Yesterday was a rather big day for this little blog and for me as a person. I was interviewed by Michelle Goldberg for an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous and then suddenly (almost instantaneously, it seemed) that article was up on The Daily Beast (my absolute favorite name for a news website, btw, taken from one of my favorite writers, Evelyn Waugh). This is the article, in case you haven’t read it yet (“Homeschooled Kids, Now Grown, Blog Against the Past“), and with this happy happening I learned three things. First off, having a major website link to your blog sends your blog views through the roof. While close to 6,000 hits in a day might not seem like a big deal to some, they are for me and that’s what happened. Secondly, I learned from the links clicked that a lot more readers are interested in sex ed than they are in escaping from Quiverfull (wow, no surprise there, right?). Third? Well, the third thing is a secret. That’s right. I’m not telling. At least not yet. You’re gonna have to wait. 🙂
Overall it really really (really really really) meant a lot to me to see this stuff written down like that, to have this article become reality, and it made me even more proud to be associated with Homeschoolers Anonymous. How else are people going to start to heal if they can’t deal? How else are people going to start to fix the problems if they don’t know they exist? I also got a few messages and emails that made me teary-eyed (yeah, I’m a big softy so that isn’t too hard), but they really were quite moving and I felt grateful I could be a part of something that I know is much bigger than myself and my work and my experiences. I may just have one little blog (and a big mouth) but perhaps it can truly make a difference. This felt good in the best sense of the word.
Also, I have to say that most of the feedback I have received so far has been positive (although that may just be because the haters are still standing there, slack-jawed, smoke pouring from their ears). My former classmates at Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management (a close-knit group of public policy students that we dubbed the “forever family” during our first semester) wrote a celebratory post entitled “From Homeschool to Heller to Here,” on the Heller MPP blog and I imagine some current students may even be using it to keep some semblance of positivity going while they are in the middle of writing their own capstone papers (somehow a considerably harder process than it initially seems).
I also had Facebook friends reposting the Daily Beast article and getting into serious debates on the merits of various education methods, levels of government, children’s rights, parental responsibility, what constitutes abuse, and lots more stuff that I find fascinating to read. I did a little Facebook stalking and loved every minute of it, not even gonna lie.
My siblings’ reaction to the article was mainly to just make a bunch of sex jokes (although a few congratulated me). Why? Well in the linked sex ed post I actually talked about sex, so there was plenty of fodder for turning a serious topic into wisecracks. True to form, they did not disappoint in that arena. Wisecracks are a family speciality. I imagine I will get a lot more teasing for saying “penis-centered culture” this summer at “Cozy Quarters 2013,” which is what we have named our upcoming family trip to a too-small condo on the beach. (My response? Totally owning it. “Yes, your sister did say that, and over 3,000 people so far today read that she said that.”)
On the Daily Beast article itself I noticed an interesting range of comments, from shock that this is real (there are no laws to prevent this?) to denial that this is real (you just dug up some non-representative horrible stories, biased liberal media!) to discussions of people’s personal experiences. There was the usual bickering that goes on in comment sections but I also noticed that a number of current homeschool kids took issue with the article as not representative of them. My response is that it’s good you are not experiencing these things but your positive experience does not negate the kinds of negative experiences that are getting detailed on Homeschoolers Anonymous. They exist and it is a prevalent pattern whether you wish it were isolated incidents or not. Tellingly, a number of former homeschool kids also commented on the article and too many said “this was my life too.”
Some commenters were very biased against homeschooling, saying that the answer was for it not to exist at all (a conclusion that I do not personally agree with), while other people claimed that what happened to us certainly wasn’t any worse than their public school experience, or as a few characterized it, a Godless, sex, drugs, and bullying-filled “government school” experience. While high school for me was not nearly that rock n’ roll, I expect such extreme characterizations from these people. Whenever anyone says “government school” that is a direct tipoff that they are ideologically opposed to the very concept of public education and about to paint all public schools with broad brushstrokes of negativity, generalize all of them as failing inner city schools. This gets me just rolling my eyes because these “failing schools” are not representative of public schools in general or a reason to scrap the whole system, although they certainly are a serious issue (and both a huge symptom and cause of inequality in our country) that needs to be corrected.
