The first year I homeschooled Rhino, I had a lot of feelings. I was unhappy to be homeschooling but relieved to have the option. I was angry there weren’t other options and guilty that I wasn’t working to create them rather than retreating into my little world of privilege. I was scared of Rhino’s initial academic meltdown and proud of her volunteer work and personal growth.
I was working through the personal and political repercussions of our family’s choices. What does privilege mean in the context of a child with disabilities? Is taking just two years away from the urban public school system with one of three children such a sin? I found myself pleased that our homeschooling endeavor wasn’t regulated (in part because Rhino was 16 and eligible to drop out if she wanted to), yet I found myself wishing there were lot more regulation of other homeschoolers. I developed a bit of an obsession with fundamentalist Christians.
I had no interest in the homeschooling community. A good friend recommended a book on homeschooling (it’s called Kingdom of Children), and I bought it, only to realize that there are probably 10,000 books I am more interested in reading. I find the whole concept of homeschooling annoying.
And that’s where I am now. I think homeschooling worked out well for Rhino in the particular unique circumstances she and our family faced in a particular moment in our history. I’m glad we were able to homeschool, though sorry we had to do it. I wish there were were some volunteer-internship based public charter school with a college prep curriculum and time for students to dream.
If I were a different kind of person, I would start that school. But I’m not that person.
So here I am, realizing that my opinions of homeschooling are more or less what they were when I started this endeavor—it’s bad for society and people shouldn’t do it. But I’ve made my peace (or as much peace as I’m ever going to make) with homeschooling Rhino anyway.
And even though I actually have half a dozen posts in draft, and thoughts about any number of things I’ve seen about homeschooling in the news, and experiences that I never got around to blogging about, I really don’t want to think/talk/write about homeschooling anymore.
Rhino continues to be her amazing self, and if you like you can follow her adventures at http://ofknightsandcollegiates.tumblr.com/ (she blogs with 4 friends who are all heading to college—guess who the cuttlefish is?)
As for me, I do have things I want to blog about, and when I start a new blog, I will post the url.
Go and support your urban public school system. And if you ever get a chance, you should pet a penguin. They are super-super soft, and forever after just thinking about how great it was will give you an endorphin rush.
Missouri has a new state constitutional amendment on the ballot. In part, the amendment states, “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” The intent behind this is to allow fundamentalist Christian students to opt out of lessons on evolution or sex education. But the potential impact goes far, far beyond the amendment’s intent. And some of that is fun!
This kind of nonsense is what makes some people like the idea of homeschooling—the faithful can go home and restrict themselves while everyone else gets to learn actual science. Of course, not ever letting your child hear anyone else’s point of view ever doesn’t mean that they have faith. In fact, it’s rather the opposite. Faith is belief without evidence. But since kids who never learn any other point of view never get any actual evidence that contradicts their religion’s world view, they have ignorance rather than faith. If we think of an Eden parallel, it’s not telling kids not to eat from the tree of knowledge—it’s preventing them from knowing the tree exists. I really worry about these kids.
However, those who like to suffer fools gladly—because if you have to suffer, you might as well introduce as much gladness as possible—can think of many other ways that this amendment could be implemented. A professor of mine (and Mr. A’s) used to draw parallels with the Church of the Holy Cinderblock. If we have to make religious exceptions for Christians, we have to make them for all religions.
We could have the Church of the Knights of Nee. Like the knights who say nee of Monty Python fame, they cannot hear the word “it.” ”It” must be excised from the texts of all children of the knights, and any teacher who utters “it” is violating their sacred religious principles, and so the kids are entitled to wear noise canceling headphones at all times and read censored transcripts of the lessons later.
On a more realistic note, we could ban any lessons that indicated that consumption of pork or having only one set of kitchen utensils was acceptable so as not to have lessons that violate the beliefs of observant Jews. Any pictures of pepperoni pizza must be destroyed or clearly labeled to indicate that the pepperoni-like substance is actually a flavored soy product.
Or we could have Shakers, who didn’t believe in procreation (which is why there aren’t any now, but we could instigate a revival in Missouri!). In any families portrayed, it would have to made clear that the children were adopted progeny of the sinful. And everyone would have to learn to make simple but attractive wooden furniture.
We could encourage the Amish to attend public school, and eliminate all lessons that mentioned cars, war, buttons, married men shaving, or wearing red. And the children could use kerosene lamps and candles for light. And they could put a petting zoo in the parking lot.
Do we want all these kids to be educated at home? Do progressives want to leave the schools to the religious and educate their own kids at home? Is it possible to have a pluralistic society in which children are educated together? Is there a potential for a common curriculum that educates without belittling?
Maybe the grown-ups should be the ones to stay home.
Wanna know what bad homeschoolers do after they quasi-graduate from virtual high school? Well, the Rhino bad homeschooler enrolls in City Year and learns to make the following elevator speech:
“City Year is an education-focused non-profit organization that unites young people ages 17-24 in a year of full time service. Every 26 seconds a child drops out of school. I am definitely not reciting this from memory rather than engaging in actual conversation with you. Also did I mention we mentor children to end the national dropout crisis? Because that’s a thing we do.”
It’s interested that nearly all homeschooling parents are mothers (of course many dads play a tangential role, but the main force is almost always mom, including in my uber-feminist household). This idea that teaching goes along with housewifery, or perhaps in more liberal circles, with a jobette (selling Mary Kay…), further erodes the status of teachers. While politicians love to say that motherhood is the most important job in the world, it requires no qualifications other than a functioning reproductive system (and some live sperm)*. And the main qualification for being a mother whose primary occupation is homeschooling is finding a source of financial support, either by being independently wealthy or by being married to someone who is willing to financially support the household. There is so much misogyny centered around mothers and the care work they do—when we say that anyone who can be a mother can be a teacher, I think we wind up giving teachers the status of unpaid caregivers. One might say that the solution is to elevate motherhood and other care work. Let me tell you, in an individualistic, capitalist society, that will never happen until someone starts paying mothers some big bucks.
This next piece is on the dangers of teacher bashing:
What’s at stake is more basic: Whether the right to a free public education for all children will survive as a fundamental democratic promise in our society, and whether the schools and districts needed to provide it are going to survive as public institutions.
Again, many people homeschool because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they can teach their children better than people who are actually trained as teachers. In some cases this is surely true, but it doesn’t do much to attract better qualified people to the teaching profession. We homeschoolers might not care about that because we’ve pulled our children out of the system where most children get their education.
Except, of course, we have to live in a society with all of those children for the rest of our lives.
*Mothers through adoption actually do have to have further qualifications, as they are generally investigated up, down, and sideways before being trusted with a child.
I wrote a post a while back about the disrespect for the teaching profession that homeschooling implies. This was apparently thought to mean that having a teaching certificate is somehow important to teaching quality. I don’t think it is, particularly. I just think that when we make a big deal about it being irrelevant, we lower the status of teachers. One can train a layperson to do a lot things that require a professional license. A layperson can trained to do certain medical procedures at least as competently as a physician—especially a physician who doesn’t specialize in those procedures. Yet if the lay person actually performs them, s/he can be prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license. And if the person performs them badly, s/he might go to prison.
Not so the incompetent homeschooling parent. There are many extraordinarily competent homeschooling parents (who hoard their talents within a very limited circle). But, in part because of the religious right, there is increasingly less regulation of homeschooling. One does not have to be a high school graduate to homeschool. If you read the blogs of people who have left the fundamentalist Christian movement, you will hear some very interesting perspectives on the downsides of homeschooling. Here’s one I found particularly interesting:
My wife, Kristine sat on a homeschool board for a few years and witnessed the split of the homeschool group in that region of the country. What was the split over? Academics? Nope. Whether or not it was the right thing to require a statement of faith for a family to join the group. The “yea’s” won the day and the detractors had to leave. The detractors were a much smaller group and yet, when anything was to be done academically with tutors or extra classes taught by experts, it was this group that organized it. The “statement of faith” group was simply satisfied to have a sermon with a gym day.
That explains my view of academics in some homeschooling to a ‘t’. On a side note, my wife has gone back to school and has seen that her parents were miserable teachers. Miserable. Her writing competency was at the 6th grade level, as was her math.
What I find most interesting is that Kristine was sitting on this homeschool board because she was homeschooling her own children (she and her husband had six before they left the Christian Quiverfull movement). The kids now attend public school, but she was originally planning to homeschool them all the way through.
When I sent Rhino to urban public school, I brought our family’s resources into a system that needed them. When I homeschooled her, I contributed to making people like Kristine, Kristine’s parents, and the thousands of people like them able to deprive their kids of a meaningful education. In Jesus’s name.
Rhino finished the last of her graduation requirements yesterday, which was awesome because it’s been over 100 degrees here, and it gave us another excuse to go out for dinner.
For all practical purposes, Rhino is now vegan. One of her doctors thought that cutting dairy from her diet for at least three months might alleviate her cyclic vomiting syndrome, and in testament to how much Rhino hates vomiting, she has given up dairy. This includes pizza and ice cream. Rhino finds sorbet an acceptable substitute for ice cream, but she does not find pizza without cheese to be an acceptable substitute for pizza with cheese. She’s perceptive that way.
In any case, we went out for Indian food. But I digress.
