Monday, March 9, 2009

My Response. Warning: It's Long


I’ve been sitting back and watching all the “goings on” the last couple days. I’ve been letting things simmer when they’ve caused me to get pretty worked up. I’ve been keeping a notebook of my thoughts and now I think it’s time for me to step in.
Oh boy…where to begin? I’ll start by saying I’m a little disappointed that the basic meaning of my original post was completely lost within the “battle of the comments”.

In my original post, I simply laid out a thought—an explanation, really—of why I do what I do.
People felt “attacked.” I honestly don’t see where in my post there were attacks.
I was not asking for a debate on home education vs. public schooling.
In the comments is where the debating began.

I also want to say that I very much appreciate that all the comments stayed civil. We can discuss things we don’t agree on and still maintain our civility.

I was not “attacking” anyone’s choice to use public school. These attacks were perceived, and certainly not implied.
For example, I could perceive an insult when Tami said “I have enough faith in my parenting to know that my children will make the right choices…” I could take that as her saying that since I homeschool, I must not have enough faith in my parenting and that is why I keep them home.
But I know her heart (I think) and I don’t think she was saying that.
At one point I said to Dennis, “Boy, I really stepped on some toes.” Then, I re-thought that statement. I then said to my husband, “Wait—no, I didn’t. They took my words and plopped them on their own toes.” I really think if you go back to my original post, you’d see this difference.

I was not pointed. Some of the comments were quite pointed. For example, Bonnie’s description of the home-schooled kid that was “one of her worst students ever”. Obviously, I have NO IDEA who that person was, what his family was like, etc.

By the way, when we encounter opposition to home education, someone nearly always knows “this one family” who was just a terrible example. You know-- they didn’t shower, or their kids were naughty, or didn’t seem very smart, they lived in a messy house, what have you. What does any of that have to do with their homeschooling? It is a reflection on their family, not where they do their school work. It’s especially bad when a homeschooler goes to public school—they are invariably measured against the other kids because they were educated at home. That boy that Bonnie talks about, who wouldn’t respect deadlines, had no responsibility, and had poor social skills--this is a lack of training, not about where he went to school.

One more example like this: have you ever met a shy child that is homeschooled?
I have.
And most people will blame it on the fact that they are homeschooled—they’re sheltered and not “socialized”.
Have you ever met a shy child who goes to public school?
I have.
Why is it that now they’re “just shy”?
Guess what—that shy homeschooled kid, that shy public school kid—they’re just shy. It’s not necessarily a reflection on their education.

I choose to educate my children at home. It is the only way we can train them to our standards. I could not train them to our standards if they were away from me for over 8 hours each day. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 is a Biblical mandate, not a suggestion. God has given the responsibility to educate our children to Dennis and me. It is not anyone else’s responsibility.

I did not question why Tami and Bonnie send their kids to government school. I did not even suggest that they should not do that. I keep getting comments about “not judging” and “not criticizing”, but everything I said in my original post was true.
Parents must send a note asking permission to take their child from the building: this is indisputable.
Schools are government buildings: indisputable.
Schools are institutions: indisputable. (Look up the word institution)

Back to the “attacks”: I’m wondering why Bonnie mentioned the one homeschooler that was her worst student ever. If we’re not attacking, why bring that up? Bonnie said I was bashing schools: where is that found?

In reading Bonnie's post, I was surprised that she was unaware of so much dissatisfaction with the public school system. There are over 16,000 homeschools (this is not the number of kids--it's the number of families that homeschool) in MN, there are more than one and half million homeschooled kids in the United States. It’s a huge movement.

Dennis and I are Reactionaries turned Visionaries.

One of the things that helped make our decision easier was a bomb threat at our school. (Keep in mind, this is the same school I attended as a child. There were 300 or so students total, Kindergarten through 12th grade, all in one building.
My graduating class had 17 kids in it. That number was never higher from Kindergarten through Senior year. The numbers were about the same when Nathaniel was attending. His Kindergarten through 3rd grade teachers had all been MY kdg-3rd grader teachers. I knew EVERYBODY in that building. My dad was on the school board for 15 years.
By all accounts, this was a very safe place to be.)
So, I’m at home, the teacher calls from the church to where they had all evacuated, and says, “Melissa, there was a bomb threat at school. Nathaniel is safe. We are at Peace Church. That is all I can tell you now. I need to call more parents so I can’t have you ask me any questions. We’ll be sending him home on the bus soon.”
I hung up and felt like throwing up. I remember my heart in my throat and my stomach at my toes. It was one of the worst, most helpless feelings I have ever experienced.

The bomb threat was a fake. There were parent meetings and community meetings (we live in a rural community—the town where the school was--and still is--has about 500 people).
I will never forget the conversation I had with the superintendent. He told me that his first thought was to get all the kids out of the building. He issued the order: everybody out. His second thought was this: what if that bomb note had been left by a sex-offender who has positioned himself outside the door and is waiting to snatch up one of the children I just sent streaming out? I think Mr. N. experienced the same feeling I described above.

