By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Recently Kathryn Joyce wrote a story for The American Prospect on the rise of the responsible homeschooling movement. I have never seen a piece on this movement spread as quickly as Joyce’s. It lit up Facebook and Twitter like a forest fire starving for oxygen.
If you haven’t read it, you should do so. (You should also check out responses it inspired from Hännah Ettinger, Chris Jeub, and Kate Schell.) Don’t let the length scare you away. The piece is amazingly detailed, giving voice to a diversity of individuals previously not amplified in this conversation. And don’t let the name, “Homeschool Apostates,” cause you to hesitate. The name is an inversion of Kevin Swanson’s radio broadcast where he himself used the phrase to marginalize and dismiss us.
I shy away from Facebook wall debates when stories like this are shared by my friends. I watch them unfold, silently and from a distance. At the very least, I want to understand how our rhetoric is received and interpreted; I may not comment, but I am listening. I want to know what is being said — both positive and negative — so I can continue to improve my own communication and our shared messages.
One individual’s comment on a friend’s wall stuck with me.
I have heard this sort of comment before. In fact, I considered it ironic that this individual said it in such a way that indicated he thought himself clever. Fact is, it’s dreadfully unoriginal. Everyone in this movement has heard it a million times before. But this time it provoked new thoughts for me. The comment is as follows:
As long as millions of families homeschool, it will always be possible to find some who are outliers and thereby call into question the practice. Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.
Ah, yes. A jazz riff on the “not all homeschoolers are like that” argument. “Not all homeschoolers are like that” is the broken record of homeschool abuse denialism. My inner sarcastic debater wants to respond like this:
However, my shared humanity understands that sarcasm isn’t always the best rhetorical strategy. There are better strategies:
- Reiterating time and time again that we do not think all homeschoolers are “like that”;
- Reminding the skeptical voices in the conversation that, in the absence of required registration (or at least notification) of homeschoolers (which the mainstream homeschool lobby opposes), we will all remain statistically challenged because we will have no reliable statistics;
- Pointing out that nearly all homeschool research has involved self-selective surveys that describe the participants but prove nothing about homeschooling in general.
- Providing counter-self-selective surveys, like the 2013 HA Basic Survey which pretty much “proves” as much as most of Brian Ray’s research — namely, still nothing about homeschooling in general.
If you think the statistical side is lacking, you’re welcome to get in line. We’re right there with you. Those of us speaking up aren’t to blame for a lack of statistics.
That’s the fault of irresponsible homeschool advocates.
(What sort of statistics do you want anyways? Statistics of dead kids? Exactly how many dead kids will it take before we’re taken seriously? While we’re busy trying to make homeschooling better, you get busy figuring out how much abuse you can tolerate before you act, too. Deal?)
For today, however, we are all in the same position: we are feeling around in the dark with anecdotes and stories. You might tell different anecdotes and stories than I might. I choose to respect your storytelling. Whether you choose to respect mine is not in my control.
But at least remember that I have stories. In fact, I probably have more than most homeschool students and parents. I spent a decade of my life traveling around the United States because of homeschool speech and debate — meeting new people, making friends, competing in tournaments, and teaching thousands of homeschool teenagers. I have taught the children of national homeschool leaders.
All this while I was a teenager myself.
As a homeschooled teenager, I saw things that you parents have not seen in your own communities. I have lived a life that you parents have never lived. It is like an alternate universe. My first taste of hard alcohol was provided by the son of one of the most prominent national homeschool leaders. I have lived this life. So while I don’t have statistics for you, and while we in this movement are trying to fix that inherited problem, keep in mind that my “anecdotes” — and our stories — carry the enormous weight of experience.
Have you seen the underside of this world? Because I have. The rabbit hole goes down deep, and I have yet to reach the bottom. There are so many hurting kids, now as there was back when I was a kid. There are secrets and sorrows and fears. We have shared those secrets as friends, we have carried each other’s sorrows, we have whispered our fears like prayers.
But maybe you’re right. Maybe at the end of the day, we’re in the minority.
Maybe we are statistically challenged.
The possibility doesn’t faze me one bit.
Because I don’t look to you for a stamp of statistical approval. I don’t take my cues from your homeschool orthodoxies or your convention speakers.
I take my cues from my conscience. And my conscience says go to where the shadows lurk, to create safe places even where the wild things are.
See, a long time ago, I heard a story. It was about a shepherd who had a flock of 100 sheep. One day, one of those sheep got lost. Instead of remaining with the 99, the shepherd did not sleep, did not stop, until he found that the lost one.
I learned social justice from that story. I learned the meaning of activism. I found the meaning of revolution — that you can “change the world” all you want, you can “redeem the times” ad nauseum. But if you neglect the little ones, it’s all for naught.
See, I learned that Jesus of Nazareth was not content with 99 sheep when 99 sheep means that one gets left behind to suffer in silence and solitude.
And I saw how the Pharisees did not understand. I saw how they looked at each in bemusement, clicked their tongues at Jesus for fretting so much about that one fringe sheep, saying, “Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.”
But Jesus dealt with human beings, not statistics.
Human beings are what I want to deal with, too.
So go ahead. Keep surveying your 99 award-winning sheep. Us “bitter apostates” will be out in the wilderness, searching for the one you abandoned.