On the Way to Homeschooling
Looking Back on the Journey
Lifting off the cover, I saw thirteen years' worth of academic worksheets, notes, and tests filled to the top of the bin. No wonder the container was heavy! Those papers had been stored year after year in case we needed to substantiate Stephan's academic credentials to the state. But recently when the postman dropped off a large envelope with Stephan's university diploma—our first of four “undergrad-grads”—we no longer needed to fear the state's evaluation. The successful obtaining of a bachelor's degree muted those concerns. Stephan's graduation was a milestone of our homeschooling journey.
The journey began with the story of my father, Hip Mou Law. In his earlier years, he was an important government official with a thriving career in Taiwan. An unfortunate downside to his professional accomplishments meant that he was often away on business trips, leaving my mother and us siblings longing for his presence. When my father decided to emigrate from Taiwan, he genuinely believed that the move would provide better educational opportunities for his children while simultaneously reuniting his wife with her large family. He never imagined that his children would become latchkey kids with parents laboring long hours in poor working conditions and be extensively absent from the home—a situation incomparably worse than the one he had left behind in Taiwan. Many times my dad bemoaned the fact that my mom had to work instead of being at home with and for us. This situation in our family left a deep impression on me. I was determined to make my parents' sacrifices count. I wanted to attain what eluded them. I would have both a successful career AND a healthy family life! Never could I have envisioned that God would graciously ordain my twin desires through homeschooling.
Exploring the Terrain
Before I was a homeschool teacher, I was a student. I received my best education in law school, because my professors taught me how to think critically and express myself logically and clearly. Later, when I homeschooled, I made sure to adopt the same pedagogy for my children. From the moment I entered law school, I intended to be a career attorney specializing in immigration law. Then I met Peter, my husband-to-be who was also a pastor-to-be. As often happens, reality and love redirected my life goals.
After we had our firstborn, I tried to keep practicing law—initially fulltime, then part-time, and finally no-time. I thought by exiting the work force we could focus on nurturing our children and caring for my father-in-law. But by the time our third child arrived, we grasped the reality that my husband's work schedule would prevent us from carrying out our goal. How could we possibly—with sanity—Train up a child in the way he should go (Proverbs 22:6) if our church and ministry schedules hijacked the times we should be impressing God's truth on our children, talking about God's Word as we sit at home and walk along the road, and when we lie down and when we get up (Deuteronomy 6:7)? How could we balance God's calling for ministry in the church and ministry at home? Clearly, God did not intend for us to choose one over the other. He had called us equally into both responsibilities.
About this time, a friend started homeschooling her children, and my sister expressed an interest in it as well. Skeptical, I asked, “What is this homeschooling thing? Another vogue in educational experimentation?” This was the early 90s, and there were not many homeschoolers in the tri-state area, especially in the Asian community. Asians tend to look at our school institutions and teachers as something sacrosanct. The idea of homeschooling was an absurdity to the Asian mind. Therefore, when I tried to investigate more on the subject, there were very few resources available. Nevertheless, something in me was attracted to the possibility of having the best of both worlds: ministry and family. It would indeed be a career beyond just fulltime. With little encouragement from our community, except for the support from my sister and brother-in-law, Peter and I prayerfully took the plunge. In the years ahead, there would be unsolicited input, unhelpful criticism, and unwarranted conclusions from people cynical of our homeschooling. Conversely, there were reassuring comments, as well as a few curious friends asking thoughtful questions. The truth is that most homeschooling challenges and rewards do not come from without but from within.
On Our Way
Peter readjusted his work schedule, leaving later in the morning to avoid New York City's notorious traffic jams and the higher rush hour tolls. In exchange, he stayed at church late into the evening, arriving home just before the kids went to bed. This change enabled us to start the day with family worship, which included Bible devotions and hymns. Mondays—the only day my husband had off—were field trip days. When we needed to be away at conferences or do ministry, we took our children with us. With plenty of opportunities to watch us serve, our kids unknowingly received much training in the Lord's work. They were never ministry orphans. Socialization, which is a great penchant of homeschool critics, was not an issue for us, because we had an open-door policy, inviting our neighbor's children to come over anytime for snacks, play, and homework. My kids were surrounded by church friends and were often invited for sleep-over adventures. Today, the socialization argument is largely debunked, since an extensive network of homeschool co-ops, sports teams, music ensembles, and drama troupes exists for homeschoolers. Gone are the days when homeschooling meant living an isolated life.