I spoke to teachers who told me how absolutely terrified they were to have to examine their classrooms to see if anything looked suspicious—perhaps the bomb was in their room, and they were the ones who would know best if something was out of place or foreign to their classroom.

You’d think if I’m such a reactionary, that we would have pulled our child out right away. But, no—we sent him back the next day! “They” said it was safe, and so we did what you’re supposed to do: send your kid to school. They gotta learn to read, right?

Guess what—there was another bomb threat. I can’t recall now how far apart they were spaced—it was possibly the next school year. I think the first one (it kills me that people accept that as ok—the “first” bomb threat) was in the spring, and the second in the fall?? I should also mention that the school was under construction at the time and there was no way to keep it secure. Now of course, all the doors lock at a certain time and unlock at a certain time, for safety.
So the second bomb threat…I get another call at home. “Melissa? We have the boys at Peace Church (by now, both Nathaniel and Isaiah were going to school). There was another bomb threat, and we have evacuated here. We’ll be sending them home as soon as we have all the kids accounted for. I can’t answer any questions—I’ve got to keep calling other parents.”
This time I was more angry than scared, I remember. I was helpless again—and I don’t like that feeling.
Of course this time, there was an evacuation plan. The buses were called from the bus garage and the kids were loaded up on them immediately. Dennis questioned whether the bomb could have been placed on one of them. It’s a valid question.

But what can you do? The kids have gotta learn math, right? We sent them back, but with a growing mistrust of the institution.

My husband really wanted me to homeschool. I resisted. The next school year, I got offered a job at school. Aha! The perfect solution! I would be at school with my boys! I would even be teaching them music—one of the things I love!
Now, I would be able to keep them safe. If there were another threat, why, I’d be there with them. I wouldn’t feel so helpless.

It was while teaching at public school that God really revealed to me that our children would be educated at home. I still remember the moment I gave in. I was standing before Isaiah’s class of 24 kids. I was doing my best to get them to sing with me. They were so distracted--unable to listen to my directions because of the disruptive kids around them. His teacher, who had been my 1st grade teacher when I was his age, confided that of those 24 kids, there were three who were “good”--Isaiah was one of these three. There were about six who were just plain nasty, and the other 15 followed whatever looked the most fun at the moment. And hey, let’s face it—goofing off looks pretty fun.
I looked out at them, and said (perhaps even out loud) “we are going to homeschool.” I came home from work that day and told Dennis I was willing to do as he had wanted to do for two years now: I would educate our children at home.

This occurred in March of 2005. We decided we’d finish out the year at public school. I needed to let the superintendent know that I wouldn’t be back next year to teach music. I told him that I would also be homeschooling the kids. (We were open-enrolling in that district, so it was just a topic of conversation—not a reporting requirement.)
He said to me: “If I had young children, I would not put them in a public school today. If I were not the superintendent, my wife would be homeschooling our children right now. But, I guess it would look bad if the superintendent’s kids weren’t even coming to the school…”
Probably so.
I also spoke with a number of teachers—we were working together every day, our decision to homeschool would come up in conversation. Several of them told me, “you are making the right choice.”

Many people have only homeschooled. They encounter criticism along the lines of “you haven’t even sent your kids to school, so how can you decide they shouldn’t be there?” Many more people have never homeschooled. How can they declare that homeschooling is inadequate? Because a homeschooler they’ve met, or heard of, is shy or *gasp* late?

I have done both—I guess you could say I’ve done all three!
Many people form opinions about things which they have never experienced. They only have one thing with which to compare. I have sent my kids to public school, I have taught in public school and now I homeschool. I am 100% certain that this is where our children need to be. The ones who have been to public school will never go back and those who haven’t will never go.

I had a conversation with a father once who was really giving me some flack about homeschooling. He said when his children were small, his wife stayed home with them. Then, they decided she needed to work. So the kids went to daycare. He said, and I quote, “they had such a hard time adjusting—they didn’t know how to handle it when the other kids would tease them and be mean to them. They didn’t know what to do.” He then told me how when the mom’s employment ended, she returned home for a time. But they “still kept sending the kids to daycare so that they would have been exposed to teasing (bullying) for when they were old enough to go to school”.
I could not make this stuff up!
I said to him, “That’s like me deciding to rough my kids’ knees up with sandpaper so that when they fall and skin their knee it won’t hurt so bad! Hurting them now so they are de-sensitized to it later on? You can’t be serious!”
His reply: “Well, um. Oh, wouldja look at the time…I need to go.”

One of my points in all of this is that Dennis and I have decided that we carry the responsibility for our children all day long. I won’t abdicate that to a school.

Our pastor recently told us a story about a wealthy man who purchased a microscope back when they were first invented. These were not available to the general public because of their enormous cost, but as I said, he was a wealthy man.
He began to put things under the microscope. He was fascinated with what he saw! He saw all kinds of things he had never seen before.
Then he had another idea—he would put his food under the microscope.
When he did, he saw thousands of tiny bugs crawling all over it.
But this was his favorite food! He was devastated to find those bugs all over his favorite dish.
He was now faced with a choice—he could decide not to eat the bug-infested food, or throw out the microscope.
He chose to throw out the microscope. He didn’t really want to know what he was really eating.

