Ask the Grad
by Elysse Barrett
I grew up as the oldest of seven children, home educated since I was born. My parents were both trained professionals with college degrees. My mother was trained to be a public school teacher, and had taught in both public and private schools. My father has always had a passion for marriage and families and was a counselor in private practice and schools. It was a combination of both of their work that pointed them in the direction of homeschooling and they knew when they had their first child, they would not be educating me in the conventional way. As a matter of fact, my Dad began one of the first “umbrella schools” in the Homeschool movement, and the first in our state, allowing parents who chose to educate their children at home protection from local school boards and truancy officers. I was a naturally curious child, and with parents like that I learned to read at age three and never looked back. We intentionally lived a very family-centric lifestyle that included family businesses. Looking back I realize how unique our lifestyle is (and was), but at the time I thought every kid grew up like this, and honestly, I wish every kid in the world could.
My homeschool experience is unique because my parents took a very structured and intentional approach to our education. We had desks, lesson plans, and extremely high academic requirements. Also, as children, we were very aware that the reason we were being educated non-traditionally wasn’t so much that the traditional approach was bad, but that the approach we were taking was to honor God and make him Sovereign in every area of our lives. Everything – whether it was Science, Language, or Literature – began and ended with God. As a kid that gives you a very special and hopeful existence – to know you were made for a purpose!
As an oldest, I was blessed to be an active part of my younger siblings’ lives and to “learn as I taught”, so to speak. This certainly provided me with a lot of skills and preparation that I’ve used in the recent years – learning to work with people, appreciate their different learning styles and personalities, and teamwork. Upon graduation at age 18, I was planning to go to college and get a degree of some sort, but doors opened for me to serve in some ministry capacities, and since that’s my passion I walked through them and put higher education plans on hold. The last seven years, I have worked on 4 political campaigns, co-authored 3 books including Fathers and Daughters: Raising Polished Cornerstones (which I wrote with my father), coordinated events all across the US, and helped start and direct one of the nation’s first life-affirming medical clinics (crisis pregnancy center). My education has served me well – even beyond what I’ve mentioned – in two specific ways. First, it has given me a love for learning and tools to learn that are invaluable when working. If you are a learner, you are a step ahead of anyone else. Secondly, I was given an outside-the-box mentality, so if something needs to be done, I figure out a way to do it. I was never told “that’s impossible”; in fact, to the opposite I saw my parents do what others considered impossible on a daily basis. And that’s not something you can learn from books.
Likes and Dislikes
I’ve often been asked what I wish was different about my education, and I honestly have rarely been able to think of anything. If anything, I guess I wish I would have pushed myself harder and farther and learned some more languages. Being a social person, I know there were days that I wished I had more friends “my own age”, or that I could see my friends on a daily basis. But, I think every kid experiences feelings like that. I’m not sure that’s unique to my situation. And, I am very thankful that due to homeschooling instead of just having friends “my own age” I have friends of all ages – there wasn’t such a thing as a “generation gap” for us. There are also a few other things that stand out in my mind for which I am very thankful. One is learning 5 years of Latin; it improved my spelling, English grammar, and vocabulary and comprehension. Another is that we each had to give public presentations on a regular basis, and even when just at home we had to stand when we were doing our reading lesson. I also loved when my parents read out loud to us. Mom would pick anything from classics to biographies to historical novels and more often than not we’d climb on the couch and just listen to her. Our imaginations would run free as we would line up with the hero of the book to fight the battles of the American Revolution join Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family as they waited out the long winter or celebrated the holidays with a taffy pull. We learned about real life, true courage, and what it meant to live a life of principles and dedication. More than anything, though, the lifestyle of working and living right alongside our parents was probably the best part of my education. Upon graduation, I was given scholarship offers and could have walked into pretty much any college I wanted to. Hopefully when I pursue a college degree I will still be able to!
I’ve never thought twice about homeschooling my own children, and certainly plan to. Right now, I’m single and serving the Lord in the opportunities He has given me, but would love nothing more than to get married and raise a family. Homeschooling is a big job and commitment, but every day as I reap the benefits of my parents pouring their lives in to me, I’d love to give that same legacy to my own kids. As a Christian, I further believe that when I’m a parent it will be my responsibility to give them an education that is not secular and is Christ-centered. And, I want to give my children the same opportunities that I’ve had – and more, if possible. I think it is very important in the culture we live in to raise strong children who know the difference between right and wrong, have tools to succeed and are not afraid to be counter-cultural.
And now for our “Ask the Grad” question, submitted by Kelly.
What would you have liked your parents to have done differently?
Kelly, that’s a great question and one that I think we must always be asking, both as homeschool graduates and as Christians. In the Bible those who compare the practices and traditions they are used to, and the things they’ve been taught against God’s unchanging Word are commended. Further, if we never ask what our parents did – both good and bad – we will never be able to go farther than they did. And, nothing will honor them more than if we stand on their shoulders and take their vision farther than they were able to. Over the years I’ve thought and thought about what I will do differently than my parents. One thing that’s come to mind is something that really they had no control over. Being the pioneers of the homeschooling movement they often had to live very separate from each other, almost underground and disconnected from anyone else doing the same thing. Now, there are innumerable networks we can tap in to, and the larger community created by homeschoolers is something we should not take for granted, no matter what stage of life we are in – whether young single adults who want to embrace the greater vision of a homeschooling lifestyle or we are walking in their footsteps and raising our own kids.
One thing that I saw my parents do that I think far too few parents did with their children is to educate (and live the entire homeschooling lifestyle) out of conviction that it is God’s best for the children He’s entrusted them with, not just a good alternative. I’ve been a student of the Homeschool movement the last 5 years and though I don’t have statistical numbers, I can say with confidence that those in my generation whose families embraced the homeschooling lifestyle out of conviction, not just preference, are much more successful and well-adjusted. They tend to be visionaries who are not afraid to become culture-shapers. That’s something our world needs more of, not less.