Archive for August, 2012

Homeschool Field Trips: A Translation Guide for the New and/or Desperate

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Yes, I’m about to trash my own group. You’re allowed to trash your group, just like you’re allowed to criticize your family but axe-murder anyone else who breathes a word against them. Civilians who take this blog post to mean that it’s open season on homeschoolers should be prepared to learn otherwise, by which I mean they should enter their local witness protection program and dedicate the remainder of their lives to charity. Just because I’m ticked off at homeschoolers doesn’t mean I feel like taking any guff from the people who honestly think they’re normal. Like that’s a good thing.

Anyway: I had a recent, bitter reminder of why I’ve slacked way off on organizing activities for our local homeschooling support group. The next time I decide to host a gathering that actually costs time, money, and energy that could be better spent ANYwhere else — an event that required, in this case, the purchase of perishable, non-returnable food items and the moving of furniture in the anticipation of a crowd that didn’t show up — I’m going to do something more sensible instead. I’m thinking crystal meth, or maybe naked public belly dancing. Heck, that sounds like two great tastes that taste great together compared to hearing AN HOUR BEFORE THE PARTY STARTED that five of the expected eight guests would not in fact be attending.

I’d say I’m not bitter, but I think you’d know I was lying.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about the fact that homeschoolers as a group seem congenitally incapable of following through on commitments when it comes to field trips and other organized get-togethers, and honoring the terms of those trips when they do. Most of the people I talked to are the ones who try to organize said field trips.

Some say that homeschoolers are homeschoolers exactly because we’re so independent-minded. We’re used to doing what we want to when we want to, and find the idea of agreeing to be at a certain place at a certain time and then actually being there alien. And following someone else’s rules? Fuhgeddaboudit.

One charitable soul pointed out that when school kids go on a field trip, they’re gathered at one place by one school bus, and unless that bus breaks down, they’ll all get to the right place at the same time. In this setting, younger siblings have their own class and their own trips to go on, so there’s no worry that they’ll be brought to places they’re too young and/or bored to cope constructively with. Which is true, but doesn’t exactly excuse acting like a total douche. Especially since you’re setting an example of douchiness to your impressionable child, and you’re his or her primary teacher.

And several people who make The Bitter Homeschooler sound like June Cleaver on Xanax said that the reason homeschoolers are complete and total inconsiderate scum when it comes to responding in a timely manner to announcements of events, coughing up the dough, honoring our commitments, showing up on time, and realizing we’re responsible for the behavior of our children isn’t because we’re homeschoolers; it’s because human beings ought to do the whole damned universe a favor and seek early extinction. I used to think I could medal in the Bitter Olympics. Now I’m not even sure I’d be allowed to compete.

For those still young and strong and idealistic enough to want to host a gathering or organize a trip for your fellow homeschoolers, here’s a handy guide to some common terms. Homeschoolese sounds a lot like English, so it’s easy to be confused by some of the most frequently used words and phrases.

No, I can’t attend: I probably won’t attend, but I might if I’m in the neighborhood with several children along with my own.

Yes, I will attend: I’ll come if I feel like it, if all my children feel like it, if the weather is absolutely perfect, and if I’m in the neighborhood anyway, preferably with several children along with my own or else with only one child when I responded affirmatively for three and this particular trip has a required minimum in order to qualify for a group rate and/or tour guide.

Does this trip start at 10:00?: You know I won’t show up until 10:23 at the earliest, right? And I’ll throw a hissy fit if things started without us.

I’m calling from my cell phone! We’re on our way! We’ll be there very soon!: We’re not coming.

I understand that this trip is for kids age 10 and up: But my four-year-old is very gifted, so I know you don’t mean him.

I see you’ve posted about this trip on Facebook or an email loop: I will learn your phone number and call you 17 times before the trip, asking you questions you already posted the answers to or spending twenty minutes explaining why we can’t make it.

Can I pay at the door?: I RSVP’d in the affirmative, and don’t want to shell out the money unless I actually feel like showing up.

My child’s really looking forward to this field trip!: I’m really looking forward to dropping my child off on a trip that was specifically described as requiring parental attendance!

I’m really looking forward to this field trip!: I’m really looking forward to going along on a trip that already has the maximum allowed chaperones! I’m going to ask the tour guide lots and lots of questions, and answer all the questions she asks the kids!

