I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts

I Feel Like I’m Getting Crap From Both Ends: Amy Mitchell’s Thoughts

HA note: The following post by Amy Mitchell was originally published on April 25, 2013 as “About that homeschooling thing” on her blog Unchained Faith. She describes herself on her blog as a “family woman, feminist, LGBT ally, reader, writer, and nerd. Progressive Christian skewering church and culture one blog post at a time.” This post is reprinted with her permission.

"The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply."

“The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.”

I don’t talk about homeschooling very often.  Part of the reason is my kids–I prefer not to discuss them without their permission.  Since homeschooling is, by nature, about my daughter, I tend not to write much.  When something general comes up, however, I find myself wanting to respond.

The latest is a series of posts written by former homescholars.  I don’t begrudge them needing their space to talk about the frightening world from which they came; I believe safe space is vital.  My problem is not with Homeschoolers Anonymous, or even with some of what they’ve written.  My problem is with the response it has generated.

Before I begin, let me go on the record saying that as a homeschooling parent, I do not feel like an oppressed minority.  I may be in the actual minority, but that doesn’t make me oppressed.  We love our school district (our son is a public school student, and our daughter will likely be one eventually).  We have a great working relationship with them.  We’ve borrowed materials, including text books, and the teachers are always more than willing to give us suggestions.  Later this morning, I will be dropping off my daughter’s third quarter report and staying a few minutes to chat with the security guard who accepts it for transit to the office.  I can’t stress enough how much we appreciate what they’ve done for us.  Keeping that relationship good is what enables us to enjoy homeschooling our daughter.

That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.  Many of my fellow homeschooling parents have been critical of the fact that we are working so closely with the district–they believe we’ve somehow given up our “rights.”  Others find it distasteful that we don’t use a specific, prepackaged curriculum.  A few even turn up their noses at our lack of “faith-based” instruction.  And among those who don’t care about any of those things, we’ve taken heat for not living a more “organic” lifestyle to go along with our homeschooling.  It hurts, but as a result, we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.  We’ve stuck with individual friendships (I’m so beyond blessed that one of my best friends also homeschools her daughter) and have enrolled our daughter in other activities.  She’s a Girl Scout, takes two dance classes, and participates in other activities as we find time.

On the flip side, there are the Angry Ex-Homescholars.  Again, I don’t want to take away from their very real pain.  But comments about how people can “spot a homeschooled kid a mile away” and rants about how it’s “damaging” to the kids make me unbelievably angry.  What makes me angry is not so much that people think those things but that a certain subset of the population has given them reason to think them.

When I hear about the way the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (the legal activists) have put pressure on families to refuse to comply with social workers or the way that some parents have used homeschooling as a tool of abuse, I want to scream.  I want to cry when I hear from adults who were homeschooled that they never learned proper math or that their parents, for religious reasons, refused to teach them about human sexuality.  I want to punch something when I see some of the crap that passes for science in “Christian” homeschool materials.  The fact that a web site like Homeschoolers Anonymous even exists–out of necessity–cuts me deeply.

When we began our journey more than five years ago, we had a purpose in mind.  Our son, who came out of the womb with the energy of a lightning storm, was reading at a third grade level at age four and a half.  The combination, we knew, would be lethal in a classroom.  The original plan was to keep him home until middle school.  When first grade rolled around, we had already discovered that he didn’t fit in well with other homeschooled kids (he was bullied, believe it or not, for being a dancer).  As a family, we’re pretty different from most.  On top of that, he needed to be around other people almost constantly–he’s the definition of an extrovert.  So we sent him off to a great public school, where he has continued to thrive.

We offer our daughter the option every year.  So far, she has chosen to remain at home.  I have maintained my drive to ensure that she develops high-level skill in reading and math (so far, so good) and that she finds ways to pursue her passions.  I refuse to use Christian materials, because they are long on religion and short on actual science.  I have a girl who is interested in keeping our natural world and our animal friends safe–if I want to draw her back to her faith, what better way to do it than to help her understand that God made all these beautiful things?  We don’t need Bob Jones or A Bekka to help us do that.

We can’t afford private school full-time, and the only schools offering a la carte classes are the Christian schools–which for us is a big no.  I won’t allow my daughter to be taught science by a teacher who denies evolution, believes in a literal 6-day creation, and insists that humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed.  So if my daughter decides to stay home longer than middle school, we will be searching for ways to supplement what I can do so that she isn’t behind in any way come graduation.

There are several things I need people to understand about homeschooling:

1. We are not all families that believe a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant.
2. We are not all like the HSLDA folks.
3. Not all of us weave religion into every aspect of our day.
4. Many of us want our kids–especially our girls, who may or may not experience this even in public school–to study math and science.
5. Our children are not all easily recognizable as homeschooled kids.  People are constantly surprised to learn that my daughter is homeschooled.  I guess they don’t expect her to be socially or academically competent, or perhaps they think she doesn’t fit their stereotype of “weird.”
6. Not all of us think education is one size fits all.  Being a half-n-half family works well for us; it’s different for other families.
7. When anti-homeschooling people and HSLDA members alike fight over this, it hurts everyone.  Many of us don’t want to be civilian casualties in your war; please don’t use us as pawns.