A few days ago, we went down to Washington, DC and moved furniture into Rhino’s new house. She does not know what room she will be living in yet, so the furniture is sitting unceremoniously in the “second living room,” which will actually be used as a bedroom. And actually, probably her bedroom since she gets last pick on rooms, as she was the last person to join the house. Rhino’s furniture consists of the following:
a night table we bought for her at a craft fair when she was 4. It is painted purple and green.
her father’s dresser from his childhood bedroom. Mr. A’s parents were never big on material objects, and the dresser’s durability is one step above cardboard. The drawers fell apart when we moved it, but Mr. A and studmuffin Twister put it back together with Liquid Nails glue and a hammer that Rhino won when she was on the zoo’s exhibits projects team.
a fold-up couch/bed from Ikea. This is a metal frame with a foam mattress thing with a seam down the middle so it will fold in half when the frame is upright. This is intended to serve as Rhino’s bed. She complained bitterly because at one point, a cat barfed on it. Plus, it was the cheapest model Ikea had at the time, so it’s probably not very comfortable. We told her that she is welcome to procure a bed from freecycle or trashpicking, and she decided the cat-barfed-on Ikea unit was preferable to any labor on her her part.
a low square table. This was also from Mr’s A’s childhood room. I have no idea what it’s original intent was, but I’m sure Rhino’s intent will be to pile huge stacks of mixed up clean and dirty clothes on it.
a side table that Mr. A and I trashpicked in Boston the year we got married.
We also brought down a large cardboard box full of tampons and vegan nut bars. I hope none of this burned up in the great flurry of illegal fireworks that the neighbors were setting off in the street.
Then Rhino came home, finished her last Financial Skills assignment, wrote her last AP English essay, and took her last AP English exam. Despite completing exactly one course all school year (AP European History), she manged to complete three classes in less than 2 months so that she could graduate and do City Year.
She still needs to finish the second semester of AP Biology, which I am only going to mention once right now before going into the other room and screaming into a pillow. She also needs to finish Spanish III, for which I think she still has to complete nearly the entire years’ worth, and the semester or precalculus that she began with my dad, though she has not yet completed unit one. She also plans to take the second semester of AP English. While I am sure colleges will appreciate these additions, she does not need them to graduate. This is a very, very good thing, as Rhino will now be working a 50+ hour week, and since she was apparently only able to do one (two-semester) class during the school year, somehow I think that completing an additional 5 semesters of coursework is going to be—shall we say elusive? Unobtainable? Preposterous? In any case, I doubt it will happen.
Still, she won’t be living here any more, and so there will be little whimpering on the puppy-chewed love seat in the living room, and we will no longer hear the stomp of her dainty Rhino feet upon the stair. I have hated almost every moment of homeschooling, and I have to say it is a relief to me that we got her through the essential part of it and it won’t be part of my daily life any more.
Rhino does not want to be amazing and special and unique. She wants to have gone to prom, graduated, and be heading off to college. Instead, she is staying home tonight, starting an AP bio lab, and trying to find housing in Washington, DC before she has to move there in July.
Sometimes being amazing isn’t worth it if you have to be that way all by yourself.
Rhino is taking “Career Planning,” a class required for officially graduating from her ISHS (which she has to do by the end of July, or she can’t do City Year). First of all, Rhino took an equally stupid class on career planning in 8th grade. This class is even worse because it includes a textbook that tells readers not to be friends with overweight people. You think I am kidding, but I am not. It also offers exercises in “values clarification” that offered choices that the text deems to be morally equivalent, but are not. Rhino wrote a response to all of this and sent to it her teacher, who forwarded it to the principal of the Independent Study High School. With Rhino’s permission, I have copied her letter below:
I have spent many hours, days, and years thinking about and defining my values. They are well-established and I am very confident about them. I learned nothing more about them in this lesson. I think many people could have benefited from the section about “hard choices” if they had been more realistic and not asked us to pass judgment on other people. For example, I resented being asked which person “I would least admire.” I did not admire any of the choices that the people provided as examples were making. However, without knowing these people I cannot tell you based off a single action whom I admire least as a person. Every person makes mistakes or has less than admirable qualities about them, but it is not appropriate to pass judgment on them just because we disagree. In addition, the “I would prefer to” section made me truly uncomfortable. Tell me when I would ever have to choose between having an affair (and betraying a person to whom I have made sacred vows) and risking arrest standing up for my values? These are not comparable, and I found it absurd that they were placed next to each other. What value is having an affair supposed to represent? I understand that this exercise was meant to be exaggerated, but I feel like that made it entirely pointless and unhelpful. In the future you might consider using examples that are actual realistic hard choices that require some real thought and thus development of values.
I did not learn anything about myself from this unit, and I am not going to make something up just to fill this space. I value honesty quite highly, and I will not sacrifice it for a grade. I would, however, like to use this space to comment upon Campbell’s book. I find the entire book quite classist. Not everyone has wealth or even a supportive family. The “assets” listed in this book suggest that the people reading it have at least one or both of these things. I find this ridiculous in the sense that people who have these things are not the ones who truly need this class. They will be just fine without it. The children who lack these listed “assets” are the ones who need more guidance and alternatives to help them through it. The national dropout crisis isn’t happening because middle class children aren’t being provided with enough guidance and opportunities. Just something to think about. I would also like to jump ahead a bit to the next unit where we are asked to read the next chapter in Campbell’s book. I am going to try to remain calm as I explain the deeply disturbing content that it contains. The book explains that we are most like the people we surround ourselves with. This is true. But instead of focusing on the positive, such as saying “stay with people who do well in school, share your values, are kind and loving people” Campbell takes it upon himself to list who losers are. I find this in and of itself strange, but then he goes on to list “overweight and unfit” as qualifications for loserdom. I demand an explanation for how in the world this is appropriate to have in school distributed material. I know this is a freshman level course, so my question to you is how dare you tell 14-year-olds in the most vulnerable time of their lives that being fat makes them a loser? In what universe did you think that was okay? Everyday kids are bombarded with messages that being overweight is bad. The one place they are supposed to be safe from these hateful messages is from teachers and school administration. That is why I sat through countless anti-bullying assemblies throughout my life. We were told we could always go to a teacher for help even when no one else would listen. So for a teacher to use this book is inappropriate beyond all rational belief. Later Campbell takes it a step further by saying that “many people forego much of their natural attractiveness by being overweight.” Again with telling 14-year-old girls that they aren’t pretty if they’re fat. Very nice. They list weight as a something people have complete control over but that’s not true. Some people are just naturally heavier than others, and how could yo possibly allow freshmen to read something that tells them that this makes them less attractive than other people. I am so ashamed of ISHS right now, you have no idea.
This is a tough time of year for a homeschooler who is friends almost exclusively with traditional schoolers. The kids who go to actual schools are having proms and graduations and senior trips. Rhino is flopped on the loveseat (inexplicably wearing the new wool hat I knit her even though it’s about 90 degrees). But she is not relaxing. She is trying to finish her Financial Skills class in the least amount of time possible. (By the way, do you “reconcile” your checking account?)
Rhino will not have a graduation. She did go to her friend’s junior prom nearly two months ago, but she never had a prom of her own. She did not go on a graduation trip or get a class ring. And for the last 2 years, she has missed scheduled classes, cafeterias, drama club, play rehearsals, and all the other rituals of the daily life of the traditionally schooled teen.
Of course, she has had her own rituals. But they are mostly just hers. They are not collectively recognized because, at least in our case, homeschooling is not a collective experience. I’ve never been much for pomp and circumstance myself—graduations are pretty far down there in my levels of hell. I am, however, very big on collective social experiences, and for Rhino’s missing that—that she will never be a senior in the way that our society understands—I am sad for her.
At least she got to experience the penguin feeding ritual.
One of the largest homeschool advocacy organizations in the country is the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSDLA), which may sound innocuous. It’s not.
Homeschooling was primarily an interest of progressive hippie-types when people began re-considering it in earnest in the 1970s (re-considered because, at one point, everyone was “homeschooled”). Then conservative Christians got it into their heads that their rights regarding their children were being taken away and that their children were being indoctrinated with a secular liberal agenda inculcated through studying the very “controversial” kinds of things commonly included in public school curricula (like American history, biology, and novels). In 1983, HSLDA was born.
One of the missions of the HSLDA is to make it possible for parents to teach their kids whatever and however they want: “HSLDA’s primary mission is to protect the legal right of parents to homeschool from agents of the state.” Their organization has been a primary force in the loosening of regulation around homeschooling. While this has allowed many progressive, secular people to offer an alternative (and perhaps even superior) education to their own few children who are isolated from the poor urban children who could most benefit from the presence of these families in public schools,* it has also allowed a lot of nincompoops to run amok.
Nincompoops may seem like strong language, or religious bias, or a general slur fueled by my overall opposition to homeschooling, but really, I do mean nincompoops, and that language is much milder than some of the words I considered.
