Religion, ethnicity and ... homeschool?

My brilliant grandmother, the gifted crossword puzzler, rejoices in novel words-- never-before heard verbal oddities and anachronisms, junked slang and clique-ish codespeak--and the way new words travel in flocks. Hear a new word today? You'll see it three times tomorrow. Try it: skeeve! Ossify! Putrefaction!

I think sensitive topics run in packs, too. Some hot-button theme gets all stirred up in the ether, and all of my conversations get pulled towards its gravitational weight. That must mean that there's a mystery-- a missing puzzle piece, some ambiguity or anxiety-- some friction that I carry around with me, buzzing like a hive-- that forces itself into every interaction until the beast is appeased, the topic exhausted, the lines drawn.

The last couple of weeks it's been school. And religion. And race. And their mangled and unholy intersection. My kid is almost four and not in preschool. This comes out of my profound denial more than a particular choice in the pro-school/anti-school discussion. When she was two, she was too small, and then I was pregnant, and now suddenly she's four and the non-choice has become its own choice. And this choice or non-choice segues into a hot and toasty topic.

When another parent asks about my kid's preschool situation I list excuses: we just moved, preschool's too expensive, I haven't found a preschool that I love, maybe we'll homeschool...

And that's the hotbutton: homeschool. The "H" word is like a Rorschorch test for parents. Eyebrows raise, fists are pumped, arms cross. Everyone has a strong opinion one way or the other. I have strong opinions about homeschool--many of them contradictory. I was homeschooled briefly in high school, and thrived. It was just what I needed at that time and place. Homeschooling books inspire the vision of ruddily healthy children building motors, writing novels, designing experiments, sculpting china dolls, speaking French, sailing to atolls and installing solar panels in a spirit of peaceful engagement. So in general I think that homeschooling is a wonderful option. A great chance for a whole family to roll up sleeves together, and gain inner peace, perspective and self-respect through a life of honest proletariat effort! I love and frequently envision a homeschool co-op, different families lending their various strengths to a village effort at kid-raising. And I know parents who homeschool this way, and their kids are beautiful, kind, gentle, and wise.

But my interest in homeschooling, and the realization that my kid is getting older and sooner or later we'll have to make a choice, have been spurring me into conversations with lots of other parents who homeschool. Some of these conversations are punching pukas in my previously quiet beehive. An 8th grade white homeschooler told me the reason her parents pulled her out of school was because of all the anti-white racism at the school. "Don't these Local kids realize that if they were at MY school on the mainland, they'd be the ones we were racist to?"

This statement deeply unsettled me. Her attitude, that the natural order was horribly upended in Hawaii schools (the whites are the outsider minorities??), is being reinforced by homeschooling. Other parents have told me the same thing-- they don't feel safe with their white kids in public schools. So homeschooling can be a form of white flight from a very brown public school system. It can be a way to seal your kids off from people and information that make you uncomfortable.

That's not necessarily a terrible thing-- I was homeschooled because my level of discomfort with my overcrowded high-pressure public school became excruciation. And if it is my kid being bullied or harassed at school, white-flight be damned, I'm taking her out!

But it seems like fear is a terrible reason for doing things. Fear of the unknown, fear of difference, fear of entropy, fear of change, fear of helplessnes-- I am afraid of those things, too. Some of those fears might be keeping my kid out of preschool. But if we decide to homeschool our kids, or send them to public schools or charter schools or wherever-- I want to approach the choice with an eye on the opportunities my kid will have, not the bogie-men I'm running from.


  1. And that you acknowledge it, but not cower is good. Having my own contemplation about Owen being homeschooled as the school here is not what I thought it would be (never is really). In the end, whatever works best for teaching your child to love learning is the right choice. And I think you make a fabulous teacher.

  2. Amen to that!! i have similar conversations with people. Asher is now 3 and 1/2. People really feel strongly that I should have him in a traditional preschool. I do co-op with him (and, really like it). But, he might get some "traditional" preschool, coming up.

  3. I have a book that could be written on this subject...but will write in email. You'll make a wonderful homeschooler mom. share it with a co op of'll do just fine and feel no guilt on homeschooling her. sad to say, other brown kids DO pick on darlings as you have. well, and if the kid happens to be BRIGHT AND CAN SPEAK WELL, he's picked on. If you put her in school, you'll end up being at the school all the time anyway.


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