I write often on my blog about how we need to get to know the people we are judging.  Please don’t make assumptions about me or my family without knowing us.  When you make sweeping statements about what homeschooling families are like (or about what public schooling families are like), you are causing pain to those who don’t share that view.  Work to make it safer for all kids; work to get legislation in place so that abuse can’t be covered (including among public- and private-schooled kids).  But don’t do it by saying nasty things about what you think we’re up to in our household.  Chances are, you will be wrong.

13 comments

  • “…we’ve never found a homeschool group that felt like home.”

    This is a good indication that you’re on the right track! I suppose that the reasons sites like this one need to exist is because the most prominent homeschooling communities do not have their children’s best interests in mind.

    It sounds like this is not the case with your family, so keep up the great work!

    • Thanks for the encouragement! Yeah, the communities are pretty restrictive, and I never want my kids to feel like their whole lives are just bound up in rules upon rules.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    That said, it makes me angry when I feel like I’m getting crap from both ends.

    All I can say is from personal experience, when you’re taking crap from both sides you’re probably on the right track.

  • I really don’t know anyone who thinks all homeschoolers are alike. I certainly don’t think that. I would certainly at least heavily consider my children’s desire on whether to go to school or not, and if all possible, let them decide. I say that as one who was homeschooled all the way through.

    • I’ve met a few, but they are not mostly formerly homeschooled people. They’re mostly people who knew someone who knew someone and think they have it all figured out. A couple of recent blog posts from people I follow have been on the subject, though, and the comments are just awful. One person claimed to be able to tell a homeschooled kid merely on sight, and another said she and a friend had a bet (actual money) on whether a kid at the park was homeschooled or autistic. It’s disturbing what people will say when they think it’s anonymous.

  • I’ll be hopping over to your site. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Kudos. I especially love your last paragraph. As a former fourteen year home school parent, I strongly believe we need more accountability in home schooling. I was not afraid, and no one who is actually teaching and providing a healthy home life need worry over more accountability. I also got lots of tips and resources from the licensed school psychologist who did my students’ evaluations in elementary school.

    And smart mom to not allow your daughter around creation science. I didn’t believe it myself, but let my daughter go to all kinds of church events with her home schooled peers. Big mistake!

    She was infected by the arrogant disdain for evolution by osmosis, so much so that it took many conversations when she was in college to get her to let it go. Smart mom to eliminate your child’s exposure to church.

    • Yup. I like to hope that even when she’s someday exposed to that teaching, she’ll be headstrong enough to resist. She already thinks that religious views on who can get married, what a woman’s place is, and science are all pretty foolish. And she’s already developing her own opinions on all sorts of things. I think she’s pretty likely to be an environmental activist someday, even though that’s not something her father or I are involved in. She will likely go to school eventually, because she’s into math and science, and I just can’t do enough for her at home with our limited resources. I know some people can, but I’m just not one of them. If she chooses not to, though, we’ll try to make it work through continuing our partnership with the school. I can’t say enough good things about our school district–they make it positive for families no matter how the kids are educated.

  • I just wanted to say, thanks so much for cross-posting this and for all the positive comments. I wholeheartedly support families doing what’s best for their kids, but I’m also a big proponent of greater accountability in homeschooling. I would not be doing it myself if it weren’t for the support from our local school district, my kids’ dance studio, the Girl Scouts of Western NY, my college alma mater, and a whole lot of good friends. Homeschooling should never, ever be done in a vacuum, and every child deserves a loving home, a solid education (of whatever kind), and opportunities to engage with the wider culture. Thanks, folks.

  • I am a homeschooled graduate k-12, and my experience was far from ideal (you can see my start of a blog for more on that). I did receive a good academic education, but I got a lot of other religious, conservative crap along with it that severely damaged my adult life. I am 100% against the sort of homeschooling community I was raised with. That said, I am 100% for keeping homeschooling as a viable, legal option for parents and I may someday homeschool my own children.

    I fully recognize that homeschooling CAN work and may be the best possible option for many children. Others will do better in public school. Others may do better starting with one and switching to the other. The important thing is that the child’s needs are being met. I applaud your decision to leave your child in control of her education options. I intend to do the same thing when I have children. If public school is not working for them, I want them to feel safe coming home. If homeschool is not working, I will not be offended if they want to go to public school. I WANT MY CHILD TO HAVE A GOOD EDUCATION without regard to politics, pride, religion, or any other obfuscating factor. It is about a child’s learning. Keep on being awesome, and know that you have someone here cheering you on.

  • Amy,

    Although I generally get annoyed with people who say awful things posting anonymously, the other part of me is glad because you actually know what you are up against. Knowledge is power.

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