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On track? Don't get me started...

I sat at a luncheon where my 16 yo daughter was going to speak to over 200 people; she was literally going to be displayed for her poise, confidence, insights, and eloquence.   

     The interchange with our delightful neighbor inevitably turned to homeschooling and then began “the conversation.” Once again, I slowly explained: no I was not particularly patient, actually some of my kids are extraordinarily social, it’s quite legal in our state to educate without oversight by the school district, every day is different, I skip foreign language but my son ended up fluent in Russian, college is quite possible if that is what they choose, etcetera etcetera etcetera.  I know this conversation intimately because, you see, I am a homeschool advocate and educating people on this choice is what I do.  It was a relief when the program started and I could watch the magic of my daughter with a microphone while simultaneously putting to rest the well-meaning curiosity of a stranger I will never see again.  I’ve been having some rendition of this conversations for over 20 years and I was pleased with my diplomacy.


     Then I get home and see that a friend of mine has re-posted a sweet blog about homeschooling.  There’s one comment.  Yes, you guessed it…the public school teacher.  I absolutely know she is coming from a place of sincerity for the children in her care.  She says, “I am all for home-schooling by dedicated parents who are actually spending time making sure their children are educated and on track. Unfortunately however, as a public school teacher, I have seen my share of kids who transfer to my classroom in middle school and are several years behind their peers after "home-schooling." It is very sad. I don't know the ins and outs concerning regulations on home-schooling, but always feel bad for these kids who struggle to get caught up with little to no support at home.”

     Something in me snapped.  Not an anger snap, I save those for scoundrels who prey on the unsuspecting, but a snap of the sort which calmly asks, “Must-this-be-endured-a-moment-longer?” Don’t worry, I am not going to defend the parents who literally do nothing with their kids—I don’t care if they have their children in the finest private schools money can buy—not taking an active part in your children’s growth and education is inexcusable. 

But allow me to school you for a moment.

Not my Train, Not my Conductor

     Generally speaking, homeschoolers are not trying to keep anyone “on track.”  This whole concept is a modern development.  We don’t care about the safety of your track or the destination of your train.  Keeping our children rolling along with what your experts deem as age-required standards is overridden as soon as we dejunk our minds from your systematic brainwashing that only expert educators can possibly manage the task of eliminating every vestige of imagination while plugging it full of useless information to be regurgitated on tests.  After a Master’s degree and 19 years of formal schooling, the only time that particular skill of multiple choice test taking came in handy was when I tested for a motorcycle license at your sister conveyor belt—the DMV.  I spent many years of my life perfecting the test taking skill set, thanks for nothing.

     What we are interested in, simple as it seems, is everything else.  We’re interested in maintaining a healthy sense of curiosity and developing a life-long love of learning.  Have you seen the stats on people graduating from your high schools who never read another book?  We’re profoundly interested in finding out what our children really have a passion for and then supporting them in that journey.  We’re interested in relationships and playing outside like a kid and reading books aloud until our family has a shared group of friends that never really existed but inspired us to exist in ways we never would have imagined.

You may, with our best wishes, keep your tracks.  But we mourn a little for the childhood wonder that is lost as the train keeps moving along whether or not the passenger is ready for the ride.

Please, Keep Your Quotation Marks and We’ll Keep Ours

     Your concern for your perceived-to-be neglected students is minimized and patronized by your “home-schooling” punctuation.  I’ll attempt to be civil here.  If there were statistics to be found on the percentages of teen-pregnancies, drug addictions, and crime rates between students who are public-schooled and homeschooled (we make it one word…because we can), there is no doubt that your systemic problems are far greater than ours could ever be.  But, we don’t write about the troubled “public-schooled” children in the news simply because it’s a tragedy regardless of their parent’s educational choices. I’ll even go so far as to surmise that the neglect by parents is far greater in your system than in our homes because a homeschooling family chooses to engage in parenting 100% rather than offload some large portion of that to experts in classroom management.

As for Trading Students

     I have always been a part of a community of homeschoolers that meets for classes and learning experiences of various sorts.  I’ve taught dozens of groups of homeschooled children and youth.  They love to come to class, they participate with enthusiasm, and they are surrounded by adults who are almost like aunts and uncles.  Without exception, the ones who have been pulled from public school mid-journey have shown battle scars of varying degrees.  Some absolutely hate learning.  Others have been bullied to the point that they have anxiety or other behavioral issues.  The youth think it is uncool to answer a teacher’s question or ask one of their own.  I had one come into my classroom in what would have been his Junior year.  Hoodie on, earbuds in.  “Let him detox,” said my mentorgut.  Weeks went by, he never said a word.  One day, at the end of a two-hour discussion, he said to me on his way out the door, “Great class Kathy.”  From that day on, he was 100% engaged. It took him some time to really believe that great education happens when you have inspiring content and powerful discussion.

