206: It’s True, I Only Homeschool to Piss Off Other People, Part III

It’s true: I only homeschool to piss off other parents.

I don’t homeschool because I want to provide a superior education for my child; I just homeschool to piss off other parents. I don’t homeschool because the school she was in was failing my child; I just do it to make other parents feel bad about their educational choices.

I’ve chosen to put my career on hold, forgo a steady second paycheck, and spend (nearly all) my time with my kid just to rub it in the faces of parents who send their children to school.  It’s a new form of conspicuous consumption, of keeping up with Joneses, of demonstrating my fiscal and intellectual prowess.

There are three kinds of comments  I get about homeschooling from the parents I’ve pissed off by virtue of choosing to homeschooling.

First, there are the wistful, backhanded compliments.  First, they say, “I could never homeschool my child,” and then laud me as a saint, telling me all the reasons my child is “easy” or somehow specially suited for homeschooling.   This particular problem is more universal than homeschooling — it’s a conversation that parents have about parenting all the time: parents of spirited children feel they take the blame for their children’s poor behavior, but they are unwilling to give credit to parents of mature, respectful children for those children’s behavior.  There are lots of different personality types, of course, and some children are more naturally easy going and calmer than others — I’m not denying that.  But I spend a lot more time with my daughter and therefore have a lot more input into her behavior than if I sent her to school.

But a lot of the behaviors that parents of school children see (and despise) in their own children are learned behaviors that are rooted in the culture of school. John Taylor Gatto lists a few of these in his essay, the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher:

In a world where home is only a ghost because both parents work or because too many moves or too many job changes or too much ambition or something else has left everybody too confused to stay in a family relation I teach you how to accept confusion as your destiny. That’s the first lesson I teach.

The second lesson I teach is your class position. I teach that you must stay in class where you belong. . . . If I do my job well, the kids can’t even imagine themselves somewhere else because
I’ve shown how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes. Under this efficient discipline the class mostly polices itself into good marching order. That’s the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

The third lesson I teach kids is indifference. I teach children not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it appear that they do. . . . But when the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we’ve been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.

The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach you to surrender your will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority, without appeal because rights do not exist inside a school, not even the right of free speech, the Supreme Court has so ruled, unless school authorities say they do. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. Individuality is constantly trying to assert itself among children and teenagers so my judgments come thick and fast.

The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. . . . This power to control what children will think lets me separate successful students from failures very easily. Successful children do the thinking I appoint them with a minimum of resistance and decent show of enthusiasm. . . . Bad kids fight this, of course, even though they lack the concepts to know what they are fighting, struggling to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn and when they will learn it.

The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem. If you’ve ever tried to wrestle a kid into line whose parents have convinced him to believe they’ll love him in spite of anything, you know how impossible it is to make self-confident spirits conform. Our world wouldn’t survive a flood of confident people very long so I teach that your self-respect should depend on expert opinion. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. . . . Self-evaluation, the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet, is never a factor in these things.

The seventh lesson I teach is that you can’t hide. I teach children they are always watched by keeping each student under constant surveillance as do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children, there is no private time.

School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it. I should know.

To Gatto’s points:

We don’t have a ghost home, because we’re not all headed off in different directions.  We’re also a multi-generational home, as my parents’ retirement plan was “move near Jen,” and they now live with us.  My inlaws are following suit, and buying property just a few miles down the road.

Second, Farmerteen doesn’t have to “know her place” because she isn’t sorted against 30 other children, arbitrarily grouped together by age.  Homeschooling has allowed us to minimize her weaknesses while capitalizing on her strengths.  We don’t have to hold her back in history because she’s struggling in math.  We don’t have to hold her back a whole grade because she’s struggling in one subject.  We’re not even really sure what “grade” she’s in anymore . . . some stuff she’s far beyond her 7th grade peers, and in others, she’s not.

Third, she can take all the time she needs to complete whatever project she’s working on.  Sometimes, in history, for example, she gets excited about a certain event or person, and she veers away from the chronological history book to spend some time exploring the specifics of a person, place, or event.  We’ve got a flexibility that only the choicest schools come close to duplicating.

Fourth, Farmerteen is not emotionally dependent on us for her self-worth.  She’s well-versed in, and has ample opportunity to exercise, her civil rights under the US Constitution.  Most children her age are trapped in schools for 12 years, learning how little the Constitution matters to them or to their teachers.  Their civil rights are trampled over and over again until they just give up.  Our dwindling participation in the democratic process (our spiraling voter turnout) is a direct product of a compulsory education.  Schools give lip service to the Bill of Rights, right up until the point a student tries to exercise them.

Fifth, she is not intellectually dependent on us.  We certainly provide a lot of encouragement, structure, and input into her studies, but she does not rely on us to bring meaning to her life.

