Here is the story of William, a West River Academy senior in Canada. Read his story of going from a difficult school experience to thriving in homeschooling.
The story of how I became a homeschooler/unschooler is, perhaps like many others, rather unique and filled with both joy and sorrow. I began my journey nearly ten years ago, in my hometown of Montréal, when I was eight years old and unlike many of my homeschooling friends, I attended public school until grade 4. Usually when a child is taken out of school in favour of a home education it’s the parents who initiate the change, however, this was not the case for me. In my case I was the one who asked my parents to homeschool me because my experience with the school system was so awful. At my old elementary school the teachers would use fear and shame tactics to keep the children in line, practices that would certainly get them in trouble today if they were found out. If you misbehaved, the teachers would take away your bathroom privileges, if you disobeyed a teacher you would have to walk down the long hallway and announce your misdoing to the other class. Crying was forbidden and your recess for that day could be taken away if you did, imagine telling a six year-old child if they cried they would be punished, or preventing them from going to the washroom. I suppose it was a very old fashioned way of discipline, going back to the days of dunce caps and getting the strap. One instance that stood out for me especially happened in art class, when I was about seven. My friend had found a paperclip on the ground and had artistically bent it out of shape, something a child might do in art class. When the teacher saw him with his bent paperclip she immediately started yelling and forced him to stand in front of the whole class and bend it back into form. As I stood there with my classmates and watched my humiliated companion try, without success, to bend this paperclip into it’s original shape I wondered how such an angry, unartistic, “inside the lines” person found themselves teaching a 3rd grade art class. Both my mother and grandmother were artists, so I grew up in a household where creativity was encouraged, which is why this moment in particular was so strange for me. I could talk for hours about the anguish I endured in school, and how it’s affected me, but I’ll just say that by my last year in public school I was livid with the system and grew a real hatred for learning. It didn’t take a lot of convincing when I asked my parents to homeschool me, as they had shared my pain and frustrations with the school over the years and thought that taking me out of it was the best course of action. And so began my journey.
Because I was coming from such a toxic environment it took some time after I was taken out of school to adjust to a new way of learning, a way of learning that wasn’t centered around fear or humiliation. I believe that every child comes into this world with a natural sense of curiosity and desire to explore the world around them, mine had just been taken away from me. I can’t explain how wonderful it was when I regained this thirst for knowledge which had long been so foreign to me. I don’t know what would have happened if my wonderful parents hadn’t listened and pulled me out of that horrible place. I believe that learning anything should be fun, even if it’s in the smallest way, and my mother helped make that happen. Because my father had to work it was mostly my mother who taught me during my first few years out of school. Deciding to homeschool your child is an enormous leap to take that requires a lot of change in a person’s life; a change many people cannot afford to make. I’m very thankful for both my parent’s devotion to my education. They ensured a graceful and smooth transition to this new way of life and it wasn’t long before it felt completely natural.
The rest of my elementary school years were a breath of fresh air. I found new ways to express my creativity that I had never even fathomed before. I met so many amazing people who I’m proud to call my friends. People who wanted to learn and have fun just like me. For the first time in my life learning didn’t feel like a chore. I finally enjoyed reading books, writing papers and doing projects. My mother also came up with lots of interesting and creative ways to make learning fun. The range of topics covered in my first year alone were far more diverse than anything I covered in school. We talked about everything from the paleozoic era to the historic 2008 U.S. presidential election, which was happening at the time. It was my first time ever discussing contemporary issues, something we would continue to do, and I came out of my first year at home with a far better understanding of the world around me, with both a historic and modern perspective. It was marvelous.
During my second year I started to get involved with my local homeschooling community, a community which I have been an active member of ever since. I think one of the most common misconceptions about homeschoolers is that they spend most of their time alone in their house, when in reality it’s the opposite that’s true. I would say that 90% of the things I do in regard to school takes place outside the home and involve other people. I also think the notion that homeschoolers are anti-social is another misconstrued idea. Some of the most outgoing, energetic and sociable people I’ve ever met have been homeschooled. One very unique thing about the classes put on by homeschooling communities is that the teachers are, more often than not, parents of homeschooled children. Since they don’t make their living off of teaching, many of the parents will work regular jobs just like everybody else which allows them to teach some interesting courses pertaining to the work they do. Alongside basic classes, like math and history, I’ve also learned things like 3D modeling, fencing, acting and animation just to name a few, all from people who have experience in their respective fields. It almost felt like an apprenticeship which is something most kids in elementary school don’t get to experience.
Before I knew it I was already graduating from my homeschool equivalent of elementary school and moving on to “high school”, a change that most elementary school students dread, I, on the other hand was very eager to begin this new chapter of my education. I think the reason that most kids in the system fear high school is because the age gap is so wide, something which I had already been accustomed to. From my first time taking courses with other homeschoolers I noticed the fact that people of all ages were often mixed into the same classroom. People weren’t separated on account of their age but rather their willingness to learn, I’ve seen eleven year-olds do presentations with sixteen year-olds and work together in perfect harmony. Often times I’ve found the younger kids who are placed into more advanced classes will outperform the older ones! This diversity of age in the classroom really makes your colleagues feel like family which creates a very special experience.
During high school I’ve expanded my knowledge of subjects that I had previously covered and also learned countless new things that have all been equally interesting to me. Things such as economics, piano and driving have all been new and welcome additions to my curriculum. I’ll never forget the day when I finally was able to play Fur Elise perfectly or when I passed my driving exam and went home with my license in hand. I almost felt spoiled, never before had I had such a wide variety of classes that I enjoyed taking. It was also during this time that I found a new sense of political intrigue after the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, and so I started attending city council meetings.
My high school years weren’t without their own challenges however. Those are the years where adolescence is at its peak and, as someone who has friends that aren’t homeschooled, I sometimes found myself feeling like I didn’t fit in, especially whenever my friends were having conversations pertaining to school, or going on graduation trips together. I would never be learning the exact same thing as they were and so when I didn’t know about something they were talking about I felt stupid. There was a point during these years where I even contemplated going back to school, as some of my homeschool friends had done, but in the end I decided against it and have absolutely no regrets.
Reflecting back on these past ten years and relishing in all the wonderful memories I have, has reassured me once again that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m extremely fortunate to have had such a unique education which I can look back on with contentment. Now as I’m about to enter this new stage in my life, I can only look forward to the future with great optimism. I hope to one day use my struggle with the school system and interest in civic affairs to hopefully get involved in the process of government, whether the level be big or small, and help prevent others from going through what I did. I’ve seen more and more people choosing to homeschool these days and it’s an incredible honour to serve as an example to them. I can only hope that their journey is as amazing as mine.