Homeschooling in the 1960’s
In 1985 it was an idea whose time had come. By then, I had been homeschooling for more than 20 years; my oldest was born in 1962. Through the years, people would sometimes copy us—a family here, a family there. But suddenly many families were contacting me. We had been left alone by the authorities; they knew about us, but they had problems of their own. Other families were not so lucky. I felt responsible for them, and authorities such as Raymond Moore and John Holt started suggesting that we seek legislative action to remedy the problem in our state.
For many years we were illegal and I didn’t even know it! One day, when my father-in-law came home from a meeting with the district attorney about some other business, he told us the DA had remarked that it was rumored there were truant children on our compound. Mr. McCurdy stated that it was our religious conviction not to send the children to public school. Whereupon the DA hastened to exclaim, “Well, I don’t want any religious battles in my court,” and the issue was dropped. But we started being careful after that, keeping the children inside until after the school bus had passed, or not taking them to town on school days.
After the issue of homeschooling became public, and we had started to work with the local legislators, I did receive a letter from the regional superintendent threatening to take legal action if we did not enroll the children in school immediately. I wrote to him explaining our views about education (leaving out the religious issue) and declaring that we would homeschool even if it meant moving to Alaska. In fact, I started thinking about where to hide the children, if it came to that. But I also brought it up to the legislators we were working with by then, and Senator Sam Guess got in touch with the superintendent. He told me the superintendent promised to leave us alone if the legislature worked on the issue.
Beginnings of a movement
I first went to Olympia in 1984 and worked for a month, learning the ropes–how to get a bill introduced, how two-party politics worked, the whole process of committee hearings, testimony, and all about amendments. In the end, that first bill did not pass, but the legislators encouraged us to keep trying, and “go get your people united on the issue”. So during the summer months we held numerous meetings in various places, asking homeschoolers what sort of rules they could live with, organizing a phone tree, meeting with public school officials to see what their main objections were, and checking out other potential allies (private schools, conservative organizations). We also invited John Holt to be guest speaker at the first Family Learning Fair which we held in Spokane.
So when the legislative session started in 1985, we were much better prepared. Everyone contributed their ideas; John Wartes, a psychologist in a Seattle public school who homeschooled his two children and had a hobby of designing surveys, had done an extensive (for those times) survey of the homeschoolers willing to participate, and he also prepared various handouts explaining some of the issues, which we gave to give to the legislators. We had also formed the Washington Association of Home Educators, in itself a daunting task. That summer I started publishing the Family Learning Exchange, a monthly publication that hardly anyone subscribed to, but which we sent to everyone on our mailing list so that they would be informed of what was going on.
Probably the first person in Washington to go public was Debra Stuart. She was an admirer of John Holt, and together with Diane McAllister, a certified teacher, formed the first “umbrella school”. Families could enroll their children in the school and then homeschool them, with minor supervision and ‘creative’ paperwork. They talked to people at SPI (Superintendent of Public Instruction) and had obtained approval on a trial basis. Soon, other teachers who wanted to homeschool their own kids caught on to this system as a way to also bring in some income. One of these was Nola Evans in Spokane. About the same time that she was starting her umbrella school, our family was moving in closer to Spokane. We had lived up in the mountains near Cusick for many years—too remote for the school district to worry about. But now Johnny, our oldest, had taken his GED and was enrolled in Spokane Technical Institute, and the commute was taking its toll. So on Thanksgiving Day, 1982, we moved to a small farm overlooking the city of Spokane.
Just before leaving Cusick, I had written a letter that was published in Growing Without Schooling, which was given the title “Twenty Years of Homeschooling in Washington State”. This generated a number of contacts. People seemed to be popping up out of the bushes, wanting to know how we did it and what were the legal consequences. By now, Dr. Raymond Moore and his wife had started holding seminars around the country, sharing their ideas on raising children and sending them to school “better late than early,” and found that most of their audience were homeschooling families.
After our move, Nola somehow got in touch with me and after several phone calls, we decided to meet. I suggested that she bring her families (3 or 4) and I would invite those on my list (4 or 5) and we would have a real meeting. But somehow the word got around and 15 families showed up! That was in March of 1983, and it was decided that we would continue to meet monthly for mutual support. By May the group had grown to 100 people, and someone mentioned that Raymond Moore was going to hold a seminar in Sandpoint, and maybe we should all go to hear him.
By the time we got together in June, I had contacted the pastor of the Sandpoint Adventist church, but was told that the seminar had been canceled (too much competition for Adventist schools in the area). So I called Moore directly and asked what would be involved if we invited him to Spokane (he hadn’t even been notified yet that Sandpoint had canceled). We discussed it at our June support group meeting and it was agreed to go ahead, since the Moores would assume the costs (they charged tuition) and all we had to do was organize and publicize the meetings.
My only daughter was married in July, and one month later we held the seminar, to which 500 people attended! Moore said it was the best organized seminar he’d had to date. People came from all over the Northwest and Canada. Even before the event, Moore suggested that we try to get local legislators and school superintendents informed and involved. So during the 2-day event we held a special luncheon and invited legislators, judges, lawyers and superintendents, and over 20 of them showed up and heard Moore’s special presentation on the need to make homeschooling legal in our state. Several legislators spoke to me afterward and promised to help.
We immediately started meeting with area legislators over lunch, or in their homes or offices, and we met with quite a bit of encouragement. We formed a small PAC (political action committee) for this purpose: Nola and I, Charles Wood, plus three or four others. One of the first persons we contacted was a lady who had just retired from the senate. We met in her home and she told us that we needed to hire a lobbyist. “I’ve never seen a bill get anywhere without a lobbyist,” she said, insisting, “You must have a lobbyist!” We looked at each other in despair. We had no budget, none of us were independently wealthy, homeschoolers were already sacrificing a second paycheck…. What could we do? I asked if a bill had ever been passed without benefit of a lobbyist. She thought for a bit, then told us she remembered that there was a man once, who had some issue he wanted them to address. He kept working on it year after year, “until we finally gave him what he wanted just to get him off our backs.” She went on, “You see, we call it the Mother of the Bill. Every bill has to have a ‘mother’ to watch over it, move it along, keep track of it, prevent hostile amendments from being attached—just like a real mother. It’s a long process. And we legislators can’t do it for you; we have too many other bills and issues to think about, including all the stuff the Governor sends down for us to legislate.”
While she talked, I was thinking: Most of my kids were older, though I still had a five-year-old at home, but his big sister (already married) could help look after him. I looked at each of the others. Nola was a single mom, others were dads who had to work and support their families. Finally, I ended the long silence. “I’ll do it. I can do what that man did—I’m nothing if not persistent. But this isn’t a one-person issue. You will all need to help as much as you can.” And that, they promised to do. Of course, I had no idea what was involved in being a lobbyist, or even how to get a bill passed. But all through the years of being a pioneer homeschool family (probably the first in Washington State), I had relied on God’s promise to give wisdom to anyone who asked for it. He had indeed helped me over the rough places in raising my five children, and I knew He would help me learn how to get this important matter legalized.