Sixth, her self-esteem is not provisioned on our input (and, for those parents out there who think Farmerteen is just an “easy” child — this is where she shines . . . she doesn’t take anything at face value, and she’s interested in arguing every little thing.  For a while, we called her “Pointless Lawyer Baby” because, even as a toddler, she would argue with any (and every) statement we ever made.

Finally, Farmerteen has a lot of private time and space to develop an inner life.  She has plenty of time alone to think, explore, and discover.  She has time to evaluate the things she reads and hears and studies, to play around with them, and to share them.  Here, too, is one of the riches of her character and personality: she thinks about her interactions with others, she ponders the meaning of life, she draws connections between experiences and studies and prior knowledge, and weaves together these things, reflecting on what has happened, and what she’d like to have happen in the future.

I’ve long resented my (four) highschools for the time they robbed from me.  I’ve long maintained that I’d have had a much fuller, richer education with an MTA pass and a library card to the Boston Public Library than I did slogging through each of the (different) sets of required courses the highschools prescribed.  (My senior year, I had to take both senior PE and freshman PE, because my first three highschools required fewer than four years of phys. ed.  I’m sure that was time well-spent).

The second kind of comments I get from other parents are the “what about [insert school-based activity]?” comments. What about the prom? What about sports? What about math?

Often, these questions are simply ones of curiosity . . . many people cannot imagine a childhood without school, which is not surprising, since we’ve had compulsory attendance laws for several generations, many families have two parents in the workforce, and homeschoolers are still in the minority–it’s very difficult for people to create a mental picture of what a day in the life of a 5-18 year old might include, if it weren’t school.   But much of the time, what actually underlies this line of questioning is the premise that, if children aren’t in school, they’re being robbed of an irreplaceable cultural experience — and the people who are robbing them are their own parents.

It’s difficult, in those moments, not to point out that it is the majority whose childhoods are being squandered.

Here’s what my child is missing:  Farmerteen is missing the opportunity to be placed with a teacher who does not understand her unique combination of strengths and weaknessses.  Sure, she might win the teacher lottery every few years and get a winner, but anyone looking back on their own school experience with any honesty, will see a long list of poor matches, punctuated by two or three gems.

Farmerteen is missing out on the opportunity to have her civil rights trampled while being taught to be a “good citizen.”  Here is our local school district’s Student Rights and Responsibilities, which include things like:

Pupils to Obey – Requires pupils to comply with rules established for the government of schools, to do assigned discipline, to pursue required courses and to submit to the authority of teachers, subject to such disciplinary action as school officials shall determine.
Closed Campus – Students are required to remain on the school grounds from time of arrival unless officially excused.
Cooperation with School Personnel – Students must obey the reasonable instruction of school district personnel.
Need to Identify Self – All persons must, upon request, identify themselves to school personnel in school buildings, grounds, buses, bus stops, or school-sponsored events.
PROHIBITED ACTS/OFFENSES AND DEFINITIONS – The following acts/offenses are among those that violate district policies and school rules and regulations and shall be cause for disciplinary action, suspension or expulsion. These acts may include, but are not limited to:
Disobedience/Defiance– Refusal or failure to obey.
Disruptive Dress – Dress and appearance that is considered disruptive to the educational process as specified in the student handbooks.
Failure To Do Assigned Detention – Willingly not showing up for detention.

No one but the students question the validity of these rules (and the students soon learn that questioning the rules is against the rules, that the appeals process is rigged, and that there is no actual recourse, because the law compels their continued attendance).

Finally, there is the dreaded “s” question/comments: What about socialization? and My child needs to be around other children; *he’s so social.”

Mind you, this is a question that I’m often asked by people who know me and Farmerteen, or who have at least been in our general vicinity for a chunk of time, and have had the opportunity to observe that neither of us are shrinking violets. I wonder what social deficit they see in Farmerteen, but then I realize they’re only parroting a question they’ve heard, working under a paradigm in which they can’t imagine a child between the ages of 5 and 18 doing anything during the day other than school.

But the question is a thoughtless one.

Ironically, it’s often asked by a person whose child was approached by mine and invited to join the group.

What they really mean to ask is a series of questions:
Can your child get along with other children? Is your child shy? Does your child do anything socially awkward that would make h** a target for teasing by other children in a school situation? Does your child have any friends? Can your child make friends? How does your child meet other children to be friends with?

Some homeschool children are socially awkward, in much the same way that some public school children are socially awkward. My husband (public schooled) was one of these; our daughter is not. The difference between a socially awkward homeschooler and a socially awkward public schooler is that the homeschooler is not penalized for being socially awkward. The homeschooler has the opportunity to develop social graces in a setting where h** faux pas are not held against h**.

That is the difference in socialization between public school and homeschool.

So there it is. I homeschool to piss off other parents. I want them to feel badly about themselves and the educational choices they made for their children; second, I want to confuse them about what it is that we do; and, finally, I want to make them concerned for the social life of my daughter–you know, the tall girl over there–the one who is leading the group of kids she just met in an adventure game in the park, making sure everyone is included? –yeah, that one.

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