Homeschooling Before It Was Cool
Styled by Monica Gordon
Assisted by Rosemary Bajanov
Hair & Makeup by Cathy Ohannessian
Who are these glamorous ladies?
Definitely not a case of ‘all looks and no brains’. Dorothy Gill, 55, has a BS in Biology and Mary Jo Harrison, 60, has a degree in Philosophy.
Both women have four children, now mostly adults. Dorothy has four boys and Mary Jo’s four kids are all either on the autism spectrum and/or have severe anxiety disorder. Both families live in Washington State.
Smart, savvy and unafraid, back in the early 1990’s Dorothy and Mary Jo set aside burgeoning careers to become part of the First Wave of Catholic homeschoolers.
Way before online classes were ever dreamt of — and before most people had computers — they took on the enormous challenge of homeschooling their offspring.
They’ve dealt with it all: disapproving relatives, unwieldy teaching materials, restive students, plus local ‘authorities’ with failing school systems.
And they pushed through.
Today, they have a unique perspective, as well as inspiration for all those homeschoolers still in the trenches.
Is it all worth it?
In this exclusive REGINA photo essay, they answer the tough questions and share their hard-won wisdom.
Why home school?
MARY JO HARRISON
“My older son was set to go into a classroom where I and the teacher of this class knew he would fail. We decided to homeschool for one year. I watched my son change from a bitter, angry kid plagued by migraine headaches to the sweet little boy we knew several years before. I had not realized the amount of stress he was under. Most of the homeschooled kids we knew were so much nicer than their same age peers. What started out as a one year experiment became a way of life.”
“I couldn’t think of anyplace I could trust them to, for their faith, their habits, their culture. And I didn’t want to be only a small part of their waking hours. Every time I doubted or felt insecure, coming back to this brought the same conclusion, that being home was best for us.”
DOROTHY GILL: “On-line classes – definitely not one size fits all. We’ve had hits and misses. My advice is to approach it as an unproven commodity, monitor closely, be proactive at the first sign of difficulty, and bail out if you see a dead end. Don’t wait till your student is frustrated. Move on to the next one, which might be a better fit. The convenience makes it worth searching for those gems.”
MARY JO HARRISON: “Often quiet boys are attacked by their peers especially if they are a little different. Although I am not a big fan of the “self esteem” movement, I don't think I would want to set my son up to be bullied. One of the arguments against homeschooling is that these kids need social exposure. For many kids, school is an abusive situation. If we are horrified at kids growing up in an abusive home, why do we think constant abuse from other kids is a social necessity?”
DOROTHY GILL: “As my boys reached high school, it was evident that a steady diet of mom-the-teacher was more than we could handle. Algebra became a near occasion of homicide, even with my husband stepping in when he could. (Hormone boy drama v/s hormone mom insomnia. What was God thinking?) “
DOROTHY GILL: “Oh workbooks! All your blanks and page numbers! Late did I learn to detest you. My first mistake was thinking that homeschooling meant recreate school at home. Desks, pencils, silence, sitting still. I had boys. Misery ensued. But I also had experienced friends who invited me into co-ops where I saw that learning was an active process that involved creating and watching and talking and sharing. Ideas, stories, context, and experiences provided memories, and relevance. And that led to retention and understanding. My disdain for textbooks was soon to follow.”
MARY JO HARRISON: “One of the difficulties of having a handicapped child is very few options for ‘getting a break’. With all the stress of having an autistic child, there were times when I thought I would go nuts. I had a friend with a quirky sense of humor and I would tell her stories of my day as if it was a comedy routine. It saved my sanity.”
DOROTHY GILL: “Luckily, we were blessed with a parish that welcomed homeschoolers so I had the luxury of picking and choosing not only activities, but my own ‘inner circle’ that brought out my best. And we had some awesome moms who made sure to schedule a monthly “Mom’s Time Out” as well as an annual weekend away.”
MARY JO HARRISON: “When we got together with other homeschooling families, we found someone with a passion for the same things. One of my sons, who had gone to school through 5th grade, always felt left out of his peer group at school. In our homeschooling group, he met another kid about his age who was also a Tolkien fan, a true soul-mate. In fact the other boy, at 10 years old, had mapped out the whole genealogy of Tolkien's world: something they could both get very enthused about without teasing from other kids. They have remained friends for 20 years.”
DOROTHY GILL: “My best memories? How about our Ancient Rome co-op dinner on the lawn — reclining in togas, eating with fingers, being served by slaves, and then, unplanned, one of the young party guests regurgitated his meal into his plate. I thought, ‘How very Roman.’”
MARY JO HARRISON: “I had an ongoing conversation with God: sometimes not very grateful on my part. People would tell me, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I wanted to say, “God's got a little too high of an opinion of me!” Amazingly, I was always given the grace I needed –it wasn't always pretty, but we made it through.”