Yes, that’s my child: You mean the one climbing the tree? The indigenous, endangered-species tree? In the courtyard? Specifically, the courtyard outside the guided museum tour we’re taking? The courtyard I have my back to? Yes, that’s my child. Why do you ask?

My child has so much imagination: My child is going to talk through the entire tour, and when the guide asks if she can please get a word in edgewise, I’m going to glare at that soul-killing monster as if I’m hoping to set her on fire by the sheer force of my hatred.

Oh, are those the rules of conduct?: We follow our own rules. They’re in this book, which I got from the evil parallel Star Trek universe.

So we’re supposed to pack lunches for this field trip?: I’m either not going to bring any food at all, or I’m going to bring plenty and give it to my child whenever he asks, even if we’re surrounded by fragile, priceless art.

I know outside food isn’t allowed on this trip: I’m bringing food.

I understand that this is a nut-free event: Peanuts aren’t nuts, are they?

I’m so glad you organized this trip!: And if you ever organize another one, I’m going to do all this again, and more!

Can’t we all just shut up, already?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

I go to my local homeschooling group gatherings so I can talk about something other than homeschooling.

I mean, yes, sure, we talk about homeschooling. I’m often hit up for tips on teaching various subjects, not because I’m an expert but because my kid is one of the oldest in the group so I’ve racked up some experience points. And I’m fine with that. It’s actually hard to shut me up about this one particular Latin book.

And often there are new people at the park days, and they want to hear about how the heck do we do this, already. Is it legal? Am I going to die? Will my kids be able to go to college? Or even learn to read?

The thing is, though, these are people who already have homeschooling as a basic premise, even if they haven’t started yet. They’re figuring out details, is all.

Which means, oddly enough, that when we all get together as a group, we have the luxury of not talking about homeschooling. We talk about books. Movies. Our careers. (Yes, many of us have outside-the-home jobs, or inside-the-home careers that actually pay money.) We can talk about all of these things knowing that if homeschooling comes up as a topic, it won’t be a big deal. We all get it. Moving on now.

I have plenty of friends who don’t homeschool, and we talk about stuff that isn’t homeschooling, too. Talking to civilian parents about homeschooling is always a wonderful experience, if the new definition of “wonderful” includes things like “awkward” and “guilt-inducing.” Because every single last one of them seems to feel the need to explain why they’re not homeschooling.

Dear Civilians: WE DON’T CARE. And if we do, WE’RE BAD.

The only homeschoolers I know who might take a civilian to task for not homeschooling are the homeschoolers who run around talking about how schools are prisons. These are the ones who bring up the statistics about how public schools were started by big-business owners in order to teach people how to be stupid so they’ll be happy to work in mindless, soul-killing jobs.

If you’re a civilian and you’ve run into one of these party-people — guess what? I don’t enjoy talking to them, either. We’re on different planets. My fantasy is locking them all in a big room with the “Homeschoolers just want to indoctrinate their children” types and starting a reality TV show from hell. No, we wouldn’t let them starve to death. But slapping would be allowed.

I wandered into a room like that the other day. Accidentally. It was a conversation among a mixed group. And by mixed, I mean it included representatives from the following major food groups:

Parents who insist they would do actual damage to their children if they homeschooled;

Parents who think that you’re doing actual damage to any child just by letting him walk by a school, let alone into one;

Parents who call themselves homeschoolers because they teach their kids stuff after school and on weekends;

Parents who were desperately looking for the nearest exit and/or a stiff drink.

Maybe that last one was just me. But the other three were out in force.

Slaps all around.

In order –

Dear People Who Feel They Have Explain How Bloodily They’d Kill Their Children If They Homeschooled For Even Half An Hour: You scare me. Are you saying that if you had to go into hiding, your kids would remain illiterate because otherwise you’d kill them before the Nazis did? Or are you just saying that temperamentally, you don’t see yourself as a homeschooler?

If it’s the last one — look, I’m not trying to convert you. You’ve convinced me that the last thing I want is your attendance at this particular party. But just for the record: Lots of us didn’t see ourselves as the homeschooling type. Lots of us still don’t. We’re not even sure what “the type” is. We just frickin’ homeschool.

That aside: Could you please tone it down a bit? I know that you’re actually trying to tell me that you don’t disapprove of my choice even though you’d never emulate it. But how would you feel if you met someone who was childless by choice and, as soon as she found out that you have children, she told you that she could never have kids because it just wouldn’t be safe. Seriously. Best-case scenario, severe emotional scarring. Possibly actual blood.