     Now, for the sake of full disclosure, let’s talk the reverse trade.  There are a variety of reasons that a homeschooler would decide to put their child on your train.  And one of them, clearly, is complete neglect and giving up.  But there could be extenuating circumstances like sickness, death, and divorce that prompted it.  Regardless of the cause, I’d be willing to bet that though you found these students terribly behind (I physically prevented myself from putting the word *behind* in quotation marks, because a deal is a deal…), they were polite and able to talk to an adult.  They weren’t horizontally socialized and adults are real people to them, not just authority figures to be obeyed or brown-nosed (or their corollary opposites--disobeyed and ridiculed).  I’d even go so far as to guess that none of them were the bullies in the hallway, restroom, or on the field.  In 20 years I’ve never seen a homeschooled child bully another.  When the new kid comes into the homeschool group, they are celebrated and welcomed.  I don’t think my experience is unique.

Your Train and My Dune Buggy  


     It’s okay that they are different.  If you want a population of literate people (and we do), then it makes all the sense in the world that there is a systematized way to funnel them through.  There is absolutely no way you’d get everyone to climb in their own dune buggy!  I’m super grateful for the teachers that give it their all and make tremendous contributions to specific children as well as to society. But please know that when one of ours gets a ticket on your train, they have not been prepared for the journey simply because the tracks don’t go to the vistas their parents aspired to.  They are in a foreign land among strangers.  I hope you’ll find the thing they’re into and show off their knowledge in this other area that isn’t in your scope and sequence. And that you’ll ease their social transition because they simply don’t have the street smarts to assimilate seamlessly.  You call that awkward, I call it innocence.

     When we get one of yours, we already know what that means.  Parents rarely pull out their child that is doing extremely well and loves every minute.  So what do we do?  Circle around and assure the parents that neither they nor their child are failures; the train ride was simply not suited to the passenger.  We advise a detox.  We encourage the parents to focus on finding their own passion for education.  We look into the eyes of the battle-scarred child and find genius until their parents can see it.

Back to the Luncheon

     My daughter’s speech was wonderful, you could feel the approval from the audience as they saw this young person as a symbol of hope in the future and that their scholarship donations had been well spent indeed.  Somewhere else, in a similar situation, I’m sure there was another girl, who was public-schooled, bringing out those same feelings in different group of philanthropically-minded people.  The dune buggy and the train have some successes and some failures.  Inspiring people to take their experiences and building on them would be a better use of our time than to compare two journeys that have such different destinations in mind.


Kathy Mellor has been homeschooling since before it was cool.  She has been the primary mentor for her six children and has worked to provide them with opportunities for growth that fits their particular needs and passions.  In addition, she has mentored thousands of other parents and youth through her company Unleashing Your Voice! and LEMI (Leadership Education Mentoring Institute).  A devoted believer in perfect weather she resides in San Diego, CA.

Comments

  1. Very good! I love your passion. Thank you for helping me put words to my own complex feelings and innate understandings when it comes to why I homeschool my children.

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    1. Thanks Dixie! I have a tendency to be passionate :) I'm so glad that I verbalized your feelings and that it was helpful to you. If you're willing, I'd love it if you shared the post!

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  2. This was the most perfect thing for me to read, especially this time of year. I looooooove this so much!

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    1. Thank you for reading (and of course commenting). It makes me happy that you enjoyed it sooooooo much :) Please feel free to share the post as I'd love to reach more moms like you!

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  3. Thank you for this! We're a homeschool family to a special needs kiddo and I cannot imagine what the track or lack thereof would look like for her. We've always been on the dune buggy because she's never fit into their molds. We're much happier doing what she IS capable of and encouraging her to excel to the best of HER abilities. While she's behind in most areas, she's delightfully social in most situations, yet it's a different story when she interacts with kids who are in the track system...they are downright mean to her!!! We're so blessed to be parenting her 100% and not giving up any of this quality time with our girl.

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    1. For obvious reasons (like length) I don't go into all my particular circumstances, but I can relate to your feelings and experiences. It's hard to be different. The train inadvertently creates an environment that makes being different a target. Blessings to you and your family on doing what is right for you and her!

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  4. Thank you for this breathtaking and inspiring piece. I'm nodding my head and saying 'yes.... yes!!', over and over again. As someone who's still a very new homeschooler, this was the perfect post for me to read today.