Here are some thoughts from HSLDA:
"We oppose the UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child because it would strip parents of much of their authority to educate, train, and nurture their children according to the dictates of their conscience." (You may want to see my previous post on homeschooling in order to preserve corporal punishment: http://badhomeschooler.tumblr.com/post/1042733194/why-i-hate-homeschooling-4-crazy-people-violent)
"We understand that the financial pressures faced by families today make publicly subsidized educational programs very attractive. But if accepting government subsidies forfeits your right to teach your children in the way you desire, that price is very high indeed." (note that they mean teaching them anything you darn well please, like that the moon landings never happened. Think I’m kidding? See here under "Melissa": http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/05/raised-quiverfull-homeschooling-q-3.html)
"The reason we have parental rights is because our law assumes that God gave children to parents, not the state. If we eliminate the assumption of God from our law, parental rights and human rights themselves are impossible." (This is also one of the main components in their argument against marriage equality. For some reason, other than homeschooling, the marriage issue is one of the only political issues the organization addresses)
When progressives advocate for their right to homeschool their kids, do they consider the flipside—that if they can do it because they are smart and capable, the right of parents to homeschool goes to all parents, including those who are ignorant and inept?
By the way, I am very pleased to say that In HSLDA’s conception, we DO NOT actually homeschool because Rhino takes online courses through Independent Study High Schools: “The mission of Home School Legal Defense Association has always been to defend the rights of families who desire to privately homeschool their children. Homeschooling through charter schools or public school independent study programs is actually a form of public education, and thus falls outside of HSLDA’s mission. It is our longstanding policy not to accept as HSLDA members families whose children are enrolled in such a public school option.”
You can access HSLDA’s website here: http://www.hslda.org/join/default.asp
I have to say that HSLDA’s opinion that we are actually engaging in public education rather than homeschooling is a great relief to me on more fronts than I can count. I love having Rhino’s education meet certain standards that are set by a force larger, and perhaps even more knowledgable, than her mother.
* Many progressive secular folk also justify giving their children exclusive advantages through suburban or private schooling, which I also find highly problematic. I would also like to remind everyone whom I am no doubt offending that I AM HOMESCHOOLING MY CHILD, and I considered private school for her as well. This blog helps me consider the repercussions of my decisions for society as a whole, not just for my own child.
Teachers have to get a lot of training these days—many districts require teachers to have a Master’s degree. They go through a certification process that involves particular required courses, standardized testing, observation and evaluation. As much as people complain about the quality and focus of teacher training, one can’t deny that teachers do get specialized training.
Our country has gone a bit certification happy. Many jobs that used to be executed by family members or self-trained laypeople now require professional degrees and certifications. In California, one has to have something like 2000 hours of supervised training to be a hairdresser. Louisiana requires special certification to be a florist.
Still, many certifications seem like a good idea to most of us. Things like psychotherapy, nursing care, and home construction used to be done by moms and dads. Now we expect to have licensed therapists, nurses, and contractors do that work. Yet many in the homeschool movement would like people who have not completed highschool to be teachers.
Some certified teachers are terrible—no doubt this is true. However, few would argue that because a surgeon botched your kid’s heart operation, the next step would be to attempt the operation yourself on the dining room table.
It seems like a pretty big dis on teachers to suppose that anyone can teach. Even if they do have a mail-order curriculum. And maybe in some cases especially if they have a mail order curriculum.
I have a PhD and can’t do much math beyond basic algebra. How about you?
I know I haven’t posted in forever, and actually, the homeschooling endeavor is beginning to come to a close. Ultimately, I suppose this blog, if I continue it, will have to morph into something else. But before the morph, there are some things from the last several months I would like to consider.
Something transformative happened to Rhino this spring. It was a gradual transformation—there was no single moment in which I said “Aha! Rhino has become amazing beyond my wildest dreams!” But that’s how the winter/spring have culminated.
Rhino is the outreach coordinator for the District Youth Service Committee for our religious denomination. She recruited many new youth to the quarterly conferences, and churches that had never participated before sent their youth. She served as a dean at one of the conferences. She went to monthly meeting all over the region. The adult person in charge of youth for the district asked her to revise the standards for the YES (Youth Empowerment and Supportive Congregations) Award. She arranged and ran a Cluster event at our church that involved baking a huge number of pies (and raising $250 for a local charity).
Rhino served on the religious education committee at our church. She co-chaired the Youth Adult Committee (YAC—it’s a community service committee). She ran the youth group (which won a YES award under her leadership). She attended the Leadership Committee (because she was co-chair of YAC).
Rhino wrote a proposal to amend our church’s bylaws to allow youth to become full members with voting rights after they complete the Coming of Age program, a program that is supposed to lead youth to religious adulthood (kind of a low-key bar mitzvah type thing). She lobbied for congregational support, and ultimately the board passed her proposal unanimously.
Rhino is going to accept the Governor’s Service Award on behalf of the youth volunteer program at the zoo. The volunteer coordinator told her she had been chosen because she did Junior Zoo Crew, Junior Zookeeper, Junior Interpreter, and Animal Handling and had worked at the zoo for 4 years.
Rhino is a penguin keeper at the zoo. She knows the name and identification number of every penguin. She assists in feeds and in teaching baby penguins to swim (did you know baby penguins hate water?). She watched over four hatchlings born into the Endangered Species Preservation Program. And she endured a lot of penguin bites.
Rhino has seen more than 100 children pass through the preschool for homeless children. Our church decided to make the preschool one of its places to contribute special offerings.
Rhino applied to two Americorps Programs. She first heard from the one that accepts fewer than 20% of applicants, most of whom are college graduates. So next year, Rhino will be a City Year corps member in a city about an hour away. She’s going to live on her own (with some roommates from the program).
Also, Rhino did school. She is currently preparing for two AP exams, and because City Year requires that she have a diploma, she is planning to finish the requirements to graduate from the University of Nebraska’s independent study highschool by mid-July. It’s not perfect. She didn’t finish her Spanish class or her math class. She’ll only finish the first semester of AP English.
So here’s the spicier part in which Rhino’s math complications become more complicated (you can see part one below).
My relationships with my father is…complicated. I hear that narcissistic personality disorder was taken out of the DSM V, which I suppose means there isn’t really anything wrong with him. Sometimes I tell my therapist things my father has done and the therapist does a double take and stares at me. One of the main things that complicates our relationship is that my retired father, who lives alone in another city, has put me in full charge of my mother (who has early onset Alzheimer’s and now resides in assisted living near my house). On top of that, when my father comes to our city, he will only see my mother once or twice for 10 minutes because seeing her makes him sad. He also did not get her a Christmas present. I could go on about this for a long time, but I will spare you. Suffice to say that Rhino is utterly outraged at my father, and so her relationship with him is complicated too.
In any case, my no-longer-personality-disordered father is very good at math.
Rhino signed up for Precalculus in August. She can’t really take the SAT until she finishes this class. It is important to take the SAT and do reasonably well, because that is the way homeschoolers prove to colleges that they actually learned the same academics that traditional schoolers did. So basically, Rhino can’t apply to college until she finishes taking Precalculus, which she also has to do in time to take an SAT prep course. I completely agree that our college application regimen is ridiculous and out of control—prep classes and such are smart for one, dumb for all. Which is to say that rather than being a leg up, they have become a requirement. The whole thing sucks a lot.
Rhino opened the math book once in October, found the first lesson incomprehensible, and closed the book.
We have a dear friend who is a former high school math teacher who said that she would be delighted to help Rhino for free, even though math tutors commonly make $50-$100 an hour. Did Rhino take her up on this?
You knew that was a rhetorical question, right?
So I asked my no-longer-personality-disordered father if he might help Rhino with her math. He said yes. I asked if he could restrain himself from telling her how easy it was, and he said yes. I asked if he could refrain from yelling “No, you silly nit!” (which was kind of his pet name for me growing up) when she made the same stupid mistake over and over, and he said yes.
Then I asked Rhino if she would be willing to work on math with him, and miraculously she said yes. This was after I had pointed out to her that she had another person whom she actually likes who offered to help her for free, except she never took the offer. But the yes was miraculous nonetheless.
Then the two of them sat at the dining room table and did the first math lesson. Then Rhino did two more math lessons with my father before he left. And he was really nice to her and very helpful, and Rhino felt really good about understanding the first three math lessons out of about 180 (not kidding on the number). And we had a moment of grace.
But then my father left, and Rhino still has 177 more math lessons, and I still have my father who won’t visit my mother, and Rhino still has to take the SAT and apply to college.
Math is a challenge for many people in America in a way it does not seems to be in all cultures. For instance, a friend of mine from Turkey said that everyone he knew who took the GRE (graduate school admissions test) got an 800 (perfect score) on the math section. I don’t remember exactly what my score was, but it was around the 50th percentile, which considering that I hadn’t had a math class in 18 years when I took the test is very, very scary statement about the rest of American math test takers.
But enough about me.
Rhino has issues with math. First, everything she initially knew about math was blasted out of her brain by a heinous medication regimen she was on in second and third grade. So in fourth grade, she had to start all over again. By the time she finished fifth grade, she was good enough to get into a competitive math and science magnet program.
Then Rhino got sick again in 8th grade and basically stopped going to school in November. This was the year she took Algebra I. In a bizarre twist in the way grades are calculated in our public school system, because she did well during the first quearter, she passed for the whole year, even though she didn’t go to class from Thanksgiving until June. Then she had to take the high school exit exam for Algebra I. The exam is designed for people who have had very bad math instruction to pass. Rhino had very good math instruction, and coupled with an untimed test, she figured out enough of the algebra to pass—and not a low pass either. This does not mean she actually knew any algebra.
