Archive for November, 2011

And the winner of the Extra Reading Writing Contest is…

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

“Deborah Markus!”

Yes, “Deborah” won the coveted ERW prize, narrowly edging out April. April’s writing is outstanding and her name is not in quotes; but after the entries I just received from “Deborah Markus,” I’m forced to acknowledge that someone is even more skilled at imitating Josh Mason than she.

Here’s the first one, which I found in my email early this afternoon:

“Hello everyone. My name is Deborah Markus. But, I am really a lesbian and a public school activist masquerading as a home school advocate. My children are functionally retarded.

Deborah Markus

P.S. I suspect my husband is a homosexual.”

Notice how thriftily the writer saved the comma the first sentence needs in order to use it unnecessarily after the “but” in the third sentence. Note also how the entrant manages to imply that both members of a male-female couple can be gay and engage in baby-making activities with one another. Admire the reference to retardation — seriously, Josh couldn’t have done it better himself.

Here’s the second entry from “Deborah:”

“I have decided to shut down Secular Homeschooling Magazine. It is poorly written and I can no longer support homeschooling in general. Public schools are far superior and my children are basically functionally retarded because I have homeschooled them. If you have a subscription, you will not get a refund. Sorry, you’re out of luck. Love, Deborah Markus.”

Admittedly, this isn’t as brilliant as the first entry. None of the sentences begin with “so” or “but,” only to be followed by that trademark ERC incorrect comma. But at least we have the all-important reference to retardation.

Technically, I suppose I shouldn’t be referring to these as entries. They weren’t posted here, nor were they emailed to me privately. They did show up in my email, because Facebook always lets me know when and what someone posts to the Secular Homeschooling Magazine FB page. And these were posted as comments on existing threads of said page.

Perhaps from some sense of modesty, “Deborah” appears to have deleted her comments immediately on posting them. But they’re still in my email box, which is how I was able to quote them in their entirety.

“Deborah” also seems to have deleted her Facebook account. Which is taking modesty pretty far, but I’m not here to judge.

What I couldn’t get over was the coincidence that someone else named Deborah Markus would post on the SHM FB page. I mean, I know there are other people out there with that name, but still — what are the odds?

Hey, wait a minute…

You don’t think…

Could it be…?

No, of course not.

I mean, how could someone who teaches elementary school and runs Extra Reading have time for this kind of shenanigans? And how could someone with the demonstrated maturity of Josh Mason have the inclination?

Okay, okay. You’ve convinced me. It’s him.

So let’s go ahead and give the prize to April after all. And then let’s talk about a place called Worksheet Library.

Not my company. Never an advertiser with SHM. Just a site that educators, home and otherwise, might be interested in checking out.

I subscribed to Worksheet Library a few years ago, when along with homeschooling, I was doing some tutoring. For $29.95 a year, I had access to K-8 worksheets for math, language arts, Spanish, French, science, and social studies. There were thousands of worksheets available in each category.

I was happy to find that the price and the merchandise are still the same. Thirty dollars a year. No haggling. Thousands of worksheets in a range of grades and subjects, as well as just-for-fun and holiday-oriented pages.


As opposed to — who was that guy, the one whose company offered a few language arts materials for grades 3-8, and who insisted that $40 a year was an absolute bare-bones minimum how-dare-you-even-think-of-paying-less-than-this price?

Whoever he was, his site looks a lot different than it did a few weeks ago. The CEO was accused of using art he had no right to. He huffily replied that he had every right to use this art — and to prove it, he’d shut down his site for a few days just to make sure everything was kosher. And when his site came back online…hey, look! No more art! That’s telling them, Josh!

If you want to see what his materials and front page used to look like, check out this picture on Tracy’s Techy Tidbits, a site that ran an article about ERC a few months ago. Gorgeous, huh? Wonder why he didn’t keep it that way.

Anyway. Sorry to wander like that. Congratulations, April! Keep up the good work!

Moar hate mail!

Saturday, November 26th, 2011

Just to drive home the point I made in the last posting: hey, look what graced my mailbox this morning!

