do such a weird thing. 

Jacques doing homework when she was home-schooled in the late '80s.

I’d get the impression people were surprised my mom and I weren’t wearing bonnets and prairie dresses. But my parents weren’t Amish or hippies. They simply believed this was the best decision for their children, and they couldn’t afford to send us to private school. 

But home schooling does carry a stigma, and it’s one I was sensitive about throughout my childhood. I avoided telling classmates at college I was home-schooled, and even now, I don’t often bring it up, unless it’s with people I trust. 

Although home schooling has grown significantly in popularity since I was a child, only about 3% of the nation’s schoolchildren are home-schooled, roughly 1.7 million kids, according to data compiled by Education Week. 

Things are different now, however. The fight against the coronavirus has effectively turned all 55 million K-12 students into home-schoolers, as schools have closed around the country — many likely won’t reopen at all this year. 

So this seems as good a time as any to share my experience. 

I realize the sudden change for most families, along with the stress of a lurking pandemic, isn’t a good introduction to learning at home. Most parents are also trying to manage working from home. It’s a tough combination. 

But parents should be assured that learning can happen outside the traditional classroom. Hopefully, all Michigan schools will quickly get on board with online learning, and help get their students on some kind of daily schedule. That is important, and I know of many teachers striving to reach their students.  

I was a self-motivator, even as a young child. I had my stack of books — English, math, history, etc. — and I’d make my way through each subject, often with only a few questions for my mom. Those skills I learned early on have helped me throughout my life. 

My brother required more attention, and mom would need to spend more time keeping him on task. (He turned out just fine, if you were wondering. He is now a high school English teacher at a public school in Texas, and he’s beloved by his students.) 

Accountability, such a code word in education, was not absent. We had regular quizzes and tests through our curriculum, and we took the annual standardized test in Oregon — scoring in the top percentiles. 

My mom also made sure we socialized with other kids. We were part of a home-school group in the area, and I had friends. My cousins also home-schooled, and we often got together with them. And we’d take regular field trips to museums in Portland and other points of interest. 

A plus of the flexible home-schooling schedule was that we could take extended camping trips after Labor Day, when the crowds lessened. We hit all of the western national parks at least once. 

By the time I reached middle school, I had some regrets about not having the quintessential school experience: I wanted a locker, more friends, prom, and the competition of a classroom setting. It was hard being different. 

What stands out most to me now, though, is the time I got to spend with my mom. She was a natural teacher, even though she didn’t have official certification. She instilled her love of learning in my brother and me. Mom has a passion for ancient Greece and Rome, and she’d infuse our daily lessons with relevant points of history or Latin roots to words. She also loves art and music. 

“Especially now that I live far away from home, I treasure the concentrated time I spent with my mom when I was home-schooled,” writes Jacques.

My dad, an engineer who ran his own Corvair engine rebuilding business, shared his many interests, too. I know my love of photographs and photography came from him. He had a darkroom in our house and watching his black and white photos come to life was like magic. 

Books were always close at hand. I have many memories of my mom rushing to her encyclopedias (this was before iPhones or the internet) to look up a word or historical event that had come up, even if it was during dinner. Any moment could be a time for learning. 

Parents who are now in a position to oversee their children’s education should use this as an opportunity to share their interests and hobbies with their children.

I realize some people will still smirk when they hear mention of home-schoolers. But perhaps this pandemic will make more people realize that learning can happen anywhere, just as work can. 

Especially now that I live far away from home, I treasure the concentrated time I spent with my mom. I feel lucky that I got to learn from someone who loves me so much. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques