This interview is part of a series called “Tapestry is Everywhere!”, in which we learn from Tapestry users who are applying the curriculum in surprising ways or places. In this article we’ll meet Michelle, a homeschooling mom and Tapestry user who lives in South Africa!
Michelle, how long have you lived in South Africa?
We’ve been here almost eighteen years. My husband is a pastor and involved in training other pastors and missionaries as well. When my husband left for university, his father decided he didn’t want to follow the American dream and wanted to use his gifts for the Gospel. So he moved the family to Kenya and my husband spent his summers there. He gained a vision from that and when he graduated from seminary he (and I) went to teach other pastors in South Africa. Now he primarily pastors a church and also trains others on the side. All five of our children have been born here, including a child whom we adopted. When I was in college I was studying Christian education, hoping either to homeschool my own children on the mission field or to educate other children.
What made Tapestry stand out?
I had been trying to put together my own stuff for a long time, and then another missionary friend shared her TOG file with me. At first I almost felt sick because it seemed so overwhelming, but then I saw that actually it had put together for me EVERYTHING that I needed in an integrated way that would shape their thinking and equip them for life. The only thing that made me nervous at that point was that my mentors with similar educational philosophies in America hadn’t told me about it yet. So I wrote to them and they said, “Oh, we started doing that a year ago and forgot to tell you!” I forgave them for that, but they had to take me book shopping as an apology when I got back to the states.
Speaking of that, what do you do for books?
We are almost the only American family in our group. Sometimes somebody coming to visit can put some in a suitcase, or sometimes we do orders, but then the postal service goes on strike… so it’s a huge commitment for these ladies to do it. But there’s just nothing else like it in the world and also Tapestry has granted us many scholarships. One of our ladies was just in tears when she received her scholarship.
How big is your co-op?
For many years it was a small group… just a few families. When my oldest son got to be old enough that I really wanted to have discussion peers for him, we began to hope that the group could expand. We prayed for five families and the Lord gave us five families. The next year we prayed for ten families and the Lord gave us eleven families. Now we have eighteen families.
What things did you like about Tapestry that made it a good fit for your co-op?
It’s because all our students are able to do the same topics in the same weeks across all their different ages and learning levels. We just had one family join our group that was using another program with their children who have some special needs. Their children are way below grade level. But Tapestry is so flexible that they were able to just slot in with our Upper Grammar children without feeling in any way inferior, and we can tailor the learning levels for the learning level and ability of each child.
How do you address the challenge of including African history in a US-based curriculum?
When moms ask me why they should do a curriculum that involves so much US history, I explain that we are studying the superpowers that have shaped the world, and so just as we study ancient Egypt or Greece or Rome or Persia, so also we study modern superpowers like America. As they see how these different empires or nations function and influence the rest of the world, they will be better able to consider how these superpowers affect their own country. We also do take time in the weeks that cover Africa to do more with Africa. We had one of the grandfathers come in during the week when we were studying the Anglo-Boer war and had him show us his artifacts from that. We also replaced an entire American history unit with African history.
Is homeschooling growing in South Africa?
Yes, it’s definitely on the rise. For many years we only had a couple of families in our co-op. Now, homeschooling is getting bigger. If you use the government system where you don’t have to pay fees, there will be at least 50 students in a class with very few resources. Otherwise you have to send them to a private school with very high fees. So, people are looking for a middle option and looking abroad quite widely. Some do online options, some do other things, etc.
How do you make homeschooling work with such a big co-op, especially when you mentioned that you sometimes need to drop everything and help friends out in the bush?
Well, my older three children are independent. My youngest three, including the one who is still learning to read, take up more of my time of course.
I think Tapestry actually saves me a lot of time, because I know that so much will be covered on co-op day. For instance, we decided to do a D writing class as well, so it’s pretty much 6-9th in that class and it was hard for me to find the time to do writing assignments with my students, but because I teach that class I put a lot of effort into it. However, other teachers cover other subjects, so I don’t have to do nearly as much of that. On Thursdays I know that great parent-teachers who are gifted will do hands-on activities and maps and lap books and so on.
Has there been anything fun or weird or interesting that comes up in studying Tapestry as South Africans that wouldn’t necessarily come up in America?
Well, at dinner a little while ago with our co-op friends who are from Zambia and the Congo, we were discussing American politics and they were asking what we thought. Socialism came up as a topic and they were asking us “What is that?” Most of the liberation movements in South Africa were led by socialists, so they think socialism is good… and so do the people here of European descent who also have a more socialist background with free health care, etc. So then one of my older sons jumped in and began to explain all about Socialism and Stalin and Mao and helping African adults to understand the dangers of the socialistic worldview. At the end of that evening, my friend said, “We are homeschooling our children because we want them to have this; we want them to understand culture and vote well, etc. But how are we going to reach the rest of the children in this country so that they understand and so that they can vote well? That really challenged me to think beyond my own small family and group, so actually of late I have begun to think about trying to start a good Christian school for our area.
Is there anything you’d like to ask as a prayer request?
I’d like to ask for prayers that families in South Africa can keep homeschooling their children. So far it is still legal, but the government is not supportive and we don’t know how long this privilege will last. Also, we ask for prayer to persevere as the moms face some things that I think moms in America may soon be facing. One wife has a husband who has been out of work for a year because he won’t pay bribes. Another husband is in similar trouble because he wouldn’t tell a lie. People are having to stand firm for their principles, with real financial costs, and they need prayer. Finally, I’d ask that we be able to find a way to bless more families in this country with Christian education, because right now there is a very small minority who can. When I was doing a women’s conference recently in an African township, I don’t think any of those women were able to stay home with their children. They all had to work, because our liberal constitution makes it easier for women to get work than for men to get work, and so they wind up bearing the burden of being breadwinners.