From a Mr. Charles Buchanan, whose last name is almost as hard to stop typing as “banana:”

“I am also an athiest, but the phrase ‘me and my kids’ really doesn’t drive your homeschooling argument home (you figure it out) and as a side effect it makes us all look like inbred douchebag hicks. thanks.”

This letter startled me. I am horrifyingly absentminded, so I ran to do a quick sweep of the apartment. Turns out, I do only have one kid.

So I have no idea (clearing throat in preparation for severe grammatical correctness) to which piece of my writing he could be referring.

I sent him a link to the previous posting in this blog, chided him for coming so late to the grammar snob party, and added in a postscript that it’s spelled “atheist,” not “athiest,” dearie.

Whatever he’s quoting, though, he really made his point. Because that’s the thing you always notice about people who went to public school: they never make grammatical errors. Or use revolting language in an effort to shock the grownups.

I’m going to sit around and wait for the chocolate I’m sure some adoring stalker will be sending any minute now, just to balance out all the wickedness of this world.

Grammar Snobs Really ARE Great Big Meanies

Friday, November 25th, 2011

This column is dedicated to June Casagrande, writer and goddess. My family is using her Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies: A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite
as our grammar curriculum this year. If you like happiness and joy and writing that’s the closest you can get to actual chocolate without all those pesky calories, please visit her blog and buy all her books, not necessarily in that order.

The Bitter Atheist list I wrote had a surge of visits this past week. Cool. I like knowing I’m being read.

I don’t get much hate mail, but this comment was passed along to me from the site. Please bear in mind that I’m quoting verbatim.

“Grammar is terrible in ’16 things’ article, as is the article itself. I, an atheist myself has never appreciated the snarky or militant ‘atheist’s rebuttal to Christianity’ type article — seems so petty. Let’s give it a rest, okay?”

The easy out would be to bwahahahaha about the glaring mistakes in that note. I comma an atheist myself no comma has never appreciated? Really? This man is ragging on my writing abilities? Please.

(In case no one has staked an official claim on this territory yet, let it now be known as Markus’ Rule: If you complain about a writer’s spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors, your letter is guaranteed to contain exactly the sort of errors about which you complained.)

The slightly-more-work path (which I’ll take — it’s the day after Thanksgiving, and I need the exercise) is to point out that there are several writing styles or voices. Highly formal is not more correct than colloquial in and of itself; context is all. Twain didn’t write Huckleberry Finn that way because he didn’t know how to write right. He shocked the lit world by writing an entire novel in a colloquial voice because his priority was sustaining an authentic voice. Or, to put it colloquially, who the heck he was writing about.

Oh, look. I wrote Huckleberry Finn when the book is actually called Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (No “the” at the beginning.) And I ended a sentence with a preposition, and said “who” when the rules call for “whom.”

Guess what? That paragraph is still perfectly okay.

Point out all the mistakes you like. If you don’t understand that a piece of writing can be full of grammatical errors and still be correct, you don’t understand writing.

The only time it’s appropriate to allow grammatical correctness to be absolute monarch of your work is when you’re writing a tech manual, a grant proposal, or a speech you’ll be delivering before the Supreme Court of the United States. As soon as your writing is intended to sound as if a natural human voice had uttered (or could be imagined to utter) your words, grammar rules become the regent in a constitutional monarchy. They’re important, and you should know they’re out there; but they’re not the boss of you.

It would have been incorrectly correct of me to write out the entire title of Twain’s book a paragraph or two ago. It’s customary in everyday speech to refer to the book by the nickname of its shortened title. If I were referring to it in an essay I’d be graded on, or a book of literary history or theory, I’d use the long version. Hauling out the whole title in this setting would be announcing that I’m a pretentious twit and you should leave now, before I give you a headache.

Similarly, when I said I was going to rephrase my premise in a colloquial manner, it was correct of me not to say, “about whom he was writing.” Because that’s not how people talk. Unless they’re insufferable snits.

Obviously the guy who wrote me the note about my alleged errors doesn’t know grammar rules from Grandma Walton. He doesn’t have to. He knows that most people are intimidated by the idea that someone smarter than they are might come along and — gasp — correct their grammar.

Sorry. Pedantic terrorism holds no terror for me.

