The scene: A darkened room, tucked away from the fluorescent glare of the rest of the building. Heavy velvet curtains line the walls and absorb sound. In one corner, there's an old coffee maker and a pile of mix-matched mugs. In another, a portable meth lab (okay, not really - just a pan of...special...brownies). And, in the middle of the room, there's a large table where about five people are gathered, clutching their coffee in one hand and a pen in the other, looking over a thick packet.
Person A: I have it on good authority that the Wilsons are coming back to school next week.
Person B: Really? Hehe. Mrs. Wilson couldn't hack it, huh?
Person A: Nope. The school board office asked her for a detailed curriculum three times, and she just never got it done.
Person C: But...that's illegal, isn't it?
Person A: Mrs. Wilson doesn't know that.
Person B: Beautiful. Three more kids, back in the public school system.
Everyone marks something in their packet.
Person D: What about the O'Connor kid?
Person A: No luck yet. Mom seems pretty determined. The truant officer didn't even faze her.
Person B: Damned educated parents.
Person C: We could bribe the kids--with stickers and Jolly Ranchers and puppies! I know where they live.
Person A: Don't worry! The school board meets tonight. On the agenda for their closed door meeting? More money for us! A quarter of the budget is going to be set aside for our plans. That's how important this is. We can do it--we can get these homeschoolers back!
Fade to black.
It's not a competition.
There's not some secretive, closed-door board room or some underground teachers' lounge where public educators speak in hushed whispers about how to draw homeschoolers back. into. the. borg. They don't plot to recruit us back.
And, usually, homeschoolers don't sit and condemn passing public school families. We don't generally point and snicker at the school bus every morning. Usually because we're all still asleep, but that's beside the point.
It's not us vs. them.
There's no battle.
There are people, parents, who make choices. And those choices must be respected.
I know there are homeschoolers who maintain that public school is poisonous, that everyone--regardless of circumstances--can and should homeschool, end of subject, no excuses.
Some people genuinely can't. Others genuinely shouldn't. You can't take your own circumstances and your own talents and personality and capabilities and apply them across the entire population. You can't impose your choices, what has worked for you, on others. What is balanced in your life might not be in someone else's.
And there are parents and public educators who believe very strongly that, if you hold a certain political view, you must support the public school system at all costs.
That, too, is a giant load of twaddle.
The truth is, as usual, somewhere in between the two extremes.
Teachers and other school employees generally don't come to work intending to distribute drugs to their students or push distorted values and semi-pornographic literature. They don't lie awake at night hatching plots against homeschoolers. They actually have other things to think about. Most of them have their own families. They have students they're worried about and state testing standards they didn't ask for. And they worry about how to reach all these students and how to keep them excited about learning, even while state and national requirements get tighter and narrower.
They don't have the time or the energy to worry about us, and to think that they're sitting around talking constantly about homeschoolers and trying to keep up with some master plan to brainwash our children is...well, a little egocentric.
They are people, like us, who worry about their children, who worry if they're making the right choices for them, and who sometimes feel, when faced with a homeschooling group, that they're being judged.
Sometimes, I’ve noticed recently, they are. We do sometimes tend to jump to rash conclusions about people associated with the public school system. I’ve seen people take a single negative event and use it to judge the whole. I’ve heard others hint at conspiracies or partnerships designed, perhaps, to go after homeschoolers. (Tinfoil hat on tight enough, folks?)
Yet, when you peel away the lens of egocentricism seeped in paranoia and really look at “the other side”, you get…people: flawed individuals, but with flesh and feelings. The members of the NEA, despite the organization’s somewhat disturbing (and out-dated) official stance on homeschooling, don’t honestly care that much if we choose to homeschool our children. And I don’t know many homeschooling families who care that the neighbors go to school. Heck, for us it means fewer people at museums and parks.
We get so angry when a newspaper or magazine publishes a piece about homeschooling that makes sweeping generalizations, but it goes both ways. You cannot judge an entire system on a single person anymore than a critic of homeschooling should be able to judge the entire homeschooling community (or the potential influence on the children within a homeschooling community) on a single family. We need to be respectful of the school community if we expect that in return. At the very least, we should avoid being so quick to judge if we don't want others to judge, or define, us based on the actions of a few.
It's not a contest.
Oh, and teachers' lounges? Not as exciting as one might imagine: A few old tables, an old plaid sofa with a couple exposed springs, a microwave with fossilized food particles, and a pot of really bad coffee. No special brownies. And very little time to talk about much of anything, let alone secret plots. I was seriously disappointed.
Missy's homeschooling journey began when she realized that the walls surrounding her daughter's classroom were too narrow; there was no room for exploration, no space for stretching. Now, she and her three children stretch and explore the world together. My blog: caffeinatedjive.