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How Home Schooling Prepared Me for College

  • Suzanna Edson Home-School Graduate, College Student, and Intern
  • 2002 29 May
How Home Schooling Prepared Me for College

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," reads my mom as I sit at our dining room table gingerly biting into a piece of steaming cinnamon toast. "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." I laugh as she enthusiastically reads Marc Antony's lines in Julius Caesar using a deep, mock-baritone voice, gesturing dramatically like a great orator. "The evil that men do lives after them / The good is oft interred with their bones." Later that morning, my mother explains the meaning of "interred" and the significance of Caesar’s actions as we prepare dissecting equipment for our biology lesson in the kitchen. As we talk about Shakespeare’s vocabulary, I can’t help grimacing at the interesting contrast between the dead frogs reclining on our kitchen counter and the sandwiches that we have made for lunch.

On another day, during another Shakespeare lesson, we might veer into studying Roman history and the twelve caesars. Or we might take a study break to fold laundry, and while folding the sheets, ponder Roman apparel and experiment with the art of toga wrapping. However our learning experience evolved that day, it was a typical day of home schooling for me and my family. Home schooling, the form of education for at least 1.5 million children in the United States, was the option that my parents chose for the twelve years of my compulsory education.

As a senior in college reflecting on my incredible educational experience, I believe that the marked accomplishments of home-schooled students are directly related to the exciting nature of home schooling. Home schooling offers learning without boundaries. Studies show that home schoolers consistently score higher than their public and private school counterparts on achievement tests and college entrance tests such as the SAT.

While academic success is important to home schoolers, most families emphasize learning, and the natural result of this emphasis is success. My parents wanted me to test well on the SAT and the ACT, but they knew that my academic achievement was better illustrated in my hunger for knowledge and my ability to present a convincing argument in writing. My parents also knew that learning occurs outside the artificial boundaries of a school or home. The flexibility of home schooling allowed me to get involved in my community in a variety of ways, from helping direct a drama to making phone calls and helping out with mailings for a local political campaign to assisting the staff in the cancer unit of a local hospital.

In high school, I volunteered at a hospital to get academic credit and to decide whether or not the field of medicine was in my future. Volunteering in the cancer unit of a local hospital during normal school hours meant that I was usually the youngest staff member. I was able to regularly interact with the nurses, doctors, chaplains, and patients, always curious about a teenager volunteering instead of "going to school." I often paced the long, oval-shaped hall that smelled alternately of sanitary cleaning solution and bland hospital food. As I paced, I looked for someone to help, and my routine, "Can I get you anything?" was answered with requests for diet ginger ale or extra blankets; others wanted to talk about their fears of enduring another bone marrow transplant or their hopes for recovery.

As I sat next to patients and their I.V. pumps, listening to their fearful, joyful, or bitter confessions, I was stunned and humbled by the realization that, in each narrow hospital room, a unique drama of life and death was unfolding. I learned about people, and I also learned about the technical aspects of medicine. I enhanced my microbiology course as I learned about lab techniques in the hospital lab. However, the experience gave me more than just academic exposure. It enabled me to make a decision about pursuing a career. I decided not to attend nursing or medical school, but I did decide to continue my study of human nature.

Although my parents did not earn their degrees in education, they were wonderful teachers who made it possible for me to learn at my own pace. After dinner, my dad and I would clear aside the dinner dishes to study Latin at the dining room table. I showed him the translations that I had done that day. Every lesson was accompanied by Latin phrases to memorize, the first of which was appropriately "Propria domus omnes optima" (One’s own home is the best of all). I was fascinated with the connections between English and Latin and often marveled at my discoveries out loud: "Oh, ‘terra’ means earth! That’s where ‘extra-terrestrial’, ‘terrain’, and ‘terra cotta’ come from!" I now realize that my Latin class was not just a language class. Because we were not bound by time, we frequently set aside "class periods" at the dining room table to discuss the influence of Rome on Western cultures as we sipped after-dinner coffee.

While my parents were loving and conscientious teachers, they also were my guides, encouraging me to feed myself intellectually. My mom's favorite response to any query from British history to Abraham Lincoln was "Look it up." At first, I would whine and stomp my way to the bookshelf. As my questions were consistently answered in this manner, I automatically visited our encyclopedia shelf, as well as the rest of our massive and eclectic book collection. Through this practice of satiating my curiosity by forcing me to answer my own questions, my parents slowly taught me how to learn. My parents also taught me that asking questions and seeking answers is an important practice that can, and should be, a part of everyday life. As I moved on to college, I took this philosophy of learning with me. Whether I'm curious about the origins of the peach or fascinated with Sophocles’ Theban plays, it's never the wrong time to search the Internet or visit the library and look up fruit and Antigone.

One day, while watching the movie Anastasia, my home-schooled sister was struck by a bolt of curiosity. Her forehead wrinkled in thought as she asked my mom, "Who was Rasputin anyway?" She and my mom pored over encyclopedias, thumbed through history books, and searched the Internet to find the answers to her question. The result of my sister’s question was a thorough, if spontaneous, lesson in Russian politics and history. That is the essence of home schooling.

Suzanna Edson is a senior English major at Columbia College and doing an internship with Suzanna, who is currently her class valedictorian, was home schooled through high school.