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Ask the Grad – John Notgrass

This week’s homeschool graduate is an author, historical actor, and musician from Tennessee.  Most importantly, he is a husband and father.  John Notgrass shares with us what his parents taught him, his adult life began, and how he plans to build on the family legacy.

My mom heard about homeschooling when I was little, but my dad thought it sounded crazy. Since Mississippi did not have public kindergarten at the time, my parents enrolled me in a private kindergarten for my first year of school in 1984-85. We then moved to Illinois, and I attended Yankee Ridge Elementary School. My two younger sisters started attending there, too.

After my 5th grade year, my parents had seen enough negative things about our school that even dad was willing to consider homeschooling. In the fall of 1990, Mom created a classroom in our basement. We said the Pledge of Allegiance. We had desks. It was all quite formal. And Mom wore herself out staying up late to make lesson plans and grade our work. After two years of this, Dad told Mom, “There has to be an easier way to educate these children.” So they placed all three of us in a Christian school.

We stayed there one year before Dad accepted a new preaching job in Tennessee. People in our new town told us that the community didn’t need Christian schools because the public schools were so good. Mom hoped that sending us back to public school would work out, but she had her doubts. Soon my youngest sister and I were ready to go back to homeschooling. The middle sister, in 7th grade, thought that her life would be ruined if she left public school. We endured that final year in the system, and the following summer everyone agreed to return to homeschooling.

That’s how I finished my last three years of high school. I graduated in 1997. My sisters graduated in 1999 and 2001. In the fall of 2001, my parents welcomed three more children into their home through adoption—two girls who were 12 and 9 and a seven-year-old boy.

Since I went to non-home schools for seven years and only had five years of official at-home schooling, my perspective is different from those who homeschooled all the way, like my wife. I’ve seen it all, and homeschooling was by far the best option for me. It gave me the freedom to study at my own pace and to cultivate my individual talents. My parents used a hodge podge of curriculum. They didn’t give us a lot of tests. When they gave us an assignment, they expected us to do it well; and they gave us credit for doing it well.

Even during my years in non-home schools, my parents acted like homeschoolers. Homeschooling gave us more time to do the things we were already doing. One special gift my parents gave my sisters and me was learning how to travel cheaply and efficiently. Before I turned 23, they had taken us to all of the lower 48 states, Canada, Mexico, and Great Britain. (The photo shows Mom reading to us from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie in DeSmet, South Dakota, where the book was set.)

Two things come to mind that I would encourage other homeschooling parents to consider. Besides a few chores, I didn’t have much work to do as a boy. My parents kindly wanted to take care of me, but I would like my children to have more productive activities that help the family and help them. Also, I spent most of my time as a child with people who had a similar ethnic, economic, and religious background. I would like my children to get to know people who are different, people who suffer, people who have lessons to teach us that they learned the hard way.

Let me emphasize that my parents were great parents. They taught me to love the Lord and take the Bible seriously by their words and example. They gave me time to learn and to develop my skills. They encouraged me to believe that I could do something good with my life. They reached out to people around us who had needs. I haven’t met another set of parents I would rather have.

I was a nerd (my wife would say I still am), so I did well on the ACT (34) and the old SAT (1510). I applied to two universities, one public and one private; both accepted me with full scholarship offers. I decided to enroll at the local public university so I could continue to live at home. I stayed one semester. I did fine academically and socially. I just didn’t like it. I liked learning, but I had never liked school.

Over the next year, I took some correspondence courses from a Bible school. I worked briefly with a used car locater website and did headhunting for a high-tech recruiter. By the summer of 1999, my parents had started a homeschool curriculum publishing business, and my dad left his preaching job to pursue the business full-time. That became my full-time job, too.

Since then I have helped my parents build a business from scratch. The first several years were pretty lean from an economic perspective. We did not know what we were doing, so we had to learn. But that learning process was good for us. We got to spend lots of time together in the office and on the road promoting our curriculum. The training I received growing up prepared me for the experiences I have now as the business manager. Two of my hobbies that complement my primary work are writing and performing music and presenting one-man history programs. I dress in uniform and tell the story of real individuals such as my grandfather during World War II.

My wife Audra and I were married March 14, 2009. Before we met, each of us planned on homeschooling our children in the future. We have one little girl in heaven named Melody Hope. We have another baby due in January. We’ve already started homeschooling by talking to our little ones in the womb. That is the way the most important lessons in life are passed on–one person investing in the life of another.

Homeschooling is much more than doing school at home. Homeschooling is a convenient term for the full-time pursuit of spiritual, moral, social, and intellectual excellence for God’s glory. That’s what we want to do in our family.

John and Audra Notgrass live in Middle Tennessee. John is author of the book Make It Your Ambition, which encourages young people to live for God’s glory. He also produced a DVD of his grandfather’s WWII experiences, One Soldier’s Story, which features original photographs and memorabilia from his grandfather’s collection. Through the end of August, you can purchase both of these resources (regularly $20.90) for only $14.95, postage paid. Visit this page for ordering details! Contact John by email or on his facebook page for more information.

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