I am a homeschooler, a private schooler and a public schooler, and as such, don’t have a strong ideological commitment to any of the above – I think they all have their place. My oldest son has severe autism and attends a private school for children with autism, but paid for and managed by the school district since they have no appropriate placement for him. My three younger boys are homeschooled, which we started not because of a dislike of public schools, but because our local school went to all-day kindergarten when my son Simon was ready to start. His birthday was late November, and at four and a half he still needed a nap and a day that began with a 7:30am bus ride and ended at 3:15 was just too long for him. We were advised to keep him back, but since he’d been reading for two years, that didn’t seem wise, so we homeschooled. We had so much fun doing it that we’ve kept on. We are also public schoolers whenever foster children are in our home, since foster kids can’t be homeschooled legally in NY.
My general take on that the rigid lines drawn between home and school are somewhat artificial – that homeschool and public school are actually part of a larger continuum that anyone with children to educate in their lives needs to participate in. Moreover, even if we are committed to one option or a particular educational philosophy, we never know when our ground could shift. Some of the most ardent anti-homeschoolers I know have found themselves home educating when a local public school couldn’t meet a child’s needs, or when a child was victimized by bullying or laid low by a major health crisis. Many a dedicated homeschool parent has found themselves unable to continue due to a health crisis in a parent, a need to take on new work for economic reasons, a kid who didn’t respond well to the dual role of parent/teacher, a disability they were not prepared to respond to at home.
Moreover, in more difficult situations, any of us may HAVE to become homeschoolers or public schoolers – consider a major natural disaster like Katrina in New Orleans which closed many schools for an extended period. Some kids can be out of school for a bit and no harm done – others can’t. in a longer term crisis, the community will need to respond to the need for education for kids.
All of which is just a long way of saying that I don’t think of myself as an ideological homeschooler. I could probably become one, however, if I lived in Texas. Check this out:
The charge on the police docket was “disrupting class”. But that’s not how 12-year-old Sarah Bustamantes saw her arrest for spraying two bursts of perfume on her neck in class because other children were bullying her with taunts of “you smell”.
“I’m weird. Other kids don’t like me,” said Sarah, who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit and bipolar disorders and who is conscious of being overweight. “They were saying a lot of rude things to me. Just picking on me. So I sprayed myself with perfume. Then they said: ‘Put that away, that’s the most terrible smell I’ve ever smelled.’ Then the teacher called the police.”
The policeman didn’t have far to come. He patrols the corridors of Sarah’s school, Fulmore Middle in Austin, Texas. Like hundreds of schools in the state, and across large parts of the rest of the US, Fulmore Middle has its own police force with officers in uniform who carry guns to keep order in the canteens, playgrounds and lessons. Sarah was taken from class, charged with a criminal misdemeanour and ordered to appear in court.
Each day, hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing “inappropriate” clothes and being late for school.
In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.
One of the things that has fascinated me as a foster parent is the realization of how afraid many people are of children. Whether this stems back to Coumbine or other issues, a few rare cases of violent children seem to have reshaped our national culture in a way that makes us genuinely afraid of kids. I’ve had people outright ask whether I worry foster children will kill me in my bed – even though the kids are far more vulnerable than they are dangerous.
Add into this the fact that non-white children, especially boys, are much more likely to be disciplined more strongly for the same things – expulsion rather than detention, and to be judged as violent and extreme for things that would be considered minor in a white or female child, and I admit, I’m pretty strongly suspicious of the impulse to police childhood. That doesn’t mean no children are hard to handle or that classrooms aren’t hard to manage, but to me this is just one more sign of something deeply wrong in our culture generally.
I was a disruptive teen in high school myself – I was politically aware and active and a bit of an agitator. I had smart mouth, and my dream as a 16 year old pain in the rear was to be a test case for the ACLU in a high school that I saw as repressive and intellectually deadening. I was fortunate in that my teachers and the school administration were, for the most part, smarter than I gave them credit for, and kinder – they didn’t want to ruin the records of young people, and handled my actions appropriately. I can only imagine what would have changed in my life when childhood earns you no grace, only harder and harder crack-downs. The track to prison already begins in school for many kids – do we really need to make the track run faster?