I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts
HA note: The following post by Amy Mitchell was originally published on April 25, 2013 as “About that homeschooling thing” on her blog Unchained Faith. She describes herself on her blog as a “family woman, feminist, LGBT ally, reader, writer, and nerd. Progressive Christian skewering church and culture one blog post at a time.” This post is reprinted with her permission.
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 my 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.