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.

Socializing and Socialism

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.

My Personal Pakistan

The following block quote is from Nick Kristof’s column in the Sunday, June 5 New York Times, which was called to my attention by a dearest friend.  You can find the whole column here:  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/opinion/05kristof.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

"In fairness to Pakistan and Congo, wealthy people in such countries manage to live surprisingly comfortably. Instead of financing education with taxes, these feudal elites send their children to elite private schools. Instead of financing a reliable police force, they hire bodyguards. Instead of supporting a modern health care system for their nation, they fly to hospitals in London.  You can tell the extreme cases by the hum of diesel generators at night. Instead of paying taxes for a reliable electrical grid, each wealthy family installs its own powerful generator to run the lights and air-conditioning. It’s noisy and stinks, but at least you don’t have to pay for the poor.  I’ve always made fun of these countries, but now I see echoes of that pattern of privatization of public services in America. Police budgets are being cut, but the wealthy take refuge in gated communities with private security guards. Their children are spared the impact of budget cuts at public schools and state universities because they attend private institutions.”

Now Rhino attended what I felt to be an excellent public school (and Twister and Stinkbug still do), although certainly it did not have the panache of local private institutions.  One friend of mine said that after looking at the private school circuit, she had developed “Cadillac tastes,” which I think is apt at the most basic level.  It’s like the difference between a Toyota and a Lexus.  They have the same engine, but one has leather seats.  If you want to pay an extra $20,000 for that, by all means, feed the economy.

But school isn’t really like the luxury car metaphor.   Our personal choices have public consequences.  When the wealthier families withdraw (or even not-so-wealthy families who have the intellectual resources to get into private systems) they drain the public system of its most valuable resources: the people who can make things better.  I’m sure there are many “liberals” who choose private schools who also don’t vote to cut school budgets, but that’s not a solution.  Abandoning the system may not carry the same intention as dismantling it, but often has the same result.  Those who use the public system and have resources tend to put their resources into that system.  Those who leave the public system do not.  There’s a big difference between advocacy and neglect.

I have been saying lately that Rhino’s school choices were to be killed by a college prep curriculum for free, to be killed by a college prep curriculum for $25,000 a year in a American version of apartheid, to draw environmentally conscious pictures with soy-based crayons for $25,000 a year in an American version of apartheid, or to learn nothing but how not to get shanked in the hallway.

Unfortunately, the last choice is what’s available to many students in Baltimore.  

I didn’t buy into privatization.  But like the advantaged families in Pakistan—or here at home—I didn’t act to make the public choices better.


The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person

Believing in the inherent worth and dignity of every person is the first of the 7 UU principles.  I love this principle because it is so simple and yet provides perfect guidance for dealing with everyone from a homeless person to an obnoxious driver to your own children (hence my religious opposition to the plumbing supply line people). 

Some UUs passionately believe that homeschooling is an expression of this principle.  This quote is from an essay by UU homeschooler Mary Schnake:

Homeschooling honors this inherent worth and dignity. Parents have a vested interest in and an intimate knowledge of their child. This, and the fact that they are dealing with only a few children at most, makes it possible for every gift and learning style to be more easily recognized and more fully validated. 

What I ask is, what about everybody else’s children?  Are they worth less than your child?  Is their dignity in learning less important? Are their gifts and learning styles not worth nurturing?  

While you could say that anyone could homeschool her/his own children, we all know this is not true. Many lack the resources to even consider such a plan, and for some families, homeschooling would not provide a superior—or even adequate—education.  

 I am reminded of an incident at a preschool birthday party thrown by a family at Rhino’s private preschool.  Most families were quite wealthy.  One parent, who lived in the neighborhood that was widely considered to have the best school in the best school district in the whole state, said to Mr. A, “I know Best Elementary is a good school, but what I want to know is, is it good enough for my son?”  

This man was considering private school, not homeschooling, but the idea seems the same to me.  My child is worth more than all other children and deserves something more special that is not available to everyone else.  

Of course we all want the very best for our own children, and many of us extend this feeling in the abstract to other people’s children.  But what do we actually do to fight for the inherent worth and dignity of every child?

Well, if you are my family, you felt really superior for having all of your kids in urban public schools for 11 years, and now question the morality of your existence.

I believe in Rhino’s worth and dignity, which is why she’s homeschooling.  The problem is, I believe in all other children’s worth and dignity too, and that’s why I hate what I’m doing.


Why I Hate Homeschooling #3: Segregation

One reason I have always been adamantly against private schooling and suburbs is the issue of segregation.  It is completely understandable that people want to build social capital for their children, the kinds of social connections that will help them have the “right” kinds of friends.  Having such social connections can help children learn games, sports, manners, and communication styles that show others their social status and thus allow them social gains.  The connections they forge may ultimately help them find jobs and spouses.  However, by consolidating most people of a certain social standing into one place, we also reproduce privilege and thwart social mobility.