My own experience
When I was a new mother and my first child was only three months old, I found myself reading a Christian book on education. It mentioned that Christ never went to school but learned at his mother’s knee and later in Joseph’s carpentry shop. It also described him studying Nature and having discourse with the birds and animals, and more especially, that he studied the scrolls of the Scriptures and learned about God’s plan to save mankind from the ruin in which Adam’s sin had plunged him. I thought: if God’s son learned at home, why shouldn’t mine.
Then I thought about my own sketchy education. My parents were missionaries, and as such we had to move quite often. Sometimes school enrollment was closed by the time we were settled, and I just didn’t attend that year. Soon I discovered that when I went back to school for the next grade, I really hadn’t missed much, and I could catch up quickly during the first weeks. This happened several times. By the time I was 17, I had attended only six scattered years of actual classroom schooling. Then I applied to college, where I was given the GED and was accepted with no problem.
I thought about what went on in my life during those years that I didn’t go to school. I loved to read and still remember how thrilled I was when Dad introduced me to the town library. Of course part of the activities involved traveling, quite an education in itself. We traveled by plane (in 1947, it was a DC-6 four-engine propeller plane; a few years later it was a DC-3 two-engine). Chile is a very long narrow country, and in the ‘50s we spent quite a bit of time on the train, for the roads were still all gravel or dirt. Once, we spent five days on a small ocean liner when we moved to what Dad called “the uttermost part of the earth”, Punta Arenas. Of course when I did go to school, it was all in Spanish and included local history and geography. By the time I was 13 I had decided that school was a place you went to spend time, and that real learning occurred at other times when I was thinking or asking about what I had seen or heard. I noticed that some teachers liked my original responses, but most just stuck to the text and became irritated if I asked probing questions.
So Johnny was not sent to school. At least, not for a while. At first we would gather at the kitchen table and study the alphabet and the numbers. I already believed in “Better late than early”, so we took our time. But when he turned 8 and was still not reading (while his sister, only 5, was already pouring over books), I became a bit apprehensive. But we just accepted that he was a ‘late bloomer’ and took it in stride.
When he was 9, Johnny caught on to reading and in just a few weeks was well into the books. But in the meantime he had progressed in math and other subjects, although writing continued to be an issue. Many years later we heard about dyslexia, but if we had sent him to school at the regular age of six, the word would have been “retarded”. Fortunately, he never knew it and is now a successful electronics engineer. When he was 12, a little church school with only 15 students was starting up about 30 miles from where we lived. By now I had succumbed to the idea of trying correspondence school, but the fifth grade math looked pretty complicated to me, so in a moment of weakness we enrolled him in the little church school, while continuing at home with the other two (by now there was a younger brother).
Driving back and forth to school each day was a daunting task, though we did try some car-pooling. And Johnny would come home saying, “Mom, those kids are so juvenile!” He may have been only 12, but he knew how adults were supposed to act, and that was what he intended to become. I started arriving a bit early to pick him up, just to see what was going on, and it was surely not an ideal learning environment! Then one day, after maybe three months, the teacher said to me, “I don’t think Johnny is learning very much.” I agreed with her, and we went back to schooling at home.
The following year, another little brother was born. Trying to get through the expensive curriculum and tend the house plus an infant was a pretty heavy load. Some things were not getting done. I decided to give up on the curriculum and let the children benefit from country living and trips to the library. But I felt guilty and wondered if maybe we shouldn’t send Johnny to school for the last couple of years of high school. I was sure the children’s education was going to falter, but their dad said No, they are doing fine, don’t worry. So one day I sat down and made a list of all the things I had learned in life and a list of all the things I had actually learned in school. There was no comparison! I quit worrying.
Turned free to learn on their own, the children really shined. John asked Grandpa if he could work on that old pick-up truck that had been rusting away back in the woods. Grandpa said, “If you get it to run again, it’s yours.” It took him a couple of years and a lot of help from grandparents, uncles and Dad, but he did get it running, and it was still running ten years later when he sold it!
Jean blossomed into a very industrious housekeeper. By the time she was ten, she could fix meals, take care of the horses, and was always available to babysit. I sent her to Grandma’s to learn to bake bread, and everyone commented on how good her bread tasted. But she wanted to earn some money. Her brothers were helping an uncle doing forestry work and planting trees, so I suggested she look in the newspaper to see what was available for a 13 year-old. Somehow she connected with a Fuller Brush man, and he came out for a visit. She was a little young to assume the business by herself, he said, but if Mom would partner with her he thought it might work. Since we lived in the country, I drove and made the sales contacts. She wrote down the orders and did the math. Our clients were enthralled, and one who was a teacher, asked why she’s never seen her in school. When we explained, she was fascinated!
Soon Jean was running the house. She was also helping me with another project: We designed and built a model of the story of Pilgrim’s Progress, by Paul Bunyan. It was the 500th anniversary of its publication, at one time the most widely read book in America next to the Bible. As a family, we read the book through three times, first in an abbreviated version, then in a modern English complete edition, and finally in its original form. Every detail had to be depicted on our model, every character, every town—and since the road was straight, it couldn’t have any bends so the model was 20 feet long, divided into five sections. The children really knew the story by the time we were finished, and then we took it around to camp meetings in Washington, Oregon, Canada, Alabama, and other places as the main attraction for children’s meetings. Jean had only one request: She wanted to be present when her next sibling was born. She would soon be 14, and I thought it would be another good learning experience for her. Though disappointed that it was another brother and not the sister she had hoped for, she loved him just the same.
Back when child number 3 was born (at home like his sister), he seemed so bright and healthy. But by the time he celebrated his first birthday, something was wrong. He quit walking, ran a low fever off and on, and cried a lot. This is when my medical education began. I read everything I could get my hands on and had narrowed down the diagnosis to two possibilities by the time I took him to the doctor, and he confirmed one of them: rheumatic fever. “We don’t have a cure for it,” he said. “All I can offer is an antibiotic for the rest of his life, and aspirin for the pain.” I was not satisfied, and kept reading. It took me another two years and a lot of prayer, but eventually I discovered a cure for rheumatic fever, which was written up in the Journal of American Medicine by our doctor—and my children figured out you can learn anything you want, if you just apply yourself and don’t give up.
One day when the older kids were just entering their teens, we received a phone call asking for directions to our house. It was a family from California who had driven all the way to Cusick, WA after heard about us. They had planned their summer vacation around the possibility of meeting the only other family they had heard of who homeschooled their children as they themselves had done. In fact, all but one of their four children were already in college, as I recall, so we were very impress—and greatly encouraged!