Pedantry, as Judith Martin points out, usually isn’t evidence of solid grammatical skills. “All you have to do is to grab one grammatical werewolf and run with it.”

That’s all most of us do. I’ve done it myself, when I’m in a mean mood. I’ll silently sneer at people who talk about gilding the lily. I’ll utter traffic-stopping screeches when someone says “irregardless.”

Okay, “irregardless” is wrong and must be stopped. But even I can’t muster up a genuine heart attack about the fact that the quote in question refers to painting the lily, not gilding it. If you can manage some genuine outrage about that one, it’s evidence that you’re evil.

The fact is, the guy who wrote me that note is a jerk. And not because he disagrees with me. If he’d stuck with his real point, which is that he thinks that drawing up this kind of list is a petty exercise in snarky superiority, he would have been worth listening to, because he’d be introducing a valid debate. Is my bitter atheist ranting small-minded, shabby, and even harmfully divisive? Or is this kind of humor a valid way for the community to let off some collective steam? Those are questions worth asking and discussing, even if a definitive answer is impossible to reach.

But this guy was only interested in being a condescending arse. If the writing in my list is so “terrible,” why are thousands of people a day reading it months after it was posted? And “Let’s give it a rest, okay?”

As Twain would say, “Bite me.”

Dear Dr. Pepper Spray:

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the footage of you in action at UC Davis. I’ve seen one still shot — I’m sure you can guess which one — and that was revolting enough.

But Anonymous outed you, Mr. Pike, and someone else made wonderfully mocking art out of the only thing anyone will ever remember about you; and it made me think about history.

It’s possible that when it comes to Occupy, this too shall pass from popular memory. Other important movements have. For instance, I’ve asked several educated people if they’ve heard of the Bonus Army. None of them had. I hadn’t myself until it was described on a pod cast. It involved thousands of activists, millions of sympathetic Americans, and all the key issues of the time, not to mention many famous figures. The Bonus Army and the American Government’s response to it had direct, important consequences — social, political, and legal ones. And very few people remember it today, though 1932 isn’t all that long ago.

So you never know. Occupy could be another Bonus Army, or it could be the beginning of America’s second revolution. And this one could be even more impressive than the first, in its own way, thanks to the fact that its participants are married to the idea that lasting change does not require violence.

I happen to hope that Occupy lasts long enough to make a difference and a permanent place in our cultural memory.

You, clearly, hope for the opposite. You hoped for that even before you blasted those sitting students.

Because if you’d believed for a minute that this movement would live on in any way, self-interest alone would have stopped you from choosing such a place in history.

If this fizzles, you’ll be nothing but a nasty footnote to a footnote.

And if it doesn’t?

Abraham Zapruder wasn’t setting out to make history on November 22, 1963. He almost didn’t bring his camera with him. Circumstances colluded to make this ordinary man’s name immortal.

It can happen. You can wake up one morning and make history just by being there.

You can be going about your ordinary life and rise to terrifying heroism when all you really wanted was to live. Flight 93.

Or you can go to work and casually lash out at people you know won’t hurt you back. You can exploit the power you have because you think you can get away with it, and not realize you’ve gone too far until — how many enraged phone calls have you received now, Mr. Pike? Have you changed that number yet?

Intellectually, we all know that the smallest choices we make may lead to something dizzyingly huge. None of us expects to be the one it happens to, though. Even people who want to be famous assume that the desired fame will blossom from their brilliant work, not some YouTube video in which they attempt to eat an overstuffed sandwich on an equally overstuffed airplane with disastrous results. (I made this one up. It might be true, though.)

But temporary notoriety is the best you can hope for now, Mr. Pike. What you did will probably cost you your job. It’s already cost you your good name. And it could still get worse.

For example: How do you feel about the idea of this shot heard ’round the world having a name attached to it?

All of a sudden the idea of dying unwept, unhonored, and unsung doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it, Mr. Pike?

I’m not assuming that future history books will bother to mention Occupy, any more than most of them mention the Bonus Army.

But you never know.

My son studies history every day. So do I.

I wonder what tomorrow’s lesson will be?

