How homeschooling prepared our son for Life
Home schooling seemed like a smart idea back in 2001 as Celina and I considered the educational choices for our first born. Jordan was born at home in our living room under the guidance of an extraordinary midwife who Celina saw exclusively upon discovering she was pregnant earlier in the year. We had prepared a birthing pool in a nook in the kitchen, and our boxer dog Haemon was continually at Celina’s side once she started to labor. Our other boxer, Antigone, simply stayed in the open kennel cage and wanted nothing to do with the event. But Haemon instinctively protected Celina throughout the process until the last moment when the actual birth began, and the new-born child started to appear. At that point Haemon went and joined Antigone in the open kennel. But once the first cry was heard, out rushed both dogs to meet the newborn, and to lap up the vitamins and nutrients of afterbirth on the sheet we had put down. Those dogs taught us a lot. And we gifted them the placenta a few days later after sautéing it for them. Nature…it knows.
When the midwife exclaimed in a way that clearly expressed her surprise “he’s still in his sac”, Celina and I were confused. Martha explained while removing the sac quickly and getting Jordan to Celina’s breast, that every so often, rarely, newborn children are born in their sac like a puppy is. And in some cultures that is taken as a mystical child. Jordan was now at his mother’s breast feeding and bonding, as he would do so for the next four years. From our research we knew that breastfeeding was the optimal way to kickstart Jordan’s immune system, nurture nature’s special instinctive mode of bonding, and provide him with the most complete nutrition a child can have. In essence, a nutritional, psychological, spiritual and physical jump-start for his future education.
Believing that Dr. Maria Montessori was correct in her knowledge that the inherent nature of children is curiosity which leads to moment to moment learning, we wanted to assist Jordan’s education along a self-learning path. Soon thereafter we discovered the Sudbury model of education and were impressed by their holistic, child-driven approach, and most especially by their reasoning that in order for children to learn to be responsible they must practice responsibility. That seemed to align with my teaching practices which were fundamentally about allowing my theatre kids the freedom to act responsibly. The kids who studied with me were there voluntarily, because they loved performing and wanted to do it, and were already self-motivated – this made my job easier than mandatory schooling where many kids feel they do not have a choice. I myself did not want to go to school when I was a kid.
My mother left me crying my eyes out at Kindergarten that first day. But my tears did not get me what I wanted. I had to stay in school when all I wanted was to be at home with my Mom. Celina also did not groove with school even as she graduated and fourth, with honors, in her large class in Yonkers, NY. Hence, we searched for educational models that would serve our needs.
Homeschooling with a child-directed philosophy seemed to fit that bill. The idea is to not force children to learn what they are uninterested in. But to allow them to study what they are excited about. In doing so they would learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in the process. Celina and I love to read and so reading to Jordan was natural and fun. All kids love to be read to. All kids love the imaginative stories of children’s books. Jordan loved books and began reading fairly easily at a young age, as it was the natural next step from reading to him.
By the time he was five we had decided we would homeschool him, based on the philosophies of John Holt, Maria Montessori, and John Taylor Gatto among others. Jordan had many interests already. He loved trucks, he loved to cook and bake, he loved machines, etc. And so, creating learning activities was easy for us. Field trips were fun to plan and share with Jordan. And most lucky for us was that a most amazing educator came into our lives right at that time.
Opal Wong is a force of nature. This diminutive Chinese woman is a walking encyclopedia. She is an expert in Educational Kinesiology (now called Brain Gym), she has a deep understanding and knowledge of Chinese medicine and philosophy, she is also a retired early childhood educator from East Lansing public schools who has decades of experience assisting children’s development through her brilliant teaching skills. Best of all she is as compassionate as human beings can be.
We worked out a barter arrangement with Opal (she always generously gave so much more) and she began to work with Jordan. Oh, the fun he had with her! In short, Opal guided his traditional learning from K – 8th grade. She offered Jordan a truly liberal education in the old-fashioned sense of the word. And when by age 12 Jordan was advancing beyond Opal’s algebraic skills, we sought out a tutor for him for math – a former student of ours, then 18, who loved math and was just eccentric enough to keep Jordan rapt in their lessons.