The need to change the law
We were pretty much left alone by the school authorities. But one day, the grade school principal knocked on our door. She said she was taking a survey to see what the community preferred. They were about to initiate Running Start, and wanted to know if we would rather send the little tots to school or have personnel from the school instruct the parents on how to do it at home. “I think I probably know how you will vote on this, Mrs. McCurdy,” she said. “But since I’m in the neighborhood, I thought I might ask you how your program with your children is working out.” I did not invite her in (being an emissary of the government), but I did answer her questions. In fact, I shamelessly bragged about all the projects my kids were involved in. Her eyes sparkled as she exclaimed, “I wish ALL children could have an education like that. But of course most parents don’t have the preparation you no doubt have received.” I didn’t tell her how very little “preparation” I’d actually received. A few years later we ran into each other again, and she asked how it had all turned out. I told her about John successfully passing his GED and enrolling in Spokane Technical Institute, and that Jean at 16 had been congratulated for receiving the highest score on the GED that had ever been recorded at the community colleges of Spokane. “Well, our schools are certainly falling behind,” she concluded.
I felt somewhat responsible for all the parents who were following us, and after we moved into the Spokane suburbs some of our neighbors expressed concern that the children didn’t attend school. When we became involved in the lobbying process, I wanted to make sure that our freedom was protected and that any regulations that were written did not permit the government to encroach upon the inviolability of the home.
Many parents thought it was dangerous to work on legislation. They thought it was better to just keep a low profile and continue to homeschool illegally, rather than draw attention and perhaps end up with intolerable restrictions. But as we talked with the more conservative legislators, I became convinced that the Constitution was set up to protect us from exactly that kind of oppression and that if we worked hard enough, we would be successful. So I started to work “proactively”, that is, I interviewed government officials to see what their objections might be.
I found that the Press was a formidable ally. Not that the reporters cared about us, but homeschooling was at that time so unusual that it made sensational story material. Besides, pioneer homeschoolers were a rather unique bunch of people, so we were written up in the newspapers, photographed and interviewed on television. We arranged our home for their benefit, setting up school desks and trying to maintain some semblance of order. I remember one reporter from a Seattle newspaper, who wandered around with her photographer snapping pictures. Then she said, “I want to get a picture of what you really do for school. Do they sit at their desks all the time?” “Oh no,” I answered. “They hardly ever sit at the desks. If you go outside, you can see some real learning going on.”
So she and the photographer went outside, and there were Joe and Jesse (8 and 4) playing in the driveway. They had piled up some dirt to make a lake, filled it with water from the hose, and were pushing straws through the “dam” through which the overflow could run off. The reporter was intrigued. “But I don’t think my readers will get the point,” she concluded. So instead, they took pictures of the boys doing math problems with Legos, and drying the dishes.
By the time we were ready to go back to Olympia for the second session of lobbying, we felt pretty confident that we had a majority of the legislators on our side. And thanks to the Press, a large part of the citizenry was becoming familiar with the concept, and that was important. But it was another matter with the homeschoolers. There seemed to be three factions: 1) Those who wanted to work under some authority figure, such as a teacher or a school extension program; 2) Those who didn’t want any kind of accountability, believing that children belonged to God rather than to the State; and 3) Those who were willing to have some limited accountability for the sake of legality but also wanting a lot of freedom, feeling that this was the only road to success.
My solution was to include something for everyone, in order to win the most support from the homeschooling community. I worked closely with the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Marc Gaspard, who himself decided to sponsor the new bill. Joe and I spent a lot of time with each of the members of that committee, as well as canvasing each and every senator and representative.
But then I was faced with severe opposition from the, what did we call them? Ah, the Purists. The word was coined by one of the representatives who was trying to help us. First, I was invited to attended a meeting composed of evangelical pastors, Christian lawyers (Michael Farris was one) and representatives of church schools who had been trying for several years to get legislation passed that would exempt them from all government regulations. They wanted me and the homeschool community to join forces with them. But I felt really uneasy throughout the meeting. Even though I was a missionary pastor’s daughter, and had attended mostly Christian schools, I could see that their other-worldly, rebellious spirit was getting them nowhere. I did a lot of private praying during that meeting!
Finally, the men decided to ask each person to state his or her position regarding the legislation they were proposing (actually, I and my companion were the only two women present). When it came my turn, I said that I did not feel free to join their coalition because I felt the homeschool bill was an educational measure and did not address a religious issue per se. I suggested that we could privately support both positions and that even if only one of the measures passed, all would benefit. And in fact, our bill had a clause that stated specifically that unregistered church schools could operate if all the parents met qualifications to homeschool and the building met code requirements.
But soon these people declared open war on the homeschool bill. They actually lobbied against it. One senator who had attended the Raymond Moore meeting and had promised me her full support, angrily exclaimed, “Your bill will send my children to jail, because they will never file a declaration of intent that would put their children in the arms of the State,” or words to that effect. After that, she would not even speak to me, and there were other legislators who felt the same way. One young representative told me he was praying that our bill would pass but felt he had to vote against it because his constituents were opposed. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to homeschoolers why “compromise” was not always a bad word, and showing them that there was much legislative support for our measure.
To the legislators I explained that this was the only way they would be able to get a handle on the thousands of parents that were choosing to homeschool. They, in turn, thanked me for not calling “fire down from heaven upon their heads”, as some were doing! In the end, I decided that the opposition from the conservative right wing was God’s way of ensuring passage of our excellent homeschool bill. It made our rather radical measure appear tame and harmless, compared to theirs.
On the other hand, those who wanted more State supervision supported the measure because they thought more supervision would be added to it along the way. But instead, the only amendment that was added, actually ensured more freedom (All decisions regarding time, place, materials, etc., shall be left up to the parent). However, one of the options to qualify was to work under the supervision of a teacher. And those options were important; they ensured that there was something for everyone. If you didn’t want to file a declaration, you could enroll in an independent church school. If you didn’t qualify to homeschool (have a year of college or take the homeschooling course), you could work under the supervision of a teacher. If you could afford to get a teacher’s evaluation, you didn’t need to do the standardized testing, and so on.
Joe and the gavel
It was early in October of 1984 when we decided that Joe would go with me to Olympia to help lobby the homeschool bill. Jim had gone the year before, but now it was Joe’s turn and, though he was only nine years old at the time, he would prove to be a most convincing representative of the homeschooled children of Washington State. I reminded him of that fact, as I handed out several workbooks that I thought he should complete before we headed for the capitol. He managed to complete them (4th grade math, 2nd grade calligraphy, 5th grade grammar), and then we were ready to travel to the capital.
The legislative session didn’t start until January, but there were some preliminary issues we needed to take care of. The new governor-elect hadn’t been inaugurated yet, but as we made our way into the lower floor of the Capitol building that day in late December, I recognized his voice down the hall, holding forth to a group of legislators and staff about what they could expect in the coming months. I grabbed Joe’s hand and said, “Let’s go see the new governor.” The room was rather small and the audience spilled out into the hallway. I flattened myself against the wall to listen. But Joe couldn’t see, so I let him scurry into the room. All eyes were on the speaker and no one noticed him—except governor Booth Gardner, who was surprised to see a young boy among his listeners.