Side of science (optional)

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Yes, I’m a homeschooler, and yes, I’m somewhat of a loopy lefty. Which means that I love the Occupy movement enough to forgive it even when one of its members thinks it would be a good idea to make homeschooling illegal because “religious fanatics use it to feed their children propaganda.”

This is just one person speaking, and no one is claiming that this person speaks for the group. So I’m not going to do my usual flipping out, as good as I am at that.

Instead, I’ll answer by pointing out a few facts.

1. Homeschooling is the ultimate freedom, my Occupying friend. You like freedom. You’re fighting for freedom. No fair deciding that one of the things you’d like to do with any freedom you win is take away some of mine.

2. If you believe that homeschooling = religious fanaticism, while public schooling = disinterested secular meritocracy, you need to meet some actual homeschoolers and visit a few more public schools.

3. Instead of making homeschooling illegal, let’s close all the public schools. Fanatical lobbyists use them to feed our children pizza — and to teach those children that pizza is a vegetable.

Homeschoolers are accused of being anti-science — but what could be more anti-science than insisting that nutritional value can be legislated?

If you haven’t kept up with the news, an excellent Minnesota Public Radio article sums it up nicely in the first sentence: “Congress agreed this week to continue counting the tomato sauce on a slice of pizza as a serving of vegetables for federally-sponsored school lunches.” You can read the rest of the article here.

Two tablespoons of sauce — which is how much these slices generally have — is not a serving of vegetables. If you don’t believe me, ask any nutritionist. She won’t say, “Well, that depends. Where are you buying lunch today?” She’ll say, “Are you nuts? That’s not a serving of anything! That’s freakin’ nutritional background music!”

So remember, anonymous Occupier: Insisting that children be put in public schools is no way to guarantee they’ll get an evidence-based education. The cafeteria may not be a classroom, but kids are still learning important lessons there.

The Official Extra Reading Writing Contest!

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Hey, look! More high weirdness from the zombie known as The Extra Reading Company — a creature that just won’t die no matter how many times it’s shot and that suffers from a desperate lack of brains.

If you care to, you can read the short article I wrote about ERC for Secular Homeschooling:

If you have another eight or nine hours to spare, you can read the follow-up rant at the Mad Editor blog:

If you don’t have that kind of time, take my word for it: ERC is bad news. Their CEO is nasty, deceptive, and a terrible writer — and that last one is a particularly unforgivable quality in someone who writes educational material for children.

More evidence of this ickiness landed in my mailbox this morning. Someone posted a comment on the Mad Editor blog posting letting me know that, sadly, ERC is still in business and still being run by someone whose idea of outstanding customer service is siccing his non-rabid starving guard dog on your newborn.

A woman who was hoping to be an ERC customer posted the entirety of an email exchange she had with Josh Mason on The Parenting Pod, a link to which was given to me and which I offer now to you. This one I need you to read, if only so that you don’t have to take my word for it that ERC’s idea of customer service also includes helpful hints, such as that their customers please refrain from being retarded on the premises:

The guy doesn’t admit that he’s Josh, but that writing style is unmistakable. Lots of quotation marks. A surfeit of sentences beginning with “so” or “but” followed by an unnecessary comma. Lots of random commas, in fact. Hyphens, hyphens everywhere. A deep and abiding love of the word “such.”

And an ego the size of the moon, with no discernible redeeming qualities with which to rationalize it. Yep, that’s him.

As I wrote, I’ve had my own run-ins with him. It’s been a few years, though, and I’d forgotten just what a nasty piece of work he is.

Seen from the right angle, though, he can be deeply entertaining. And that’s where you come in.

I read the entire Parenting Pod posting aloud to my husband and son at the dinner table, including such gems as the hyphenation of phrases like “lighten-up” and “time-to-time.” We were all incensed — but by the end of the exchange, we were also howling with laughter.

That evening turned into “Write Like Josh!” night at our house — especially when I shared some choice bits from ERC’s “Questions and Answers” page, which reads in spots as if it’s been translated into Japanese and back again by someone struggling to understand our punctuation. “Our advice as to choosing a price is for you to offer the most you can afford to pay; given your financial situation. The way this system works is that those who pay more, allow others to pay less who struggle financially.”

