Lee Tiang homeschooled her 4 kids in 1997. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Diesease in 2009. Her husband, Rev. Dr. Steven HC Tan wrote a book to remember her life. It was published in 2014. This is an edited excerpt from Lee Tiang’s Story.
I think that it is safe to say that had we remained in Singapore, our children would have attended the Singapore school system. Both Lee Tiang and I had benefitted from this education system, and we did not know any other.
Singapore’s education system is one of the best in the world. The Education Ministry in Singapore is efficient, and dedicated. The Singapore school books – including textbooks, workbooks and assessment books – are produced to ensure the constant sharpening of a student’s knowledge and learning ability.
Furthermore, the whole education environment in Singapore is striving for better results. Parents are very concerned about the education of their children – often more so than the students themselves. In this drive for excellence, they will give their children the best, including buying lots of assessment books and getting private tuition for them.
Then there is the competition to get into the best schools in Singapore. Children are assessed many times each year by their teachers via homework, projects, tests and exams. Streaming is part and parcel of this competition. Children are streamed into various classes according to their academic ability, which is highly dependent on their grades. All these procedures meant that every Singaporean child studied hard in school.
But in 1996, all this changed for us. We moved to live in America, initially for one year, which later stretched to become 12 years. We stumbled upon home-schooling. So, what is homeschooling?
“Homeschooling or homeschool (also called home education or home based learning) is the education of children at home, typically by parents or by tutors, rather than in other formal settings of public or private school. Homeschooling allows parents to provide their children with a learning environment as an alternative to public or private schools. Three common reasons are concern about the school environment, to provide religious or moral instruction, and dissatisfaction with academic instruction at public and private schools.”
Our reason for starting home-schooling in the USA was simply our dissatisfaction with academic instruction at public schools. Let me explain.
HOW DID WE GET STARTED IN HOMESCHOOLING?
When we first arrived in Pennsylvania, we lived in a rented house along North Easton Road, just outside Philadelphia. Nearby was a school, Glenside-Weldon Elementary School and we registered our children to start there in the autumn. The staff members were mostly on summer break, and the clerk who took our information naturally assumed that we knew what we wanted and needed. So, Immanuel, at age 9 (not quite 10) started in Grade 5 (they had suggested Grade 6, we said No), Nathanael in Grade 3, and Stephanie in Grade 1.
So the three older children happily went off to school, leaving Joshaniel, aged one, at home with Mom. I went off to the Westminster Theological Seminary, to pursue a Ph.D.
Then at about 3 pm, the three would come home together. Lee Tiang faced an uphill task of helping all three with their homework, and of preparing dinner, the most important meal of the day, to feed five hungry mouths! Most of all, she was determined to impart to Stephanie a love for reading.
So, one day, she said to me, “Why don’t we keep Stephanie at home, and I can teach her whilst the two boys are in school. Then, when the boys come home, I can help them, whilst Stephanie can continue doing work on her own.” Thus began home-schooling, sometime in 1996 in a house in Easton Road.
In June 1997, we moved to Wilmington, Delaware, staying first in an apartment, then, into our own house, at 1218 Crestover Road. There in Wilmington, was founded INSJEL Academy for the educating of I-Immanuel, N-Nathanael, S-Stephanie, J-Joshaniel, and the “EL” being both the name for God, as well as, in her words, “Eager Learners.” For that was her aim for her children – that they should have “a love for learning.”
The children were home-schooled at different periods of their lives, and for different lengths. Immanuel was homeschooled for two years – his 10th and 11th grade. He had been enrolled in the Charter School of Wilmington, which was set up to promote the study of Mathematics and Science, which American schools are traditionally weak at teaching. He was doing well in school. However, at every parent-teacher conference, we received the same remarks: “He talks too much in class.”
We felt that if Immanuel was not achieving his full potential in school, then, we should home-school him. We feared the worse – he could be talking with others in class, and depriving others of an education. Thus began Immanuel’s foray into home-schooling. As I recall it, Lee Tiang’s role was to provide the material that Immanuel would use, and her challenge was to curtail Immanuel’s ambition, so that he would not try to do too much. After two years, Immanuel returned to the Charter School, and finished his High School. He subsequently went on to study in Babson College, one of the leading Business schools in America, on an almost full-scholarship, and he graduated in 2007, with distinction.
Nathanael was in Burnett Elementary School in Wilmington, when his mother felt that he was not achieving his potential. So at the end of his 5th grade, she took him into INSJEL and home-schooled him for 4 years. She helped him to skip his 6th grade, and coached him through his 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grade. At the end of his 10th grade, Nathanael was admitted to the Charter School of Wilmington for his 11th grade. He did not finish his High School, but was admitted to the University of Delaware, without doing the 12th grade. All this skipping of grades was necessary to enable him to get into the University before he turned 17 and a-half years of age. On this condition, the Singapore Government allowed him to finish his University studies first, before returning to Singapore to do his National Service. Unfortunately, it also left gaps in his learning. This may have been his undoing, and partly also his lack of maturity in handling the pressures of life in a University setting. He did not finish at the University of Delaware, but returned in 2007 to Singapore to fulfill his military duties.