When the meeting ended, Joe came running back and stood beside me, as the governor worked his way down the hall shaking hands. When he came up to us, he immediately stopped, “What are you doing here, young man?” I explained that we were there to lobby the homeschool bill. “Oh, so you’re homeschooled,” he said to Joe. “How old are you?” Joe found his voice and said, “Nine.” “Well, I’m four times as old as you plus eight minus three (or whatever it was), so how old am I?” Joe thought for a minute, and I held my breath. But he came up with the right answer, and the governor said, “When you get your bill passed, it is my job to sign it. So be sure to keep me posted.” After that, whenever he saw us on the campus, he would call Joe by name and ask how his bill was doing.
That was our first day, but then we had to meet with the “political action group” we had organized with other homeschool families in the state, and finalize on what the bill should say that people could agree on and support. A few days after the legislative session started, we were back in Olympia meeting with the legislators, one by one, to answer their questions and try to win their support for the homeschool bill. Joe, dressed in a suit and tie, carried my briefcase and soon the doormen, guards and secretaries began calling him the “little senator” or the “junior governor”. On more than one occasion a legislator would ask us when we were going to stop by his office—we’d become a curiosity. The party leader in the Senate had some burning questions for him. “Joe, do you know how to fight? Do you have a girlfriend? Those are important things that you’re missing out on by not going to school.” Joe was disgusted, especially a few months later when this same senator was arrested for driving under the influence, quite drunk in fact.
At first it was fun, and Joe memorized the names of all the senators and representatives and would recite them in alphabetical order, on the long 400-mile drives between home and Olympia. Soon he would know their party, their district, and their inclination, or not, to vote for the bill. But there were days when we had very little to eat. Sometimes the family we were staying with (a different one each week) lived far from town, so we had to get up early. And there were times when we would sit up in the gallery waiting, and he would get bored. However, at other times it could be quite entertaining. One day it seemed that none of the republican representatives were available; they had all disappeared! We asked around and were finally told that they were in another building practicing their voice votes, in other words yelling (voice votes are based on volume…?). Joe tried to visualize it, and laughed!
At times, whole busloads of school kids were ushered into the galleries. After being recognized from the Floor by their respective legislators, they would sit and squirm for 20 or 30 minutes, until they were ushered out again. We wondered what, if anything, they had learned that day. Sometimes, when there was too much snow on the mountains, or we had weekend meetings to attend, instead of going home we would visit a family farther north, in Snohomish, whose son also liked to play with Legos. Then we could relax and rest up a bit. And sometimes they also came down to Olympia to help lobby.
At one point, everyone seemed to be coming down with the flu. Hearings were cancelled, but floor sessions had to keep up with the legislative calendar. So feverish senators would lie on couches at the back of the Senate hall until the list was called, so they could go to their desks and register their vote. One morning I told Joe, “We cannot get sick. So we are going to boost our immune system with some zinc.” But I had run out of the zinc lozenges I usually carried, so we had to take the regular tablets. I explained that it’s important to suck on them so that our throat and nose would be saturated against the viruses. But the pills tasted awful! “Can’t I just swallow it?” he pleaded. “No, just hold it in your mouth for ten minutes—until we reach the freeway. Then you can swallow it.” With tears in his eyes, he managed to make it. And we never came down with the flu that winter.
After the bill passed the Senate, the House Education Committee had its hearing on our proposition and then an amendment was added to it. It was a friendly amendment so we thought the bill would pass right through the rules committee and be on its way. But the representative who was supposed to call it out, was stalling. He knew what I wanted, so he avoided me. We prayed and asked God to help. A little later when we were in the House office building, the fire alarm went off and the building had to be evacuated. Everyone knew that it was probably due to remodeling work up on the third floor, so there was no panic and, having reached the ground floor, we stood around waiting for the All Clear. That is when I spotted Rep. “Not-so-nice”, and went over to ask why the bill was stalled. He didn’t want to say, and so let out a string of expletives worthy of someone who had been a police officer on the streets of Tacoma for many years. Taking Joe by the hand, I started to walk away. But he called me back and apologized. “Well, I’m sorry if I pressured you too much,” I said. “No, that’s your job. But I should not have spoken to you that way, especially in front of your son.” The bill was called out of committee the very next day.
Another day as we sat in the gallery, Joe asked, “Aren’t we going to go lobby this morning, Mom?” And I answered, “I don’t know yet.” We sat there a while longer. I felt we needed to talk to the governor, but had been turned down each time I asked for an appointment. So we sat there listening to the inanities going on down on the Floor. Suddenly I stood up, “It’s time to go!” I said. With a strong impression to go to the governor’s office again, we headed out. “But we’ve already been there!” Joe noted. When we got to the office of the governor, we stood over in a corner and waited. Soon he came out of his inner office and looked around. “Where is Mr. So-and-so?” he asked. No one else was there. Seeing us then, he came over and asked what we needed, and we had the important conversation that I had been waiting for. Two minutes, and it was over. As we went back into the hallway, Joe said “Wow! That was impressive!” (or words to that effect). “Yes Joe, sometimes it’s a good idea to pray when we’re up in the gallery wondering what to do.”
So the bill had now passed both Houses; and it was back in the Senate for final approval (due to the amendment added to it by the House Ed. Committee). It was almost 7:30 in the evening and these sessions at the end of the legislative period could go on all night, so all the other homeschoolers that had been hanging around waiting for the “final passage”, had gone home. A little earlier I had caught up with the senator from downtown Seattle. “I already told you I’m not going to vote for it,” he said. “I don’t have any homeschoolers in my district.” “Oh, but you do!” I said, and reminded him of the flocks of Rainbow people (hippies) that had installed themselves on an empty lot downtown. “Yeah, they probably homeschool,” he admitted.
Sitting up in the gallery now, we kept an eye on the bills the President of the Senate had in his hand. He had already announced that our bill would be voted on that evening. Suddenly he looked up at the spot where we usually sat and motioned for Joe to come down. By now Joe knew all the nooks and crannies of the legislative campus (almost; he learned of a few more five years later when he came back as a page). He jumped up and headed for the back stairway and half a minute later was standing on the platform, but the president didn’t see him. Instead, the sergeant-at-arms was sent up to escort him. I had to make motions for him to notice that Joe was already standing there. At that point, the president handed Joe the gavel. I don’t know if he explained what Joe was supposed to do, but Joe knew exactly what to do since he had been observing the procedure for three months.
The president picked up the homeschool bill, the secretary read a short portion of it, and the list was called. When it was our own district senator’s turn to vote, he said “I want that young man up there from my district to be legal, so I vote yes.” On down the list, Mr. Downtown Seattle voted no, as expected. But then as is customary, the president asked if anyone wished to change his vote. And Mr. Seattle changed his vote to yes! Even his cronies were surprised, and patted him on the back, saying it must have been his grandfatherly reaction to that little boy up on the podium! Then the president announced the number of votes for and against, and pronounced the bill “passed” (by a two-thirds majority), whereupon Joe hit the gavel with a resounding thud on the desk, and the senators applauded!
