bad homeschooler

Jul 07

Oh my god…it’s ending!

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:

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.

But damn, am I going to miss her.

Jun 03

The Nirvana of Banality

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.  

No, the company of penguins doesn’t count.

May 31

Rhino Kicks Some ISHS Ass

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.

May 27

The penguin feeding ritual.  See previous post.

The penguin feeding ritual.  See previous post.


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.

May 23

Legal Issues

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:

"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":

"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:

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.

May 22

The Teaching Profession

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?

May 01

Countdown to Launch

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.  

Somehow, I think she still came out okay.

Jan 09

A Kind of Grace

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.

Sometime grace is complicated.

Jan 08

Complicating the Complicated (part 1)

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.

Stay tuned for some spice.