Stephanie was actually our first student, and she spent 8 years in INSJEL Academy. Then from her 9th grade onward, she enrolled in the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme which had just begun to be offered in a high school in our area. Stephanie thrived in the school environment, because she enjoyed “competition.” She went on to study Journalism in the University of North Carolina, which is one of the top schools in America offering this degree. Stephanie obtained a good scholarship package which covered most of her expenses for the four years she spent there. She graduated in 2012.
Joshaniel stumbled into homeschool at the age of five. He saw his older siblings studying and naturally did not want to be left out. Thus Mom drew him in gradually, and introduced him into the exciting world of learning! He was homeschooled for 8 years, and at the age of 13 was ready to start 9th Grade, which is the equivalent of Secondary 3 in Singapore. But that was when we moved back to Singapore. That is another story to tell.
WHAT WAS A TYPICAL SCHOOL DAY LIKE?
The typical school day began between 8 and 9 am. The children woke up and had breakfast. Then came the best part of the day – the personal devotional time, in which the children get to hear from the Lord through reading the Bible and they learned to place their requests to the Lord in prayer. Over the years they honed their skills in understanding and interpreting the Bible.
The work for the day is set out for them according to a schedule, or as laid out by their mother, for them to accomplish. The older children were more independent in their learning method. We provided the material, and they supplied the learning energy. This synergy worked well. Each child had a dedicated place in the home – we usually used the dining room table, but also the basement during the summer, since that was the coolest part of the house.
Then at noon the whistle is blown for the lunch hour. The children are on rotation to help Mom with lunch preparation. Learning to prepare food is a necessary life-skill, (the others being swimming, and driving) and I can proudly say that all my children can cook, and, that they cook and bake well! (Immanuel made moon cakes on one occasion, just to engage Joshaniel in some meaningful activity, one mid-autumn festival – the best moon-cakes ever!)
After lunch, the work resumes. Each child has the privilege to decide the pace and the subject-matter that they would engage in. We gave them the independence, but expected them to complete their work before the break for afternoon activities followed by dinner. If the weather permitted, the children might go into the neighbourhood and play with the other children who attended regular school, and who had just come home. At dinner, everyone was at the table, for Family Devotions. This involved a reading of the Bible, a prayer of thanksgiving, followed by a hearty meal, cooked by Mom. After the meal, we would share prayer requests or thanksgiving items, and prayed for each other.
Lee Tiang normally cooked Chinese food. One day, the children protested, “We did not come to America to eat Chinese food.” She calmly considered their protest, and then responded, “Alright, once a week, I will cook Western food for you.” The children were simply delighted and looked forward to their once-a-week Western meal. The children were not as excited when she introduced “brown rice” into the menu!
After dinner, the children were on rotation to wash the dishes. The other chores included sweeping the floor, and taking out the trash. Every pair of hand was put to good use at 1218 Crestover Road. Even when we travelled as a family, and stayed in the homes of our hosts, our children were expected to help out, whenever the hosts allowed us to. Thus, many were impressed by the discipline of our children.
In the evening, there was time for a family game, or leisurely reading, or to complete unfinished work for the day. After a prayer before bedtime, when the children were tucked into bed, their mother would begin her preparations for the next day, sometimes staying up till midnight to try and understand the assignments the children were expected to do the next day.
Many times through the day, we, the parents, had to be the judge, settling disputes between the siblings – who mistreated who, and who took what from whom, etc. She always felt that teaching the children to behave Christian-ly, and to be loving towards others was more important than just the educating of the mind! She would often send “battling children” to their respective rooms, for a time-out, and to allow the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction. When they returned with a “Sorry, Mom” she would probe further, “What are you sorry for?” She believed that unless you know where your error lies, you are unable to correct it.
Some of the Home-schooling Mothers in America Remember Lee Tiang
Whilst in America, we met many mothers who were passionate about homeschooling. We also participated in the City-Gates Academy, pioneered by a home-schooling mother, Sandy Ebbott, and others, which operated in a local church, to enable the pooling of resources of home-schooling families in the area.
Nancy Shrodel Krizan shares: “My best memory is the Mandarin that Lee taught Julie and the Swafford girls in your kitchen. She made it so interesting, and included culture, cooking and festivals in her instruction. Julie learned enough to actually read some of her fortune cookie inserts, and she papered her walls with Chinese characters that Lee taught her.”
Some other Mothers who encouraged Lee Tiang in her homeschooling
Dr Janet Wang, a friend of Lee Tiang, a loving doctor and care-giver, who still visits each time she can squeeze in the time, shares:
“I recall her being a devoted, no nonsense mother in enjoying common struggles and joys of bringing up young children. … very thankful for the privilege of her friendship and love and knowing her before this debilitating and devastating illness took her slowly from us. Her good sense of humour broke through even as the illness started and she was capable of joking which surprised me despite her becoming more affected. I like to remember the person she was which helps me love the person she is now.”
Lee Tiang in her simple life was a dedicated and Spirit-filled educator. She excelled at home-schooling as her love for education and for discipline combine to ensure that the children enjoyed the best environment for “learning.” Our children became “eager learners”.
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According to the book (2014), Immanuel and Yuling live in Manhattan, New York. Immanuel works for an investment bank and Yuling runs her own design company, http://yulingdesigns.com. Nathaniel is working in Miami, Florida, with a company that makes production materials. Joshaniel was waiting to start NS.
You may email Steven at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the FB page @leetiangstory.