So then Rhino took Algebra II, which was a very hard class for someone who hadn’t taken Algebra I. But she passed that too. Then she took Geometry, which doesn’t require algebra, and she did very well. Then the first year of homeschooling Rhino did no math at all.
Now she is taking Pre-Calculus. And I’m sure you can guess where this is leading.
Except it also involves my father, the SAT, Rhino’s summer plans, and her college applications. So it is a bit spicier than the standard “Rhino doesn’t do what she’s supposed to when she’s supposed to do it and why the F*CK am I homeschooling a teenager” rant.
Rhino is thinking about what she will do next (academic) year. Right now she is hoping to do a year with Americorps. She found a program that deals with poverty and environmental preservation and (the and is very important) does not require applicants to have graduated from high school.
I have begun to wonder if Rhino will ever graduate. She is finishing the first semester of AP Bio this morning, nearly a year and a half after she began. She has done exactly one lesson in precalculus. She has done half of the first of 5 units in Spanish. I’m not sure what she has done in AP English. I do know that I bought her some books on CD that she could put on her ipod to listen to in odd moments or when she was cleaning or such. She did load the first CD of Jane Austen’s Emma, which is about 80 minutes long, and I know that she did listen to at least 10 minutes of it after assistant directing the UU Christmas Eve Pageant. To her credit, she did finish the first semester of AP Euro more or less when she was supposed to. But one out of five ain’t good.
This is becoming a tired litany, I know. Maybe some part of me believes that if I keep blogging about it, a solution will miraculously arrive.
Or perhaps Rhino will finish homeschooling the way many homeschoolers do—with the informal recognition of deciding to be done.
Although the contemporary homeschooling movement began with radical, anti-establishment hippies, the dominant force in homeschooling now is conservative, evangelical Christians. I absolutely support a person’s right to religious freedom, but I have serious doubts that my support is reciprocated.
Lack of religious freedom is less directed at me, however, than it is toward children in these religious families. Vision Forum provides one of the most popular homeschooling curricula in the country (it may be the most popular, but I don’t have data to be sure). Here is their mission statement:
The mission of Vision Forum is to communicate a vision of victory to Christian families through edifying books, films, toys, curriculum, and other resources.
"Victory" pertains in particular to preventing "the systematic annihilation of the biblical family." Intrinsic to promoting this victory is the absolute subjugation of girls and women.
Perhaps you think I am exaggerating. I highly recommend that you read this page of the Vision Forum Website:
If you don’t have time to read the whole page, here are a few highlights:
Biblical patriarchy is just one theme in the Bible’s grand sweep of revelation, but it is a scriptural doctrine, and faithfulness to Christ requires that it be believed, taught, and lived.
Following the introduction are a list of 26 “affirmations” or “tenets” of “Biblical patriarchy.” These include that
God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit are unquestionably masculine and NOT feminine
Husbands and fathers are the absolute authorities at home;
All families should attend church, where males should also be in absolute and exclusive authority;
"The God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household,” and that women only have a role outside the home as helpers to their husbands, as “it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion”;
“Fathers are sovereign over the training of their children and, with their wives, are the children’s chief teachers,” (although mothers are expected to conduct most of the actual schooling)
"The Christian should build his educational methodology from the word of God and reject methodologies derived from humanism, evolutionism, and other unbiblical systems of thought”
fathers may release unmarried sons from their authority so that the sons can pursue a vocation, but daughters remain under the father’s authority until being “given in marriage” (sons “take a wife”)
“Egalitarian feminism is an enemy of God and of biblical truth”
According to Christians who are familiar with Vision Forum, these tenets mean that women should not go to college or vote. Really, people, I couldn’t make this stuff up.
Children are expected to unquestioningly believe whatever their father tells them to believe (which he may tell them through his sock puppet/helpmeet/wife). A quick overview of the Vision Forum curriculum reveals some points of interest:
The science curriculum does have units for Chemistry and Physics, but not Biology. There are units for “Creation” and “Life.” Some curriculum appears to be specifically about refuting scientific findings, such as the astronomy DVD “What You Aren’t Being Told About Astronomy” (description here: http://www.visionforum.com/browse/product/what-you-arent-being-told-about-astronomy-volume-1/?cid=1020). I’m not sure why this is needed if you are never exposed to secular education—perhaps it’s for people who are late to the homeschooling party and have to unlearn the science they were already taught.
American History seems to be encompassed almost solely by the Civil War and World War II, in which there were only white men. How they reproduced is not addressed. There is a DVD specifically about historic Virginia. I’m not sure why Virginia is elevated to the level of wars. I guess I would need to watch the DVD.
Did you know that there was such thing as a “Christ Centered” math curriculum? Don’t you wish you didn’t? In any case, it doesn’t progress beyond arithmetic because if your mother wasn’t allowed to attend college, she can’t teach you much beyond that no matter how much Jesus helps her. He didn’t know much higher math either. Learning math does involve leaning a lot about Mozart, Bach, and Brahms, because apparently someone told the Vision Forum that math and music are related, and reading biographies of composers might help. And Jesus liked their music. Or he would have if he had been around then, because white European males wrote it.
There are exactly 5 items sold in the “Literature” section, 4 of which are relevant to literature. You can buy a $45 copy of Pilgrim’s Progress, and if you really want to make sure your kids will hate reading forever, you can buy “Great Christian Classics” and the accompanying study guides. I have never read John Knox’s “Reformation in Scotland” or John G. Paton’s autobiography, but obviously that’s because I’m a heathen.
The main purpose of Vision Forum’s curriculum seems to be to promote a singular world view coupled with willful ignorance. If you don’t provide children with factual material, critical thinking skills, a love of learning, or knowledge beyond the scope of a fourth grader, there is no need to prohibit religious freedom, because your kids won’t know enough to question anything anyway.
Deadlines--There's a Reason the Word "Dead" is in There
Rhino has learned a lot of time management skills in the last year and a half, but she has also learned how hard it is for her to manage her time. Part of the problem is that without strict deadlines, her perfectionism demands that she’s never ready to finish anything. Not anything. Ever.
Last month she was scheduled to take an AP Bio exam (note that she is still taking the first semester of AP Bio, which she began in August of 2010). However, she hadn’t finished studying all of the units that were going to be covered. However again, she had already postponed this exam. So we told her to go take it anyway. Rhino wailed and flopped around the kitchen, and there was gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Okay, well maybe not that, but it was bad. So then she went and took the test, and actually she did almost as well on it as she had on all of the other tests she had taken when she had finished studying all of the material.
One might hope that Rhino would learn from this experience, but right now she is scheduled to take an AP European History exam. The Missouri school screwed up, and the exam did not arrive on time for her to take it as scheduled. Now, this should have given Rhino a week and a half in which to do other things before being able to schedule a date for the exam with her proctor (the proctor should be eligible for sainthood, by the way). So what did she do? She spent the time continuing to study for the AP Euro exam.
Rhino is supposedly taking 5 classes right now—AP Bio, AP Euro, AP English, Spanish III, and Precalculus. She MUST take the AP Bio exam this spring because the curriculum for the course will change after this year. Thus, she will have to do the second semester of AP Bio in an actual semester. AP Euro runs on a real schedule, so she’ll have to finish that too. But the rest of the classes don’t have deadlines. And that is why we are going to be dead.
I’m on vacation now and thinking about starting to blog again. Here are few things I’m planning to post about:
1. I have become very interested in the religious homeschooling movement, especially the schooling conducted with curriculum from places like Vision Forum. This movement is connected with the Patriarchy movement, the Quiverfull movement and Stay at Home Daughters. Don’t know what any of that is? I will be doing some posting on it.
2. I am fretting much less about our particular homeschooling endeavor. I still feel it’s a bad idea in general, but I’ve made more peace with it as an individualized decision for a special case. I’ll write a bit about how that came about.
3. I met a former homeschooler at a UUCon who is now in a wealthy suburban public high school. My conversation with her made me think about the long-term implications of progressive homeschooling. I will post on what I think some of those implications might be.
4. Deadlines continue to be a big struggle. I’ll post on some of the good and the bad on that front.
5. Stinkbug is having school issues, even at his super-progressive alternative public charter school. I’ll be writing a little about his issues, how they differ from Rhino’s, and why we will NEVER homeschool him (okay, maybe not never—that seems to be a word to tempt fate).
6. The New York Times ran a Room for Debate series about a year ago on the regulation of homeschooling. Conservatives and liberals often had opinions that one might not expect. I’ve been meaning to post about that series ever since it was published, so I hope I’ll finally get around to it.
7. Rhino is making plans for next year. I’ll write about how those plans are developing.
I’m sure I’ll write about some other stuff too. So stay tuned!
I’m feeling skeptical about the homeschooling endeavor. Okay, I’ve been skeptical from the get-go, but I assumed there was a learning curve. However, if a curve keeps curving, eventually it makes a loop. This hasn’t been a perfect circle—more of a winding road, but if we’re back where we started, what difference does it make?
Rhino (I initially typed Whino—have I mentioned that I’m teaching Freud at the moment?) is stressed. Very, very stressed. And she’s lost her European History textbook. And she can’t focus, so she spent 33 hours watching a vampire TV show online. She’s sleeping late because she stays up late, but she can’t concentrate late, so she’s staying up not doing anything particularly productive. RIght now, she is aimlessly walking around the living room and eating a brownie. She still hasn’t finished AP Bio and she got a C+ on her recent Multicultural Literature test (questions included: which word is repeated at the end of the first story in the unit?).