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    1. That's a very kind compliment you pay me. Thank YOU for reading and for doing what you know is right for your family. Please feel free to share the post, I'd love to reach more moms who need the message as well. I'm sure your dune buggy ride will be one that you will never regret!

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  5. Beautiful thoughts Kathy! Thank you!

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  6. BooYAAH!!! Beautifully writing and taking the words from my heart. You have a new follower.

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    1. Thanks Sydney! I hope to write more posts but am also creating an online mentoring project for parents called Family Foundations. You can see other posts I've written over there on www.libercommunities.com and subscribe to Family Foundations for free in September :)

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  7. I loved the dune buggy vs. train metaphor -- very apt. We took our two oldest out of government school for two opposite reasons: 1) Our daughter felt stupid in school and was woefully behind. 2) Our son was bored with the slow pace of the school and the unwillingness of teachers to help him develop faster.

    Our daughter finished her AA degree before she was 18. Professionals, who told us she would never read or excel at math, were shocked that she tested above the 90th percentile in both.

    Our son developed his passions but has still not recovered from the coasting mentality that the schools encouraged.

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    1. Wow! Isn't it crazy how different they all are? I appreciate your comment and want to congratulate you on seeing the needs of your family so clearly. I think it fascinating that you call them government schools, I'm wondering if you're from Canada? Not a big deal but I just don't hear that term often and it got me thinking :)

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    2. Read it and loved it. I can relate to so many comments too. Child with a different pace of learning - who the less I rely on doctors and state special ed funds learns faster and more confidently. She does fine at homeschool groups playing, but sadly with neighbors, church friends and cousins, she often is outside the circles.

      I love calling them government schools- that does seem to be the needs they are meeting - the government bureaucracy more than the people's.

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  8. Since this was first posted I have adopted your analogy for homeschooling compared to public schooling. I love it so so much and it perfectly illustrates what I want to convey when I'm asked the questions that are inevitably asked. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and wisdom, for the strength and clarity shared.

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  9. THANK YOU! I loved this!!! It really resonated with me. I was just telling my husband how tired I am of feeling like I am defending our choices to well-meaning people...in front of my daughter no less! Further, why are we polite about THEIR choice to keep their child in public school??? I know in my heart and in my head that we are on the right path with my daughter, and you verbalized it quite well.

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    1. My pleasure to be of service Julie! I'm afraid that you have to get used to the defensive position (unless you can pull off the "I don't care what you think" persona!) Every once in awhile I have a former public school teacher give me their explicit approval of my choice and sometimes they say something like, "If I had my kids to raise again, I'd homeschool them." Stand strong in your life! You've got this!

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  10. I almost cried when I read this. I'm a second generation homeschooler. My parents homeschooled me before it was even legal in NC and now I am homeschooling two out of three kids. I agree with you 100%. Plus, you said the words I want to yell but I'm too tired of getting slammed for offending people for my own brutal honesty. =) I feel like if I am asked "what about socialization" one more time, that I might blow steam from my ears and shout words that I've made up - because I was homeschooled so we make up words just as Shakespeare did. Lol. The whole "track" thing feels like the new "socialization" buzz phrase.

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    1. A second generation-er! How cool is that? I've been validated by the real deal!!! Feel free to share my version of brutal honesty and then you're in the clear :)

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  11. This made me giggle! Yes! so many Yes! Many people think we are crazy but the kiddos can talk to an adult with no problem. Started in Kinder with our oldest and we've had good years and bad years but they remained kids longer and have had fun in addition to learning. I adore seeing 13-14 year old kids kindly playing with 7-8 year old kids in our community.

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    1. That's been my experience as well :) Glad I could add to your giggle quotient for the day!

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  12. Do u realize that you are doing nothing but adding to the fire against your case? Do you realize that shaming ANY PARENT for their educational choice is shameful. You are spit firing against the other side the same way they are at you. How is this even a productive? Who are you trying to convince? The world , or yourself? What is fueling your need to lash back and defend? Stand firm in ylu decision tl choose what you feel is best fkr you and your children. I'd say the same thing to the public school teachers and parents as well as the private school groups. Why the need to always segregate and make anyone outside your frame of thought an "other". Look inside and see what fueled your need to even retaliate.

