I mostly hang out with homeschoolers or people who are cool and groovy when it comes to homeschooling, so I tend to be taken by surprise when people are stupid about homeschooling.
Last week, for example, one of my homeschooling friends mentioned that they’d been given a hard time about getting an educator’s discount at Barnes and Noble. You’d think that Barnes and Noble would be doing anything in its power to buy brick-and-mortar bookstore customer loyalty at this point. And they are, if you check their web site. But in person, it’s something else.
“They gave me a hassle again,” my friend reported, referring to the last time she’d applied for the discount. She’d called me from the bookstore that time, because she loved being able to tell the manager of the store that she was on the phone with the editor of Secular Homeschooling Magazine, who would be very happy to report on just how many cooties B&N thinks homeschoolers have.
Let the record state that corporate B&N thinks that the rest of the world can read in an otherwise darkened room by the light of pure goodness that homeschoolers give off. All we have to do is bring in a letter — not a letter from the President of these here United States, or the Secretary of Education, or our deity of choice; just a letter (doesn’t even have to be typed) — giving the family name and address, the names of the homeschooling parents, and the grade level of each child being homeschooled. Yes, you also have to show a photo ID, and no, it doesn’t say how they’d like you to handle matters if your family doesn’t have a single name; but in exchange for a 20% discount, this is a pretty good deal.
Apparently, some B&N employees think this deal is a little too sweet. I refuse to take any cheap shots at retail employees in general. I was one myself for more years than I care to recall, and can counter any moronic-clerk story with a moronic-customer story of my own. I’m specifically talking about a few bad apples in the Los Angeles-area B&N ranks here, none of whom have read their company’s actual policy.
So: my friend asked for her educator’s discount. She was not simply allowed to renew her discount card from the previous year. Nor was the fact that she was in a bookstore during school hours with a school-aged child who bears a marked resemblance to her taken as evidence of homeschooling. That could be just any kid, after all.
“You need to bring in a letter from the state,” the clerk said. They always say this. They said this last year to my friend. They’ve said it to me. And people who don’t know a hanged thing about homeschooling are always talking about the letter from the state you get when you start homeschooling.
Except you don’t. Not in my state, anyway. In my state, the closest thing you get is a printout of the online form you fill out once a year if you don’t want to work with a charter school but want to be a total indie homeschooler. You have to print it out yourself — the state doesn’t send it. This online form has nothing to do with accreditation. Legally, it can be filed by parents who don’t have so much as a high school degree. Which is something I love to bring up to people who say what the clerk went on to say about homeschoolers, which is that we’re required to have a university degree.
“No,” my friend said. “That’s not true at all.”
She has a degree — a very nice one. She just doesn’t like being told what to do. Which is part of why she homeschools. But I digress.
The clerk then went on to explain that this mom needed to show some sort of documentation of the homeschooling in question, because otherwise anyone could just walk in and say they were homeschoolers and who would know the difference?
The smaller point to be made here is that since the discount only applies to materials that are of arguable educational value, it’s not as if B&N has to worry that people who aren’t teachers or homeschoolers will use an educator’s discount to fill their home library with Dumb and Dumber DVDs.
The larger point is: Anyone can walk in anywhere and say that she homeschools, because anyone can homeschool.
Anyone in California, for instance, can wake up one fine rainy morning, look outside at the dank and the gloom, decide that this whole getting-the-kid-to-school-on-time-no-matter-what-the-weather thing bites, and start homeschooling right then and there. (First official field trip? Back to bed!)
That’s right. Homeschooling is like getting knocked up: the state will let just anyone do it. Not because everyone will be fanTABulous parents, but because the alternative — namely, the state making decisions about who has the right to reproduce — is even more hideous than the current state of parental chaos.
Anyone can become a parent, and anyone can homeschool. Anyone, anyone, anyone.
You don’t have to pass any tests. Not academic tests, and not sweetness-and-light tests, either.
Which brings me to the other idea lots of people have about homeschoolers. If you homeschool, you’ve probably had this exchange at least once:
“So, where does your little woogums go to school?”
“Actually, we homeschool.”
“You do? Wow. That’s amazing. I’d never have the patience to do that.”
You know what? I don’t have the patience, either. And I do it anyway.
Ask my son how much screaming I do on any given day. How many ridiculous arguments I allow myself to get drawn into. How many I start myself. Then take a look at all the books that round out his homeschooling days — the Latin, Spanish, science, grammar, music, math, literature, and history books. Take a look at the work he’s doing, if you’re so inclined.
Then ask him what I called that lady in traffic the other day. Ask him how hard (and how many times) I punched the closet door when I got that parking ticket last week because I was too stupid to move our car in time.
Patience? Please. Maturity? Pfft.
Deal with it: Homeschoolers as a group are not any more angelic than the mainstream population.
It’s not just me. I have plenty of stories about other homeschooling parents. I’ve seen them in action. I’ve heard their “I was SUCH an idiot yesterday” stories at park gatherings and other get-togethers. We’re human. We’re stupid. We’re allowed.
If you’re still not convinced — actually, you probably are at this point. I’m going to pretend that you need more evidence now, because I’m dying to gossip about a really stupid altercation I willingly got into with a fellow homeschooling parent.
Man, do I hate this woman. Seriously. Hitler was a murdering bastard who will always have a special place in my hate-heart, but it isn’t exactly personal, you know? Hitler never (to my knowledge) came to my house, ate my food, and then sneered out loud and at length in front of lots of other people about my selection of condiments. I’d go back in time and kill Hitler even if my only shot was at his tiny six-year-old Hitler self; but I don’t long to smack him one the way I do this woman.
