My Kids Are Now The “Public School Kids” I Used To Judge

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Brittany’s blog BAM. It was originally published on December 4, 2013.

I sat on a blanket in my friend’s yard watching my 6 year old twins run and climb with ten other children on an unseasonably warm fall day.

The other moms and I sipped coffee and started chatting.

“So, where do your older ones go to school?” I asked.

“We homeschool,” she smiled.

“We do too,” another mom stated, with more of a look of resignation on her tired face. It was 4pm on a Wednesday, after all.

We talked and laughed and commiserated together. A few minutes later, I realized that out of the 4-5 women present, I was the only public school mom at our play date.  I listened to their discussions about curriculum and homeschool groups and contributed to the conversation where I could.

But I felt an emotional twinge, like I was an outsider.

I inwardly laughed: Me, feeling like an outsider for being a public school mom after I spent my entire childhood and adolescence feeling like an outsider because I was home schooled.

It really was funny… and so, so ironic.

I watched my kids climb into the treehouse and play good guys and bad guys, wielding sticks and plastic swords with their friends.

Then, my smile faded as a realization struck me.

My kids are the “public school kids.”

My kids are now the kids that, as a homeschooler, I used to judge… the kids I thought weren’t smart enough, good enough, or Christian enough. My friends and I even whispered about “wayward” home schoolers, saying “Look at her! She’s acting so…public schooled!”

It was the worst insult we could slap on a person.

Although I have long come to the realization that my prejudices as a child and teen were unwarranted and flat out wrong, it wasn’t until this moment that I felt the tragedy of my own hateful judgement toward others.

What if these sweet home schooled children think my boys are “less than” because they go to public school? 

What if they think that my twins aren’t smart because they aren’t home schooled?

Source: http://jewishworldreview.com/strips/mallard/2000/mallard061002.asp
Source: http://jewishworldreview.com/strips/mallard/2000/mallard061002.asp

What if they shake their heads in pity, thinking my boys can’t possibly learn to love Jesus because, don’t you know? God isn’t allowed in public school. 

As I watched the children play, I saw no discrimination, no judging thoughts, no distinction whatsoever. Only play and fun and equality. 

It was only my own mind that was tortured by the demons of my past. Wave after wave of guilt and shame hammered my soul as I watched the kids play so freely and so free of judgment and I thought:

Why did I think this way?! My parents never taught me to think I was better than other people. They taught us to love and serve others.  

But somehow this attitude crept in. Maybe it was that first generation homeschoolers felt like they had something to prove. Homeschooling was new and uncharted waters, after all.
Society questioned, doubted.

So we homeschool students were taught to prove our worth, defend our education: Our education was just as good as a public school education. No, it could be it was even better!

Or maybe it was because I heard about the “evils” of public school at homeschool conferences in or in overheard discussions from parents.

Source: http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/homeschool-arent-you-worried-about-socialization/
Source: http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/homeschool-arent-you-worried-about-socialization/

While I was growing up, comics like the one above scared me yet also created a smug sense of security and self-importance. Those pieced, spiked, belly-showing, long-haired “creatures” could not be my friends. Oh, I should love them, but from afar, at arms length, as people that should be witnessed to because if they went to public school, they obviously did not know Jesus. But I had to be careful because their bad influence might rub off on me.

I even treated the kids I interacted with at church like this. We were the only homeschooling family in our large church and, to be honest, I was really weird. I mean, I wore a pinafore with 4 inch lace frills (that I sewed myself!) to church… when I was in 8th grade.

I was low on the social totem pole.

But there were sweet, kind girls that invited me to their birthday parties and for sleepovers.

I went but I never reciprocated. I judged them in my heart because they wore knee length skirts, gushed over Justin Timberlake, and talked about (gasp) hickies! I was horrified and I judged those good Christian girls like the bow-wearing, pink-clad homeschool girl judges her public school peers in the comic above.

Source: http://www.dummies.com
Source: http://www.dummies.com

My attitude toward public schooled students was like the comic above. 

was the happy fish, swimming freely, while public schooled students were “locked up” in “government” classrooms, being “taught to be robots,” and were basically brain-dead by the time they graduated, like poor sardines in a can, begging for help!

But it was me that was locked up in a world of prejudice and judgement, shunning people who could have been my friends and who could have opened my eyes to new thoughts and ideas. (Thank God for this awesome public-schooled boy I met in college named Aaron…)

I know that the “us vs. them” attitude of homeschooelers is not dead. I wish it was. Everything I put in quotes in the paragraph under the comic are things I have heard from people I grew up with or from current blogs I have read (usually in the comments section under a controversial homeschooling article).