You’d be ready to call the cops, right? Especially if she ever got near your kid? Well, that’s how I feel when you assure me that your kids might not survive the experience if you homeschooled. If you had to homeschool, you’d homeschool. You don’t, so you don’t. ‘Nuff said.

Next up –

Dear Scary Radicals: Enough. Okay? Just — enough. Yes, there are problems with the public school system. Yes, some of those problems might be argued to be inherent in said system. Yes, you’re purer than everybody else. But I’m declaring Markus’ Homeschooling Corollary to Godwin’s Law, which reads as follows: As soon as you use the word “prison” or the phrase “conformity mill” when describing public schools, you’ve officially lost the argument. If this forces you to work a little harder and be a little more creative when discussing homeschooling, that’s good for everybody.

And now, just in case there’s anyone I haven’t yet offended:

Dear People Who Say They Homeschool When They Don’t Actually Homeschool: I’m the moderator for my local homeschooling support group. Occasionally, we’ll get a membership request from someone who intends to send her child to school, but wants to “homeschool preschool.” I always let them in, and I always roll my eyes. Because taking care of a three-year-old isn’t homeschooling. It’s parenting.

When I was a nanny, I lived with two children. I spent more time with them than their parents did. I saw to their physical needs, including preparing most of their food and seeing that it got eaten. I washed their clothes and cleaned their home. I read to them, tickled them, nagged them, worried about them, took them to the park, bathed them, soothed them when they had bad dreams, and loved them.

I really thought all this made me pretty much a parent. I was offended when parents who didn’t understand my special status said that you never knew what being a parent was like until you became one. “Well, I do,” I always thought.

Well, I didn’t, it turns out. My work with those children was important, fulfilling, and worthwhile. It just wasn’t parenting.

A lot of the same activities and emotions are involved in full-time nannying and parenting. They’re great preparation for parenting. They taught me a lot more about parenting than some parents knew. But they’re not the same thing as parenting.

I was arrogant to think that I knew what it was like to be a mother when I was still a teenager and still getting paid for the work I did with “my” kids. And saying that isn’t denigrating to childless nannies. Saying that something is different from something else doesn’t mean that one of those things is automatically better or worse than the other — it’s just saying they’re different.

I can say from experience that the goals, focus, and pressures of parenting are comPLETEly different from those of nannying. They’re not less. But they’re different.

Helping your child with his homework, taking your child on terrific field trips and vacations, reading together, answering his questions, and helping him pursue his interests are significant, laudable, needful things. But in and of itself — by which I mean, “If your kid also spends six to eight hours a day on a campus” — THAT’S NOT HOMESCHOOLING. That’s parenting.

If what you do is a significant educational supplement to your child’s schooling, that’s great. Your child is very lucky. You’re still not homeschooling.

Homeschooling parents and schooling parents have a lot of the same panic attacks. But we have different ones, too. We all worry about whether or not our children are getting everything they need to have a good education. You’re not worried that your educational choice may become illegal, or may be perceived by the neighbors or the local educational authorities as illegal. We all worry about what and how much our children are learning. You’re not worried about whether and how you’ll be able to prove to the local authorities that what your child spends all day doing constitutes learning.

This is not a case of “I’m a better parent because I homeschool.” If I act like it is, I’m a dick and you should kick me out of your life. Because homeschooling does not impart superiority. I know we’re not supposed to think along those lines, but I can’t help it. I know some school parents who spend just as much time and work on the parenting front as I do, and they do a better job at it. And I know some homeschooling parents whose kids would be better off if they wandered away and were adopted by a nice pack of wolves.

But saying that you know what it’s like to homeschool because you take parenting seriously and have taught your child a great many things puts you right up there with people who say they have children who are less than a year apart in age, so they know what it’s like to have twins. There are people who actually say that. I learned about them a couple of months ago, from a mother of multiples. I practically fell over.

I work hard parenting my child. I homeschool without much income or much in the way of modern conveniences (no dishwasher, no washing machine or dryer of my own, no house, no yard, and for several years no car). So if I work hard, and parenting twins is hard work…I guess I know what it’s like to have twins?


Last but by no means least –

Dear Everybody Else: So, how about that drink? I’ve got white wine, red wine, Long Island Iced Tea…