This style turns out to be delightfully contagious.

“Mom,” my son said. “Could you, comma, rinse hyphen this hyphen dish? Semicolon.”

Which gave me one of those brilliant ideas that happen maybe once in a lifetime.

You know the Bad Hemingway contest?

It’s time for some Bad Extra Reading Writing.

Post your entries here. They can be as long or as short as you like. Content is entirely up to you, but you need to include at least one sadly misplaced comma and one jarring semicolon. A special prize will be awarded for best use of bizarrely random hyphenation. Remember: NEVER use italics for emphasis. That’s what capital letters are for. And don’t forget that oozing condescension!

When we get enough entries, we will publish them in a book that will be available at whatever price you can afford ($100).

Warning: Excruciating Bitterness Ahead (with a bare minimum of homeschooling or humor)

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Sometimes the postings here are about homeschooling. Which is as it should be.

Sometimes, though, I decide to just run with the bitter part. And that’s okay, too.

This one’s super bitter and not about homeschooling at all, unless you count the fact that 1) a homeschooling parent is writing it, and 2) she’s writing it because her poor family, who are also homeschoolers, have had to listen to this as one big nonstop screaming rant and she’s trying to give them a well-earned break.

I’m going to add right now that this is not going to be good clean family fun. If your kids like to read over your shoulder, shoo them out now and read ahead to make sure you feel comfortable having them see this. If you’re a kid, please go clear this article with your mom or dad now before you read any further, okay?

What I need to talk about is a part of the Penn State hideousness that hasn’t been discussed anywhere else, so far as I can see. And I listen to the news for hours every day. (Hurray for free podcasts and a lot of mindless housework necessary in an allergy-suffering household. Actually, just hurray for that first part.)

Joe Paterno is stealing all the headlines lately. I’m not here to talk about him — although let’s give whatever’s the opposite of a shout-out (an arse-punch?) to the supporter who recently brandished a sign saying “JoePa Got Screwed.” Wow. You win a special award: the coveted Cluelessness Inadvertently Hits High Irony medal. Congratulations!

But as I said, I’m not here to talk about him. Everybody else already is — and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be.

There’s something else that everybody else should be talking about, though; and by talking I mean screaming in incoherent rage. It’s about the assistant coach, Mike McQueary.

All the news I’ve heard focuses, quite correctly, about the fact that McQueary waited a whole day to report what he’d seen Sandusky doing, and that he reported it to his boss rather than to the police. An entire interview with a legal expert on this kind of crime was devoted to what McQueary’s legal obligations were, and how he failed to meet them.

Fair enough and fine.

But why hasn’t ANYONE said the following?

McQueary witnessed a rape.

Specifically, he witnessed the rape of a child.

There hasn’t been anything in the news to imply that he couldn’t clearly see what was happening, or that he felt any uncertainty at the time of the event as to what he was seeing.

Why the bloody hell wasn’t his first instinct to YELL?

This is a repulsive, unthinkable, unspeakable act (and thanks a LOT, Mr. McQueary, for making me think and speak about it — it’s a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and I’d love to be out enjoying it). How did he not instinctively jump to intervene?

What the hell is this person made of that shock and revulsion didn’t make him holler first and ask questions later?

I don’t care what he eventually thought about which side his bread was buttered on, career-wise. Where was his gut?

NOBODY is talking about this.

WHY? HOW are we past being shocked at this? Where is the screaming?

Is McQueary married? Is his wife aware of the fact that when McQueary witnesses a rape, he quietly goes home and ponders his career? Has she castrated him yet? Does she need help? Tell her I’ll pay for my own plane ticket if I can be of any assistance.

I guess in a way this rant does tie in to homeschooling. I have one kid, a boy. He’ll be a man soon. And now I know that if I don’t teach him anything else, I’d damned well better teach him that there are some fights you jump into without thinking twice. Without thinking once, even.

Except that I still can’t believe this needs teaching. I can’t believe there are some things you don’t just know.

Well, I’m a homeschooler. We believe in learning something new every day.

And I hate this lesson.

Unfortunately, We’re Just Like Everybody Else

Friday, November 4th, 2011

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.
Something like:
“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.