Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do I have a Right To Homeschool my Children?

I love my children. Let's begin there. I don't always love them well (though I always want to), but I love them fully. For the past ten years, I have filtered all of my parenting choices thorugh the sieve of my ultimate goals: that I should contribute in every way possible to my children loving God and loving others. Because I love them, I steer them toward love -- love that costs. Love for enemies. Love for difficult people (and sometimes I know I am one of the difficult people).
Preschool seemed a natural choice. Olivia was reading some and writing pretty proficiently by the time she was 3, and gravitated toward learning new things in the ravenous, touching way that all three year olds do. I studied, visited, popped in on, and otherwise scoured all of the preschools in our community during the course of her second year until I found a montessori-based Christian preschool that didn't rock our financial world. I stood in line (in alternate shifts with my mother, who stood in my stead while I went home to nurse my baby Josiah) from 4 until 8 in the morning --- blizzard notwithstanding! -- to enroll her. She screamed every morning for 9 months, sometimes only leaving the car after the teacher peeled her arms from around my neck. She couldn't start a zipper. She wanted to peek in on other kids' projects during rug time. So many ways to fail. My beautiful, social, brilliant baby girl was a Montessori flop (and, by extension, so was her mama).
When I informed her teacher that I wasn't reenroling her for pre-k, she warned me of the social deficit she would face in coming years. She stayed home with me the following fall, and we preschooled at home three mornings a week, with field trips every Thursday. (When my big kids were still little kids, they told their dad that they knew mama loved them because of field trip Thursdays === we really had a blast). The spring before kindergarten, she was reading well, writing well, able to understand basic computation, and socially amazing. I chose one of the few half-day kindergarten programs in town because I thought I could continue with some homeschooling after she got out of school mid-morning, in case school didn't challenge her enough. It didn't, and I didn't. During the day, she often got assigned to struggling learners as a kind of peer tutor, and the teacher remained unaware of the extent of Olivia's abilities for most of the year. I, having outsourced my daughter's education and intimidated by the fact that I taught her to write using the wrong alphabet script (so many ways to fail!), left schooling to school and retained only field trip Thursdays.
After much prayer, I decided that public school (which was also the catalyst for Sunday night trauma during the entire year ---- tears, tears, tears) was out unless she was chosen to attend a magnet school that promised project-based learning and multi-leveled, technology-rich learning environments. We didn't get chosen, so I amassed a curriculum that seemed to suit us, and threw my hat into the homeschooling ring. Then her name was pulled from a waiting list -- we accepted. Then we were chosen to parent infant triplets. So it all seemed like a gift, this school, these five, this year of hanging on together with professionals educating Olivia, encouraging her to grow and learn. Our teacher was sick --- on and off for nearly six of the nine month school year. They never had enough notice to call in a certified teacher, and I have a hard time putting my finger on anything she learned during first grade --- apart from what we learned as a family as we were newly grown.
But Josiah. Josiah didn't hate preschool. He struggles with some schoolish skills, and his teacher was solid, encouraging, playful, and sweet. So we headed toward his Kindergarten year optimistically. The babies had grown enough that Grandma could watch them one morning each week while I volunteered in the kindergarten and second grade classrooms. Remember, my goal for my kids was never to be as smart as they could become. Homeschool would have seemed an easy answer then. My parenting goal was to support them as they learned to love God and others --- especially the people who were difficult to love. Where else can you find such a high concentration of difficult to love people upon whom we could exercise love skills besides public school?
But have I equipped them to love difficult people (and aren't I often difficult? and aren't they?)? Second grade was an academic wash, but Olivia led her class in a campaign to put a well in Africa, a successful effort for which she openly (and rightly) gives God all the credit. Kindergarten inspired my son to offer his "personal best" every time. (We, gratefully, enjoyed the best teacher in the district for his inaugural year of public school.) Helping my children see the pathway to love with bullies, clubs, inclusions, exclusions, angry friends, and bad choices sent us to the Word and to prayer (two excellent places to head with your children). We got to observe, first hand, prayers answered as ways to love the people who hurt us became more apparent. And this year, I have felt extremely nigh unto a breaking point! My daughter confesses, every day, her shortcomings for at least 20 minutes on the ride home from school. She loses sleep to worry. She has stumbled upon filth during online research, despite the school's copious filters. She and her friends traded thigh measurements to see where they "fit." Each day I feel like I spend the entire evening wiping crap from her face and her heart with a gentle cloth and filling her tiny bucket to send her into tomorrow's thirsty, blazing world.