But when I became a public school mom (an agonizing decision you can read about here), I learned a few amazing things.

My kids are not locked in their classrooms or shackled to their desks (imagine that).

They are not robots, nor are they being taught to be robots (I have a son who constantly reminds me that he has a mind-of-his-own on a daily basis)

They love school and are taught by wonderful teachers who love them.

And, most importantly…

People are people. Not public school kids. Not homeschool kids. Heck, not even private school kids!

No more stereotypes and judgment.

People are people who deserve to be loved and respected for who they are, not judged or discriminated against for the school they attend.

Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two

Sailboats And The Spirit: Finn’s Thoughts, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Finn” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

The other half involves an openness to new ideas.

I can remember people commenting on a quotation I used in one of my policy debate cases. The quotation dealt with some random technical aspect of immigration policy — the content of which wasn’t an issue. The issue was that the card was from someone who worked at the Ayn Rand Institute, and Ayn Rand was an atheist. Therefore (these people said), I needed to be careful about using this card. I remember being concerned by these comments at the time, but now I see no foundation for them. Instead, I see a byproduct of the somewhat insular community which Christian speech and debate creates.

Because the community is distinctly conservative and distinctly Christian, and because the community is centered around the ability to communicate a message, some of the most popular messages are those that create a group mentality (Jonathan Haidt has some important research about the importance group loyalty plays in conservative groups; give his works a read if you’re interested). In other words, the messages that get to the top are those that create an us vs. them mentality: Christians in a culture war, liberals trying to destroy the Constitution, America becoming increasingly immoral, etc. Regardless of whether or not you believe these messages are true, it should be clear that the combination of these narratives with the homogenous nature of the speech and debate community creates a very real possibility for students to develop a fear of outside ideas.

I can remember the first time I met an openly gay person. I can remember watching his hands to make sure he didn’t have a knife.

I listened carefully as we were talking, lest some underhanded message corrupt me. I did my best to stay polite, yet slightly gruff and on my guard (I was 14 with a somewhat squeaky voice – a funny picture, no doubt). I was confused for a while after he left. I didn’t see any attempts to undermine my faith (we talked mostly about the weather), and he was phenomenally well-spoken. This reaction wasn’t just because I thought “gay” was bad – it was because I had created an “us vs. them” narrative in my head and begun to fear people along with the idea. I had prevented myself from engaging with a human person because of a narrative I had created as a result of my fear of an idea.

But there’s a deeper reason why a fear of ideas is bad. To illustrate it, I need to introduce the concept of Hegel’s dialectic.

Hegel, a German philosopher who lived between 1770 and 1831, taught that knowledge was achieved through a threefold process: the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis. Essentially, you begin with one idea, contradict it with another idea, and then get a result (the synthesis) which is closer to the actual truth than either of the originals. In other words: every set of ideas has something to teach us.

Action items:

1. Students: you’re in high school. You have barely completed a fifth of your average life. You haven’t figured things out; you don’t have a perfect conception of God. That’s not a bad thing as long as your conception of God changes. If your faith and beliefs are not changing and developing, look carefully at speech and debate to ensure the insular community is not inhibiting the process described above.

2. For judges and parents: recognize that your kids are growing up. They’re going to be evaluating ideologies that you’re not comfortable with regardless of how much your try to shelter them. Competitors may advocate for ideas in debates that are contradictory to your own. That’s perfectly fine. Debate (particularly in the NCFCA and Stoa) is a safe environment. Your decision in a debate is feedback about the comparison between the two teams — not implementing a real philosophy or policy: occasionally you may vote for teams that you disagree with personally. Again, that’s fine.

In fact, one of the worst things you can do is to take a competitor aside in one of the infamous hallway conversations and tell them that the ideas are “dangerous” or discourage further interest in them. If you really believe that what you believe is true, then you should be comfortable with people exploring the arguments in a safe environment. Be their partner in discovery, not someone that holds them back from developing a broader understanding. Otherwise you may be surprised at what was suppressed when you are no longer there to restrain their intellects.

My time in the NCFCA was incredibly positive. I learned to speak professionally. I learned to analyze topics and arguments with an acuity that I couldn’t have achieved through any other method. I’m still involved in the homeschool debate scene because I want other people to experience this tremendous growth and development and get the maximal amount of benefit from it.

End of series.