The Lonely Trekking
Initially, the novelty of homeschooling was fun! Lessons were easy and manageable. However, when academics moved gradually from concrete facts to abstract math, and when science shifted from the observable universe to hypothetical theories, schooling became difficult. The more that creativity, “smarts,” and patience were called for, the more I became snappy, irritated, and angry. “Lord Jesus, help Mommy be more patient as she teaches,” was the most repeated prayer in my home.
Before long, I was feeling stressed out with teaching, and my kids were exhausted with learning. To deal with the problems, I sought new and better curriculum, hoping it would be our savior. The fear of failure was a constant threat, and I thought about quitting. But when I realized I was just exchanging homeschool tension for public school anxiety, I returned to the question of why I decided to homeschool in the first place. The starting point of the homeschool conviction was that the entire family could spend more time together getting to know God better—and by knowing Him better, we would desire to worship Him more. Somewhere along the journey, God was displaced, and the desire to succeed in homeschooling took center stage.
One day, I had an epiphany: I was ensnared by a sense of “omnicompetence.” Instead of relying on God, the gospel, and grace, I had deceived myself into believing that if I worked hard enough, sacrificed enough, and endured enough, I would have perfect homeschooled kids with test scores to boast, plus an ideal ministry and family life. My heart had been enamored with these demi-gods and pseudo-gods. I had assigned too much importance to achievements, and it became a horrible burden: shame if I failed and pride if I triumphed.
God was asking me: “What gives homeschooling meaning?
What gives career and family life meaning?
What ultimately gives meaning to life?”
The answer: When Christ is the reason for it—not when Christ is the means to have it. Only then could I homeschool, minister, and care for my family without fear of failure or the need for success. This understanding was an incredible encouragement to me and should be for all who homeschool. We don't have to compare ourselves with other professionals. We don't have to compare our children with other students. We don't have to be obsessed over critical and unhelpful comments about our homeschooling. We don't have to despair when difficulties come. This realization was absolutely liberating, and I felt that our homeschooling took a turn for the better.
God gave me the courage to accept my ineptitude, enabling me to ask veteran homeschoolers for help and insight. Moreover, Christian educators began to develop programs for homeschoolers that allowed students to call in and get assistance. Even more wonderful, all the early years of laying down good foundations came to fruition. My kids moved away from being teacher-dependent students to becoming self-learners. This proved to be an important asset when they entered university. My daughter, Josephine, who initially disliked homeschooling, is now appreciative of how it honed her independent studying skills, which she used well and received many first-in-class marks. My oldest son is in an accelerated bachelor-master program, and my second son, Josiah, will also apply for this program. Our children's outcome is not about receiving impressive accolades—ending with a crescendo of “You can do it too!” Rather, my intention is to encourage all homeschool teachers out there: Let God rule your heart as you teach. The lesser things will fall into their proper place.
In an earlier paragraph, I shared that my homeschooling journey began with the story of my earthly father. I would like to end with the story of my journey with my Heavenly Father. Even as my children have been students in my class, I have equally been a student in my Heavenly Father's class. Some lessons learned brought me joy and wonder—some brought doubts and misery, leaving me wishing I had never started the venture. Resisting self-reliance was no human task. It took supernatural intervention to keep my eyes on God so that I would be able to envision what my kids could be in Christ. After years of labor, one thing my husband and I savor is watching our children actively involved in ministries—from campus work to mission trips. I attribute this more to Christ than to our homeschool spiritual nurture, although the latter should not be neglected. There won't be enough bins to hold all the records of God's faithfulness in our lives.