At least in regular school, at some point the semester ends, or you have to take the test when the teacher tells you to, and the whole thing is over.
On the other hand, sometimes when you take responsibility for yourself, you learn from the mistake of abusing your time spent online and learn some organizational skills, like keeping track of where you put your textbooks.
I need a third hand here, because on that hand, neither of the other hands is happening.
I have discovered a new blog, lovejoyfeminism.blogspot.com, by a woman who left the beliefs of her upbringing, which were based on the Christian Patriarchy movement, including homeschooling. Someone left a comment on one of her posts in which she discussed some of the limitations of her upbringing. The critic, who identifies himself as “a male evangelical Christian,” (the blog distinguishes between the evangelicals and the more hard-core fundamentalists) said,
I don’t think you can educate a child, live with a child, raise a child - without indoctrinating them to your world-views. While I don’t agree with humanism (I’m on the fence about feminism). I respect that it’s your right to teach your children your views, just as I think your parents shouldn’t have been prevented from raising you as they did.
Libby Anne, the blogger, responds,
I’m going to have to disagree with you on some of this. My parents saw passing on their exact views to their kids as incredibly important, but I honestly don’t feel that way at all. I’m going to let my daughter choose her own beliefs. She’s her own independent person. So, not everyone “indoctrinates” their kids.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with the students in my sociology of media class the other day, in which I asked, “Whose values do you plan to teach to your children? Yours? Or someone else’s?” That stopped them in their tracks. Suddenly, they all felt less open-minded.
Male Evangelical Christian goes on to say,
So I guess what I’m trying to say is: Homeschooling is no more indoctrinating than public school would be.
To which Libby Anne replies,
I disagree. Homeschooling IS more indoctrinating than public school, because homeschooling gives parents the ability to completely control what information their children should be exposed to while public schooling exposes children to a greater variety of ideas, information, and people. You can’t shelter (aka isolate) a kid sent to public school the way you can a kid who is homeschooled.
In another post, Libby Anne distinguished between Christian and secular homeschoolers:
The homeschool movement was begun in the 1970s by left-wing alternative school promoters, but was taken over in the 1980s by fundamentalists fleeing the perceived evils of the public school system. While the homeschool movement has always been diverse, scholars have found it useful to break the movement into two groups: Christian homeschoolers who see the public schools as evil and want to shelter their children and bring them up on “God’s truth,” and homeschoolers who may or may not be Christian but homeschool for other reasons, such as to provide an individualized curriculum, because the schools in their area are crappy, or to work around a gymnastics or ballet schedule. These two groups have not gotten along well together, and there has been tension and conflict in the homeschool world from the local to the national.
I’m not sure I agree with her. While I think that some secular homeschoolers have these reasons (which, in case you haven’t read my blog before, don’t generate a lot of sympathy from me as these are not options available to all—or even most—children), I think that many secular homeschoolers are also tring to control the agenda. A secular liberal can belive just as passionately in the “correctness” of his or her beliefs as anyone else.
While sociologists see themselves as scientists, they also believe in the relativity of truth. Legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon argues that power gives people the ability to define what truth is.
When we teach children, whether we are doing so as parents or educators (or both), are we really presenting every idea as “neutral,” allowing the child to develop an independent world view? After all, spelling used to be quite flexible until Noah Webster developed the dictionary. Why did he get to decide the definitive spelling of everything? Just because that’s now what’s written down in “official” dictionaries, do we have to believe it? What about words that have alternative spellings—do we teach all of the options as equal? And why is there more than one version of the dictionary, anyway. Do the words mean what they mean, or not? Do we give a voice to the powerless in redefining spellings and definitions?
Of course, one COULD do all of these things, and someone—whether at institutional school or at home—might actually teach a lesson or two exploring these ideas. But it’s not really the way the educational process is run. Because education is about socialization to norms—including norms of spelling—and the powerful get to determine what those norms are. At least in institutional school, children are generally exposed to multiple figures of power, some of whom offer ideas that conflict with those of parents or of others in the institution. Homeschooling rarely offers that intensity of diversity, and sometimes it’s what parents are actively trying to avoid. Can children really learn alternative points of view from limited exposure to more than one or two people?
I think I may have forgotten to mention that Twister is NOT going to Rhino’s former IB highschool. He was accepted late into the local arts high school (public, of course) to study stage tech, and we made him go, for which he should be eternally grateful because he absolutely loves it there. The bounty of his love, happiness, enthusiasm, devotion, and whatever else he is already feeling for his school (where he is learning to SEW! I am so thrilled!) is making Rhino feel not-so-much what he is feeling.
First Rhino said she wished she had gotten into that school. I wish she had too, but honestly, I’m not sure it would have helped. First of all, as I have pointed out before, school is school. Just because the school is small does not mean the classes and the structure of the whole thing are not really stressful. I think Rhino might have been able to stay in school if she had gone there. I’m not sure “being able to stay in school” is the same as “having a fulfilling and rewarding educational experience.” Twister generally loves school and is good at it, so his experience does not provide a viable comparison.
Then there is the socialization problem. Rhino is feeling particularly lacking in socialization—or at least socializing—at the moment. Yet had she attended the arts schools, she would have been in class with the girl who bullied her through her 8th grade depression relapse, and would have also been in school with people she had been really close to but who got overwhelmed and basically dumped her after she had been sick for several months (note that her sickness does not generate much pity after awhile—rather, it makes her personality akin to that of a dementor).
But what she is noting now is that not being in school—including no longer being able to take my classes—means she rarely sees anyone her own age. She sees preschoolers (homeless preschool) and fifth graders (babysitting) and adults (zoo, homeless preschool). And she sees her family. This is woefully inadequate in the socializing department. Even I can concede that. Plus her best friend seems to have turned into a pot head, which isn’t helping.
So last night, we talked about options. Rhino says she thinks other homeschooling highschoolers are scary. Plus, the local homeschooling resource center is not really accessible by public transit, and Rhino has still forgotten to learn to drive. Then there is the problem that she doesn’t really have time to do anything else; in fact, she doesn’t even have time to do what she is already doing. So that makes taking on a socializing-based activity difficult.
The real problem is, Rhino wishes that either she looooved school, like Twister and Stinkbug do, because we were able to find schools that were great fits for them, or that everyone else were homeschooling too. Neither of these things is going to happen.
All I can say is that at least she is not as unhappy as she would have been had she actually stayed in school.
When Rhino was two, she often wanted two things so badly that she could not make up her mind. We are not talking about physical things, but more personality states. For instance, being independent and defiant vs. compliant and having a good time. A prime example of this would be, say, pushing the button at the intersection to make the “walk” sign light up for the crosswalk. I would say, “Rhino, would you like the press the button.” Being two, she would say, “No!” And I would say, “Okay, I’ll press the button, ” and being two, she would say, “No! Rhino press the button!” And I would say, “Okay, press the button,” and being two, she would say, “No!” and we we would go on like this until she melted into a sad puddle of two-year old shrieking, “No press the button! Rhino press the button!” Until someone pressed the button, and no matter who it was, it was the wrong person.
I feel like I am becoming a Rhino-esque two-year-old in the guise of a responsible parent. My current conversation goes like this: ”Rhino, X College sent you some materials saying that you can apply now and get a decision in 23 days,” to which Rhino, the thoughtful and responsible teen says, “I thought I was going to take a gap year.” To which the not-particularly-responsible parent says, “Well, I just thought you might want to think about X College,” to which Rhino replies, “Do you think I should go to college next year?” Totally irresponsible, mixed-message sending parent says, “I thought you might want to look at X College, and then if you liked it and got in, maybe you could defer.”
I have to give Rhino a lot of credit for not saying, “Well, if I like it, why can’t I just apply next year?”
Last night, Rhino took the big plunge and enrolled in Precalculus, which is as close to calculus as she’ll probably ever get. But that math is actually not the subject of this post. We are going to focus on something more user-friendly: Arithmetic.
Rhino has 7 days a week with 24 hours in each of them, just like everyone else.
7 x 24 = 168 = number of hours in Rhino’s week.
Rhino sleeps about 9 hours a night. At least I think she does—it’s hard to tell when she goes to bed. But we are making her get up in the morning, so we’ll call it 9.
9 x 7 = 63 = number of hours sleeping per week. 168 - 63 = 105 = number of waking hours in Rhino’s week.
Rhino has taken on a babysitting job. The actual babysitting runs from 2:45 to 4:30, but she has to walk the better part of 2 miles to pick up the kids (the family drives her home). Thus, she leaves between 2 and 2:15. And of course, she has to get ready to go. She is doing this 3 afternoons a week.
Rhino is volunteering at the zoo once per week. She alternates between Junior Zookeeper (7.5 hour shift) and Junior Interpreter (4 hour shift). She generally has to take the bus, which adds about an hour on each side.
Rhino also volunteers at a preschool for homeless children one day per week. She is driven there and takes a bus home. She spends 3 hours at the preschool, and has a combined transit time of about an hour.
