…and in conclusion

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.  


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.”

Everyone should have a Rhino.  And an elevator.

The Not-So-Long-Awaited Part 3

Here are two last thoughts on the status of teachers.  Neither one of these articles addresses homeschooling, but I think issues surrounding homeschooling are relevant.

This article says that teacher bashing is a form of misogyny:


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.

Read the whole thing here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/teachers/why-teacher-bashing-is-dangero.html

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.

Teaching: Any Idiot Can Do It. Part 2.

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.

End of sermon (sort of—part 3 is coming soon).  

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:

  • 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.

But damn, am I going to miss her.

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.


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.

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: 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.

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?

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.