Home for Christmas

Last week I shared a few thoughts on the vital importance of the books that we select to read aloud to children.  Today I’d like to reflect a little on how being read to was a key way that we got through a difficult transition, and became stronger as a family.  

Regular readers of this blog know that Mom’s recordkeeping from back in our homeschooling days was pretty meticulous.  I don’t think the list above is exhaustive, but it is representative of the kinds of books Mom wanted us to experience in an audio format.  While we were reading a lot on our own, listening to Mom read us stories was different and special – it gave us a shared experience with her and with each other that formed memories and references that we share. 

I got to thinking about all of this because of an entry on the second page for December 1990 – The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.  Just in case you decide to check it out — let me be clear, this book is not Great Literature.  It’s a silly but moving little tale about generosity of spirit and the True Meaning of Christmas.  Yet its warm and genuinely funny observations about how self-righteous we can all be made it an instant classic in the Davis household.

1990 was a memorable year for us.  In November, we moved to central Texas from central Florida, and Mom and Dad were doing their best to help us with the transition by creating “new traditions” for us as a family.  Not being close to grandparents, aunts, and uncles was tough on all of us.  We felt (and were) very far away from home.

Mom read the book in installments, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent.  Dad did the Scripture readings and let us light the candles on the Advent wreath.  (The evangelical churches we attended growing up didn’t emphasize these rituals, so Dad shared the tradition with us at home).

At the risk of sounding a little sacrilegious, Mom’s readings from TBCPE kind of stole the show.  What made it so great was that from the moment she started reading the memorable opening paragraph to the end, she was always (unsuccessfully) trying to suppress laughter:

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.  They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse”

Laughing together as a family is one of the things that made that season so special.  We could have read the book individually and silently on our own, and it would never have stuck in our collective memory the way that it did when Mom read it to us.  

Culture thrives by means of shared rituals — sacred and secular.  Mom and Dad helped all of us put down new roots in a new home by giving us meaningful and memorable stories.  There was a kind of perfect balance of solemnity and mirthfulness that our Advent Sundays embodied.  You know, a little lesson in the Incarnation itself.

As Gladys Herdman reminds us, “Hey!  Unto you a child is born!”

Home Is Where the School Is

“I support educational freedom, but I’m worried about the families that don’t know how to choose what’s best for their kids or who don’t care.”

I’ve heard some version of this many times in conversations about an issue that I care passionately about.

I’ve decided start telling the story of my parents’ decision to homeschool back in the 1980’s.

It’s going to be fun for me to take this stroll down memory lane.  My mom kept meticulous records of my early education, and going back through those scrapbooks has given me a renewed appreciation for wisdom and courage it took for my folks to make what at the time was a radical decision.

Some quick background, first.  My parents were high school sweethearts.  They married after graduation, and I came along about three years later.  Dad attended a technical school and got certificates in HVAC and electrical wiring.  Mom took a course in recordkeeping at the local community college and worked at a photo lab (kids, ask an old person what that is).

There was not a B.A. between them, and their income was very modest.

So, on paper, they were “those” parents that elites worry about making good choices for their children.

Fun with phonics, ca. 1984.  Photo by Keri Davis.

And yet…

Mom and Dad loved to read, and were always learning new things. Dad is an ingenious tinkerer and dreamer, and Mom is unbelievably organized and conscientious.

In the following weeks (and who knows, maybe months) I’ll share some of the artifacts from their early decision-making process, the choices that were available to them, the risks that they weighed, and the political context for homeschooling in Florida in the mid-80’s.

I’m extraordinarily blessed to have parents who made the sacrifice to educate their kids by their own lights and conscience.  Their story deserves to be told, now more than ever.

Homeschool Moms are Visitors from the Future

In honor of my sister’s birthday, I just want to take a moment to celebrate homeschool moms.  Her kids are now the second generation in our family to have received their education at home.  We didn’t realize it while we were busy with phonics and multiplication tables, but Mom was actually a visitor from the future.

The future is customization, personalization, and making choices in conformity with your deepest-held values.  It is quirky, artisanal, and bespoke.  In the future, people can their own vegetables at home.

Oh, wait.  That’s now.

Homeschooling has seen incredible growth over the past decade.   Test-driven education and the democritization of knowledge by technology are fairly obvious drivers of the growth, but I’d say homeschoolers actually lead the ed tech market, not the other way around.

What are the obstacles to growth for homeschooling?   The biggest one has been custody.  If both parents work and have to work, there hasn’t been a good option except for a traditional school setting.

But what if the homeschool mom of the future is actually either a mom or dad who, thanks to technology, can work from home?   It shouldn’t be surprising that homeschooling, or some hybrid version of it, has gained popularity in Silicon Valley.

Homeschooling looks very different today than it did when we were coming up.  But the desire to give your kids an education that gives them the tools to think independently, act creatively, and contribute meaningfully is the same.

So, here’s to the brave visitors from the future who walk among us.  May we be wise enough to follow their their lead.