2.5 x 3 = 7.5 = hours spent babysitting per week [(7.5 + 4) / 2] + 2 = 7.75, rounded to 8 = average hours at zoo per week 3 + 1 = 4 = time commitment for volunteering with homeless preschool
7.5 + 8 + 4 = 19.5 = scheduled volunteer and paid work per week
Rhino is very involved with out church youth group and attends church every Sunday. We leave the house at 10:45 and return at 1:15. It’s actually kind of a joke that we leave at 10:45, but we intend to. In any case, the only work anyone is doing after 10:45 is hunting for lost shoes. Once a month, Rhino has a meeting of the Youth Adult Committee, which she chairs. Once a month, she attends a meeting of the Religious Education Committee, of which she is a member. Once a month, she attends a Distict Youth Service Committee meeting, which lasts from Saturday evening to Sunday morning, but usually involves extensive transit time, as the meetings are often held in other states. Once every other month, Rhino attend a Youth Con, which lasts from Friday evening to Sunday morning.
2.5 + [(1.5 + 3 + 20) / 4] + (40 / 8) = 13.625, rounded to 13.5 = hours of church affiliated activities per week
105 - (19.5 + 13.5) = 72 = average number of non-scheduled hours in Rhino’s week
Rhino has annoying life details to attend to such as showering, eating, brushing her teeth, tending the ferret, cooking dinner once per week, and cleaning the bathroom. This takes from 1-2 hours per day.
Rhino likes to have some limited time to check her Facebook. She also likes to email, text and post on her blog. This takes about an hour per day.
Rhino likes to see her friends once in awhile. This varies from 0 to 24 hours a day.
Rhino likes to watch endless reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Gilmore Girls, She also likes to watch chick flicks, which has become infinitely easier with now that our house has Roku and Netflix. This takes anywhere from 0 to 10 hours per day.
Rhino is taking AP Biology, Multicultural Literature (which will be replaced by AP English), AP European History, Spanish III and Precalculus.
I think we need an alternate number system. Or a time warp.
I have started my new job, which is good except that it involves 144 miles of commuting per day. Yes, you did read that number correctly—at least you did if you read it as one hundred forty-four. 144. It’s a big number.
For the last 7 years, I have been a grad student/postdoc and have had a 1 mile commute. I walked to work. And I walked home. And I actually just worked from home a good bit of the time and commuted from the kitchen to the couch several times per day. This resulted in significant fat, but we’re not going to talk about that.
For me, among the other advantages and disadvantages was the ability to supervise Rhino. The advantage was that I could ask her what she was doing, see how much time she was spending upstairs (never a good sign), and monitor her mood. From Rhino’s perspective, it was probably also an advantage that I was available to drive her places. That would go in my disadvantage column, but it’s all a matter of perspective.
A disadvantage to working from home a lot was that it was a major factor in my becoming primarily responsible for the homeschooling endeavor, a responsibility I appear to have permanently. And now this disadvantage is compounded by the fact that I am not even home to be responsible any more.
Perhaps this will become an advantage in that Rhino will become further responsible for herself.
On the other hand, now that she is voluntarily blocked from Facebook and Skype, perhaps it just means that she will watch even more reruns of Gilmore Girls. And this will be all my fault because I am the parent, and I am the homeschooling parent, and I am a mother, and we all know that everything wrong with children is the mother’s fault anyway. Homosexuality. Schizophrenia. Autism. Bad homeschooling. And a lot of other things, like general unruliness and inability to sew.
So I promised a self smackdown in this post to make up for shameless mocking of conservative/religious extremist homeschoolers in my last post. After all, I myself tend to be a woman of extremes. I’m sure sometime in the past I said I would NEVER do lots of things. And it is entirely possible that one of them was homeschool my kids. Though in recent years, I think I have learned to moderate myself, at least as a front. For instance, I have generally said that I wouldn’t send my kids to private school unless I could find no alternative, usually tagged with the line, “I wouldn’t sacrifice my children for my principles.”
However, when you get into doing things that you don’t really believe in, you can arrive in a very lonely place. Heck, even when you do things you passionately believe in, you find yourself lonely. My old friend who became an evangelical Christian practices attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding, and apparently most of the other moms in support groups for such things are liberal hippie freaks (like me) and not conservative religious wackadoodles (like her). She finds this lonely.
To tell you the truth, I usually felt lonely at these meetings too. I also practiced attachment (co)parenting and extended breastfeeding. And a host of other freaky things that people like that do—eating vegetarian, baby wearing, co-sleeping. Baking my own bread. And now I homeschool to boot. But I have never spent any substantial period of motherhood in which I was not working outside my home for pay, and I did not feel at all guilty about it, ever. I think gender essentialism is ridiculous and that joint responsibility between mothers and fathers for both childrearing and income earning is totally fabulous. This made me a bit of a pariah. Among the attachment parenting set, I think it’s like saying you are a devoted Christian except for the Jesus part.
Now I don’t even believe in what I’m doing. I think homeschooling is terrible. But one can’t really get on a homeschooling list serve or go to a support group and rant about how terrible homeschooling is on principle. The best I would be able to do would be to seek support for the travails of my personal homeschooling situation. Except in reality, it’s going pretty well. Rhino likes it. She did well on her AP exams. She’s learning a lot and has time to do meaningful things in the world. Her mental health is better. She’s learning how to manage her time so she doesn’t have a college freshman year flame-out. Good grief—I sound like an advertisement for homeschooling.
But when I meet other homeschoolers, I’m on the outskirts. I can’t talk unless I want to give offense. It’s like going to a vegetarian convention because you have developed an allergy to meat, even though you still love it. If I open my mouth, everyone will think I’m a heretic.
Women Who Say Never, or How Did Phyllis Schlafly Get in My Blog?
I recently read two homeschooling blog posts by two different women who said they would NEVER send their children to public school. I put the urls for the two sites at the bottom of this post so that you can read them in their entirety if you like. But I am going to tell you the good parts. And I promise I will give myself a slap down in my next post.
Woman #1 says that her position is extreme, but she absolutely means it. She goes on to list a number of reasons for homeschooling, many of which sound like those of liberal homeschoolers I know:
Schools are institutions designed to educate the masses. They are not designed to meet either the emotional or academic needs of the individual.
Schools are places where a dangerous brand of socialization is valued. This brand of socialization argues that being bullied, ostracized, and laughed at is a necessary part of the socialization process.
Schools are places where government bureaucracy and union mentality prevent good teachers from being rewarded for being good teachers.
Schools are places where creativity and independent learning are stifled in exchange for “teaching-to-the-test”. (note: grammar error in the original)
Then things get a little weird:
Schools are places where curriculum rich in revisionist history, humanism, environmental indoctrination, multiculturalism, and liberalism is often taught by teachers who share a similar agenda.
Schools are places where values such as tolerance, acceptance, self-esteem, diversity, and relativism are esteemed more highly than academic excellence.
and finally, my favorite:
I was reading a book, Child Abuse in the Classroom, by Phyllis Schlafly, which presented startling evidence of the existence of many of the issues which I have just addressed. I looked at my husband of just a few months and said, “I will never send my children to public school.” And I haven’t.
I, Upswim, have presented numerous arguments against the arguments Woman #1 makes: All schools are different, just as all children are different. I have no doubt that some children suffer terribly in public school, just as they suffer in private school. Blah, blah, blah.
Then there are the lovely people who homeschool so they can make their kids suffer [TRIGGER WARNING]. Just the other day I read a horrible story about a family that “homeschooled” their son Christian Choate so that they could beat him and keep him locked in a dog cage all day. Then they killed him and buried him under a concrete slab, and no one noticed because he wasn’t in school. Not to say that all homeschoolers are like that.
I might also say that if everyone were tolerant, accepting, self-confident, comfortable in diverse environments and able to see multiple sides of an idea, our world might be even better than it would be if everyone knew how to add. And yet every single person I’ve ever met who went through a conventional public school program can add. Though in truth, they aren’t always so great at the rest of those things.
Onto Woman #2. She discusses Woman #1’s reasons for homeschooling and says that though she agrees with them, they are NOT her reasons for homeschooling.
To say so would imply that if the schools were reformed–if all the legitimate concerns and criticisms about the government school system were to be fixed forever–that I would consider sending my children to public school. But I wouldn’t.
Instead, this woman believes that it is God’s commandment that she homeschool. This is the verse she cites as mandating homeschooling:
And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13
Somehow I don’t think there even were public schools when Isaiah was written. And why can’t children be taught of the LORD and go to school too? I don’t see any reference to homeschooling in that Bible verse. As a professor once told me when I was being particularly dense, “You don’t have to look at the text, but it helps.”
Then she says there is a Biblically mandated curriculum:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. —Deuteronomy 6:4-7
And in case you didn’t understand that the whole curriculum should be all God all the time, she adds:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself if you scoff, you alone will bear it.” Proverbs 9:10-12
She seems to have missed the idea that the Lord is only the beginning. See my prof’s comment above.
Somehow I don’t think her kids are going to learn how to add either.
Okay, so we are having neverending war (or at least neverending thoughts about the War and Literature class), because we are imitating our government. Is imitation the highest form of flattery? Or just a reflection of how stupid you actually are?
Hear that, government? I am going to blame you for my homeschooling woes!