Now it was time to get serious with the governor, but he had hundreds of bills to sign and there was no way to get to him. I sensed that there was more to the game, but didn’t know where to find out. I decided to call our prayer chain and have them ask for God’s help. But as we made our way to the phone booth, we saw that it was occupied by none other than the chief lobbyist for the Washington Education Association (teachers’ union). Soon he came out and greeted us. “You got your bill passed!” he exclaimed. Yes, but how do we get it signed by the governor? I asked. “Oh, it will become law without his signature,” he said. No, that´s not good enough, I responded. Besides, I think he wants to sign it; so please tell me whom should I see next. He was quiet for a moment, and then said, “You must promise never to tell anyone who told you,” and then he told us exactly where to go (another building we’d never been in), who to see, etc. “He’s the man who tells the governor which bills he can sign,” he assured us.
We went. Two times, for the man asked me to put it in writing as a letter to the governor. I spent half the night writing out eight reasons why we needed that bill to be signed by the governor. The next day I had one of the legislative secretaries type it up for me, and then we took it back to the man. He did ask me how we found out about him, but I explained that we couldn’t say who it was. He read the letter and then said, “Don’t worry, the governor will sign it. You can go home now.” And we did.
The signing of the law
A whole month passed with no news. Every now and then I would call the legislative staff, and they would say, “Not yet, but we will call you.” Another two weeks went by. Meanwhile, I had scheduled a meeting with homeschoolers in Ellensburg, half-way across the state, to explain to them the requirements of the new law. I had also invited the lady from Spokane Community College who was helping me develop a “qualifying course” on how to homeschool, which the new law called for, and she agreed to come along to the meeting. And another family was going to follow us to attend the meeting in Ellensburg.
And then the day arrived! It was late in the afternoon when I received the call, saying, “Tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. the Governor will sign SSB 3279* in his office.” But tomorrow was our meeting in Ellensburg. Should I call it off? Too hard to get in touch with everyone. What about the people that would be riding with us, would they be willing to go all the way to Olympia?
We gathered the family and told them to lay out their best clothes for tomorrow. We called key people around the state that could spread the word to any who wished to attend the signing. We packed a lunch, and early the next morning headed to Ellensburg, after picking up the people who were riding with us and explaining to them what was in store. The meeting went well and we had covered most of the essentials by lunchtime. Then I announced that the meeting would be cut short as we had a very important engagement in Olympia in just a few hours. We jumped into the car, raced across the state, choking down our sandwiches as we drove, changed into our good clothes in the legislative parking lot, and finally hurried into the governor’s office. It was exactly 4 p.m.
As the crowd gathered round the table where he sat, he took a few minutes to chat with 4-year-old Jesse, who had to stay home most of the time while his brother helped with the lobbying. With the bill in front of him, the governor handed Jesse a pen and asked him to write his name on the back side of the bill (always checking to see if these homeschooled kids actually learn anything…). Then, when all was ready and cameras were snapping, Booth Gardner signed the bill. Each of the children that were present received a special “Booth Gardner” pen, but the one with which he actually signed the bill, he gave to me as chief lobbyist.
Afterwards, the lobbyist and director of the Federation of Private Schools came up to me and said, “I just don’t understand how you were able to get all those concessions passed, and with no supervision or accountability” (or words to that effect). But it just goes to show that when you really work the system, the American way works–with God’s help. A few years later when Joe went back to work as a page, he learned more about the legislative process, as well as discovering some hidden underground tunnels and other mysteries of the capitol campus.
There are states that have fewer regulations than ours, and there are some that have far more accountability measures than ours. But there are few states that have more guaranteed freedom than ours, for the law proclaims: “The state hereby recognizes that parents who are causing their children to receive home-based instruction under RCW 28A.27.010(4) [this law] shall be subject only to those minimum state laws and regulations which are necessary to insure that a sufficient basic educational opportunity is provided to the children receiving such instruction. Therefore, all decisions relating to philosophy or doctrine, selection of books, teaching materials and curriculum, and methods, timing, and place in the provision or evaluation of home-based instruction shall be the responsibility of the parent except for matters specifically referred to in this chapter” (emphasis supplied).
One huge effort to help unite the people was when we put on our first Family Learning Fair. We had learned much while organizing the Moore Seminar, so in the summer of 1984 we invited John Holt to be our guest speaker and he accepted. It was to be one of his last major engagements, since he passed away just a year later on September 14, 1985, three months after homeschooling became legal in Washington State. But besides our illustrious guest speaker, we added a number of workshops for parents, activities for the children, a “model homeschool room”, and what really made it a “Fair” – an exhibition hall with curriculum and encyclopedia vendors, booths from local toy stores, book stores, map sellers, and much more. And it worked! Parents were thrilled to see so many other families joining the ranks of homeschoolers, the kids did a lot of socializing, and the media was there too, helping to keep the concept in front of the public and the legislators who would soon have to vote on the issue. Over the next few years we held six two-day Family Learning Fairs, with the likes of Pat Montgomery, Michael Farris, John Taylor Gatto, and others, with attendance as high as 1500.
Once the bill was passed and signed into law, there was still a lot more work ahead. First, the law said that parents should take a “qualifying” course—and there was no such thing! One of the people who had gone with us to watch the governor sign the law was Jean Payne, who was in charge of the Parent Co-op Program of Community Colleges of Spokane, and therefore very interested in the new homeschool option. I asked her if she could help me design a course that would be acceptable to the college, and she agreed. First, we decided on the length it had to be to meet the credit requirements of the college. We settled on 24 hours, and it would be taught in four consecutive days of 6 hours each. We tried once or twice to do it as an evening class over 8 weeks, but mothers needed to be home with their children and preferred the four-day format.
Nola Evans handed me a sheaf of papers left over from her teacher-training days, from which I extracted some valuable material. I had written several articles for FLEx (the Family Learning Exchange newsletter) which I incorporated into the syllabus for the class. Eventually it was revised and expanded (and now translated and available to read on my Spanish website, which may be accessed at www.familiaescolar.com ). The course met with immediate success. I think we did 10 courses the first year and 12 the following year. Eventually, well over 2000 people graduated from my course, and several others began teaching courses as well. I remember that later, one legislator joked that I had managed to write myself a job into the bill.
The testing service
Another matter was the annual test or assessment. There were teachers available who could to do the assessments (they had been operating umbrella schools before the law was changed). But taking a standardized achievement test seemed more convenient and cheaper, especially if the parent could administer it herself. But the teachers were very protective of their tests. I talked to one of the teachers, who also homeschooled his own kids, and asked if he would offer a real testing service (not just assessments). It should be cheaper, since he could set a date and test a large number at the same time. And the scores should be returned to the parents quickly. I had a lot to learn!
There was the problem of getting everyone to agree on a date (different date for each grade, and parents had kids in different grades!). Then there was the problem of getting the scores returned from the test publishers—they took forever. And often the efficiency of the teacher was not up to par (working out of their homes, with their own children under foot…). And since the parents had to pay quite a bit for each child’s test, they expected better service than they seemed to be getting; so I began to think of another possible solution to this problem.