So enough with the sociology lecture.  I hate segregation.  I hate that when my children attended our excellent local public school, people considering the school asked about the “demographics.”  Someone once asked about drug problems.  Why might there be drug problems at this particular school, which was populated primarily by the children of dentists, pharmacists, doctors and artists?  Well, all of those kinds of professional people have access to a lot of drugs, but somehow I think the question was driven by the school’s “demographics.”

An aside on drugs: Drugs are expensive.  Who do you think can best afford them, private or public school children?  Hmmm….

The current schools my children attend are more class diverse; one of my children attends a school in which more than 70% of children get free lunches.  My kids knew immediately why it was patently absurd, despite the delightful rhyme scheme, for FOX to refere to Michelle Obama as “Obama’s baby mama.”  They understand the politics of the n-word.  They know illegal immigrants.  They ride the public bus.  (After several people asked me, “Is that safe?” when Twister started riding the bus, I began responding, “Probably not, but he’s our least favorite of the children, so we’re hoping he’ll be killed.”)  They also befriend children who live in houses large enough to shelter the population of Luxembourg.

So now we are engaging in the ultimate exercise in segregation and privilege.  How many people have the knowledge and ability to provide a rigorous high school education for their own child outside of a school building?  How many people who live in our house have different backgrounds and values than we do (uh, duh…)? I have a feeling that many homeschooled high schoolers are not getting a rigorous college prep curriculum—that they are homeschooled precisely because their parents want to segregate them from the rest of society, and that the quality of their academics, while important in theory, is secondary to keeping children away from the “wrong” element. 

We are trying to get around the segregation issue partially through Rhino’s service learning.  She is currently volunteering at a preschool for homeless children and working as a Junior Interpreter at the zoo (lot of public school kids coming through, as well as the other kind).  But really, it’s not going to happen.  She has a base of 11 years of living in the urban schools, but we are now retreating into our privileged little world.  It is definitely because it is best for Rhino, but it is also because we can.  When other people have children with disabilities and can’t work the system, what do they do?  We worked the system to the hilt—I’m sure most families don’t have the resources to do that, much less opt out of the system altogether.

I am really not worried at all about Rhino’s social exposure to other people.  Between the service learning, my class that she will be auditing at the university, homework parties she is already planning with her strong friendship network, the youth group at our church, and the one online class that requires students to work together over the internet, I think she will have plenty of people in her life.  I am more concerned about what kind of people they are, and what she will be learning within the limits of this network.  Some would say it is fortunate that these are the people Rhino will be associating with.  I hate that homeschooling is giving her such fortune.

Why I Hate Homeschooling #2: Trashing Public Schools (with fun quotes!)

Many times when I have felt very smug about something, I have later been soundly de-smugged.  For instance, the fact that our first child would sleep through a nuclear bomb blast (or at least the smoke alarm and being held upside down to put her sweater on), I credited to our excellent decision not to change our noise levels during her infancy.  For this, I was rewarded with a second child who woke to the sounds of breathing and dropped socks.  I have always been a bit smug about my Urban Public School Warrior Mom status—I believed one could use inner-city public schools rather than retreating to the apartheid-like suburban and private schools, and for the past 11 years, I have lived my values.  Or my children have lived my values, which is almost as good.  I think.

So now one of my children is not going to live that particular value of mine.  Instead, she is going to live my value of keeping my children alive until they are 100% ready to be dead and I am no longer around to worry about it.

My sons, Twister and Stinkbug (again, those in the know will understand), still attend urban public schools.  I love their schools (especially Stinkbug’s, which ties for Best Thing Ever with civil rights and the chocolate chip cookie).  And this is where I run into homeschooling hatred.  

People who homeschool often adhere to their passion for homeschooling at the same level that I have adhered to my UPSWM-ness.   And just as I have vilified private school and suburbs, homeschoolers vilify public school.  One would think that they would hate traditional school in general.  One of the problems we ran into in our brief flirtation with the possibility of private school was that they offered more or less the same thing Rhino’s IB high school did, only they charged a lot of money for it.  But no, homeschoolers save special super-vitriol for public schools in particular.  

Here’s a quote from one website that claims to want to help parents weigh the options of public vs. homeschooling:

"In a cramped classroom packed with thirty (or more) students, even the most skilled of all public school teachers are incapable of giving each child the time and attention they need for successful learning and achievement."  

It’s nice to use a balanced approach when weighing one’s options.

WikiAnswers posted a series of responses about the benefits of homeschooling from homeschooling kids.  These excerpts are gleaned from the first four responses:

  • I think that homeschooling is better than public schools because at homeschooling the kids do not get picked out in class as the best kid of the class or get made fun of by other kids at school.”
  • "You do not have to think about if you can wear something or not because some one might make fun of you."
  • "Homeschooling is way better then public schools. Even popular children get picked on, you may think ‘Oh, my child doesn’t get bullied’, but they do." (punctuation error courtesy of the homeschooler)
  • "When I was in school, I was bullied on, laughed at, confused beyond what I thought was possible, and I just did not fit in."