Along the way, Jordan opened a bakeshop with Celina at age 6, where he learned much about baking, about keeping a ledger of expenses and income, about how to work with customers, about deadlines and about how to run a business. Jordan was also in love with music. He began playing the piano with his feet by walking across the keys even before he could reach them with his hands. The joy on his face as he would listen to higher pitches as he walked to his right, and the lower notes to the left, along with the rhythms of music his feet made pounding on the keys, was as good as it gets. It seemed natural that Jordan would study music. Our only question was, who would offer him the best musical education? Our working philosophy has always been to find the best teachers to teach what our children were interested in. We know that teachers make all the difference.
Jordan has had many teachers/mentors over the years while learning music. He established wonderful relationships that have nurtured him and guided his musical tastes and skills. Our formidable musical director at our performing arts center, Jeff English, was instrumental in Jordan’s early music training. Almost by osmosis and some kind of intuitive communication, Jeff and Jordan would engage and go into their musical worlds. Ben Godoshian brought his openness and expertise of drumming to Jordan’s musical world as they would play, talk, listen to the greats, and enrich the lessons with spontaneity. Elden Kelly, a world class guitar player and teacher took Jordan to new heights of music theory and the understanding of real jazz. Jordan had other teachers and they all served him well and facilitated his development and love of music. Of course, Jordan also did a lot of independent research based on his own desire to learn and his intense interest in music.
Jordan went from love of trains and trucks to planes. At 14, Jordan told us he wanted to learn how to fly planes. Of course, like pretty much everything in his world by that point, he did the research and found what he wanted. He found an aviation school in Howell and informed me about it. I researched it myself, found he made a good decision in wanting to learn there and took him for a first lesson. Seeing him go up in that two-seater Cessna the first time was exhilarating for me. Jordan was doing what he wanted, and it was the furthest thing from what I would want or even think of. I grew up terrified of heights and never really like planes – I simply tolerated them because I had to fly so often in show business while touring. But Jordan fell in love again and had regular flying lessons and at 16 was flying the plane himself while the instructor sat beside him. Learning the mechanics of flying was natural for Jordan. He had built his own computer for the first time at age 12. He was very tech savvy and literate for as many young people are today. So, the instrument board was second nature to him and the science behind how the airplane worked easily understood. He also had really good aviation teachers. Presently Jordan is finishing his requirements to obtain his solo flying license by year’s end.
Part of the homeschool process is simply being around the house and observing and participating in the day-to-day activities that parents attend to. From the mundane activities of learning to do laundry, vacuuming, cleaning, etc. to the more specific activities of the household. Our house is heated in the winter by a wood burning furnace. Jordan learned all the tasks of going into the woods to saw and collect wood, to splitting and stacking it, to burning it safely in the furnace. These are just some of the practical skills and learnings that take place in a homeschool education. The practical learning of skills is invaluable to becoming a self-reliant person.
During the winter of what would be traditionally his eighth-grade year, Jordan informed us he’d like to go to high school the next year. We always gave him a choice, each year starting at eight years old we would ask if he wanted to go to school. He did not want to earlier, but now he did. We talked it through with Jordan and decided he knew what was best. We went to East Lansing High School, talked with the counselor and got Jordan enrolled.
Jordan’s transition into public school seemed rather easy and smooth. I chalk that up to the fact that he really wanted to be there. I believe his desire was to break away from his home life and stretch his wings on his own – a natural progression. Jordan got involved with the tech side of the theatre department but was soon swept up by the music department. His musical talent was recognized by his teachers and most particularly by “Mr. L” who would go on to nurture and mentor Jordan’s musical education through high school. Jordan received wonderful opportunities to play in all the school orchestras and bands because Jordan played jazz guitar as well as percussion and could feel classical and jazz music with natural ease. Jordan played quad drums in the marching band. He also studied piano and advanced music theory. He transcribed Jacob Collier’s Danny Boy for the school orchestra, and it was a huge success for him. He played in the pit for the school musicals. He became section leader in the marching band. He was selected to play for music festivals. He was awarded All-State Jazz Guitar his senior year after receiving honorable mention his junior year.
