Written by Amber Ferguson
Once upon an ordinary homeschooling day, our home school accidentally became an American embassy. My family became ambassadors. Even more surprising, it was to Germany, a nation where homeschooling is basically considered a crime against the state; it is a serious offense.
I removed my children from a wonderful, private Christian school when my daughter was thirteen and my son was nine. We had needed that money, but I had always secretly wanted to homeschool them anyway.
Ironically, shortly before we began our home schooling life, I talked my best friend into transferring her children from public school to our private school. My friend’s mother never liked me again. A German national who moved to the United States after she married a military man, she was a huge fan of public school systems. When we started homeschooling, she grew concerned that her daughter would follow in my footsteps and start homeschooling as well.
This woman’s family in Germany occasionally “crossed the pond” to visit her, and about three years after we began homeschooling, her German nephew arrived. Coincidentally, he was an English teacher! I was unaware of his vocation, so I was overwhelmingly surprised when my friend’s mom phoned one morning and asked if she and her nephew could “observe” our home schooling day “because we are curious.” It sounded as if they wanted to catch us at something.
We were one of those families who homeschool mostly in the mornings (thus, usually in our jammies), with afternoons off for creative pursuits. Fortunately, we had enough forewarning to actually bathe, get dressed, and be ready for their visit. That turned out to be a very good thing, because the second they crossed our threshold, it was evident they were “curious,” yes, because they were curious to see what criminals in action looked like!
Kurt (not his actual name) was polite but subtly hostile (unlike my friend’s mom, who sat on the couch and glared at us). As soon as I realized the implications of demonstrating home schooling to someone who actually believed we were committing crimes against the state, I panicked. If I could barely convince my own skeptical family we were not committing educational child abuse, how could I convince a suspicious stranger we were not committing an educational felony? That was more responsibility than I had anticipated for a morning I had planned to dedicate to a field trip to the Houston Zoo.
I shot off a quick prayer request to our home school group, warned my kids to be on their best behavior, and bit the bullet. Though it sounds like something stereotypical, the first question Kurt asked was whether we studied evolution or creationism. As soon as we showed him that the curriculum we used (A Beka) compared both philosophies side-by-side, he softened a little. It was just a little, but it was noticeable.
He continued inquiring about the curriculum we used for each subject, softening more after reviewing each one. Finally, when he asked about history, he was so surprised to see that my daughter’s textbook noted that Hitler’s rise to power (thus, the start of World War II) was partly due to the Allies’ treatment of Germany after the First World War that he stopped inspecting our curricula entirely!
He may not have admitted it, but the belief he had when he walked in–that we myopically homeschooled with subversive, one-sided curricula–had evidently been refuted by our curricula. Yet, he remained cynical. He quizzed us about extracurricular activities and creative pursuits. When we explained that we would not have time to school at all if we pursued very many of the numerous home school activities available, he seemed satisfied. When my daughter showed him a trilogy she had written (complete with its own Tolkienish language) and my son showed him his collection of hand-drawn comic strips, he finally sat back and relaxed. He never praised the home schooling life, or even admitted it was a respectable alternative to governmental education, but he never said another word about it.
With his hostility and my nervousness dissipated, we asked a few of our own questions about his life in Germany and soon learned he played guitar. That opened the floodgates because my daughter plays too, and before we knew it we were all singing, laughing (mostly at our singing), and telling more stories about life in our respective nations. We actually learned a lot from him, so I ended up being thankful for his visit. We enjoyed it so much that we even invited him back for a cookout the next night. My best friend came for the cookout too, and we all played games and laughed until almost midnight. It was one of those rare, memorable, perfect evenings you try to recreate later but are never really able.
As Kurt was leaving that night, he mentioned he had to fly home to Germany the next day, and he actually had tears in his eyes. We moved a couple of years later and never saw him again. I have always wondered if he told any of his fellow German educators what he witnessed here. I hope he did, and I hope that he even convinced a few that what he saw when he was in our embassy was not a “rebellion” against the state at all. I hope that my family and I were good ambassadors for home schooling, for the sake of the families in that nation who wish they could homeschool.
Amber Ferguson homeschooled both her children all the way through high school and considers those years the happiest ones of her life. Though she’d rather spend her time planting flowers in her yard, she now works as a freelance author and artist at her home in Lubbock, Texas, with her husband Doug.