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    1. Sorry you feel that way. I look at it more like shaming the shame to be honest. I fundamentally support the rights of parents to choose what is best for their children (and for teachers to do their very best in a broken system). I just know from two decades of experience that the need to justify, explain, and pacify people about my choice is never ending. I have received tremendous response from people who homeschool thanking me for stating the case clearly. Trust me, I don't need to justify my decision because the days of trepidation are far, far behind me. I do apologize that it seems to have upset you, I tend to err on the side of honesty mingled with snarky. My best wishes to you on your own journey :)

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    2. You can't possibly claim to be "shaming the shame" and then in the following sentence of your reply to me, call the public system broken. That is your OPINION, just as it was that teacher's OPINION that homeschool kids are always behind. You're not shaming the shaming....you're shaming back and justifying it with what you said is honesty and snarkiness. Well, if that's the case then that teacher was being just honest in her experience and leaving out the snarkiness. Which in the end makes your response seem not so sincere , loving and supportive. We can all have our opinions and support different educational choices, but when we reply in this tone it causes a greater divide than that which already existed. Very sad.

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    3. And I find it fascinating that you can't read a blog with which you disagree and just move on with your life. The public school system is broken by every reasonable measure. We can call that an opinion if you like. I think a person could find shame in my writing if they wanted to or they can see the disparity of perspective that a homeschooler is subjected to and it could cause them to consider their own position. In either case, it's a personal choice just as my choice to write this piece. At any rate, good luck to you and I hope you write the feel good blog you are searching for. Be sure to hit me up with the link.

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    4. The public school system IS broken. Teachers are underpaid. They teach to the test. I have a very good friend that had to resign and actually ended up in a mental hospital because of the stresses of good test scores. Behind the scenes, they were forced to attend meetings in their off time (in homes). There are 30 kids in a class. How can the kids possibly address each as an individual? I could go on and on. My point is that you can certainly be pleased with your experience, and there are plenty of WONDERFUL teachers in the classroom (my friends, my mother). That doesn't mean that the system, as a whole, isn't broken. The United States has a dismal education system and we are failing our children (again, as a whole, not confined to individual well supported schools). I do not hate our teachers and the love that they give, the energy that they pour out every. single. day. to try to teach AND keep our children happy. Still... the public school system is broken.

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    5. Elliott Family Shenanigans you are so right. Here in WV the teachers were on strike for higher wages and like is common these days Facebook rants were happening. One person proudly said she would be one to spit in the face of her teacher. Teachers endure much and have a very broken system to work with. Thank God we still have freedom to homeschool.

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    6. I think being a teacher in the public school system would be so hard, I value their contribution and know that most of them are doing all that they can to make a difference. And, of course, they are making a difference. But, yes, I stand by my assertion that the system is broken and no amount of money will fix it. The industrial-era model it was built on resulted in education being a system based on force, coercion, and manipulation.

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  13. Superb. Just SUPERB. Being a second gen homeschooler, I have heard it all, and frankly, I have lost the patience for "well meaning" comments from strangers, or the "do you like being homeschooled?" questions directed straight at my children in passive aggressive tones, as though they are hoping for 3 blinks or some distress signal meant to communicate that they are being held against their wills and need saving.

    But I think you just refueled me.

    Thank you.

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  14. It is the inclusiveness of your final paragraph that resonates with joy in my heart. I agree whole-heartedly that there are successes and failures in both systems. Of late I've been thinking that if we stop feeling either superior or inferior for our choices, we might be able to work together with greater joy and good.

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    1. In a blog post that is short enough that people might actually read it, there is some difficulty in showing all sides of the story! I concluded with a conciliatory tone because I do believe that there is good being produced everywhere. But, my more important message, is to defend the choice made by the outlier which, by definition, is personalized and meaningful education.

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  15. Oh my goodness. I am sending this to my doubting parents and others. I love this so much. Thank you, Kathy. Thank you for re-igniting my passion in a week that has been anything but easy (as a homeschool mom).

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  16. Here’s another second generation homeschooler and her second generation homeschooled husband who stand behind what your saying as well! I will say I’m thankful that people seem way more excepting of homeschooling now than they did when I was a kid- I think there is too much positive outcome for people to feel as questioning of home education as they once were. I still have to explain things to people often, but I think most of them are coming from a place of genuine curiosity.

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    1. I've been doing it long enough that I feel like a second generation homeschooler (in that I had enough children to count for two generations :) I remember being asked more than once, "What is that?" when I said I homeschooled! We have come a long way but, at the same time, that socialization question! Ugh. When. Will. It. Go. Away?

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  17. OH MY GOSH. I love this so much! Thank you!!! <3

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  18. Please join me today as I make impact, as you are planning for Christmas don't forget that their kids outside who are homeless that need help, I'm soliciting for your assistance today to join me as I plan to feed five children for this Christmas and I want to also send them back to school your support is needed nothing is too small nothing is too big for this purpose, if you are interested in joining me, email me at charitydonation8@gmail.com.

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