In 1986 we decided to incorporate Family Learning Organization (FLO) as a tax exempt 501c3 corporation, because we were sending out several hundred copies of FLEx and the postage would be cheaper. Actually, after the bill was passed into law, I withdrew from further involvement in homeschool organizations feeling a certain animosity emanating from leaders on the west side of the state. But some of the ladies on the east side begged me to start an organization. So with their help, we started operating and when we incorporated, they became the board of directors. This was a few months before the Washington Homeschool Organization was formed. I attended their first meeting and immediately knew that our state needed both organizations—the differences were pretty evident, just as in state politics.
By the time a couple of years had passed, I could see that once again, if you want the job done right, you’ll have to do it yourself. So I found a young mother who had her college degree and was willing to help me. We drafted a letter to the test publishers and ordered something like six tests for each grade, and we offered them with instructions for parents to administer to their children. I reasoned that if the parent was considered qualified to teach her children, she should be able to test them just like any other teacher. Thus, the FLO Testing Service was born. When the parent returned the booklet with the answer sheet, we scored them ourselves (using the publishers’ instruction manual) and made a report to send back to the parents. The booklets were eventually given plastic cover and sent on to other families. When we ran out of answer sheets, instead of photocopying them, we created our own so as not to infringe on copyrights. This service met with immediate success. But when some of the teachers heard about it, they complained to the test publishers.
I started getting warning letters from each of the test publishers (we were eventually using three: CAT, MAT, and ITBS), to which I courteously replied that it was now the law that parents could teach their children, and also that they should test them annually. I assured them that there was no motive at all for the parents to cheat, (as teachers often do), because they really did want to know how their children were progressing. So things would quiet down until the following year when homeschooling teachers again would accuse us, and the publishers’ attorneys would now send “cease and desist” letters which I simply ignored. But the service grew rapidly, and soon we were sending tests all over the USA and beyond. There was one family on a yacht making its way around the world. They would send in their order at one port, with instructions to mail the tests to another port. Then we’d receive the returned tests from a different place, and so on. Since we had acquired a credit card reader, people could call in their order and pay for it by phone. So East Coast phone calls started at five a.m. during the busy season.
Eventually, one of the publishers sued us. We put up a pretty good fight, spent $20,000 on the best lawyer we could find, and eventually settled out of court. They got their tests back, but not a single name of our clients, which they had demanded. And the other publishers were discouraged from coming after us. We lost some of our personnel over it as they were afraid they might be included in the suit. But then Joe, who was newly married, decided to give a year of his life to FLO Testing Service in order to computerize our scoring process. After that, it was possible to put the answer sheet into a machine and it would score the answers and print out the report. Too bad the publishers were so nasty; they might have been able to benefit from his invention….
During the following years I continued to teach qualifying courses, not only at SFCC and other community colleges, but also through Central Washington University and even the University of Northern Idaho. I still kept watch over bills in Olympia, sometimes testifying in hearings and keeping in touch with key legislators. There was an effort by one representative to actually change the homeschool law and “put some teeth into it”. He was soundly reproved and lost his bid to be speaker of the House. There was a driver’s education bill, a GED bill, a bill to require a new standardized test (the WASL, but we wanted to keep the tests we had), the perennial bill to lower compulsory attendance. All these had parts that affected homeschool interests. There was even a hearing on abolishing compulsory schooling, which of course I gladly testified for.
A new calling
By 2001 I was considered a senior lobbyist and often consulted on, and made aware of, issues affecting homeschooling by legislators and staff. I heard many parents complain about having to comply with various aspects of the law. The testing seemed to be the most onerous requirement, so I started going to support group meetings around the state and asking if they wanted us to go back and change the law. The response was mixed. Then I requested a hearing with the WHO board, where I presented the different views I had hear, and my willingness to do the work, if they would support the idea. I received a resounding “NO”.
Now, right about this time, an old friend of mine I hadn’t seen for a while, showed up on my doorstep announcing that he was leading a tourist group to explore Chilean Patagonia. Oh!!! You have to take me! Do you still have room? It had been over forty years since I left Chile; the lawsuit had been settled, further lobbying was out of the question, the testing season for that year was winding down, and I was good to go. Never mind that the World Trade Towers had just come down, and there were terrorists high jacking planes, I was going back to the land of my youth. I even programed an extra two weeks after the tour, to check out places where I’d lived as a child. And so, for the first time in over a decade I took a vacation.
The first weekend was spent at Torres del Paine, which has since been declared the eighth wonder of the world. Then we boarded the small 12-passenger yacht for two weeks of exploring the fjords and glaciers of southern Chile. After that, we continued by land to visit other remote areas, including prehistoric rock paintings, caves, etc. Finally, when everyone else was heading home, I got off the plane in Puerto Montt. After exploring that region and the island of Chiloé, I took a bus north and ended up spending Christmas and New Year with Norma and her family in Concepcion. She had been our “Nana” for many years when we lived in Chile, and became like a sister to me.
Everywhere I went people seemed to ask me what I did for a living. And when I said that I helped families who taught their children at home instead of sending them to school, their eyes opened wide and invariably they would ask if that would be possible in Chile. There seemed to be great discontent with the educational system, and no wonder: It is now patterned after the failing USA system! But what is even worse, I found that in Chile all schools are controlled by the government. There are no alternatives. Even the so-called private and church schools are subsidized (and therefore controlled) by the government. I was shocked! Yes, Chile most definitely needed a homeschool option.
When I returned to Spokane, I called my board together and asked what they would think if we were to start a FLO subsidiary in Chile. It took them several months to think it over, but they finally approved the motion. I found a lady who was willing to manage FLO for a year, I packed three suitcases, and chose Puerto Montt as my destination. I didn’t know anyone there, but they had a nice little pipe organ at the Lutheran church (for many years I had played church organs all around Spokane). So just like that, I was off to a whole new chapter of my life.
Part Two – Life and work in Chile
It was a balmy afternoon in early December, 2002, when my plane touched down in Puerto Montt, over a 1000 km south of Santiago. I collected my three suitcases and carry-on bags and headed for the airport door. I had already been through customs in Santiago; this was a rather small and uncomplicated airport and four or five taxis were lined up outside. I accepted the first one to offer me a ride into the city and hoped he could fit all the luggage in his smallish trunk. Meanwhile, I prayed earnestly for God’s leading.
“Where to,” the driver asked, as he returned to his seat. Ah yes, but I had no idea. I suggested he take me to an inexpensive but clean hotel of his choosing. Then as we drove along, I mentioned that I needed to look for a house. He remembered one he had seen on the way, but it was not what I was looking for so we went on to find the rather modest hotel he selected and, after unloading my bags, he promised to come back in the morning to take me house-hunting.
This was the end of a rather long trip that had started in Spokane, WA, several weeks before. I had invited my oldest grandson, 20 year-old Luke, to accompany me on a road trip across the States, first to California to visit my mother, then to Texas to see a niece, on to Tennessee to say good-by to my son Jim and his family, then up to Minnesota to leave my vehicle with Joseph and his wife. Luke would travel home by bus and Joe would take me to the airport, from where I would fly off to Chile.
