Perfectly ordinary Home Schoolers

October 22nd, 2009

Sept. 28, 2009 | It’s a Sunday night at the tail end of summer, and I’ve dragged two squawky kids out of the minivan and into a half-closed rest stop on the Garden State Parkway in search of non-dreadful dinner options. Leslie, their mother, is catching some precious zone-out time in the car. After we sit down with our unadorned burger and fries, I notice the woman at the next table, the one who’s making eye contact and smiling.

“Are they twins?” she asks. “How wonderful!” Then she talks to Nini and Desmond: “Wow, you guys are 5. So big! Are you starting kindergarten soon?”

Here’s where the fun starts.

My son and daughter regard me in grave silence, faces stuffed with processed meat and fried potato product. They field this question themselves fairly often, but they’re going to let me take it this time. For an insane split second, I consider a full-on lie, just some total invention about where and when they’re going to school this fall. Instead, I take a swig of fizzy fountain Pepsi and bite the bullet: “Actually, we’re home schooling.”

After various tense conversations with friends, family members and strangers, Leslie and I have concluded that earnest, heartfelt discussion of exactly how we’re approaching our kids’ education and why we’re doing it is a bad idea. For reasons I can about halfway understand, other parents often seem to feel attacked by our eccentric choices. I guess this is what it’s like to be a vegan, or a Mennonite convert. I can certainly remember having a weirdly defensive response (“You know, I hardly ever eat red meat”), one where I reacted to someone else’s comment about themselves as if it were really all about me.

At the risk of gross generalization, there’s a hierarchy of responses when you drop the home-school bomb in conversation. Childless men don’t much care; the question is too remote from their consciousness. Childless women are often curious and even intrigued; the question is hypothetical but possesses a certain allure as a thought experiment. As for men with children, they may or may not be sympathetic, but they don’t experience the subject as a personal affront. Let’s be honest: It’s almost always mothers who react defensively when the subject comes up, as if our personal decision not to send our kids to public school contained an implicit judgment of whatever different choices they may have made.


Other stuff is involved as well. Some people seem genuinely disturbed by our decision, on philosophical or political grounds, as if by keeping a couple of 5-year-olds out of kindergarten we have violated the social contract. Specifically, we have rejected the mainstream consensus that since education is a good thing, more of it — more formal, more “academic,” reaching ever deeper into early childhood and filling up more of the day and more of the year — is better for society and better for all children. This is almost an article of faith in contemporary America, but it’s also one that’s debatable at best and remains largely unsupported by research data.

In a related vein, some people suspect we have a hidden ideological or religious agenda we’re not telling them about. We may look like your standard-issue Brooklyn creative-class family — two 40-something parents, two kids, two pet rabbits and a battered Chrysler minivan — but who are we really? Home schooling has become a lot more mainstream and diverse in recent years, but familiar stereotypes endure. As Alicia Bayer, a Minnesota home-schooler and blogger who’s one of Leslie’s online mentors, puts it, “People think we’re all conservative Christians who hate the government and wear denim jumpers.”

In order to avoid one or more of these discomfort zones, we try to answer all well-meaning interlocutors with bland, diplomatic and totally unspecific generalities. Not quite lies, but well short of what you’d call the truth. This is a phenomenon known to almost all home-schoolers, from Mormon separatists to off-the-grid hippie anarchists, and a frequent discussion starter in online home-school groups. So it was in my conversation with the nice Garden State Parkway lady in that fluorescent cavern between Burger King and Sbarro.

Mrs. Garden State Parkway: Well, you guys live in the city, right? I guess the public schools are out of the question.

Me: No, that’s really not true. There are some perfectly good schools in Brooklyn.

Real answer: There are, indeed, and in any other municipality you care to name. Now, it is true that the zoned public school in our multiracial, middle-class neighborhood has, let’s say, a checkered reputation and is mainly attended by children bused in from other parts of Brooklyn. It’s a uniform school run on a paramilitary model, ruthlessly devoted to driving up the test scores. Oh, and last semester the principal was arrested for assaulting a teacher. But, honestly, that stuff played only a marginal role in our decision making. There are numerous pretty good to very good schools in nearby neighborhoods that we could have applied to but never did.


And this, my friends, is what it looks like when you are far down the road to Home Education being totally accepted as normal and in fact, desirable.

The man who wrote this stresses the fact that he does not hate the government, does not hate the idea of school, and is not running away from his local schools. He is a perfectly average person who simply has chosen to ‘Home School’.

This is exactly the point that has to be reached in the UK, a point in time where there is no one left who does not understand, see as desirable and most importantly, trust the idea of Home Education.

Right now, we have totally ignorant people making the claims that this author refutes nicely and even more troubling those same ignorant people pushing for unnecessary legislation to control something that is not a problem in any way. In fact, the only thing that the ignorant Diana Johnson wants to eliminate is her own ignorance about Home Education and she is using legislation to try and do this rather than Google.

Now get a load of this:

Ofsted visit faith schools and give them glowing reports

Independent faith schools give pupils a strong sense of personal worth and help them understand the importance of being a good citizen according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Childrens Services and Skills.

Then we go to the BBC and Schools Minister, Diana Johnson and all of a sudden things a Faith based education is BAD

Some evangelical parents need monitoring by the state because they may intimidate their children with ideas about God, sin and hell, a BBC radio host has said.

If that isn’t a perfect example of the anti home ed focus of government…


You CANNOT make things like this up!


Perhaps Roger Bolton and Diana Jonson could take some money from the BBC, fly on a research mission to the USA to meet Home Educators and then come back enlightened. Certainly Johnson has heard from Home Educators in the UK, and for some reason their words have gone in one ear and out the other, there being nothing in between to stop them.

But I digress.

Clearly, when people of the social class Andrew O’Hehir belongs to start to Home Educate, the tipping point is passed. They have access to influential media, know how to use it, and by that use, educate all the people who have not yet thought about Home Education as to what it really is and who does it; every type of person does it, and what it is is entirely natural, beneficial and wonderful. It has nothing to do with child safety issues or being against the government; it is only occasionally politicised because misguided governments are staffed by people who are ignorant of what it is, or who are philosophically opposed to it. Home Educators do not have any desire to engage with politics. They are busy enough doing what they do, but when push comes to shove, they are, as we have seen, more than capable of entering that nasty arena and defending themselves.

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