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I Was An Unlikely Homeschooled Student

Elinor Jones Toutant at the RadioActive Community Listening Party
KUOW Photo/Colleen McDevitt
Elinor Jones Toutant at the RadioActive Community Listening Party

Even though I didn’t attend traditional school for very long, I didn’t enjoy the little I attended. When I was in kindergarten, there were mornings I would flat out refuse to go to school.

“By the end of your kindergarten year, you, your dad and I were all pretty tired of it," my mom, Jean Jones Toutant, said.  "We decided we would give you the option to take a break and stay home."

I was overjoyed. My mom told me that after that first year she asked me if I wanted to go back to school. "You were adamant you didn't," she said.

I'm a senior in high school now, and I was homeschooled for the better part of my education. But my family isn't one you would expect to make that choice.  

That's because there are a lot of teachers in our family. “My mom, dad and sisters are all in the public school system,” my dad, Mike Toutant explained.  

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There were people in our own family who questioned our decision. My grandma, Bernie Toutant, was a school counselor in Spokane, Washington for 25 years and she didn’t view homeschooling very positively. She remembers working with one particular boy who had been homeschooled. He was in the seventh grade and still couldn’t read.

She also had a friend who was homeschooled. “When he got to college he had to do a lot of remedial training previous to his being able to take on the subjects that he needed,” she told me.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Elinor Jones Toutant with her parents and brother at the KUOW Community Listening Party ", "fid": "124350", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201602/radio_active_winter_2016_055.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Colleen McDevitt"}]]My grandpa, Al Toutant, was a history teacher at Mead High School in Spokane for 36 years. After spending so many years working in the public education system, he is mainly concerned with the credibility of homeschool educators. In his view, "as a person gets into high school it’s harder in some cases to find people who are not professional educators that are knowledgeable enough to teach.”  

Homeschooling was not an open topic of discussion in my extended family when I was growing up. I always sensed tension around the subject. That put a certain pressure on me to pass myself off as a genius just to convince people that I was as intelligent as other kids.

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I  asked my grandpa if he felt slighted in any way because of my parent’s decision to homeschool me.

“No," he told me. "I do believe in public education, I will be very frank with you about that. But I think people should make their own choices.”

The word that would best describe my early education is 'unschooled,'  meaning that what I wanted to learn, I would pretty much teach myself. My parents not only allowed but expected me to take part in my education. As a little kid, I would work on my writing and reading by myself because I enjoyed it, not because someone was making me.

[asset-images[{"caption": "An illustration from 'Call of the Goddess.' Art by Emmett JonesToutant, story by Elinor Jones Toutant.", "fid": "124435", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201602/callofthegoddess.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of Elinor Jones Toutant"}]]Web Extra: when Elinor Jones Toutant was 12, she wrote a novel called “Call of the Goddess” which her brother, Emmett Jones Toutant, illustrated. Listen to her read an excerpt:

[asset-audio[{"description": "", "fid": "124436", "uri": "npraudio://201602/RA_20160225_homeschoolextra-upd.mp3"}]]Although I was having a great time with my self-lead learning, my mom felt that her friends also judged her for making the decision to homeschool. She remembers one of her good friends asking how I would be able to write an essay or get into college.

Even though I did well on the state required tests, I would still brag about how many books I had read and compare my accomplishments to those of other kids my age, trying to prove myself.

But the way I see it, I think that spending time learning from you family is important, and my dad agrees.

“I like having you guys around and teaching you," he said. "That’s what family is all about. If you’re going to have kids, you might as well raise them yourself and not expect others to do it for you.”

I’m not really homeschooled anymore. Last year, I got into the Running Start program and started attending Seattle Central College. At first, it was a little weird going to the same place every day, but after a while I got used to it.  The classes I have taken through Running Start have been easier for me than a lot of my homeschool education.

I will graduate from high school this year with two years of college already under my belt, leaving me feeling that I have nothing left to prove.