Now, after settling in to my hotel room (at least I had the only private bathroom), I walked several blocks to the city center and looked for a place to buy a cell phone. It felt good to stretch my legs, and I was anxious to let my folks know I had arrived safely. I also picked up a bit of bread and fruit for breakfast, then found some supper at a restaurant near the hotel. I reveled in the long-forgotten flavors and the folk music, taking my time to let it all sink in.
A little after 9:30 the next morning the taxi was back and we headed off—to the wrong side of town, as it turned out. I guess the man thought I must be really poor, not to know where I was headed. Eventually we got around to the better neighborhoods and found a little house for rent in a nice location overlooking the city. I called the realtor and she said she’d meet me there the next morning. When she showed me the house, I was surprised at how barren it seemed. There were no light fixtures, only wires hanging out of the ceiling; and there was nothing in the kitchen but the sink and its stand. No mirror in the bathrooms either, but the price was right and I accepted it. When I told her I had never rented a house in that condition, she said people in this country take everything possible when they move out.
After being dropped off, I headed back to town to do some shopping. First, I found a pretty good futon (sofa/bed) sitting in the aisle of a department store. Apparently it had just been assembled and was on sale. I bought it, along with a wool blanket and a set of sheets and a pillow. Then I needed a refrigerator, a few dishes and silverware. I carried what I could back to the hotel, and had the big stuff to be delivered the next morning. For the third night since my arrival I slept in the hotel, and the next day I paid my bill and moved into my new home. I was glad when the futon arrived and I had a place to sit down. However, I discovered that it would not fit through the door into the bedroom, so I would have to sleep in the living room until I could find furniture for the bedroom. That evening I discovered something else. There was a lovely bay window facing a busy street—and I had no curtains! I had to make do with the top sheet as a curtain for the time being.
The realtor sent me a “maestro” (jack of all trades) to put up the light fixtures I had purchased. And before the week was out I had a gas stove hooked up in the kitchen. The next week a washer went in, and a folding table and inexpensive chairs took their place in the dining area. A desk to accommodate my computer, printer, scanner, and other office equipment that had come with me from the States was set up in what would be my office/bedroom. It being December, I even bought a tiny Christmas tree, only 8 inches tall, to set up in the bay window. My little house was beginning to feel like home!
The taxi drivers were helpful in pointing out the mall, the city hall, the plaza with its cathedral, the post office, the Lutheran church, and other places of interest. On Sunday I made my way to the Lutheran church in hopes of getting to hear the organ. It was, after all, the main reason I had chosen this city. But no one played the organ for the service, so after it was over I waited for the pianist and asked about it. She said the organist was away, but the pastor might be able to help me. Yes, he said, they would be happy to let me practice, and serve as a substitute organist. The pianist, who had been standing by, suggested that they also invite me to participate in their monthly “tertulias” (social gatherings of musicians, poets, and others interested in culture). It was an ideal place for me to meet people and make friends.
Once again I made my way to Concepcion to spend Christmas with Norma (my Chilean “sister”) and her family. I also called the gentleman that had befriended me the year before, to tell him I was back in town for a few days. “Let me call you back,” he said. Then, “I’ve cancelled all my appointments for tomorrow, let’s get together.” I readily agreed, and mentioned I had an appointment with the Cathedral organist at ten a.m. He said he’d meet me there. This took quite some doing on his part. As a Seventh-day Adventist, he normally attended church on Saturday, was a Sabbath School teacher, usually had platform duties, and who knows what else, but Saturday morning he appeared at the cathedral and listened as I tried out the organ. Later, we walked around town, eventually arriving at the university campus where we found benches to rest and enjoy the Spring sunshine.
“So why did you choose to go and live in such a cold, rainy, ugly city?” he asked. I explained about the organ (not a big one, but one of the few working pipe organs in Chile). Then I added, “It’s a lovely city by the sea, and I have a nice little house, and right now the weather is nice. Why don’t you come and see for yourself?” “I will,” he said with surprising conviction. He invited me to a nice little buffet restaurant for lunch, then drove me in his pick-up back to Norma’s house. The following day I headed back to Puerto Montt. But Norma’s daughter, Normita, had been asking me a lot of questions about homeschooling. As a school teacher, she was interested in learning all she could about my so-called Natural Learning—and I was looking for someone to help me translate my book. As I was leaving, she told me she had decided to spend the summer helping me, and would it be all right to bring her two boys? What an answer to prayer! She said she’d be down in a couple of weeks.
After Normita arrived and took up residence in the two upstairs bedrooms with her boys (9 and 11), she helped me figure out what authorities I needed to talk to about the issue of non-attendance and to find out how the law would be interpreted. I was surprised at how well it went. The Chilean constitution declares that parents have the right and duty to educate their children, and the State has the obligation to protect the exercise of that right. The law even recognizes “informal education”.
Before long I had snagged an interview with the local newspaper, and was distributing my business cards and talking about homeschooling to anyone who would listen. My son John, back home, had designed a Spanish website for me, and we were good to go. But not much happened, at least not for a while. We kept working on the translation, I designed a little brochure, and twice a week I would spend the morning at the organ while the boys went to a local gym to work out. Normita had a car, so on weekends we would go sight-seeing—and there was a lot to see! My visa ran out after 60 days, and all I had to do to renew it was to cross a border. So I suggested we go visit Bariloche, a famous tourist town in southern Argentina, a half-day’s journey away. She and the boys had never been out of the country, so they were really excited! We ended up staying overnight in a cabin, and made it home in time to hear from a family in Osorno (about an hour from home) who wanted us to come and give a talk about homeschooling to a group of their friends. We were thrilled, as it was to be our first meeting.
A few days later, while I was at the church practicing (I did get to sub for services a couple of times), Normita called my cell phone, all excited. “Do you know what day it is?” she asked and then blurted out, “It’s February 14, and Cesar Burotto is here to see you!” Well actually, he had called from his son’s home some 15 kilometers away, and wanted to know if he could come by. I called him back, but had to explain that the next day we had scheduled our first meeting in Osorno, and would be tied up all day. He didn’t seem at all bothered, and said he would change his return flight for Monday, so he could spend Sunday with me. I was intrigued. However, Normita wouldn’t let it rest! “It’s Valentine’s Day! Don’t you know what that means?” “Ah”, I responded, “Cesar is a serious older gentleman and I doubt if he would at all be thinking about such a holiday.”
The next day we headed off to Osorno and met with the little group of people, answered their questions and encouraged them to put their children’s needs first. One family was already making plans to move to the country, which would no doubt make the transition easier, to say nothing of the benefits of country living. They appreciated that Normita, being a school teacher, was also considering homeschooling her boys.