But she isn't mine. And we have so much water here. And the world is so thirsty. SO thirsty. How can I justify a family water party when there are so many parched babies in public school classrooms.....with no water....anywhere. And the call of the kingdom is higher than the call of maternity (right?). Though they are not at odds, when the choice stands between serving His priorities for His family or my priorities for mine....well, there doesn't seem to be a choice. (That verse about hating mother, father, children, etc. as prerequisite fitness for Kingdom service comes to mind). Furthermore, they are not my children. They are His. And children drink fresh, clean water because my little ones share (literally and figuratively), every day. That's why they often come home so empty.....and so parched. (And perhaps the sacrifice to love people, face up -- not just far away, is their inheritance.)

But I want to bring them home, in my heart. To let them learn; learning and teaching alongside them.

How can I when Jochabed and Hannah go before me? Consider Moses and Samuel. First Moses: to protect her second son from the scourge of persecution, Jochabed places him in a river in a basket in God's hands. Miriam (his big sister) follows him until Pharaoh's daughter pulls him from the river, and at Miriam's suggestion, allows him to be nursed by Jochabed and returned to her upon his weaning (which, according to Hebrew custom would have been around 3 years old). Then comes, what I consider one of the most heart-rending faith leaps imaginable (made more tangible to me in the three children entrusted to my care by another): Jochabed returns him to the palace. Knowing that he will be raised to worship idols, to participate in sacrifices and oracles and palace privilege built on the broken bodies of slaves --- of her own family --- she turns him, again, over to the care of God. Surely, if the voice of God can make its way through the clamour of Pharaoh's palace, it can pierce the din of public education.


What about Hannah? Persecuted by her husband's other wife and by the whole of Jewish society for her childlessness, Hannah prays for a child whom she promises to give back to the Lord, in his service. Eli accuses her of drunkenness as she prays. When she confesses her heart, he prays for God's blessing., and so enters Samuel. When Samuel is weaned (again, presumably around three), she returns him to the temple for a lifetime of service, seeing him thereafter only once a year during a ritual visit and to bestow upon Samuel a coat into which she wove a twelve months of loving handiwork. But to whom did she entrust her toddler? Certainly not to Eli, whose prior forays into parenting yielded two of the most heinous exploiters of the priesthood in history. Hopni and Phinneas caroused with worshipers in the temple court, ate the fat off the sacrifices, and generally desecrated and mocked the holy things of God -- with no apparent reproof from Eli, whose only appearances in scripture paint him as mostly gluttonous, lazy, and short-tempered. She turned him over to the care of her God, who raised him into a prophet and lover of God and God's people. Surely, if God's voice can call out to Samuel over the cacophony of carousing and neglect, then He can handle public school.

And the gift to my kids of faith in a God that can stand and heal and fill and feed, again and again --- doesn't that outweigh my instruction and their insulation? Doesn't it?
But I long to bring them home. Just for a rest. To learn and drink and go strong. But when will it be enough? And how many will succumb to thirst in the meantime?

(The encouraging points in Hannah's and Jochabed's story, and they are many, bolster up my enjoyment of the early years I share at home with my kids. Apparently, the first years, the nursing years, lay a foundation. And maybe they teach a love upon which God can reach through years of mess to build. Hopefully I haven't screwed that one up too much!)

Do the wounds our children receive in loving have greater purpose? They did for Mary's son. When it looked like the brutality of the world stole Him away --- there were divine arrangements being made for LOVE and eternal HOPE. But my children aren't Jesus, right? (Right!) But they have been chosen. And so have the 27 others in their public school classrooms. They just may not know it yet. And what if no one ever shows them --- shows them that they have been chosen to be loved?

Can anyone (please!) come up with an argument for homeschooling that is more sound?