Homeschooling Pioneers – Part I
By Deborah Wuehler, Devotional/Chapel Editor, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine
Ever had a child training problem and not know what to do? I have, and I have turned again and again to a wonderful little book entitled, To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl. This book has gone world-wide and helped countless numbers of parents with their child training questions. The Pearls also happen to be among the pioneers of homeschooling in the early 1970s during the movement’s turbulent beginnings.
We are so pleased to have Rebekah Anast (formerly Rebekah Pearl) with us to let us in on what it was like being a homeschooled child under the tutelage of the infamous Pearls during this breaking movement called home education.
TOS: As pioneers of the homeschooling movement in the 1970s, there were no written educational philosophies as of yet. Rebekah, can you tell us what it was it that directed your parents’ steps in deciding their educational ideas and philosophies?
Rebekah: “We’re going to teach them at home, Deb…” Dad told Mom, when I was still too young to know what “school” was. Dad had been a student in the inner-city schools of Memphis, Tennessee through high school. Even back then, there was so much junk going on that now Dad didn’t want his children to be exposed to the nonsense and filth he was subjected to. My parents had never heard of “homeschooling,” but Dad reasoned that public schools had not always been the primary means of education. Some of our finest presidents had studied in their own homes – why not the Pearl children? Mom was – and still is – an enthusiast of any new and radical idea that promotes simplicity and family. She had learning difficulties in her own education, due to extreme hearing problems, but she was willing to start all over again and learn phonics with me, her first student. Their philosophy? Family is what counts! Everything else falls under politics, fads, and flesh. They intended to enjoy their children to the fullest; and thank God, they did.
TOS: Sounds like the whole family would benefit from your parents’ decision to teach at home. However, there were some struggles. Would you share those with us?
Rebekah: Let’s see…I was born in ’74. I’d say their biggest struggle was my dyslexia! I saw the world so completely backwards; I had to hold things in front of a mirror to see them correctly. If homeschooling had not been available to me, I’d probably still be riding the short yellow bus to a “special” school. Mom did wonders with my brain by using hands-on learning tools such as finger paint, play dough, sand drawing, and refrigerator magnets. She turned my “backward” brain around – a fact that has made a huge difference in my life today as a writer and homeschool mother of my own children.
Another struggle they faced was simply explaining themselves to others. “Your children don’t go to school???” People thought they were crazy. When Mom and Dad weren’t around, friends and relatives would ask me questions like, “do you know what a noun is?” They were sure we were going to grow up to be cross-eyed country bumpkins without a grain of intelligence.
I’d say the smallest struggle was the actual homeschooling. Since having my own children, I’ve realized that both learning and teaching are very natural. And if ever there was a natural teacher in this world, it’s my mom. Although she could hardly pronounce a long word correctly, she could teach like a genius. I think her secret was her own avid curiosity and joy of learning. She carried us along with her like the ocean tide.
TOS: One of the great joys of homeschooling is when a mother sees one of her strugglers or stragglers going forward and enjoying the ride. Obviously, your mother was the perfect teacher for you regardless of what the state might have thought. Didn’t your parents have some negative media attention regarding their decision to homeschool?
Rebekah: Actually, the media wasn’t negative. It was a strategic move by my Dad to take the heat off of us. Social Services had gotten wind of our home education, and we were given a court summons. The judge and a few power-hungry and small-minded individuals assured Dad that his children would be taken away from him and put into state care. Dad came home, and within half an hour had three television stations and three newspapers scheduled to do a story on us. They came out to our rather fine home in the Shelby forest and filmed me (eight-year-old Rebekah) playing the piano, my brother Gabriel working in the shop with Dad, and my four-year-old brother Nathan swinging on a rope over the pond. They talked about Dad’s Bachelor of Science education, his artwork (he was a professional landscape painter) and showed clips of our schoolroom with posters and desks all tidy and organized. (Actually, we did most of our school in the yard or the kitchen – but it sure looked good.) They put forward the question, why didn’t the state just test us, and leave us alone if we tested up to state standards? Dad’s strategy more than succeeded. The state let go of us in a panic, and families all over the place started calling us for information about homeschooling. We had started a home education stampede. I was tested at a third-grade level and came out like Shirley Temple in Captain January (she was homeschooled in that film).
TOS: And, like Captain January, those pioneers of homeschooling had to prove themselves to the world that teaching at home was at the very least equal, if not completely superior to, a governmental educational system. Additionally, that home education stampede you mentioned is continuing to grow phenomenally in every state because of its good reputation. Your parents helped pave the way for the future, even though things became scary for them for awhile. They even had plans in place if the state would not “leave you alone.” Can you tell us about that?
Rebekah: Because the law had not been established yet and the local DHS was doing some real scary threatening, we had a planned escape route with our Nanny and Daddy Bill being willing to take us out of the state.
