Sydwell Mouw Flynn – Calvert Homeschooler

In previous blog posts, we told you about three well-known Calvert homeschool students:  Pearl S. Buck, William F. Buckley Jr., and President Barack Obama.  We’d like to continue this series and tell you about another amazing person who used the Calvert homeschool program as a child.

Sydwell Mouw Flynn, author of Up the Notched-Log Ladder: Aurthur and Edna Among the Dayaks of Borneo, lived with her missionary family in Borneo from 1933 to 1950.  They lived in the jungles among the Dayaks, the indigenous people of Borneo.

Ms. Flynn’s memoir tells of her family’s faith, their missionary work, their experiences with the Dayaks, and their escape from Borneo during World War II.  She also recounts memories of her schooling as a child:

“I remember those school days with great fondness.  The Calvert Course had a strong classical emphasis.  For example, in lesson 128 of the third year, the pupil learns about Leonardo da Vinci and his paintings, the Mona Lisa, for art history; writes about Michelangelo or Leonardo for composition; and covers five more pages in “The Gorgon’s Head” from Greek mythology for reading.  Our history and geography texts were A Child’s History of the World and A Child’s Geography of the World, both by V.M. Hillyer.  I still have these two wonderful books in my library and would recommend them to any parent.

“We used the Calvert Course from the Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland.  Each year’s course contained 160 daily lessons; 5 daily lessons represented a week’s work, and 20 lessons a month’s work.  Each day’s lesson covered arithmetic, history, spelling, penmanship, composition, and reading.  On some days, the course also incorporated lessons in geography, astronomy, geology, grammar, nature study, art history, and poetry. (According to lesson 5 of year 3, “The aim of the poetry course is to instill in the pupil a love of poetry, and a desire to read more than the assigned poems.”)  It was a comprehensive, well-organized, and challenging course, and it served us well. My brother and I missed half a year of school in early 1942 when we were escaping the Japanese invasion; nonetheless, we both entered our correct grade level when we started school in the United States in September 1942.  Of course, this is also a tribute to my mother’s teaching ability.”

alumni_FlynnMs. Flynn graduated from Westmont College in 1956 and went on to teach elementary and secondary school for 17 years.  After making a short career change, she returned to teaching at age 53.  Inspired by her childhood travels, Ms. Flynn began teaching English as a Second Language.  She retired from teaching in 2004 at age 70.

Forty-one years after leaving Borneo, Ms. Flynn returned to visit.  “As the daughter of my parents, who are still loved and revered by the Dayaks, I was treated like a dignitary or a princess,” she said.  Her return visit inspired her to write Up the Notched-Log Ladder.


Up the Notched-Log Ladder by Sydwell Mouw Flynn

Westmont College Public Affairs

 *Photo courtesy of Westmont College

For additional information, see the Hoover Institution Archives of the J. Arthur and Edna Mouw Papers.