An Unlikely Comparison
Homeschoolers, the flying mammals of education
By Hal Young
When you have several children, sometimes the phrase “Take it outside” applies to the parents too sometimes, like when you have a phone call to make. I had just finished one of these excursions myself and was halfway up the front steps when I noticed something fluffy and brown clinging to the wall by the door. Since we’ve found the occasional wren or sparrow hiding under the eaves of the porch, I walked right up to it – and found myself
eye-to-eye with a small brown bat.
Since to my mind, “bat” rhymes with “rabies” (an association I got from Reader’s Digest as a child), I decided Mr. Bat was welcome to stay where he was and I’d just leave him alone. We kept our big friendly dog inside that night and hoped the visitor would leave on his own. As it happens, he didn’t, at least not till the following night when I thought to turn off the porch light so he’d realize it was dark out and time to prowl again.
As I thought about this odd encounter, it occurred to me that we homeschoolers share some things with the average bat. Okay, there are more picturesque comparisons which apply, such as soaring eagles, fearless lions, gentle lambs, or mother bears. Still, here’s my case:
We’re often unseen or overlooked. Bats operate on a different schedule than people so their presence isn’t very noticeable. Homeschoolers are also invisible to a lot of people, because our kids aren’t waiting for the bus when commuters leave for work or hanging around the schoolyards with hundreds of other children during the day.
There are more of us than people realize. You have to know something about bats, or
be in the right place to see them in groups, to appreciate how many there are. In our state, North Carolina, the oversight agency reports annual statistics to the media but few really understand what “71,000 homeschool students” means. In fact, if we were treated like one school district, we’d be the fourth largest in the state.
We’re frequently misunderstood. There are a few rabid bats, and yes, there are a few negligent homeschoolers – simple fact. In both cases, though, elaborate mythologies have sprung up without basis. For example, homeschoolers are not “skimming the cream” out of the public school population – if I were involved with the government school system, I’d be insulted that anyone suggested it. I suspect that an equal number of us use home education as a rescue operation for kids who fell in the wrong part of the institutional bell curve. Does that mean we’re “scraping the bottom”?
It’s easier to implement a “No Child Left Behind” policy when you’re only dealing with a single family’s worth of students.
We serve an important role in the world around us. Bats are one of the only insectivores which feed at night, and they are a significant part of the biological web.
Homeschoolers are like pioneers and settlers of educational independence. We help keep alive the concept of alternatives to public education. We anchor the “individual freedom” end of the spectrum -- between government schools and home education, there is a full range of public school choice, charter schools, private academies, you name it. If
homeschooling were outlawed, what would be next? Small private schools?
We do well what we do. Bats eat tremendous amounts of bugs which they snag on the fly, in the dark, as they are designed to do – pretty slick. Do I need to say anything new about the benefits and track record of homeschooling?
We are generally quiet but we will defend ourselves if attacked. The only aggressive behavior we saw from our guest bat was a single warning hiss when someone (without permission, I’d add) approached too closely. We homeschoolers, while gregarious among ourselves, can respond quickly if legislators or officials encroach on our legally protected freedom. Like my bat, we’ve proven that often just a warning (“I have e-mail and I know how to use it!”) is an effective deterrent to meddling.
Finally, We get along fine without the government’s help. Very few people put up “bat houses” (I know some do) to encourage bats to do their part controlling the insect population. One of the curious messages homeschoolers have for well-meaning officials is that, thank you just the same, homeschoolers really don’t need taxpayer funding, public school programs, or other friendly “assistance” to make us do what we’re convinced is best for our children. I don’t say this to minimize the needs of families with special kids, or the ongoing bother of driver’s education classes, or the challenges of homeschooling in remote areas where there aren’t many of us. Those are real, legitimate needs, which have several alternative solutions. However, for the vast majority of us, public assistance is what we’ve decided to do without. We do a mighty credible job building our own communities and networks, creating our own classes and extracurriculars, and charting our way through the educational project. Like my bat, we just want to be left alone.
Don’t forget, by the way, that your state homeschool organization is here (as a privately-funded, member-supported, non-profit organization, not a government agency) if you do need a hand, an idea, a referral, or a shield. Let them know what they can do to help – they’re here to serve you.
And if a bat lands on your porch, be sure and turn the light off.
Hal Young and his wife Melanie are the parents of eight homeschooled children in North Carolina and the authors of Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys. (www.raisingrealmen.com). This article first appeared in The Greenhouse Report, a publication of North Carolinians for Home Education.
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