Apparently public school is just an exercise in bully breeding.

Then, there is an entire pro-homeschooling book called Public Schools, Public Menace,  in which, according to the author’s website, you will discover:

  • How public schools can waste 12 years of your child’s life.
  • How public schools can cripple your child’s ability to read.
  • How public schools deceive parents into thinking their children are doing well in school when they are not.
  • How public schools indoctrinate children with anti-parent, anti-American, and anti-Judeo-Christian values.
  • How public schools expose innocent children to often shocking sexual material in so-called sex-education classes.
  • How public schools pressure parents to give their children potentially dangerous, mind-altering drugs.

Even the Unitarian Universalists, bastions of open-minded progressivism (or so they say) have this gem in an article on their uuhomeschool.org website:

“Early reformers, principally Ivan Illich who was one of homeschooling legend John Holt’s main inspirations, repeatedly argued that no true education can take place in an environment of conformity and regimentation.” In one of my favorite Illich quotes, Illich said, To equate equal educational opportunity with obligatory schooling “is to confuse salvation with the church.”   

I have a PhD, but apparently I have yet to be truly educated, because I don’t believe this claptrap.  My regimented adherence to an environment of conformity prevents me from understanding the meaning of true education.  I think I’ll go to the mall now.

I am not going to go into the litany of reasons why all of this ridiculous.  While there is a kernel of truth in all of these complaints about the public schools, there is also a kernel of truth in the idea that homeschoolers are isolationist, unqualified reactionaries dooming their children to a lifetime of social ineptness and membership in the Flat Earth Society.

What I will say about public schools is that for all of their problems, they are the closest thing we have to a social equalizer.  When we talk about mobility, eradicating poverty, creating a better life, these things are all rooted in education.  For all that some think the public schools are inadequate, study after study shows that once one puts in a few controls for things like social class, public school children do as well or better than children enrolled in private schools (there are no comparable figures for homeschoolers).  Trashing the public schools is trashing the hope that we really can create a better future.  Sappy as that sounds, I’m hoping that we don’t want to settle for what we have now.  

I am plagued with guilt that Rhino is no longer part of the solution at the level of supporting and investing in public school education.  I will never say that public school could not have been the right choice—had we been able to tweak the circumstances just a bit, it could have worked.  I have no regrets about the 11 years of public school Rhino did attend.  I hate homeschooling because it rejects the community ideals of working together, really together, to create a community in the next generation.  But when I step out of true-believer mode and look at Rhino and consider her future, I’m not willing to sacrifice my child for my principles.

Plunging in, Hedging Bets, Shelling Out

Yesterday I paid money for Rhino’s schooling for the first time since she entered kindergarten.  When Rhino went to her IB school, her classes were free.  The books were loaned out free.  She got to see wonderful plays at a highly-regarded local playhouse for free.  She got to perform in the school’s incredible theater program for free.  We did have to buy paper and pens, but Staples’ loss leader deals let me fund the whole year for about $10.  Also, the school once made us buy a graphing calculator.  I’m not sure if Rhino ever used the graphing functions, and I forgot to cash in the rebate on it before it expired.  That was a bummer.

Yesterday I paid for three AP classes online: AP U.S. Government and Politics at the University of Missouri Center for Distance and Independent Study; AP Biology at the North Dakota Center for Distance Education; and AP Environmental Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Independent Study High School.  I shelled out about about $700 for the semester—so far.  We still need to buy the biology lab kit.  I saved a boodle on textbooks by using ebay and Amazon, where I paid 16 cents (plus shipping) rather than $75 for the Government text and got good deals on the others as well.  That is, if paying for them is a better deal than having gotten textbooks for free for the last 11 years.

This will be our first experience with all of these schools.  We are planning to enroll officially in the Nebraska school, which will grant a diploma and where the people in the office are very, very nice (I love midwesterners).  But if any of the programs is especially good or awful, we’ve hedged our bets.  I thought about doing AP Biology through Brigham Young University, which would have been cheaper, but there were 3 problems.  First, it was unclear whether they fully taught evolution.  Then the text they required was from 1995.  That seemed like a bad sign.  And mostly, I don’t want to give any money to the people who brought us Proposition 8.

I’m sure some people reading this think $700 and counting sounds like small potatoes compared to private school tuition ($20,000+ per year in these parts).  But I think I have mentioned before my thoughts about attending private school.  Sort of like, say, setting your mother on fire—it’s possible there is a reason for doing it, but probably not.  (In all fairness to the private school users we know and love, in the whole brouhaha over how to educate Rhino, it did cross our minds.)

So I guess we’re really doing this homeschooling thing.  But I still want my money back.