Happily, I haven’t seen her in years. We don’t move in the same circles any more. I didn’t even know she’d joined the email loop of the local homeschooling support group I started, until she posted an ad.
For the record, I hate her ads. I’ve seen them on other loops. They’re written in the third person, as if she’s not the owner of this business, but just happened to hear about it and thought she’d share. I also hate the fact that she has repeatedly violated the ad policy on another loop, which is run by a woman who is WAY nicer than I am.
It had already been a stupid day. I was really ready to be righteously annoyed by something.
My policy: no ads on my loop unless they have something specifically to do with homeschooling — classes, lessons, books. Preferably offered by homeschooling parents. The people in the group are here to get support, not a hard sell. We all have enough spam in our mailboxes, thanks anyway.
So I deleted the posting. I deleted the poster, who was a non-participant and wouldn’t notice the difference anyway.
And then, because I’m four years old, I sent her an email letting her know what I’d done.
Stupid. Pissy. Spiteful.
It felt great.
At least until I got her reply, and remembered how much I hate this kind of thing. I’m always up for an argument, until the person I’m arguing with actually decides to argue back.
Her reply wasn’t that big, or that bad — she just told me how nice I was. I think she may have been being sarcastic.
At this point, it would have been relatively easy to just let it go. She was off the loop. I’d made my point.
But I was still in third-grade mode (with apologies to all the third graders I just insulted by implying that they’d ever behave this absurdly). So I replied that while we were on the subject of nice, it had been nice indeed to have her in the homeschooling community.
This was a serious piece of rhymes-with-itchiness on my part. It wasn’t just that she had never, not even once, come to one of the park day gatherings of the loop in question. It was the fact that even when I’d seen her at other events, she wasn’t really there. At the mock-my-condiments party, in a room full of several dozen other homeschooling parents, she ignored everyone but her best friend; at a field trip to a museum, she stayed several dozen yards behind her kids and the other families, holding hands with her boyfriend. It was like being back in seventh grade, watching the cool blonde girl treat the rest of the group like muddy peasants.
Old age will catch up with me some day. Maturity? Never.
Of course she wrote back. I didn’t open the message right away. I didn’t want to open it at all. I was about to go online to my favorite group of Facebook moms and beg them to stage an intervention on my behalf, if I could figure out a way to hand over control of my email to them. (Maybe they could clear out the huge backlog I’ve piled up while they were there.)
And then I went to a gathering at a friend’s house, and the conversation turned to — guess who?
I didn’t bring her up! I swear!
Wait. Yeah, I did.
Okay. But I didn’t plan to. I was actually hoping to get some help on the don’t-open-it, don’t-answer-it email front.
Instead, I came home more determined than ever to do whatever it took (short of breaking crucial environmental laws) to ANNOY THIS WOMAN. Forget homeschooling, cleaning the bathroom, that overdue library book I still hadn’t finished reading, and all my hopes and dreams for a writing career. I was a woman with a mission now.
So I opened the message she’d sent.
And learned that 1) she was TOO a member of the homeschooling community, and had been for decades, thank me very much, and 2) at least she HAD been, until I kicked her out.
Rather than confusing anyone by acting like a grownup, I asked her what exactly she meant by being part of the community, at least my little corner of it. When was the last time she’d participated in any of our events? When was the last time she’d welcomed any newcomers to the group, or replied with advice when other members asked for homeschooling tips on the loop?
By now, of course, my family and a selection of friends were hearing about every word that passed between me and a woman I hadn’t seen or thought about in years, probably wouldn’t recognize on sight, and had nothing in common with. Meanwhile, cops were throwing flash-bangs at Occupiers in Oakland; Congress was proving how much it cared about the American job market by holding a vote on the fact that, yes, indeed, “In God We Trust” was our country’s official motto; Herman Cain had changed his story about the alleged sexual harassment in his past about six times; Somalians were starving, thanks partly to natural forces and mostly to government corruption; Syrian protestors were risking their lives in the name of freedom; and Greece was still exploding all over the place. But in the REAL news, The Bitter Homeschooler and That Other Mom were saying, “This is you! Gooba, gooba, gooba!”
Because of COURSE neither of us could just put it down and get on with our lives, already. She started using smiley-face emoticons. I started correcting her grammar. It got ugly, I tell you.
And then one of her messages landed in my spam filter. None of them had gone there before.
I was impressed. Maybe she’d finally cracked and was cussing me out good and proper.
And that’s when I got a beansy bit of perspective. This was what my days had turned into? Hoping to win a game of Whoever Calls The Other Person A Bad Word First Loses?
No big finish here. No dramatic ending. She hasn’t changed her ways, and I don’t feel any more grownup than I did last Monday.
But I did manage to stop being that flavor of stupid, finally, for a little while.
The larger point of this sordid story is: Please stop giving that homeschooler in your life the wrong kind of credit. Yes, we work our butts off. It’s called parenting. We’re not better at it (or at anything else) as a group than schooling parents are. We’ve just made a different educational choice than you have. That’s ALL you know about us when you know that we homeschool.
Every time you’re tempted to think about how patient or wise homeschooling parents must be — please think again.
And in that spirit of humble self-knowledge, I wish I could say something to that other mom. Something that she wouldn’t take wrong, and that would make it clear that I understand how much I’m to blame for what was a ridiculous argument — an exchange that took precious time away from our families and messed up our priorities in a world that really needs better than that from all its citizens just now.
“Don’t talk to me like you KNOW me! Yeah, that’s right! I’m talking to YOU! Stupid dumb condiment hater! You SUCK!”
P.S. The friend I mentioned at the beginning of this posting, who happens to be a lawyer as well as a homeschooling parent, managed to get her Barnes and Noble educator’s discount after all. Didn’t want to leave you wondering about that.