I made an ignorant move a few weeks ago. Anyone else could have seen the target I drew on my back from a mile away. What was I thinking?
I often read Matt Walsh’s blog. Sometimes I agree with him, other times he makes me furious. He posted his thoughts on a proposed bill in Ohio that would require all homeschool families to undergo an investigation by social services and have background checks in order to be deemed fit to homeschool. (You can view his post here.) This bill stemmed from the death of a 14-year-old young man beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. The boy’s mother removed him from school under the guise of desiring to homeschool him after suspected abuse was reported by school authorities. The bill has since been withdrawn due to public outcry.
On to my mistake. I commented on the post and identified myself as a former public school teacher. I might as well have indicated I was the devil himself.
My comment was this:
“I do not homeschool myself, but definitely support the right of parents to do so. However, as a former public school teacher I have seen the dark side. I had a student who had been homeschooled up until 4th grade. We highly suspected abuse in the home. He had severe learning disabilities that had not been properly addressed. It was heartbreaking to witness his struggle. As we tried to help, the family moved. I still see that poor boy beating his head against the desk in my classroom. I don’t have answers for this, but I wish he could have been spared not only physical abuse, but the neglect of his education. As a society, how do we protect those children intentionally hidden from the rest of the world, even if these cases are few?”
Multiple people replied, some with acidic comments, others placing words in my mouth, saying I was sorely mistaken if I thought school was the best place for this child. Some questioned whether I bothered to follow the law and report my suspicions. Disdain oozed out of some of the comments.
Now let me explain a few things. I think homeschooling is fabulous. Many of my very best friends are incredible teachers to their own children. What a blessing to live in a nation where this is an option. From the statistics I read, homeschooled students certainly outperform public school students. I tried to homeschool my oldest for one year, decided it wasn’t for me, but would not be opposed to considering it again in the future.
In addition, I find the originally proposed bill invasive. Not to mention the fact, that I don’t know how there would even be the manpower to accomplish such a feat. Social services are understaffed and overwhelmed taking care of some of the most severe abuse cases.
The story I mentioned about the young man has much more detail to it. We didn’t have enough evidence to turn the family over to social services. A teacher can’t go willy-nilly accusing parents of abuse without specific evidence. I had another student who confessed hiding in his closet because he was afraid of his dad. You can bet we followed up on that one. The boy ended up running away two years after I had him in my class.
Can I request that we don’t lump public schools or public school teachers into one big pot? Can we address every teacher and every school on a case by case basis? Having taught for nine years, I know the system isn’t perfect…far from it, but for some it is the only option.
What about the single parent? Or maybe both parents work in order to provide insurance for the family (which is suddenly becoming an even more common necessity). When my oldest was in kindergarten I had a tragic conversation with a parent from his classroom. Her son had severe learning needs. Unfortunately, because of her own difficulties, she was practically illiterate herself. She had no idea what steps to take to pursue additional help for her son. Homeschooling him would not have been an option for her for multiple reasons.
I’m also reminded of a sweet little girl I had in summer school. Her home life was sad and filled with neglect. Coming to school and spending time in my classroom was the highlight of her day. In spite of her struggle, she was happy to enter the room each morning and spend time with someone who cared. She worked hard to learn, which would not have happened at home.
I loved teaching. Regardless of what some parents may have felt, I truly had the best interests of my students at heart. No doubt I made mistakes. Now that I’ve had children of my own, I would probably do some things differently. My first year I put in about 70 hours a week. Every year after that I dedicated 50-60 hours a week. I did what I could to diversify, meet the requirements of IEP’s (Indvidualized Educational Plans) for special education students, and attempted to manage the social difficulties many children faced. All of this for an average of 30 individuals each year. I often used my lunch time for grading, meetings, or helping students in one way or another. Many days, I considered myself lucky to have time to use the bathroom. I do not share this to complain, but to point out the reality that many teachers face.
We all know there are teachers who abuse their positions. I’m well aware schools exist that severely lack resources, and/or don’t seem to put the needs of the students first.
Let’s remember that our access to education (public, private or at home) is such a privilege, no matter how imperfect…one that many on the planet are denied. I would argue that most teachers do what they can to help their students succeed. Sometimes, their efforts may not be enough. Let’s be careful to place the blame in the right place. Many teachers and parents alike are weary of the unrealistic expectations set before them. Advertising says, “Have it your way,” yet administrators shout, “Conform!”
I think my homeschooling mama friends would agree that education is messy regardless of its form. Choose the path that’s best for your family, and be thankful you have a choice.
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