That evening when we returned home, I finally let myself think about Cesar’s impending visit. We cleaned and polished everything, and made plans to be up early. It was a good thing, because we had just finished breakfast when his son dropped him off. He seemed impressed with my little abode, and then told me how he and his college classmates, studying architecture and urban development many years ago, had been assigned to spend a month in Puerto Montt designing the layout of the city, when it was only a muddy sea port where it rained all winter long. So we hailed a cab and went to have a look. A lot had changed. We walked along the waterfront, checked out the library, the two malls just a few blocks from each other, and visited the cathedral and plaza. Then we climbed the hill to a vegetarian restaurant I’d discovered, and had dinner.
At this point, Cesar waxed very talkative. He told me much about his life, his children, and his great respect for my dad with whom he had been a close friend. But as I listened, I started hearing something else, a still small voice in my ear asking “Could you love this man?” But isn’t he too old for me? Are you sure, Lord? “He needs someone to look after him in his old age.” I was perfectly happy in my singlehood, but if this was God speaking, I was willing to obey. “If You help me, Lord, I will do my best.” We walked back down the hill and found a place to sit by the water’s edge. We talked about our interests, our faith, our aspirations. Finally, he hired a cab and dropped me off at my house on the hill. I asked him to have breakfast with us in the morning.
The next morning was my day to practice, so after breakfast we headed for the church and I treated him to two hours of organ music, which he assured me he enjoyed. I’m sure he had other things on his mind though—like the factory he was building, and other projects back in Concepcion. But when it was over, he said he liked the music and told me he had once studied violin. That was a surprise! I doubt if his children ever heard about it. His first wife, who had died seven years earlier, apparently did not enjoy serious music and neither did the kids, I found out later. Finally, Normita drove us all to the airport and he was off.
Now we worked frantically to finish the translating, since Normita’s summer would soon be over and she would have to return to her regular job when school started in March. We had been picking up a few hits on our webpage and now had some twenty or thirty names and addresses. We still had the proofreading to do, but I felt capable of doing it myself, having received top grades in grammar in Chilean schools as a child. One last adventure was a motorboat trip around the island of Tenglo, just west of the port. We saw the fish farms, the many yachts anchored in the harbor, and a big cruise ship in the bay. Then the boys and their mom were gone, and I was alone again. I took to hiking down the steep hill to town, and taking a taxi back up with my purchases. It was good for my health, but I wore out a good pair of shoes.
I started checking the Post Office regularly now, as there was often a letter from a certain dear gentleman. And then disaster struck! It was about two weeks after Normita left, and I had spent a lovely evening at the “tertulia”; had even played my composition for them, called “Memories of Chile”, which they loved. After the refreshments, two of the men came up and said, “We want to drive you home tonight.” “Oh, that’s not necessary. I’ll just take a cab as usual.” But they insisted. One of them was a physician and the other a prominent businessman, so I had nothing to fear. At last I agreed, and after the goodbyes–a rather lengthy process in this Latin country–they drove me home. They both got out of the car and waited while I got my keys and tried to insert one in the gate lock. “It’s open!” one exclaimed. “It’s been forced!” said the other. “You stay here and call the police on your cellphone, while we go in and make sure robbers aren’t still in there.”
Soon the men returned and told me what they had discovered: Yes, the house had been broken into, the kitchen door was broken, the sliding glass doors in the study were wide open, and everything was a mess. No one was inside but they wanted me to wait until the police arrived. The robber(s) had ransacked the study, taking everything electronic: printer, scanner, CD player, and of course the computer. They also snatched up 70 CDs of classical music (probably thinking they were games or software), and my little electric heater. They had taken my briefcase after emptying its contents on the floor, and had gone through my ditty bag probably looking for drugs. But there in the corner was my newly packed suitcase, untouched! It was March 14.
My plan was to head back to Spokane at the end of March to help the ladies running Family Learning Organization during the busy testing season. So I had been packing a suitcase with what I might need. In it were some valuable jewelry, and $300 in US dollars. The suitcase was open but they never even saw it, and I’m sure God had a hand in that. But what about my computer! It had the translating work we had done, as well as the names and addresses of interested people. Those few names we lost; but when I called Normita, she told me she had copied all of the translation work over to her computer. What a relief!
So there I was in a cold house, wondering what to do next. The gentlemen did offer to take me somewhere, but I said the robbers had gone and no doubt would not soon return. I thanked them profusely for having brought me home. It would have been really hard to face this alone! Not having any other heat source, I took a chair into the kitchen and lit the oven. I really needed someone to talk to. Not wanting to worry my relatives in the States, I thought about it awhile. Cesar had once said to be sure and call him if I ever needed anything. But it was now almost midnight. Should I?
He picked up the phone on the second ring. After hearing my story, he blurted out: “I think you need an architect to protect you…”. I laughed, which was probably his intention, then he said he really felt I should find another place to live. So the next morning I called one of the ladies from the tertulia, who had mentioned she had a room for rent. It was a large room with its own bathroom and outside entrance. My small collection of furniture all fit, with room to spare. And since the room was part of her house, she would be able to look after it while I was traveling. God was really looking after me!
Now, instead of letters, I was getting frequent phone calls. He wanted me to spend my last week before the trip at his house; he would pay my air fare to Concepcion. With no computer, there was not much for me to do, so Cesar suggested, “Why don’t you come now, and we’ll spend a week in the mountains in my condo.” Wait a minute! How could I take off for a week alone with this gentleman in his private apartment. Just what did he have in mind? I had to find out.
When I landed in Concepcion a few days later, Cesar was waiting for me at the airport. Just a few days later we were engaged, and on April 14, 2003, we were married! We both felt that it was in God’s providence, and at our stage in life, why wait? I changed my flight date and asked my oldest son to come down and give me away. After a week at the mountain condo, we flew together to the States so he could meet my family and, as the saying goes, we lived happily ever after—until his final illness and death in 2014 at the age of 88. They were truly the happiest years of my life. One year later I moved south near the little town of Panguipulli, where I continue to work for homeschooling, giving press and TV interviews, answering email derived from the website, and I am occasionally invited to speak at homeschool conferences and churches. There are now well over a thousand homeschooling families in Chile, as well as several hundred scattered throughout other South American countries.
I live alone in a little cabin about 4 miles from town with my dog, Hobo, for company. We like to go on hikes up the steep hill behind my house. I write, read a lot, bake my own bread, do a bit of gardening, haul wood from the woodshed for the stove, play for the little country church I attend, and keep in touch with family by Internet. When people come for a visit, I drive them around to see the gorgeous scenery—several beautiful lakes, three snowcapped volcanos, and my favorite—the bright red copihue, Chile’s national flower, in the woods behind my house. When I ask God why am I so privileged, He tells me “This is your resting time.” And I read Ecclesiastes 8:15 where Solomon says: “I commend the enjoyment of life.” It gives us something for which to praise the Creator.
*Substitute Senate Bill 3279 amending Chapter 441, law of 1985, was originally passed by the Senate on March 13. It was amended and passed the House on April 10, and received its final passage by the Senate on April 15, with 34 yeas and 11 nays. It was signed by Governor Booth Gardner on May 21 at 4:10 p.m. and the new law became effective on July 28, 1985.
The copihue, national flower of Chile (lifesize):