TOS: Fortunately, it never got that far, and your family was allowed to exercise their freedom to homeschool. What was your parents’ educational philosophy, and how did that show itself in your home education?
Rebekah: First of all, have fun. Everything we did was an interesting and fun experiment or game. We had times table games, spelling games, and field trips as varied as a tour through the Coca Cola factory, or a three-month bus trip through Mexico and into Central America. Dad’s ruling guide was that his own life and career could wait — ours came first now.
Secondly, and just as important, Mom and Dad believed that “teaching and learning” was not a set time spent in the classroom. They talked to us continually. Dad told us stories that tied history together like one big picture. He explained life and nature to us in such relaxed give-and-take conversation, that we never knew we were learning advanced science. I remember getting my first science workbook and being shocked at how dumb the questions were. Dad had explained cloud formations, tadpoles, and pollination long before we were able to read about it. I think a lot of parents fail to talk to their children, and thus make homeschooling much harder for themselves.
TOS: Talking with our children is more important than we sometimes realize. Thank you for that practical reminder. If we would just talk more, we could spend less on expensive curriculum. Being homeschooling pioneers, there wasn’t much on the market to choose from as far as curriculum, was there? What did your parents use before the days of published curriculum?
Rebekah: Dirt, sand, paint, and lots of paper. Mom bought old textbooks at second-hand stores and bookstores to help her know what she should be teaching. The library was our second home. We practically lived there during the winter. I remember when a certain Christian company first offered curriculum to individuals. Mom bought the whole third grade, I think. When the box arrived, she just sat down on the carpet and cried. She didn’t know how in the world she was going to get me through all those books in one year. It didn’t take her long to realize that curriculum, although a nice idea — and often helpful — is not the defining factor of good homeschooling.
TOS: You have notably gained much from “good homeschooling.” Rebekah, what are the benefits to you personally of being homeschooled?
Rebekah: I am confident. It never crosses my mind that I can’t do or learn whatever life demands of me. My education is not my limitation. My parents taught me HOW TO LEARN. I am not finished with “school”; I am still learning every single day. My life is full of projects – subjects or tasks that I have set out to learn. This week I learned how to make a cough syrup for babies out of anise seeds, wild cherry bark, comfrey, and glycerin. It worked! I am presently researching new heat-preserving materials for gardening purposes. I am still being “homeschooled,” and I will be forever. Homeschooling trumped all my limitations: mental, emotional, and physical. It taught me how to work for what I want, where to look for answers, and how to apply every useful bit of knowledge to my daily life. I can’t imagine offering anything less to my own children.
TOS: I absolutely agree! You are a shining example of what we can look forward to in our own children as we teach them to teach themselves. Thank you, Rebekah for sharing with us. We can’t wait to continue this conversation next issue!
Homeschooling Pioneers – Part II
Welcome to Part II of our interview with Rebekah Anast (formerly Rebekah Pearl) of No Greater Joy Ministries. Her parents’ book, To Train Up A Child, has helped countless parents in their child training endeavors. Last issue we discussed what it was like being homeschooled by these famous Pearls during the homeschooling movement’s unstable infancy. Now, let’s talk to Rebekah about what is presently happening with the Pearl and Anast families.
TOS: Last issue you mentioned that you are busy with a number of projects, such as learning how to make an herbal cough syrup for babies and researching new heat preserving materials for gardening. On top of all these things you are learning and doing, you also help with your parents’ No Greater Joy ministry. How and when did your parents’ child-training ministry begin, and what is it like now?
Rebekah: I think it was 1992. A friend of the family wrote my Dad, asking him how he had raised his children to be like they are. Dad sat down at his first computer — an old 286 — and started a reply letter. He could not answer the question without going back to the foundation of his philosophy in child-raising. Occasionally he would come into the living room and ask us if we remembered this time, or that event, and what happened here or there. When the letter was finished, it was over a hundred pages long. Dad decided to ask a few friends to give their opinions about the manuscript. One of those friends offered to pay for the first printing. Mom sent out 30 copies to people Dad had won to the Lord over the years. From those 30 copies came a flood of orders for “the book.” Within weeks every single copy was gone! We actually had to reprint. Then again. And again! A little over ten years later, there are over 450,000 copies of To Train Up a Child in print. Mom and Dad have written and printed another 5 books, and there are 3 more in the process of being published. There is a big office now built on the old farm property, and 10 employees stay busy keeping newsletters, mission details, products, and answered letters going. Mom and Dad still live like simple farm folks, and putter around in the garden when they have time. They don’t make any royalties off of their books and audio CDs and tapes. They want young families out there to be equipped and prepared for whatever life might throw at them. All the profits from the No Greater Joy Ministry go to mission work and printing more materials. I am one of their biggest fans. . . obviously!