Jordan also took it upon himself to learn about percussion ensembles and drum corps. He auditioned for a national drum corps but did not get accepted. It was a learning lesson for him about failure and not succeeding. But it did not stop him. He auditioned for the Farmington United Percussion Ensemble (FUPE) and was accepted his junior year. This was a world totally unfamiliar to Celina and I and we would go on to learn much about this intense experience that drives young people toward strong discipline and leadership through the camaraderie of competing against other ensembles. Jordan would leave after school on Fridays, drive down to Farmington, rehearse in the evening, stay at a buddy’s house he became friends with, and wake up Saturday morning to rehearse from 9AM – 9PM. Often he would have another rehearsal or competition on Sunday, otherwise he drove home Saturday evening. Jordan seemed to thrive on the intensity of it, while we wondered where he got his immense energy and wherewithal to do such a rigorous schedule all winter long. I believe his good teachers and good friends are the reason why he thrived so.
Academically Jordan thrived as well. He loved a lot of his classes and only rarely complained about a boring class. He moved quickly into AP classes and pushed himself to excel. His inherent love of science and math made his chemistry, physics, calculus, and other classes fun. When he would come home and share his class experiences with me, I knew he was in good hands and was really inspired by his learning. He maintained a good academic status all through his school experience and graduated summa cum laude.
As fate would have it, when Jordan began high school, I returned to get a college education. I had gone directly from high school to NY to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater and from there right on into a show business career. But now, in my young fifties, I had an inkling to try college and I followed it. I applied and got into the State University of New York’s Empire State College. Jordan and I would compare notes and he actually helped me understand some of the Algebra I had to revisit for my undergrad degree. I so enjoyed the intellectual stimulation that I found I had applied and was accepted into their graduate program for Liberal Studies. I received my Master of Arts degree a couple years later as I was watching Jordan excel in his studies. It was a fruitful time for us both.
Meanwhile Jordan also took a job at 16 in the restaurant Side Bar and loved making his own money and learning from the chefs in the kitchen. He would come home and talk about the food and then he would prepare for us the most delicious meals. He bought high quality knives and cookware and he delighted to be in the kitchen with his friends. Doing what he wanted made Jordan really happy, as it does with all kids.
As time went on it was more and more clear to us that we facilitated Jordan’s development in ways that made sense. What seemed controversial to many, what was made more difficult because of the lack of support Celina and I often felt, and what was a road less taken, became a beautiful journey of passion and learning that created wonderful success for Jordan. But it was difficult for many of the earlier years in particular. There were many days of self-doubt about our choices and introspection and questioning whether we were making good decisions for our son. It was not an easy path. It took work and fortitude. It required intense sacrifice and huge portions of our time and resources. We did not have the comfort of being part of a homeschool group or organization. We were very much on our own – we were to trod a path with little experience to fall back on. We were relying on instinct and intuition coupled with our own educational experiences and desire to give our son an optimal learning environment.
The fact that we ran a performing arts center and were daily surrounded by students young and older alike, Jordan was constantly socializing since at 5 because he was involved with our classes until he turned 12 when he decided to give up performing to concentrate on music. Many of our older students become friendly with our family and many were active in teaching both our boys lessons in swimming, guitar, and other activities. Jordan also was a good baseball player but decided to give that up too at 12 for his music. His coach, Matt Wilcox was a pivotal early influence for Jordan regarding sportsmanship and athleticism. Jordan left the team after a winning 36 – 4 season of terrific baseball.
Presently Jordan is enjoying his first summer after graduating this year. He is doing what he wanted to – he did not want to work in the restaurant but wanted to focus on music and try to make money doing so. He is making money tutoring kids in music lessons, playing in the pit for Man Of La Mancha in Ann Arbor, and working for two high school marching band camps. He is also continuing his flying lessons and has been painting his beloved Subaru.
In October Jordan will go to the Vancouver Film School to study sound design for visual media with an emphasis on sound design for gaming. Jordan found this school, went there by himself with buddies from Canada he met online years go, applied, and got in. We had never heard of the school, of course. Jordan makes his way, knows what he wants, and has the intellectual and physical resources to go for it. I have no doubt he will succeed at whatever he ends up doing. His wonderful education has been a blessing for him.
We all want the best for our children and this kind of education is certainly not for everyone, but for those who are considering it, we hope this inspires you to take the leap and homeschool, or follow your hunches about educating your child in your own unique way.