Ignorance may be bliss, but not for their friends
One of the things I wanted to do, and we have done, after the election is to join HSLDA. Some of you may remember that. While membership may put us on Big Sister's hit list, it would also keep us as updated as possible, I think, on what our congresscritters are doing regarding homeschooling laws. (C-SPAN--it's like Big Brother in reverse.)
Frequently in the newsletter, there are situations described where public or child welfare agents overstep their bounds or misrepresent their power. Things like the kids not being registered with their local intermediate school district, test scores or portfolios not being submitted, curriculum not being approved, letters of intent not being filed, kids playing in the backyard or park during school hours. So your "friendly" neighborhood social worker is making phone calls and random visits and needs someone who speaks legalese to tell them they can't do that.
It came clear to me when a friend, foster mother, and homeschooler got a call recently. Some big mucky-muck (her caseworker's supervisor?) called her. Seems Ms. Mucky-muck had encountered a ten-year-old homeschooled girl who couldn't read and wanted to report Mom to the appropriate office in Lansing for educational neglect, or some such; she didn't have the number but knew my friend would. The problem is, there's no such number. No such office.
Ms. Mucky-muck was stunned. Nobody to call? Don't homeschoolers register on some list in Lansing? Or something, some kind of oversight committee? Nope. Not here in Michigan, anyway. If this girl is being neglected, and that isn't necessarily a given, your office is the one to deal with it, dear.
Seriously. I'm speaking as a former public school teacher with graduate credit. About all public school teachers know about "homeschooling" is how to spell it, and I am willing to bet that as a rule our governmental agencies aren't much more informed. I was asked recently by other moms if I had to take classes or get a license to do it, and they were surprised (not dismayed, thank God) to hear no.
It's a lot like motherhood. You can read a lot, ask a lot of questions, get a lot of advice, find support groups, do online research. But you're still relatively on your own, literally in the middle of the night with a screaming toddler, or metaphorically when your seven-year-old doesn't get basic math. You have to make the decision: will a dose of ibuprofen take care of this, or do we need to make a trip to the ER? Will flashcards work with this, or do I need to try a whole different approach? If I just take a deep breath, relax, sing and pray, will it resolve on its own?
You fly along by the seat of your pants most of the time and hope you're in the ballpark. When we started homeschooling, even though I believed in my bones it's the right decision, I did mourn a little for the experiences I thought my kids would miss. Some sports, some school experiences like dissection in science, possibly prom. I consoled myself with the thought that there are public schooled kids who don't get those either and aren't too twisted about it as adults.
But now, three years into it, I can admit I was wrong. We have been, or will be involved with as of this fall, the following activities: soccer, dance, flag football, swimming, gymnastics, art classes, planetarium trips, art museum visits, Science Camp, American Heritage Girls, and we're currently researching Cub Scouts. I've found a website where I can order anything from the fairly innocuous natural sponge to entire dissection kits (including frogs, worms, crayfish, fetal pigs, and cow's eyeballs); from microscopes to telescopes. And, as of this spring, there's even an official Michigan Homeschool Prom. I don't think we're missing a thing.
But did I know this four years ago? No. I've learned by doing. So the next time I hear of some nosy child welfare worker demanding to inspect textbooks or interview the children, I'm not going to assume it's some kind of Big Brother trying to control a family. I'll just assume the poor woman doesn't know what she's talking about and patiently explain.