TOS: They must have done something right to have their own child proclaim to be their biggest fan. I would love that to be said by my children when they are grown. Rebekah, what was your childhood like under the famous “Pearl” philosophy of child training?
Rebekah: Probably a cross between boot camp and Pippi Longstocking’s Adventures. I didn’t know how lucky I was until I grew up. There is an amazing amount of security in consistent training. I never doubted I was loved, that my parents loved each other, or that I would grow up to be one of the world’s most valuable members of society. After all, my family needed me, loved me, and made sure I was an upstanding citizen of “Pearl-land.” I never went to bed guilty over a “crime” that hadn’t been dealt with. I never spent a day locked away in my own introspection (Mom was sure to intrude!). And, I never watched my mom do a task without being required to pitch in and learn how to do it myself. Mom and Dad weren’t perfect people, but they gave us all they had. And, it was enough.
TOS: Your answer holds a lot of practical help for today’s parents: consistency, love, value, responsibility, and working together. Can you give a little further advice for those training young children today?
Rebekah: Read To Train Up a Child! To summarize the book in one phrase, “Enjoy your children!” And secondly, make bad behavior counterproductive, and make good behavior rewarding.
TOS: That seems so simple, and yet we try everything else first! I have learned so much about training my children from reading that wonderful little book. Rebekah, growing up as a well-trained child, and now having children of your own, what have you learned personally about training your children that you would like to share?
Rebekah: Actually, my brother Nathan said it just the other day. Child training can be mostly learned with a simple list of principles and rules of operation. But the real fine tuning is hard to pin down. Every child is different. It really takes knowing and loving each child as an individual, praying for wisdom in every circumstance, and being flexible! Your child might not be just like you. He or she might need more or less spankings than you did. He or she might need more quiet time, or more noise and action. Children are people — wonderful, individual, God-made people with a specific purpose and calling in life. To discover your child is the best thing a parent can do for him or her.
TOS: This is a good exhortation to parents to pray for wisdom in every circumstance and to listen to God’s voice regarding their children’s purpose and calling in life. Rebekah, are there any other resources you would suggest for those of us in the child-training years?
Rebekah: The KJV Bible, and the book of Proverbs specifically. It was an important part of our upbringing. And I really believe (at the risk of sounding biased) that the No Greater Joy materials on child training are some of the very best. Another great resource is a group of people who believe in child training AND have good kids to show for it! There is nothing like seeing it done right. You might have to move to another location to find that group of people. Another great “resource” is to live AWAY from relatives who disapprove of your methods. Bad pressure can ruin the preserving process. Don’t be afraid to change your life radically: job, location, philosophy, etc.
TOS: I also believe the Bible to be the primary resource in our homeschooling and child training endeavors. Thank you, Rebekah, for reminding us to make our family our highest priority. What is in the future of the Pearl and Anast families, ministry wise?
Rebekah: Busy, busy, busy! Mom and Dad Pearl are always writing, praying and ministering to families all across the United States (and sometimes overseas). They have tried a few times to “downsize” the ministry. But families everywhere are always “upsizing,” so they will likely be busy for years to come.
I am now Rebekah Anast. I still write for No Greater Joy and other small magazines, in between being mommy and wife — which I adore immensely!!! My husband is a wonderful man and is blessed to be able to work out of our home, building websites for people and organizations. He just recently finished the new nogreaterjoy.org website – and by the time this is printed — the bulkherbstore.com site. He especially enjoys putting Christian businesses and ministries online.
TOS: Sounds great! Readers, be sure to check out that No Greater Joy website. Rebekah, how can we corporately pray for your families and their ministries?
Rebekah: For Mom and Dad (Mike and Debi Pearl), you can pray for: Wisdom, energy to get it all done, health and stamina, insight and perception, and for the office workers who carry so much of the load.
For the Anast family, pray for: Wisdom, maturity, safety, and the ability to do what God asks of us faithfully and well.
And we all do thank you for your prayers!
TOS: Thank you, Rebekah, for sharing with us your pioneering journey and the wisdom you have learned along the way. It is so inspiring to see the good fruit in those, like you, who have been homeschooled and are leading successful, productive lives and are excited to tell about it. And, we will definitely be praying!
Copyright, 2005. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine — www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com
Rebekah Joy Anast is the daughter of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up a Child. Rebekah is now the wife of Gabriel Anast and mother of three children. She was homeschooled Pre-K through high school and later received a BA in linguistics. More of Rebekah’s articles can be seen at www.NoGreaterJoy.org
Deborah Wuehler is the Devotional and E-Newsletter Editor for The Old Schoolhouse and resides in Roseville, CA with her husband Richard and their six gifts from heaven. If you would like to respond to this article, email Deborah at Devotions@TOSMag.com