My Contrarian–Non-Ideological–View of Homeschooling

My Contrarian–Non-Ideological–View of Homeschooling November 7, 2013

I’ve written a two-part post on homeschooling for the new–and very good–Convergent blog.

I find myself in a weird sort of place when it comes to my thoughts and experiences about schooling, because while in principle I believe firmly that it is society’s duty to provide equal access to education of the highest quality to every student–and I am not enamored of the ideology that suggests that public schools–often forebodingly called “government schools” as if government in this country were not for and by the American people–do it all wrong and should be dismantled. I am happy to pay taxes so that kids can go to school, and my regrets have to do with the relatively low wages teachers earn in comparison with, oh, say, executives, and that cutting sports and music and art seem to always be on the table before cutting, oh, just about anything else.

I also support strong (and stronger) oversight of homeschooling families and their curricula. The Home School Legal Defense Association frankly frightens me with their rhetoric, which very often hedges on defending parents’ rights above the rights of a child to not be abused and to receive an adequate education. No child should suffer educational neglect. I am proud that my mom complied 100% with New York State regulations for homeschoolers, and that I took the same standardized tests as everyone else.

So when I hear stories about homeschoolers being abused and educationally neglected, I am horrified. There is definitely a seamy underbelly to homeschooling that, frankly, scares the crap out of me and is antithetical to everything I hold as a Christian value and as an American value.

All that being said, I don’t appreciate the prejudice and assumptions about homeschooling and homeschoolers, especially because, for the moment, I’m teaching my own kids at home, and because, for a time, my parents taught me at home, as did my husband’s parents. (Did I mention my husband’s Ph.D. from a top British university?) We are not all cut from the same cloth. We have different and valid reasons for what we do. Nor does homeschooling my kids mean that I am somehow not committed to the common good.

Anyway, here’s a taste of the first part of my homeschooling post, centered on my experience BEING homeschooled. The second deals with my reluctant and conflicted decision to school my kids at home–for now.

My parents were (and are) conservative Christians, but their decision to teach me at home was less ideological than practical. They took action when I was in fourth grade to ensure my well-being. It turned out that my tenured teacher at a public school was abusive. He flew into rages over the slightest infractions, overturned a student’s desk because the kid was taking too long at his spelling test, and once jacked that same kid up against the wall. I wasn’t allowed to read silently at my desk when I was finished with my assignments. Instead, I had to sit quietly, doing nothing, until the other students had finished theirs. Before long I grew to hate school. I told my parents all that was going on in the classroom.

When they confronted the teacher along with a member of the administration, he countered that I was a troublemaker. My parents pointed out that the third-quarter report cards had come out several weeks earlier, and that the teacher had written something along the lines of “Rachel is bright and a pleasure to have in class.” He had written a similar assessment on my other report cards from the same school year.

My parents and I agreed that I would endure the rest of the year in his class; it wouldn’t be all that long. But then we discovered that he would be one of the two fifth-grade teachers in our small school. To make matters worse, the administration refused to guarantee that I would not be in his class.

Enrolling in the nearest parochial school would mean I would spend at least ninety minutes on a bus every day, not to mention paying tuition that my parents didn’t have. Going back for another year of Mr. McAllister was not an option. So my mom, who was working part-time at a bank, pushed aside her assumption that homeschooling was for do-it-yourself weirdos who lived in the woods, shot deer, and tapped trees for maple syrup. She ordered textbooks and managed to arrange her work hours so she’d be home four out of five weekdays. My dad, who was pastor of a small church, would arrange his schedule so that he’d supervise me when she couldn’t.

I finished out the year in public school, but fifth grade, sixth grade, and seventh grade I learned at home.

{Continue reading at Convergent.}

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