87 MollyGreen.com | Summer on the Homestead | Summer 2016
In the 1970s homeschooling was illegal.
It was designated “criminal truancy,” and
to take the leap was quite uncommon.
It has been estimated that during this
time only 10,000– 15,000 children were
homeschooled, compared to more than
2 million today. It wasn’t until 1977 that
John Holt published the first newsletter
about homeschooling, “Growing Without Schooling,” and the homeschooling
trend became a movement. At that point,
my mother had five children in her
My oldest brother remembers dreading
the regular visits from the local school
superintendent. He would come to make
sure the children were actually being
schooled. My brother tells a story of
how, after one particularly tense visit,
mom asked him to get down the gun. His
young heart quaked in fear that she was
going to try to kill the school superintendent. Thank goodness, it was only a
rattlesnake on the nearby bridge.
But people did call her all sorts of nasty
names. Some worried about the children’s future ability to succeed in life.
Others thought it was unnatural. Eventually the homeschooling movement
would become heavily Christian and
conservative, and families took back
the right to teach their children
religious and moral beliefs. But in
those early years, homeschooling
was associated with leftist counterculture. Still, my born-again Christian
mother persevered in her conviction
for more than fifteen years and with
That school superintendent never found
Carla Emery’s kids ignorant. My mother
was a passionate lover of knowledge,
the child of teachers herself,
and the author of an
kicked even higher by fear of scrutiny.
It was my mother’s expectation that each
child would complete not one but three
textbooks in each subject in each grade
level. She allowed, or perhaps cultivated,
a certain amount of competition among
her children. There were races to find a
word in the dictionary, and races to find
the answer to a math problem. We sang
the multiplication tables in the car. We
were secure in the three R’s of reading,
’riting and ’rithmetic. And anything
beyond that kicked up the rule of three
textbooks per subject per grade.
I entered a regular school at age eleven.
I was in the ninth grade. My mother
had never put any restrictions on my
pace of schooling. As long as I did the
three textbooks per subject per grade, I
could move along as quickly as I liked.
Of course, school officials didn’t believe
I belonged in the ninth grade, but I was
tested, and then they did.
My experience of entering high school at
age eleven is not something I would want
to replicate with my own children—nor
my graduating high school at age fifteen!
But of course, I couldn’t repeat those
experiences even if I tried.
My homeschooled kids today, in 2016,
have access to a whole homeschool
co-op of likeminded families. The kids
eat lunch together and play Capture the
Flag. I didn’t have any of this. I have had
my son in tears over questions of meaningful belonging and the expectations
of friendship, more than I’ve had him in
tears over multiplication. This is completely different from how it was for me.
In the last few decades homeschooling
has become a completely viable option
for families. Though still restricted in
some places and certainly nowhere near
the majority option, homeschooling is
no longer a criminal act. It is a complete-
ly reasonable path, right now, for you
and me. As a result, my homeschooled
difference between my mother’s experi-
ence and my own. I am able to give my
children access to an education in how to
interact with other children, a set of skills
my mother could only offer me the hard
way: fast and late.
My high school years were difficult.
I held a tension between pride in my
homeschool upbringing and exhaustion
from constantly being the “weird kid.”
I grew tired of trying to correct people
who said, “You must be really smart,”
with my oft-repeated clarification. “No,
I’m average smart. I was just allowed to
learn in a way that really works.”
I lost a lot of time adjusting when I left
the homeschool world to enter
regular school and,
later, college. I had
some hard knocks on
the way to balancing
what seemed like
it all I carried