A librarian I haven’t seen for a while greeted me the other day. I like him, so I tried not to wince too visibly when he asked my least favorite question: “So, are you guys still homeschooling?”
Librarians are important. Children’s librarians especially are potential ambassadors for the homeschooling cause. So I had to cultivate.
Yes, we were still homeschooling.
I could see him settling in for a nice, thorough round of questioning. Did we have to register with the state? Did we belong to official homeschool groups? What about testing?
I answered as reassuringly as possible. No, we didn’t have to test, but many homeschoolers choose to. Yes, we belong to lots and lots of groups. (Didn’t pursue the “official” aspect of that.) Yes, the state knew we existed.
All the rest of that day, our conversation bothered us. I thought it must just be a minor case of burnout. The same questions over and over get old.
It is that. But it isn’t just that.
Most homeschoolers I know do exactly what I did when civilians haul out the grill. We do everything we can to put their fears at rest. Deep down, we feel a little irritated, and then we feel a little guilty. These are fair questions, aren’t they?
They’re incredibly insulting. Worse than insulting.
Imagine the conversation going a little differently. Same questions, different answers. Something like this:
“So — are you still homeschooling?”
[Long pause. Long stare.] “Yeees. Yes, I still have a child and I’m still looking after his education. I’m still feeding him, too. Every day.”
[Looks startled, but quickly rallies.] “Oh. So, you have to register with the state, right?”
“We have to fill in about ten minutes of electronic ‘paperwork’ a year. It probably took longer to fill in my son’s birth certificate. The birth certificate took a lot more thought.”
“But you have to take standardized tests, right?”
“Don’t you have to follow an official curriculum or something?”
“But then how does the state know you’re teaching your child?”
“The state doesn’t know any such thing.”
“But — well, how is that even legal? You say you’re homeschooling, but you could be doing anything! Or nothing at all!”
“I suppose that’s true. And what about you?”
“What about me? I don’t homeschool!”
“That’s right. Your daughter goes to school, doesn’t she? I guess that means she’s checking in with the government every day, in a way. But she hasn’t been going to school her whole life. She was at home for years. And you registered with the state, in a manner of speaking, when she was born — for her birth certificate, and then for her Social Security number. How did the state know you were feeding her every day before she started going to school?”
“That’s a ridiculous question!”
“It isn’t. It’s exactly what you’re asking me. You’re assuming that if the government isn’t after me every minute, I won’t take care of my child. Apparently, just having a kid doesn’t give me any incentive for doing more than the absolute bare-bones legal minimum of whatever I can get away with. Speaking of which — doesn’t your daughter go to private school?”
“Yes, she’s an honors student at Trust Me You Can’t Afford This.”
“But why would you send her there? Isn’t it expensive? And a long drive? There’s a public school right down the street from you, right?”
“Sure, but it’s not very good. This way she’ll have a much better chance at getting into a good college.”
“So? She’d probably get into college somewhere, if she really wanted to. You’re not legally required to pay all that money and send her to private school. Why do it?”
“Because I want to offer her the best education she can get. I want her to have job opportunities.”
“Oh — you want her to get a good job so she can support you.”
“No, of course not! I just want her to be happy and have a good life!”
“But you don’t think I want that for my child. You think that to me, being a parent means doing only what I absolutely have to — what I’m legally required to do, and nothing more. Is that what you think about the rest of my child’s life? Do you think I use a calorie counter and just give him the minimum daily sustenance I can get away with? Or do you think it’s possible that maybe, just maybe, I’m exactly like you? Maybe I take care of my kid because I love him and I want him to be happy? No, of course not. That’s crazy talk. I mean, why would I homeschool my kid if I loved him that much?”
Of course I’ll never have that conversation. But a lot of it will be going through my head now every time I get that particular batch of questions — which, since I’m a bit of a local ambassador for homeschooling, happens often.
If you’re one of the people doing this kind of asking, and you notice that the person you’re talking to is clenching her teeth just a bit, think about the kind of self-control she’s showing. You’re accusing her right to her face of being someone who only takes good care of her child because she’s afraid she’ll be sent to prison otherwise. And not only is she not screaming, or storming off, or telling you you’ve got some nerve — she’s answering your questions. Politely.
Which is probably more than you’d do if she turned the tables and asked you why the hospital let you take your newborn baby home without attaching some kind of monitor to it to make sure you weren’t starving it or beating it or something. You probably wouldn’t be too worried about allaying her fears and setting her mind at rest and assuring her that, no, you’re not abusive at all, really. You’d probably have some choice words to say to someone who accused you of being that sort of parent.
Think about that.