I said earlier that Dennis and I are Reactionaries turned Visionaries. We began to consider homeschooling as a reaction to the bomb threats; we wanted to be able to keep them safe. In the weeks following our decision, we began to grasp the vision of how home education would change our family.
We are no longer reacting to what happened in public school. We have chosen a different path. We haven’t chosen home education just to be quirky. We have embraced a new vision—we have accepted the task. We are the ones who will decide when, what, and how our children are taught—trusting the Lord to give us direction and grant us discernment.

I’d like my blog to be a place where there can be a free exchange of ideas.
But it is my blog. My blog should be a safe place for me; somewhere where I can speak my thoughts and share my funny stories.
I have not and will not ask everyone to agree with me—and I would hope that any commenter would not try to change my convictions.
You see, that is not my responsibility. My responsibility is to speak the truth. I can’t recall a time when my mind was changed for me. I know of countless times when I changed my own mind. This was usually the result of reading someone else’s writings, like from a book, magazine article, blog post, etc. Other reasons that I have changed my mind are from hearing a sermon, a speaker/pastor on the radio, watching a documentary, or finally listening to the wisdom of my husband.

My intent with any of my “home-educating” posts is just to put some thoughts out there. Not to “attack”. Those of you that know me know that “attacking” is not my style.

You may take from my thoughts what you will. Perhaps there will be a time down the road when something I have said will ring true with you.
I know that has happened numerous times with me. A situation arises and I recall something I have read, heard, or seen.

Now, I have some questions/statements.
For Tami: to what social advantages are you referring?
Bonnie: there are MANY special needs children who are home educated. My very good friend homeschools her three children—two of them have special needs. Check out NATHHAN. Often, it is when they are brought home that they finally receive the tailor-made education they couldn’t get in a classroom of many.
From Bonnie’s comment: "I want my kids be able to examine several sides to a topic. I want them to understand that nothing is black and white." I also want my kids to examine several sides to a topic--but I want to be there to guide them as they do. I disagree about the "nothing is black and white." More on that later...
People say that homeschoolers are narrow minded for choosing not to use the public school. The public school says that their way is the only method that should be allowed. The NEA (National Education Association) openly opposes homeschooling, as do the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principles, stating that all children belong in public school.

Many things are black and white. Don’t stick a fork in your nose. Don’t bite your siblings. Do love your spouse. Do exercise your right to vote. I know these are obvious, but I disagree with you about nothing being black and white. There are a million more.

To the anonymous Anonymous: you feel confident every day? So did we.

Diane: well said. “It isn't because we think we are better than anyone else or that we think teachers are bad. It is that we, as parents, want to be the teacher. We want to raise our children in a way that is compatible with our beliefs. We want to be there to help them understand the world, to know how to respond to sadness, to unkindness, and goodness, too. Yes, we think homeschooling is the best choice. If we didn't, we wouldn't do it."

Thanks for reading. If something offends you, you are welcome to stop reading my blog. If you disagree with something I have said, by all means, disagree. But let's leave off all the words like "judging", "attacking", and "criticizing". These are typically meant to make it sound as if the other person committed a grave moral sin. We can disagree without making it someone else's fault.
I have my opinion, and others have theirs. Isn't it great?


  1. Phew! I am glad I took your advice and used the bathroom first! ;-] It was long! I was waiting and waiting all day to get home and see if you had had the chance to write yet!


  2. Melissa I loved your response. Just to be clear, I only mentioned attacked on MY blog, not yours. I was reflecting my views on my blog. Also, I commented about two awesome students. Don;t forget that!
    Also, I never felt once that your comments were unfair. The anonymous poster was who upset me.
    It's over. I hate conflict to be honest.
    I commend your words, comments, and ultimately I think you do something that I could never do. I love my children to death, but it's not in me to home school. Anyone who does it and does it well like you, deserves a medal.

  3. Boy Melissa I think Wade fell asleep napped and woke up all before I finished reading your blog. Just kidding! Well I knew you were passionate about homeschooling and I was right. I'm glad you made the choice for your family to homeschool and it is working out well. I wish I had the patience and kindness to do it as well. There are pros and cons to both sides and in some ways I think Levi would be further along in school academically if I HS him, but I know he would miss the interactions with the other kids, adults and away time from me. I have never felt like you have EVER forced an idea or view on me and I appreciate that. I also appreciate the fact that we can raise our kids differently and still find positives in each others choices. I think anyone who can HS and keep their mind deserves a medal too. I know I would lose it:)
    Keep on plugging away with the great job!

  4. Great post! I've always wondered how many parents would homeschool if their tax burden wasn't so high that they felt both parents had to work (lol sorry, everything comes back to taxes for me).

    Re: black & white. The world is filled with absolutes. It also has things that fall in a gray area, HOWEVER, that doesn't mean that one abandons their basic principles while examining the gray.


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