About that homeschooling thing…

By Jason Kasper from Harrisburg, USA (Modified version of 100_4456) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big NO.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

  1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
  2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
  3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
  4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
  5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
  6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
  7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on this blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.


8 thoughts on “About that homeschooling thing…

  1. Just a response to your comments regarding HSLDA, as an attorney, there are many valid reasons why not only home school parents but parents in general would be wise to avoid speaking to social workers (CPS specifically). I would encourage anyone interested to watch this video on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

    Professor Duane was one of my professors in law school and he lists many reasons why you should never speak to the police. Even though it is obviously geared to why you should not speak to the police, the same rationale applies to government investigators of all kinds. Our fourth and fifth amendment rights are there not just to protect the guilty but also to protect the innocent. Even an innocent family can unknowingly say something that might implicate them in a bigger investigation or even a court case. While we love to have faith in the system that it will eventually sort it all out, doing so can be very time consuming and, if you make too much to qualify for a public defender, very expensive.

    While we think that social workers are simply there to help, that they are there to be sure that children are not being abused or neglected, I have seen too many cases where they have completely overstepped their bounds. I have seen them used as weapons by people who report that someone is abusing a child just to cause problems for an ex-spouse, or a neighbor they don’t like.

    I was personally involved in one case where CPS filed neglect petitions against dad for a DV incident and also against mom because after the fact mom went to CPS and tried to speak with the case workers. One of the allegations in the petition against mom was actually that she waited outside CPS offices waiting for the case worker in order to speak to the case worker because mom wanted to get what mom wanted. The case against mom was dismissed by the court and the judge actually scolded CPS for filing against mom, but not until attorneys became involved. CPS may have filed against mom either way, but it seemed that they were filing against her more because they became upset at what she was doing than because she actually did anything neglectful.

    In short, not cooperating with social workers is not just something the people at the HSLDA advocate, it is, in actuality, sound legal advice for anyone.

  2. I was (and will be again probably) a public high school English teacher. I “believe in” public education. But I have also seen homeschooling moms do school in such a fun and effective way that I would love to attend, even now. Not every kid should be homeschooled and certainly not every parent should teach academic subjects. But it follows, then, that not every kid should be in public school, either. There are huge benefits to either approach when done well. I

    My daughter, like your son, is extremely extroverted. She will begin public kindergarten next fall, about two weeks after she turns five. It would be a disservice to her to hold her back when she is ready. She is in a two-day pre-K program now, and misses her friends and teacher terribly over weekends and holidays. She’s smart, socially capable, generally compliant, is energized by being around large groups of people, and can pick up knowledge in a variety of ways. Public ed. is pretty much tailor-made for her, at least right now.

    My son may be different. He is still pretty social, but takes longer to feel comfortable in new situations than my daughter. At not-quite-three, I can’t tell yet what the best course of action will be for him.

    I like the fact that, should I need to homeschool either or both of them for a year or longer, I have the skills and contacts to make it a beneficial experience for them. I like the fact that a variety of options are on the table. The one thing I will NOT do is send them to the Christian academy down the street whose marquee proudly states that “the Word of God is taught in every subject, every day.” How, exactly, does that work out in math? (My mother-in-law, who has taught elementary school for 30 years, joked, “If you bring in three sheaves of wheat, and Miriam brings in two sheaves of wheat…”) Anyway, I like that I am seeing more of this “hybrid” approach to education. It makes it much less scary to be wading into the water of school-age kids to know that there is good support for whatever method is best for my kiddos. Thanks for being a public voice about this.

    • It’s so true that every kid is different. I actually think public school is fantastic for lots of kids. My husband is a public school math teacher. My hope is that our daughter will eventually go. The local middle/high school she would attend is great. As long as it’s not overwhelming for her, I think there is a lot she would enjoy–particularly when it comes to things like lab science, which I can’t really do at home.

      The sheaves of wheat math problem made me smile. My daughter and I may have to make up our own, just for fun and giggles (math is easily her best subject–making her own problems up is a regular thing). 🙂

      • Once my little sister (7 and a half years behind me) came home with some “number sentences” that she had to change into word problems. My mom was elsewhere that afternoon, so all three older sisters helped her with her homework. I was an avid fantasy reader and my sisters are all creative in their own spheres. We also had some very silly inside jokes about purple cows and aliens. So the result was…entertaining. At least to us…

  3. Pingback: I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts | H • A

  4. We’re lucky here that there is a secular private school here that allows us to do a la carte classes, because, like you, Amy, we don’t fit the stereotypes either and never quite fit in to any single school ideal. I wish there was a similar option near you.

    All I can say from what I’ve seen is you’re doing exactly what you need to do, think and act deeply and with love for your family an with love for your community too. ♥

    • Yeah. It’s unfortunate, but all the private schools that allow a la carte classes are Christian of the very conservative variety. I like the local secondary school, so if my daughter wants to go when she gets to middle school, it’s a good option. We finally found a group of diverse families to hang out with, so for now, we’re hanging in there.

      • At least you’ve found a nest of people to send time with. That’s helpful. Sorry to hear about your private school issue, though… if you’ve got plans for your secondary school, it might be just as well, as your daughter won’t be making a bunch of friends that she’d be losing in a switch. We’re facing that problem with our son and his school that does offer a la carte classes.

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