What I Learned by Kathleen McCurdy

It is not that my parents were against school. On the contrary, they were very much for it. My father was a high school Bible teacher before becoming a missionary, and they started Christian schools in towns where there were none. But they didn’t always send me to school due to various circumstances, and I don’t think they realized how often that happened. So when I decided not to send my children to school but rather to educate them at home, my parents were quite upset. I had already disappointed them by dropping out of college after only a year, and there were other aspects of my somewhat independent lifestyle that they felt were not in line with the way I had been raised. And yet, at all times I felt in my heart that I was being true to the principles which they had taught me.

The fact that I was older than the other kids in first grade made it easy for me to catch up in the third grade, after missing a year. Skipping all but two or three months of fifth and sixth and then being somewhat tutored the following year convinced me that school was not really very important and I could go on learning all the time. When I passed the college entrance exam (GED) three years later, I was sure of it. So I went to college to study music; it was what I loved. But college turned out to be about getting a degree, and I wanted knowledge. All those other requirements seemed like a waste of time. I had already picked up a well-rounded education; what with travels, much reading, asking questions, and a lot of thinking things through. It didn’t make sense to go deeper into grammar, literature, mathematics, history, science, and the arts beyond what I could continue to extract from daily living.

But I did learn a lot about music that year in college. I already understood that practice was the key to any skill, including playing a musical instrument—so I practiced five hours a day; one on the pipe organ, one on the bassoon, and three hours on the piano. There was also choir practice, a class on the history of hymns, and recitals to prepare for. I enjoyed the music theory class and traded off with another student being the first in the class, but I dropped out of other courses that only seemed a waste of my time. When the administration complained that I needed to beef up my credits, I signed up for an upper level class in Spanish literature and read through the classic Don Quixote in its original language. Though it was required reading, I suspect nobody else read more than the cliff notes. I also finished reading Longfellow’s Evangeline, even though I had dropped out of English class after the first quarter.

By the time I became a mother, I had come to the realization that almost all of this knowledge could be obtained from home, through libraries, daily living, and much thoughtful reading. It was not that I hated school; it just seemed to be such a big waste of time! As for study habits, a healthy dose of curiosity was the best incentive for learning. Nothing could make one learn if that was lacking. Sorry, Mr. Stearns, I just wasn’t curious enough to finish that high school algebra correspondence course I promised to complete…