Our family has taken the plunge: we’ll be homeschooling for the 2020–21 school year. We have lovingly called it “the Yesawich Academy” (after my husband’s last name), with no motto yet; we have also filed our notice of intent with our county to homeschool.
For years, we had casually entertained the notion of homeschooling our three children, but dreams of creating an idyllic home academy were always all too quickly dashed by what we deemed, until now, the insurmountable realities associated with the endeavor. It seemed entirely too scary to oversee our children’s holistic education.
What curriculum would we use? Would our children receive a proper education? How would we manage the demands of work? Would our kids become weird? The idea of juggling commutes, deadlines, and conference calls—all while trying to corral three kids away from the precipice of truancy charges—seemed all too daunting and, to be honest, like a nightmare.
A traditional heritage, with traditional school
Complicating my reticence was the fact that I was raised in a dual-culture household, with parents who had immigrated as students from South Korea in the ’70s and who placed immeasurable value on traditional, formal education. To the degree they could, my parents wanted to keep their Korean heritage front and center in their household, while at the same time embracing their new, developing American identity.
Food was a great example of this: it was mostly Korean food that was served at home daily throughout my childhood, with a rotation of what was considered “American food” once a week. My mom made three “American” meals: a well-done steak with potatoes and green beans, spaghetti in meat sauce (always Ragu brand), or a chicken-broccoli casserole dish that my mom learned from our neighbor—that last one was always a hit. The rest of the time it was all Korean food: broiled whole fish, dried sea laver, sautéed root vegetables, and, of course, kimchi. My parents were always strict with us in a Confucian sort of way, emphasizing both filial piety and academic excellence in the American public school system.
This duality—holding onto Korean cultural legacies while conforming to American social expectations—crept into my education. I went to a private Christian school for kindergarten and then, like all the other families in my community, public school from 1st through 12th grade. My mom was eager to embrace “American culture” as she remembered it from books read and movies watched while growing up in Korea. She put me in ballet classes, jazz-dance classes, piano lessons, violin lessons, orchestra, tennis practice, and ice-skating lessons. You name it, I tried it. It was expected that I work hard in school and get all As.
I really never had a chance to be a surly teenager because I subscribed to the obedient Korean way—which was quite different from my non-Korean friends, who regularly talked casually to and had an easy relationship with their mothers. The relationship between me and my mom was more formal; I was straddling American culture and Korean culture.
My public school experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, was mostly great! The secondary school I attended was huge, with a graduating class of 864. And there was no shortage of opportunities to do a wide variety of things: I ran cross country one year, played in the school orchestra for six years, took up cheerleading, and muscled through a few years of lacrosse. There was also a rigorous program of schoolwork, and I enjoyed most of it.
I am a product of public school, and it shaped a significant part of me (good and bad) into the person I am today. And for me, it was largely idyllic: I went to the sock hops, homecomings, and field trips. I had the quintessential American experience of public school that my mom read about, and I experienced it through the lens of a Korean-American girl in the ’90s.
Slowly changing expectations
For quite some time, as a mother of three kids—who are now ages 12, 8, and 6—I wanted the same positive public school experience for my kids . . . minus having to balance two cultures. But it slowly became apparent that my children were also straddling two cultures of their own: public school today has a lot of progressive views that our family does not hold, and those views are being thrust upon our children through curriculum and teachers who are vocalizing their own value systems in the school.
Today, it is difficult to find out the complete curriculum that the school district is using. And via the introduction of Chromebooks at lower grades, textbooks, pencils, and paper are becoming things of the past.
We are also finding that public schools are increasingly using left-leaning materials (like the New York Times’s 1619 Project), pushing political agendas we do not subscribe to, and tossing the classics aside. We sent my 12-year-old daughter to one month of public school for 6th grade and, without parental permission, the school librarian showed the kids a video titled Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019. As parents, my husband and I think that we should have a say in the books that our child is encouraged to read—but with no parental consent, the librarian encouraged books that we felt were inappropriate for our daughter. The school carried several copies of all the books suggested in the video and encouraged the class to check them out.
