Articles from Live Free Learn Free
by Sue Whitson
This is a story about two young men. One
grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and the other in the 80’s and 90’s.
The first is my husband, the second, my son.
As soon as my husband could walk, he
discovered the awesome joys of helping his dad around the farm. He loved taking care of
the animals, milking the cow, planting fields and gardens, the sound of a tractor
plowing through the fields. Put him out in the barn cleaning out a stall or slopping
pigs, and he was as happy as could he could be.
At age five, having committed
no crime, he was suddenly imprisoned in a school all day long, nine months out of the
year. He never learned to read (although he had a photographic memory) partly out of
rebellion at being imprisoned and partly out of boredom. There simply wasn’t
anything there that interested him. He wasn’t too bad in math, but you could never
tell it by his grades. Basketball was really the only thing he excelled at, but hopes of
NBA fame were totally unrealistic given his short and stocky Hancock county genes. He
learned in school that life was boring and that he was a failure because only stupid
people farm. He turned to cigarettes, alcohol and drugs to relieve his frustration and
spent many thousands of dollars that might have otherwise been invested in his future
because he felt there simply was no hope. When I met him at age twenty, he was taking an
agriculture course at the local community college and had no dream of ever becoming more
than a low paid farm hand. He learned to read when he was in his late twenties, but it
took fifteen years of healing once he got out of college for him even to begin to think
he might be able to make something out of himself, in spite of the fact that he was an
incredible worker with an awesome talent for farming and a wonderful sense of
Then came my son. We knew he was just
like his dad very early. At the age of six months, he was content to sit on the kitchen
counter and watch tractors and combines in the fields for hours at a time. When he got
his hands on a toy tractor, he was in heaven. As soon as he learned to crawl, he was in
the barn several times a day, in spite of the fact that there was a large gravel drive
between there and the house. His first words were tru-tru-tru-tru and
trac-trac-trac-trac. He loved dirt, and dirt loved him. I could never keep him clean!
Fortunately, when he was a baby, I discovered
homeschooling. When it came time for “school,” Jesse was in the garden
happily planting tomatoes and pulling weeds. By the age of eight, he still couldn’t
read, but he planted and kept a 100 X 60 foot garden weed-free all by himself with no
prodding from me! It wasn’t that we didn’t work on school work. We did some
phonics and math facts, and I read to him. He just wasn’t getting it. So, rather
than push him, I simply told him that he might not be good at those things, but that he
was a Mozart at farming.
Focusing on His
At age nine he learned to drive a lawn
mower. After that, the garden got neglected, but I had to tell him, “No, you can’t
mow the lawn!” several times a day. In frustration, he started a mowing business.
Soon, he owned his own mower and had several customers. He learned all about money,
loans and time management.
All this time, he worked on building a “farm”
in his room. He had fields and pastures laid out with masking tape, and if he didn’t
have a piece of equipment or a building that he needed, he built it out of cardboard and
twist ties. We had it set up to scale so he and his dad could sit down and figure out
how much seed, fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide he would need to plant the various
fields. He would go through the planting and harvesting cycle several times a year, and
oh, help the child who came in and used a desk on a field that was “already
At ten, he still wasn’t reading.
There were people who chided me for not putting him in school where “he could get
the help he needed,” but I knew that would destroy him, so I stubbornly refused.
At around the age of twelve he finally started seeing the need for reading, so we sat
down and read out of farm magazines each day. At fifteen he still couldn’t spell
or write a coherent sentence, and getting him to “do school” was like
pulling teeth, but we persevered because of truancy laws. Did he learn anything? No, but
we did it anyway, on top of his mowing business and growing temporary farmhand service.
He paid off his mower, by now a top of the line John Deere, and saved enough money to
buy a car. By sixteen, he had several jobs at differing kinds of farms, so we decided
his last two years of schooling would be mostly “apprentice” work through
these jobs. In the meantime, he discovered e-mail and instant messaging. This caused a
need to know how to spell and make sense while writing, so, amazingly, he learned it!
At eighteen, I gave him a diploma. He was earning equity by helping us buy his
grandparents’ farmstead where we lived. At nineteen he bought himself a dump truck
and learned all about how to meet government regulations and keep detailed records. At
twenty he bought seven and a half acres and a house. Now, at less than three years
officially out of “high school,” he is earning as much or more than most
Jesse always told us he was going to be
the biggest farmer in Hancock County. That will probably happen –
along with a fleet of trucks.
He might never sit down to read a book, but it doesn’t matter. The profession he
was built for doesn’t require it. My other two children love to read, but they
would be bored silly driving a truck or a tractor all day long. Jesse lives for it! And
we need truck drivers and farmers.
“No Child Left Behind” would
not have worked for my son. It would have destroyed him by focusing on his weaknesses
instead of his strengths. My experience has convinced me that compulsory school laws do
more harm than good. Education is not a “one size fits all.” Parents are the
only ones qualified to determine what educational path their children should take. They
should be free to guide their children in whatever manner they see fit because they are
the ones who know and love their children most.
Sue Whitson is a 20 year homeschool
veteran with 3 grown children. She currently pastors a church, provides
daycare, and homeschools other people’s children.