But seriously, a little less than a year ago, I began drafing a post filled with wonder and excitement about the totally awesone English curriculum I was going to plan for when the war unit was over. But alas, the war unit’s end was only the illusion of near-completedness—it was completedness in a flight suit, waving a little banner that said “Mission Accomplished—NOT!”
Here is my little curriculum dream from that long ago day of illusory promise (edited just a little): So as we get into the first stages of wrapping up the war unit…I thought I might begin putting together a curriculum on literature and social class…. was thinking of using some Katherine Mansfield stories (“The Garden Party,” “The Dollhouse”) and Tobias Wolff’s “Smokers” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” Mr. A suggested assigning Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth, which I haven’t read, but might read along with Rhino if we use it. We could do Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye for a look at how race and class are linked in American society…Does Catcher in the Rye count as a novel of social class? The ennui of the bourgeoise? Like Holden’s suitcases (although I suppose it is not the suitcases that experience the ennui)?….Rhino’s a little young for Lady Chatterly’s Lover. (End of dream)
Rhino now has to figure out how to handle her third semester of English (the one she needs in addition to AP) precisely because she never let me realize my dream last year. She has three choices:
Use Multicultural Lit as her final English class and take a semester of World Cultures to satisfy the multicultural requirement
Take an online elective from any number of schools, which offer things like Mythology, African American Literature, The Bible as Literature, and other options.
Let me design another homeschool class—either continuing the war theme by reading The Odyssey and some pacifist theory, or doing the curriculum stated above, or doing a poetry class…
So I asked Rhino what she thought. She does not want to take World Cultures (it’s designed for dodos because everyone has to take it to graduate). As for the option of a homeschool class, she said, “Mom, I don’t think that’s good for your health.”
I suppose another year of therapy is more expensive than the $200 for the online class.
But I looked it up online, and I can get a flight suit for $39.95.
Rhino has finished AP Environmental Science, is putting the finishing touches on her War paper (Mr. A did the first round of edits with her), and is almost finished with Men and Women in Society (she has to write one short paper, but it doesn’t involve much in the way of outside sources, which means her slow reading does not cause as many delays). She still has substantial work to do for Multicultural Lit and AP Bio. She volunteered on her own to pay the extension fee for going over the one year limit. Which is good, because we would have made her pay it any way, but now she gets credit for taking responsibility for herself.
So with all that left to do, what did we spend the evening doing? Enrolling her in more classes!
Well, actually, first Mr. A suggested that she give up working at the preschool for homeless children so that she would have more time to do theater. And I was not particularly receptive to this suggestion. In fact, I might have pointed out that as he has contributed almost nothing to the homeschooling endeavor, he has no right to make pronouncements about what Rhino should and shouldn’t do. And that he has no idea how this volunteer work fits into the grand plan. Or what colleges are looking for in Rhino, or the fact that her cover reason for homeschooling is that she needed more time to volunteer, or that the homeless preschool gig is Rhino’s absolute favorite thing that she does. And I might not have said any of this particularly nicely, because when one is a full-time working mother of three who is starting a new job, commutes 72 miles each way to work, takes care of her mother with Alzheimer’s, and just took the 5 foster kittens to the vet to get their diarrhea treated, one can get a little testy about having been put involuntarily in charge of the homeschooling of a brilliant but fragile teenager.
In the coming year(s), Rhino must take 3 semesters of English, one of economics, and one of “career planning” in order to graduate. In order to be a well-rounded and college-ready person, she also needs to take precal and Spanish.
So Rhino is now enrolled in AP European History. Because as the UU Spirit of Life knows, we don’t have enough to do around here.
I know you are very, very tired of the war and literature homeschool class, but you are not half as tired of it as I am, because you only confront it on this blog, while I confront it every day in my living room.
Over a year ago, Rhino began a homeschool English class on war. I thought it was brilliant on a number of levels. First, her classmates at the IB High School were reading Just and Unjust Wars for their AP Comparative Government class. There is no online AP Comparative Government; there is only online AP US Government, because the world of online homeschooling is hoping that we can have a repeat of the debt crisis in perpetuity. But I digress.
Back to brilliance: Rhino could read Just and Unjust Wars with her friends, then use its theories to interpret some works of literature. We even had a copy of the book, which I distinctly remember not reading for Moral Problems in Religious Perspective, a course I took at Oberlin College. As a former English teacher, I happened to be familiar with some good works that addressed the topic of war in a way that would appeal to a 16-year old (did you know that Rhino is 17 and a half now?) and still have intellectual merit. So Rhino began reading In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason and all was well.
Rhino did not particularly like Just and Unjust Wars, and neither did any of her friends. In fact, most of her friends didn’t read it, and I still give Rhino credit for actually trying to read it, even if none of it stuck. In any case, she read several other texts that she did like, including “The Things They Carried,” “Defender of the Faith,” and Cold Mountain. I had planned on having the course be done by the end of the summer (that is summer of 2010), but reading Cold Mountain was a long process. Rhino finally finished it sometime in October.
I then designed an excellent paper for her to write, outlining Walzer’s just war theory and discussing its lacks in application to the characters in the literature. Rhino spent a long time not understanding this paper, mostly because she didn’t finish reading the instructions.
Then there was the bonobo paper, the Facebook showdown, and a semester of catch-up on courses that actually had to be completed by a certain time. The war paper occasionally came up in conversation, which was good because at least the seeds of Rhino’s labor did not die completely. They just remained very, very dormant.
So then there were AP tests, and Costa Rica and SUUSI and vomit.
Now that Rhino is grounded, there is a war paper. It is currently almost 7 pages long (out of a required 10). Rhino has been working on it for several days now, ever since she finished the AP Environmental Science class (for which she took the AP test 3 months ago and got a 4). Why is it taking so many days, you might ask?
Rhino is sitting on the beige couch with the puppy-chewed holes in the cushion covers and is fighting her own war against perfection. She seems to have acquired a friend’s copy of Just and Unjust Wars (it has a different cover than my printing). She has ripped the cover off of my copy of In Country and completely lost The Things They Carried (though she found the title story online). Cold Mountain appears relatively intact, perhaps because we own multiple copies. [Update: Cold Mountain is missing its BACK cover]
Rhino worries that the paper might be “wrong,” that she doesn’t really understand the books, that her paper will not be the most intellectually rigorous piece of scholarship ever produced by a high school student. She fights against these worries in order to actually write the damn paper. This is an ongoing war for Rhino, one that began in kindergarten when she absolutely refused to use “invented spelling.” Her refrain when asked “how do you think it’s spelled?” was “how do you spell it?”
This was followed up by the pronouncement, “I know mistakes are part of learning, but I don’t like to make them.”
If we can win over that one for this paper, I won’t say it will all have been worth it, but at least this battle will be over. And I can take a very long nap.
I have gently jested about the problems of “unsocialized” homeschoolers. I have witnessed a few homeschooled kids who I genuinely worried about regarding socialization. We once visited a windowless “cafe” 17 miles up a dirt road outside Talkeetna, Alaska, where 2 school age girls sat watching television on a battered green couch as their mother polished a rifle and fried eggs behind the bar. They were “homeschooled.” They were also very pale.
But to be honest, most of the homeschoolers I know personally get out and about with their kids quite a bit, and their kids don’t seem to have major lacks in the socialization department. Some of the younger set do lack the ability to “go with the flow” that one develops in a classroom setting, but I assume that they’ll ultimately outgrow it. Either that, or they’ll grow up, and if they want to change their seat 52 times, people will just find them quirky.
What I am coming to see more in homeschooling is a misplaced antipathy for socialism. This seems to morph into the idea that other people can tell you how to raise your children. I have a long post about some of my concerns about this issue regarding corporal punishment in this post: http://badhomeschooler.tumblr.com/post/1042733194/why-i-hate-homeschooling-4-crazy-people-violent but liberals have some of this problem too. For instance, Unitarian Universalists in conservative parts of the country will homeschool their children so their kids won’t be exposed to illegal school prayer, the teaching of creationism, a history curriculum that espouses Michele Bachmann-esque interpretation/revision, etc. Even though I don’t particularly like these things, I don’t think my kids will become wingnuts if they know such ideas exist.
There is an idea among homeschoolers (and private schoolers) of NOT SHARING. Among both liberals and conservatives, no one wants to share values. But there is also a reluctance to share anything else. For liberals, this reluctance often masked. It comes in the form of “I want my child to have the best education available, and I can afford for them to have something better than what everyone else has.” So they don’t share their children or their resources in the places where those things could make a real-world difference. With conservatives, it tends more toward the sharing of things. This comes in a number of forms, including shrieking about taxes and vouchers, but it also comes in the form of concern, just like liberals have, of “is my child getting more than everyone else?”
Because everyone knows that those who get the most win.
I have a friend from a ways back who converted to evangelical Christianity and is now a conservative, anti-“socialist” homeschooler. Sort of. In any case, this Facebook conversation is one of the things that makes me very, very sad about homeschooling:
ORIGINAL POST: Of course [Highschooler] came home with a list of school supplies he needs to bring for a couple of his teachers’ rooms… Not for HIS use, mind you, except communally perhaps. And I already DID our school shopping…
Person #1: that annoys the snot out of me. One of my high schoolers had a teacher say that if they didn’t provide x things or supply a fee, that they wouldn’t be able to graduate. This is for a required class. WHAT?