Honestly, we were appalled.
But, despite the reservations we had, we soldiered on. The idea of homeschooling was still an unexecuted “nice idea.” Our youngest two were well adjusted in our local public elementary school down the street, and our oldest (after we pulled her from public school) had fully integrated into a small classical Christian school where she was thriving.
Our educational plan seemed to be taking shape, despite the challenges; but all plans were abruptly dashed, uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quickly changing routine
For us, like the 50 million families in the US with school-aged children, our educational paradigm flipped. The alarm ringing at 6 a.m., the quick breakfast, the bellowing, the scampering to find homework, the rush to stuff lunches and water bottles, the walk to the bus at 7:10 a.m. (go, go, go!), and then poof! Gone until 2:50. Tons of after-school activities and predictable homework burdens gave parents a break . . . but with the onset of the pandemic, all of that was no more.
This pandemic made kids nation-wide resort to remote learning—and it was a mess. Education in all 50 states turned into a poorly planned homeschool Hobson’s choice, executed by a woefully unprepared educational system. There were silent Google classrooms, ungraded assignments, and missed or disorganized Zoom calls. There was too much busywork and way too much screen time, with our students required to watch a video in order to simply answer questions on worksheets . . . and that process repeated itself over and over again. At first, we told ourselves that it was only temporary . . . but the days blended into weeks. We didn’t have the courage to say it out loud then, but this was our new reality.
Being a product of public school, I carried a lot of perceptions of homeschooling that were based on zero facts: perceptions like thinking that homeschool kids are unsocialized and awkward, or that homeschoolers were unable to participate in group sports or have large social events. But in my short exploration of homeschooling, I have found the opposite to be true: homeschoolers are very articulate and endlessly curious about diverse subject matters. The world is the stage of learning. School is no longer a building or a test but a way of living that is motivated by a love of learning.
Our hearts have changed. After 15 weeks of being at home, we settled into our daily routine: no alarms, just a natural wake-up time of around 8 a.m. for the kiddos. We enjoy a lazy breakfast and throw around some light banter, followed up by school around the dining room table with Daddy. We also incorporated reading aloud after lunch, plowing through the first three books of the Chronicles of Narnia series, and we usually ended most evenings with ice cream and a heated version of whiteboard hangman. It certainly wasn’t a vacation (there were two overworked, teleworking parents), but the kids were relaxed; and with nowhere to go, we had our own rhythm of learning.
I still struggle with the quagmire of dealing with a new cultural tension, as we explore homeschooling vs. public school; but I have concluded that these stigmas are just illusions. In 2020, homeschooling is a robust educational choice—and one that happens to fit into the current narrative—as public schools have changed not only how and what they teach but also the way teaching will be administered in this fall: six feet apart, masks on, and mostly online.
Our new normal home
This is our family. And through the pandemic, we got the chance to slow down and really spend time together (all day, all night, and weekends)—and it has mostly been great! Even though my husband and I were both working, we managed to carve out time to help our kids one-on-one, and it was so encouraging to see the “aha” moments happening before our eyes. Our 6-year-old has started reading, the rising 3rd grader is getting the hang of multiplication (thank you Skittles!), and the 12-year-old just likes to bake and decorate cupcakes and read and play with the puppy. Every day, the kids all go on long bike rides all over the neighborhood. They are living my ’80s childhood summer—long days of outdoor fun, only coming in for dinner.
But there can be a bond of these two cultural frameworks. Just as my Korean heritage and the American public education system could be blended, perhaps my expectations and the flexibility of homeschooling could come together, as well. Why can’t we live without 6 a.m. alarms? Why do we have to schedule around public school start and stop times?
This is our time, our family, our schedule, and our curriculum. We have a choice: we can choose what we do with our children’s education. In the short time I have been discovering homeschooling, I have found that it is flexible and that it is possible: it opens the door of many possibilities to learn in the ways best suited to each kid.
We are still overwhelmed by the choices we need to make and what our schedule will look like this fall, but we’re trying homeschooling this year. Like the song says, “Always look on the bright side of life” . . . the next 180 days could be very bright.