Anyway, the one comment out of the whole thing that I found kind of shocking was actually not on the Daily Beast site at all. Rather it was a reaction to the article on a website I have actually enjoyed reading at times myself. It is an unschooling-inclined anti-HSLDA page called Homeschooling is Legal. Their argument is generally for even less regulation than HSLDA wants (instead of zero regulations according to the law, they apparently want to be completely off of the law books too, totally incognito) and while I definitely don’t agree, I have found their take on HSLDA’s practices to be informative, and their perspectives and resources to be food for thought, to say the least. So I have to say their negative reaction surprised me.
First, they mainly requoted my quotes from the Daily Beast article in their post, did the typical homeschooler thing (yeah, I’m totally generalizing here – don’t shoot me!) of blaming the parents, shaking their heads, and going what a shame those bad apples have to ruin it for the rest of us! Then they did a surprising thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a slightly more unpleasant version of the Bill Cosby curse (you know, the one where he tells his children “someday, you’ll grow up and have kids just like you.”) What they said was:
It’s sad when young people are affected by choices their parents made, but you can learn from it and make different choice for you own children, but don’t be surprised when they have a problem with the choices YOU’VE made for them. Kids don’t come with manuals.
The post then unexpectedly ended with a quote about what I was doing, no further explanation or clarification. When I was done critiquing it for style issues (note from an English major – when you use quotes, always explain what you mean by them/get out of them, and don’t ever end a paragraph with a quote) I was stuck with “What? Did they really just say what I think they said? Yeah, they apparently did.” Homeschooling is Legal pretty much read about this story of abuse in the homeschooling world and then implied that us Homeschoolers Anonymous kids were unnecessarily bitching and slandering our parents and one day our kids would do that to us too. Wow.
Maybe this was unintentional or an off-the-cuff defensive reaction and they will think through their position a little more clearly, but I have to say that this comment was definitely not something that reflects positively on them. Also, if I ever beat my kids, screamed at them that they were stupid, dragged them across the floor by their hair, and didn’t educate them like I promised, I’d totally deserve the shit (pardon my French) that they said about me. You don’t have to have any manuals to know that that’s both disrespectful and a bad idea, and actually, one big problem within homeschooling is that a few prominent homeschoolers have written “child training” manuals that plainly endorse at least some of this abusive stuff as a good idea. If I was a parent who did this (even if it was because I good-naturedly but mistakenly followed one of the aforementioned manuals) all I could legitimately say if my kids did speak publicly about such an experience was “I am very sorry I did that. It was abusive and wrong.” My kids would also have every right to expose me as an abusive and neglectful jerk (it would be their story, after all), whether they had compassion and sympathy for what had brought me to such a place or not, and I’d definitely have no right to bitch about it or feel aggrieved. That’s just how it works. If you don’t want your kids to say awful things that you did to them, don’t do awful things to them.
So here is my message to Homeschooling is Legal:
I would hope you would hold yourselves to a higher standard than to play the apologist for abusive parents and imply that this is just some cycle of life, some normal part of a teenage/young adult rebellion. Those things exist, certainly, but this is not that. This is something else. Please attempt to recognize the difference and perhaps consider what you can do to make homeschooling better (hint: trying to make it fly totally under the radar is likely not it) rather than making rude comments about how my imaginary future children will likely view me and proceeding to stick your head in the sand. You should do this for no other reason than that unschoolers are relying on you to set a more responsible tone. Also, frankly I’d like for the enemy of my enemy (and HSLDA is apparently equally despised by both of us) to be a little easier to be friends with.
Anyway, so overall yesterday was an exciting and eventful one, and I found Michelle Goldberg’s Daily Beast story incredibly meaningful because it was to-the-point, very well written, and it helped work towards one of my big goals – increasing awareness of and consideration for the needs of homeschooled children. I decided it called for a celebration, so I went out and bought my favorite kind of ice cream – an obscure flavor called “Armagnac and plum.” As expected, it was delicious ice cream but not as delicious as the feeling of knowing that a considerable number of people who had never heard about or thought about this homeschooling issue before had it on their minds today. 🙂