Poster: Yep, Grrrr! His Web Design teacher requested a box of tissue (Kleenex), and his US History teacher told the boys to each bring a bottle of hand sanitizer, a pack of pencils, a pack of red pens, and a 4-pack of glue sticks! (The girls had a different list - colored pencils, and whatever else…) I understand lab fees for science classes, I guess, but this is crazy! I bought HIM glue sticks - why do I have to supply his whole CLASS??
Person #1 and the thing is, he probably won’t get the stuff you provided - he’ll get whatever the teacher decides to give him out of the pile.
Person #2: So I totally have to be the one with the opposite viewpoint here. Most schools don’t give teachers money to buy supplies for their classroom. And alot of teachers are underpaid to begin with. Most of the decorations, models, computer desks, bookshelves (mostly everything beyond the students desks) in the classroom are things that a teacher has purchased with her own money. While I don’t think it’s fair for parents to have to buy a ton of supplies for school, I don’t think it’s fair for the teachers to have to buy those things either.BUT telling a kid they can’t GRADUATE if they don’t bring supplies or pay a supply fee is way overstepping things!!!
Poster: But why does there have to be a class “pool” of glue sticks and pencils?? Shouldn’t each child bring and have their own?!
Person #2: They *should* each have their own yes. But we all know there are parents who won’t send anything for their kids. Having a “pool” lets everyone have access to needed supplies. But totally not fair that parents have to supply things for kids that aren’t theirs too…..
Person #3 Yeah. I have to buy another pair of scissors for my kid because the ones I had to buy last year were not returned. I didn’t realize scissors had a shelf life. Oh, and my kid took a bunch of ‘fancy’ pencils to school. You know, the cute ones that have holiday themes on them— you can get them at Target for a dollar. Anyway, she takes the penciles to school, then tells me a few days later she needs more penciles. I asked her why since she just took 20 of them to school. Apparently, they aren’t allowed to sharpen them. If the tip is unuseable, they go to the community pencile holder, or some such nonsense.
Person #4: That is CRAZY!!! I understand everyone bringing a box of tissues since at least once in the school year every kid will have runny nose or need a couple of tissues same with hand sanitizer but pencils? scissors? glue sticks? CCCCCCCRRRRRAAAAAZZZZZYYYY I am the type of person who would go to the superintendent about it and cause such a headache that I wouldn’t have to send anything LOL I would have such a problem providing for other peoples lack of planning and providing for their children. I would make sure my kids have what THEY need plus a box of tissues and germ X for teacher DONE. If my kids pencils went in to a community holder I would have gone in asked for them back, or called the teacher and asked for them to be sent home. LOL This is probably why its better for us to home school. It keeps me from getting in trouble :)
Poster: Yep, it’s high on my list of “reasons we homeschool”. But, [Highschooler] is making his choices. Maybe I ought to make HIM buy the glue sticks… ;)
So for real? We should homeschool so that we can avoid sharing glue sticks? I need to point out that the poster is relatively low-income, and her family probably pays far less in taxes than the yearly tax-cost of her child’s education, plus she lives in a state that gets more in federal help than it pays in federal taxes, despite her rants against socialism. And she doesn’t actually pay any taxes herself, as she does not have a paid job (her husband does, but at least a portion of his salary is from the government).
Do you want your kids to be exposed to ideas that aren’t yours? Do you want all kids to get an education in accordance with promoting a meritocratic society? Do you want schools to represent your values? Well, goshdarnit, send your kids to public school.
Do you want to make sure every pencil, glue stick, and box of Kleenex you purchase is never ever used by anyone without your express approval? Perhaps then it’s better to stay home.
Oh my sweet UU Spirit of Life! She finished a class!
Rhino is now DONE with AP Environmental Science. And with a full 13 days before the course expired! Now that’s forethought. She has a full 35 days before her AP Bio class expires and MONTHS before Multicultrual Lit expires.
I suppose her classes with me don’t have to expire, but I’m pretty expired myself.
Let’s get the vomit out of the way first. Rhino has been doing it again. It’s time for a call to the doctor. Now let’s move on…
to the fact that RHINO IS STILL NOT FINISHED WITH ANY OF HER FIVE CLASSES.
So she tried to put this off on the vomit, but she returned home from Costa Rica two weeks ago and from SUUSI (Unitarian Family Camp) one week ago, and the vomiting occurred two days ago.
For those who are mathematically challenged, that is five days with neither scheduled activities nor vomit. I am not sure what happened during those five days, but it wasn’t school.
So Rhino is grounded. No phone, Skype, Facebook, friends, and damnit, no vomit.
Some teenagers might get surly about this, which with Rhino usually involves stomping and wailing. But instead, we got these Facebook posts as she signed off:
Hey guys. I’m grounded. No Facebook, no phone, no Skype. Goodbye until my 5 classes are finished. If you need to contact me, use my email…It was a build up. These are classes I was supposed to have completed last year. My grounding makes sense.
Sometimes Rhino makes me want to scream, and other times she stuns me into silence.
Let’s start with preschool. Rhino attended an elite, private, very expensive preschool that met our need for childcare at the time (we wanted her home in the morning with Mr. A, who left for work at 2pm. Her preschool ran from 1-4, and I was able to leave my teaching job at 3:30 to pick her up). Philosophicallythe school was dream come true, with mixed age grouping, play based activities, learning in context (no “letter of the week”), completely child completed projects, and on and on. Rhino loved it there and after she graduated, she pined to return until we moved when she was in 5th grade.
Then we sent Twister there. Twister did not like this school. When I went to pick him up, I got the litany of horrors he committed that day. He threw sand. He wouldn’t sit down at circle time. If he did sit down, he sang loudly when no one else was singing. He threw his lunch on the ground, stomped on it, then tried to eat the lunch of the child sitting next to him. When it was time to go to school, he cried. He tried to fall asleep in the car, and when we would tell him to stay awake he would holler, “NO! I JUST RESTING MY EYES!” After a year, we pulled him out.
Twister’s new school was not what I envisioned as a good preschool. In fact, it incorporated almost everything I thought inherent to a bad preschool. The space was limited. Everyone did the same activity at the same time. They did letter of the week. They had coloring pages. They gave homework. Twister loved it there.
So here I am thinking about Rhino’s final year(s) of schooling, and I am having a spot of difficulty separating my ideal of education from one appropriate to the actual child being educated. (Okay, I have already given up on my ideal, an excellent urban public school, and homeschooling and ideal are a contradiction in terms, but work with me here). Does she need to take an AP level history class, or is the regular one just fine? Would her best bet be to take AP Microeconomics from the South Dakota Virtual School? Should she take the dual credit economics class at Portland State? Should she take regular economics at Nebraska? Or should she cut herself a real break and take Financial Planning? Should she just finish her requirements and graduate already? Or should we make sure she has exhaustively covered every college prep subject available?
Obviously, there is a vast swath of middle ground between curricular extremes. But is middle equivalent to good? Is it equivalent to appropriate? Or would Rhino as an individual be better off at one of the extremes?
I want Rhino to have the same rigorous and enlightening education she would have gotten had she been able to cope with the rigors and enlightenment of her IB Public School. One the other hand, I want her to have the enriching and unique opportunities available to her as a homeschooler. Also, I want her not only to get into college, but for colleges to see how miraculous and special she is and give her a big financial aid package.
Why is Rhino’s schooling sounding like it’s all about me?
So Rhino is off in Costa Rica, and I am here planning her future. Cue music:
By my calculations, Rhino could graduate from the University of Nebraska ISHS without doing much more coursework. She definitely needs one more year of English. They require that she take economics and career planning. And there is the question of whether the multicultural literature course can count for both the multicultural requirement and an English credit. But that’s it. Five semesters of course work at most.
Fortunately for her intellect, but perhaps unfortunately for her graduation timing, Rhino has grander plans. Such as attending college. This will require math (precalculus) and Spanish III. As she is currently taking Spanish I (yes, that would be a ONE) for the THIRD TIME, I’m not sure what the Spanish III prospects are, but not having three years of a language is apparently a deal breaker for college. And Rhino still plans to attend college, so there we are.
Then Rhino has also heard that World History is a crucial course, and she actually likes history (as opposed to math), and so she has been eager to take AP World History. But darn it all, the only public online study high school that is open to all homeschoolers and also offered AP World History is shutting down as of this month. So poop on the University of Oklahoma. Rhino could take regular World History from any number of places, or she could take AP European History, or she could take AP European History and the semester of regular World History that covers non-Western civilizations. But the original plan on this one is now kaput.
Then there is AP Bio. As you might recall, as I may have mentioned it once or twice, Rhino is still not finished with the FIRST semester of AP Bio. However, her window for finishing is drawing to a close, and so when she comes back from Costa Rica, she will be a Rhino with a mission. Unfortunately, the completed mission is an illusion, as only half the mission will be completed: she still has to take the SECOND semester of AP Bio. So much for missions. Perhaps they are overrated.
So now we have AP English, Spanish III, PreCal, AP Bio, some sort of World History with AP European perhaps thrown in, Economics, Career Planning, and possibly an additional semester of English. This is 12, yes TWELVE, semesters of course work. And as Rhino is still not finished with 5 of the 7 semesters of coursework for last year, I have some doubts that she will enter and leave her senior year during the same academic year.