You see what hes doing?" I asked my daughter.
Moriah shrugged. "Its just water . . . and mud. Hell come clean." Isaiah picked up the hose and leaned over for a better look, inadvertently squirting himself in the face. He looked up at us, streams of water pouring from his fine blond hair. We were smiling, so he smiled back. He stared at the stream for a moment, and then started lapping at it like a puppy. We laughed while he drenched himself, eventually muddy up to his knees.
According to Catoosa County school social worker Sue Mason, we laughed because we are homeschoolers. We dont know that children are not supposed to play in the dirt. In her scathing two-part article "My thoughts on homeschooling" and "Homeschooling: the dark side," Mason presents an alternate reality in which parents homeschool their children just to sleep late and avoid responsibility while their children play in the dirt. I suppose she has never seen all those children on the school playground at recess, playing in the dirt.
I was reluctant to leave the county paper lying around, with columns like these. My teens were really miffed to discover that other homeschooled kids are allowed to sleep late and play in the dirt all day. They had some hard questions about why I made them come to history class at 7:00 a.m. for so many years.
Mason attempts to deflect any objections to her column with the caveat that there are some good homeschool families, and she is not talking about them. Yet, for the length of two articles she goes on about homeschool families who live in trailers, are unemployed, and allow their children to play in the dirt all day long.
In seventeen years of homeschooling, I have never met the homeschool families Mason describes. In fact, Masons first homeschool column does not feature a single homeschool family. Instead, she writes about public school parents who cannot make it to school on time, who pay the cable bill but neglect the power bill, and who buy tattoos instead of shoes. If these accusations are drawn from actual cases in our county, Mason should be under fire for printing them in the county paper rather than adhering to confidentiality. If they are not actual scenarios, then they are just lies.
If the stories are true, they are stories of public school parents. When these parents are threatened with court action for their childrens tardies, they remind the county social worker that public education is not mandatory; they can always homeschool their children if they so choose. Mason thinks it is terrible that parents have this freedom and "there is nothing I can do."
Is it really a bad thing that parents have a way to push back? They are our children, after all. The public school system sometimes behaves like a bureaucratic bully, running over individuals. I have a daughter in public school this year. Shes a straight-A high school student working a year ahead of others her age. I still have to stand up for her to get her needs met. I am nice about it, but it goes without saying that if the school system does not offer this brilliant student the opportunities she deserves, they will lose her back to homeschooling.
Homeschooling is not a privilege. Rather, the public school is the one enjoying the privilege of having my talented daughter among their students. Granted, it is not too much to ask that she be to school on time! And she is. But the principle is the same: Families who do not get what they need and want from the public school system have the right to use private or homeschooling instead.
If a particular family needs a different schedule than the public school offers, homeschooling is one way to do that. So long as the child is learning, why should it matter whether classes are held during the morning, afternoon or evening? Learning is organic, and is not really confined to hours or classrooms.
What we sometimes forget in this whole discussion is that homeschooling isnt some novel idea. As in the breastfeeding/formula debate, homeschooling IS normal and has been practiced for thousands of years. Sending your kids off to school is the novel idea.
Even today, every parent on the planet homeschools for the first weeks, months or years of the childs life. We teach our children to walk and talk, processes far more complex than anything learned in grades K-12, and no one suggests that ordinary parents are incapable of teaching their own children to do these things.
The school social worker does not like that public education is not mandatory. Education is mandatory, but not public education. Before homeschooling became popular again, parents did not know they had that option. Parents like the ones she describes (that is, poor) could not afford private education, so they were at the mercy of the public school system. Now, suddenly, parents who are pushed around are pushing back. They are saying, "No, you cant bully me, because the truth is my child doesnt have to be in your school in the first place." And on that score, they are correct.
Jeannie Babb Taylor may be contacted at email@example.com, or you can leave a public comment on her blog at JeannieBabbTaylor.com